When I started to suffer from mental illness it was like joining Fight Club.
Rule 1: You do not talk about Fight Club
Rule 2: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club.
It was the elephant in the room. I clearly couldn't cope with any aspect of my life. I was emotionally and mentally dysfunctional. I was struggling at work. But my mental health was not something to consider as an issue - even for me. It was not something to discuss, no matter how bad things got or how much damage the fall-out inflicted on the rest of my life.
How things have changed over the last decade.
As followers of The Bloggess (Jenny Lawson) know, depression is a lying bastard. What doesn't help, though, is that there is nothing to be gained by asking, "OK, so depression is lying to me - what is the truth?"
That's the thing about depression. You don't cure it - you learn to live with it. You do that by talking to people about it.
That's why I like the Tribe. The Black Dog needs to be house trained and exercised - otherwise it will widdle on your rug and chew your favourite shoes.
Actually, it does that anyway, no matter how many times you bop it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. Even if you try to drown your black dog in the nearest canal it will still find its way home and then sleep on your sofa, making it smell of stagnant canal water for the next six months.
Learning how to handle your black dog is a dark art, and the professionals with their training and experience can only go so far. Like this metaphor.
Therapy can be good, can be mediocre, can be awful. Discussing depression with someone who understands and sympathises can be very helpful. But even the briefest of moments of shared understanding with someone who has been there, who knows how convincing depression's lies can be, releases the pressure in a way that therapy and understanding can never achieve.
It's not a cure. It certainly doesn't do anything to relieve the practical burden that carers like me carry. It's just a moment of reassurance and connection. It takes away the isolation - it's a place to exercise the black dog.
Carers need regular opportunities for rest & recuperation, and while the respite social services give my wife and I every Tuesday night is good ("Dancing the Argentine Tango, Artem Chigvintsev and his partner, Aliona Vilani!" - well, in reality we stand on each other's toes in a local village hall, but we can dream...) carers need more than a few hours off.
What I needed was to learn how to accept that being a carer had made me mentally ill. I needed to learn how to say that to others. I don't mean I needed to learn how to express it, but how to overcome the Fight Club Rules and discuss my mental health openly when I was so strongly conditioned to keep it quiet.
Learning about other people's mental health and having the opportunity to connect with them is an important part of learning how to live with yourself and your own depression.