It’s almost five years now since the tragic passing of Gary Speed, the single event that gave me the strength to write openly about my own experiences of mental health, and the condition (now identified as dysthymia) from which I have suffered for something like forty years.
The response to my blog—my admission, disclosure, call it what you will—was totally unexpected. I was humbled both by the sheer number of positive messages I received, and also the fact that a few friends felt able to mention their own personal struggles, long hidden from the outside world.
My own life had changed so much since the belated realisation and acceptance that I needed help; and the even harder step of actually asking for help. That was back in 2004 and a decade later I felt ready to use my story to try and somehow “make a difference”.
I didn’t (don’t and never will) have a public profile, nor do I possess any particular talent or skill that would make me stand out, but I had the idea (in almost Archimedean circumstances… don’t try and picture the scene) to set myself a series of “challenges”, and it would be through the planning, preparation and (hopeful) completion of the various tasks that I would draw parallels and show just what can be achieved by asking for help.
I wasn’t offering any sort of magic cure… I don’t believe there is one; but for me, medication brought the objective clarity to prevent certain situations and feelings becoming overwhelming, and when the really bad days came, I was so lucky that Elaine’s love, understanding and support were always there—she is amazing xx
2014 was devoted to the charity Mind, and since then I have been working with Time to Change, for which I registered as a “Champion” (as in the Wonder Horse). My first involvement with the programme was to write a blog for their website, in which I tried to explain the effects of my condition; how it made me feel… and how much stronger I have ultimately become. The article received a few replies and comments; this was one: “Richard, your story really did strike me in a way that other pieces of writing haven't before.
“It describes so much for me in terms of being told it would be best if I see a doctor even though I was scared to. It took a year until I eventually sought help. I remember the feelings of that doctor’s visit… getting upset when speaking to my GP.
“My family didn't know anything about my depression until I had to be forced to tell them. I tried counselling but it didn't work for me; I'm now on antidepressants and they are working as they're helping me fight back and giving me a way of coping with these feelings I'm experiencing, but also helping me help myself a little bit more. This story brings me hope that I can still have a life and depression doesn't have to control me. I do still struggle but I'm finding a way to live my life. Lots of love Dionne x”
I don’t know anything about Dionne, but to have perhaps made a small difference to a total stranger meant such a lot, and justified everything about talking so openly and honestly about a subject some are still more comfortable avoiding.
To look at me, I don’t think anyone would necessarily guess I have had a chronic (albeit thankfully mild) condition for almost as long as I can remember. Equally, I suppose no one would guess I’m left-handed… nor would they guess I am deaf in my right ear—but I am, and I am (in that order). But dysthymia is part of me; it will always be a part of me… and in a sense it’s only because of a condition (that still impacts on every single day of my life), that I have met some genuinely inspirational people, I’ve had some fantastic experiences, learned a lot about myself; but most importantly of all, I’ve tried my best to make a difference.
I may not succeed—just like I haven’t succeeded in taking a leg off the BDO world no.1 Glen Durrant (definitely one of those “inspirational people”)—but I have to keep trying… because one day, you just never know.