James' Story

I’m a 64-year-old West of Scotland male, we’re tough, macho and don’t recognise ‘girly’ stuff like depression, keep a front at all time, never show emotion, unless its anger of course, and never let on we’re not totally in control. That was exactly how I was for the first 40+ years of my life. Never admit you feel bad, let it fester inside and drown it if necessary.

I’ve always been a worrier, worried about what people thought of me, what would happen to people around me, what tomorrow would bring, all the usual stuff. But I had no way to communicate this and kept all those worries inside, I was going to say in my head, but it affects more than just your head, it gave me ulcers, made me unwell and just generally sucked out any happiness I felt.

Of course the really important thing to me was to not make anyone aware of this, after all I had created an image in my head which I had to adhere to, no matter the cost. It took me a long time to recognise my feelings of insecurity, loneliness and this horrible dark feeling of not belonging. Now I come from a good loving family and was married, had two fabulous sons and lots of friends so this was clearly not the reality.

Reality doesn’t count when you’re suffering from the black dog.

A couple of things happened to me in a fairly short period of time; I decided to stop drinking, good thing, and within a couple of years my first grandchild was born, best thing ever and shortly after my dad died, worst thing ever. Together they made me re-evaluate where I was going and how to face up to the heavy load I had carried since I was a young teenager. But even then I had to get worse before I got better.

My darkness became pitch black, I couldn’t see any point in anything and even considered, briefly and I don’t believe seriously, the ultimate escape. Even so it was two years after the death of my dad before I plucked up the courage to get help, and take it from me that was the bravest thing I had ever done; when your self-esteem was as low as mine the last thing you want to face is the truth as you have no idea what you’re going to find out about yourself. 

So I faced the therapist in a desperate state, full of fear but knowing I had to give it a go, I’d done all the medication and on their own it wasn’t enough for me.

Early on I talked about keeping up a front and I’d always been good at that, I was the joker, quick witted and always ready for a laugh, even my therapist said it was difficult to get beyond that. However, after a few sessions I did what I had never done in front of others and broke down when talking about my dad, and then my past, and then what really ailed me. It wasn’t easy but boy was it worth it. 

I have no doubt if I hadn’t gone to see the therapist I’d have continued spiraling deeper down into the depths of where I was already heading. I know I could never have overcome my fear of other people’s opinion of me to become a politician and I know that I am a much better person now than I ever was before.

One thing that became clear to me was that depression doesn’t just affect you, it impacts on those closest to you. My moods must have made life miserable for my family, that tends to be the one place you let your guard down, and I owe them a huge apology for that. 

Anyway I’m telling you this for a reason. Depression is an illness and like other illnesses it can be treated.

There is no shame in being ill, the shame is in not taking the opportunity of making your life and the lives of those around you better if you have the opportunity.

The macho West of Scotland male was always a caricature, although one too often copied, but even the caricature has had its day. If you recognise any of the symptoms I talked about then go see a doctor. Medication can help, I still take it occasionally, but in my view there is nothing better for you than to be honest with yourself about your feelings, if that means going to see a therapist then do it! I did and it is maybe the best decision I have ever made

The Black Dog is a fearsome animal it can come and bite you again and again, sometimes when you least expect it. However with the right support it can and will be tamed!

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