The story of a tragic death – amatueur rugby league player Anthony Hughes - and a subsequent Facebook post from an old friend last night prompted me to think back to the moment that ultimately led me to talk openly for the first time about my experiences of depression.
That “moment” took place almost three years ago to the day, and was followed less than a week later by the suicide of the Wales football manager Gary Speed. His passing brought the whole subject of mental health to the forefront of the public consciousness, and ultimately gave me the courage to post a blog that was incredibly difficult to write, but the personal importance of which far outweighed the embarrassment of revelation, and the (probably understandable) concern about the perception and reaction of others.
There was a selfish element to the blog. Nobody knew what I was about to say; and those who read my story certainly didn’t ask – and maybe didn’t want to be made aware of - what had stayed hidden below the surface of someone who (in plenty of cases) they had “known” for many years. That said, reading any, let alone all, of the blog was not compulsory, but for the writer it was something that (now, bizarrely, in the third person singular) he felt he simply had to do.
I was overwhelmed by the positive response – both from those who felt moved to share their own experiences, to those who felt some kind of admiration for what I’d done. The comments relating to the latter were unnecessary, and underserved... but appreciated nonetheless.
So have things changed since 2011?
The answer is a very definite “yes”.
There are still occasional dark episodes. They are not always caused by anything specific, but whilst knowing the cause might make the effect easier to explain, it doesn’t necessarily lessen the impact. Even though I’ve probably had “issues” since my teens, I have only relatively recently (and clearly belatedly) become able to accept the person I am.
And I do believe I have become stronger. I can’t predict when the blackness might descend, anymore than I can stop it from descending, but I now recognise the signs. And even if I can’t completely control how I am affected, I always have an opportunity to consciously remember those coping mechanisms that help me to gather my strength for the next silent unseen fight.
Having love and support in my life is incredibly important, even though some of the struggle must be fought alone; and this year’s series of challenges – undertaken on behalf of the mental health charity Mind – has given me yet more confidence in myself, and determination to confront this horrible, invisible, debilitating illness. I have typed these words with no embarrassment, no regret, no shame... just a huge sense of pride at how far I’ve come. I’ve proved so much to myself, and hopefully to my darling wife Elaine and everyone else who has believed, and continues to believe in me (you know who you are, and I’m so grateful to you all); and it all started because on 4th December 2011, I took one massive leap of faith....
Snapper... I wish you well my friend.