'One day, I found myself in a place where I couldn't hide anymore'
A key aim of this year's men's health week is to get men talking about their own experiences of mental health problems. Jim Pollard, the editor of malehealth.co.uk, who has been affected by depression since he was young, sets the ball rolling.
The day I realised that I had been more or less depressed for over 25 years was both one of the best and the worst days of my life. (Even 'both best and worst' was a step in the right direction for me as I'd always been a stubborn 'glass half empty and with a big hole in the bottom of it' sort of guy!)
My first reaction, I must admit, was to feel incredibly sorry for myself about all the years I'd wasted, the best years of my life too: the teenage years and my twenties all down the toilet of self-loathing.
I was physically close to tears but even as I held them back I was slowly realising that admitting something as horrible as this to myself had been an achievement. With the sort of increasing clarity you get when you're watching the sun come up, I began to think that it might make the next 25 years — if I'm lucky enough to have them — better.
I knew also that the 25 years in question had not been completely lost, anyway — there'd been some great times in there, some terrific relationships and enduring friends and one or two things that I was still proud of. But what I had come to realise — and what was painful — was that the fears with which I had shackled and chained myself had prevented me from really profiting from this once in a lifetime experience called life.
That had to end. I knew it would not be easy — after 25 years, the locks on your shackles and chains are well-rusty and you've probably lost the keys. But what had happened is that I had reached the point where carrying on as I was had become even harder than trying to sort things out.
It had all started for me when I was about 13, maybe earlier. There was a cluster of little events that came together and formed in my head a self-reinforcing band of brothers, worse than any playground gang, a critical mass rubbing away inside.
None of these events were particularly serious. No abuse. No great loss or bereavement. Some were not even bad things on the face of it. They all happen to umpteen kids every single day. I am very aware that in the mind of another child they would probably have had no impact at all although I also recognise — and this is important — that in the mind of another, they may have been worse.
If I had to choose, I'd say that sensitivity is a good quality - one worth having - but coupled with a lack of knowledge about both yourself and the world — a combination found in many kids — it can be dangerous.
Sensitivity takes many forms and can affect anyone. You don't need to be crap at PE or the typical classroom victim to be a sensitive kid in one way or another. In fact, some of the supposedly toughest guys in your class were probably among the most sensitive. And already, even at that tender age, they were resorting to the typical male way of covering up this supposed short-coming: an overstated machismo.
I was still at school when my mum noticed how unhappy I seemed to be and took me off to see the doctor. He referred me to a hospital psychiatrist whose main concern seemed to be whether or not I masturbated — I realised only later that this was the main concern of most psychiatrists. I went a couple of times and then dropped out when losing my virginity cheered me up for a while.
Most of the time I was sure that it was something outside me that was making unhappy — crap school, crap university, crap job, crap government. And in many ways these things were all true but it was my reaction to them that was causing the problem.
I tried therapy a couple more times when, for brief moments, I wondered whether perhaps the problem was something inside rather than out. But these moments never lasted. I told myself that I didn't need therapy but really I was scared of it.
Many of us construct our lives in such a way that we avoid our demons. This is harder to do if you want to write books about people confronting their demons but nonetheless I think I must have been pretty good at it.
I always found a good excuse to leave therapy, very good ones like getting on a course in Sheffield or getting cancer or getting the chance to spend more time in France.
Then suddenly, one day, I found myself in a place where I couldn't hide anymore. Whether I put myself there deliberately to force myself to confront things or whether it was chance I don't know but I am glad that it happened.
I've had three years of therapy. It's not easy. It's not a cure. And it is only very occasionally fun. But it is, I think, the only way - for me, anyway - to deal with depression.
Most importantly, I don't think that therapy is anything to be afraid of. This is a point that I can't stress enough. Unfortunately I was afraid of it for 25 years.
Therapy helps. The other week a really unpleasant thing happened to me, one of those mortifying public experiences when you feel hopelessly exposed — like you've got no trousers on — and that everyone is laughing at you.
I cringe every time I think about it and yet I can't stop myself thinking about it. We've all been there, as they say. But I know I'll get over it. Knowing that you'll get over something before you actually have is an enormously empowering thing to know.
- Back to Jim's page here.
Page created on June 1st, 2006
Page updated on December 17th, 2012