I will now share my thoughts and feelings about a condition I have lived with all of my adult life and which has brought me very close to the edge of it at times; in doing so I hope to offer warm friendship and love to any of my fellow human beings who have suffered or are suffering in similar ways to me (since it is by no means a condition exclusive to myself). There is still a great deal of stigma associated with mental illness, despite it affecting around one quarter of our population, and my key goal is to break down some of that stigma by offering my honest insight into my experiences.
Very recently, and after a series of nervous and mental breakdowns, I have been diagnosed with what is commonly known as ‘clinical depression’. Along with this I have an associated general anxiety disorder and some consequential personality disorders. For this I am receiving twice weekly sessions of psycotherapeutic counselling and I am also prescribed anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication (Fluoxetine and Quetiapine).
For me life has thus far been a constant challenge to self-confidence and self-esteem – for as long as I can remember I have tolerated a perpetual buzz of anxious adrenaline that has severely affected my ability to function in work, domestic and social situations. Some of you reading this may well perhaps be able to recall some incident when you have noted my behaviour as being peculiar or even irrational; I have since learned (through my counselling sessions) that this has been a result of the strain of my self-determined “projection” of myself: conforming to be the Nicky that I have come to believe you expect me to be, and therefore not properly behaving quite myself.
This might sound alarming for many of you, but in fact this is something very common to nearly all of us: at some point in our life we will have had to perform in a particular manner in order to be accepted or to gain approval; in front of grandparents for example, or parents of friends, or in a job interview, and so on. It is only that for those of us who suffer from anxiety disorders, this form of acting becomes our daily mask; for whatever reasons, we are unable to simply be at ease with company and be ourselves. Many of us, as I have done in the past, have medicated this through alcohol or drugs. While I haven’t used recreational drugs in any significant quantity since before I turned 20, I have certainly, at distinct and prolonged periods of my life, been dependant upon alcohol: I recall writing last year in a blog shortly after my first major breakdown (entitled The S Factor and written on Landscape Juice Network
– a landscape industry association; if you follow the link you can read it too) that:
"my sole goal for the day is to get to bed-time again. Sleep is my only refuge. Drink quenches frustration and quickens the approach of sleep."
These, I can see now, are not the words of a happy man. Yet I have so much to live for in life: I am married to a woman whom I am proud and blessed to call my wife, best friend and the mother of my three beautiful children; I have my own business (please refer to the blog post above!); I have good friends and a great, supportive family; so “why the long face?”.
The truth is that through experiences early in life, and also perhaps due to a genetic predisposition, I have arrived as an adult poorly equipped to deal with even the most trivial of emotional traumas.
In business I have bent over backwards in order to please every possible party; petrified of failure and unable to say “no”, I have driven myself up the wall in anxiety driven despair. In the end I tried to spin so many plates that inevitably they all came crashing to the floor in a loud and frightening stramash.
In friendships I have laboured upon the other party’s intent, and whether or not they truly like me, so much so that I have either driven friends away from me for periods or otherwise completely shut them out through some artificial sense of resentment or jealousy.
At home there has been no let up either, and this has not been a happy place at times, I am so very sorry to say.
I have come very close to some very dark places and in truth, only the thought of my children has saved me.
As recently as 6 weeks ago I could see no rationale in the concept of self-harm: now I have seen it from a new perspective, and that, while somehow strangely cathartic in its mechanical process, I have found to be extremely disturbing.
I have found myself living the life of someone fulfilling the expectation of others and not of myself: my self-harming episodes have been acts of desperate individual autonomy, regaling against a conventional life of predestined conformity.
So (and how depressing this must have been to read) I am still here, and by the grace of the love of my wife, children, family and friends (all of you who know me), I am determined to stay here for as long as the earth will permit me. In my psychological journeying I have discovered many hopeful things, and have also been able to identify that many of you who are reading this will have had some similar experiences: well I want to take this opportunity now to open up my (metaphorical) arms to you and offer you my love and friendship, as I am bargaining that your reciprocation, along with that of my dear wife and family, will make for a life truly worth staying around for.