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My battles with mental health, and how I fought the rain clouds of depression

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

There was a meme doing the rounds of social media recently. It showed photographs of celebrities smiling. The celebrities captured in the photos had succumbed to their own mental health problems, whether it was through suicide or drug abuse.

Robin Williams was beaming in the photo, the same Robin Williams who struggled with addiction and depression throughout his life - and died by suicide in 2014, aged 63. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman also featured in the meme, who passed in 2014 from acute mixed drug intoxication. Musicians Kurt Cobain, who died from suicide, and Amy Winehouse, who died from alcohol poisoning, were also part of the meme.

Alongside the photographs of the smiling celebrities was the caption: "This is what depression looks like..."

The rain clouds of depression

Depression is both insidious and often invisible. I would know, because I am a manic depressive. My demons were given a name in January last year. After years of manic highs and crippling lows, I was told that I was suffering from Bipolar Disorder Type II.

When I 'came out' of the depression closet, to my surprise, I found that people were surprised about this diagnosis. "But you never seemed depressed," they said, "You are always smiling." But that's part of the act, the façade to deceive your friends and family that everything is okay. I learned something when I was diagnosed: it's okay not to be okay.

There are many euphemisms employed to describe a person's mental health. I have used them myself. When my mood plummeted, and I was fighting the rain, I told people that I was "unwell", or "under the weather". Let's forget the pleasantries: I was depressed, and I was suicidal. I was constantly on the verge of tears, my mind felt foggy and heavy, and I was vitriolic towards myself. There was no one worse than me; I couldn't even bring myself to look at my reflection in the mirror.

I felt lethargic, which can be confused as lazy. I could not leave my bed, which can be confused as bone idle. I was at my lowest point, which can be confused as being merely sad. There is a difference between being sad and being depressed; one is logical, one is not. "Everyone has their ups and downs," I was told. "What can have you got to be depressed about?" I was ignorantly asked.

As well as feeling down, in points of life, I have felt too up. My mind races at 200mph, I am restless and easily agitated. I suddenly have these marvellous, grandiose thoughts - and I am frustrated why no one is catching on to them. I am impulsive, addictive, and, at times, dangerous. When I am down, I am the worst person possible; when I am up, I am suddenly the best, the brightest, and the next step in human evolution.

Depression has been described as many things: Winston Churchill called his depression the “black dog”, while Stephen Fry likens it to the weather. I rather like the latter. Depression is like the rain - it is horrible, it feels never-ending, but it will eventually pass. And when there is a torrential downpour, you can combat it with an umbrella or raincoat. After my lowest point at the start of 2018, it was time to find my wellies.

The rain clouds have, finally, dissipated. They may return, but at least I am prepared this time, armed with a brolly, a big coat and sensible shoes.

If you need support

If you need to find those wellies, too, and need support right now, but don't want to go to A&E, here are some other options for you to try:

Contact the Samaritans on freephone 116 123. They're open 24 hours and are there to listen;

Contact your GP for an emergency appointment or the out of hours team;

Call NHS 111 (England) or NHS Direct 0845 46 47 (Wales);

Contact your local crisis team.

In the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255. You can also contact TrevorLifeline, a suicide prevention counselling service for the LGBTQ community, on 1-866-488-7386. You can also text HOME to 741741 to have a confidential text conversation with a trained crisis counsellor from Crisis Text Line, and they are available 24/7.

And finally...

When Carrie Fisher passed away at the end of 2016, I was devastated to lose such a wonderful human being. I had never met her, but her words on bipolar have helped me significantly. She will forever be immortalised as Princess Leia from the Star Wars movies, but I know her as the poster girl for manic depression. And I shall finish on her wise and witty words from her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking:

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder.

“In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside).

“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

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