A couple of Januarys ago, I wrote a little blog about finally deciding to see a doctor about the constant, grinding dread that infused every part of my life like a really, really shit teabag in a mug of sad water. I called it “A little bit of creative angst is good for you”, because that’s what the Dr told me when he discovered that I was A) fucking miserable and B) a comedian. As far as advice goes, it was bobbins. I ended up seeing a different doctor and going on meds and yadda yadda yadda. Read it yourself for the full story. Or don’t. That’s fine. This whole bit here is basically just a “Previously on Guy’s life” thing. Whatever.
Two years have passed since then, and I thought it was about time to provide an update on the state of my shit head. Not because I think anyone cares exactly, but rather because I think it’s important that people talk about these things – after posting my original blog, several people contacted me to say that it helped them finally speak to someone about needing help, and how useful that was. So here we are.
The pills helped, for a while. They really did. But I now realise that they were basically glossing things over. Like using wallpaper to cover a crack in your house that’s filled with countless screaming faces. Sure, you may not be able to see them, but the muffled howls are pretty much going to ruin any dinner parties you have planned. Plus, it’s hard to concentrate while you’re having a shag.
This all came to a head in January last year when I had, I realise now, a wee nervous breakdown. It was only a tiny thing that kicked it off. Something as small and inconsequential as applying for a job and not getting it. Of course, it wasn’t just that, but that was the last straw, only in this case the straw is dicks and the camel is me bored with being under a pile of dicks.
I went to the loo at work and started crying. I’m not much of a crier at the best of times, least of all when out and about, so this was decidedly A Thing. After a good old ten minutes of sobs punctuated with “oh fuck oh fuck what’s happening oh fuck oh god no”, I went back to my desk looking exactly like a man who’s been in floods of tears over his belief that his life is a hopeless wreck. Not a strong look. One I’d generally suggest avoiding.
I called in sick the next day, and ended up being signed off work for two weeks. I had never taken time off for mental health reasons before. I felt like a fraud. Like I was taking time off for being sad. That I should just get on with it. All bollocks, of course: I’m fairly sure that these thoughts will be familiar to anyone in a similar situation. The guilt and shame is partly due to the illness, and partly due to the fact that mental health is still something we don’t talk nearly enough about. Hence all this nonsense, I guess.
Anyway. A couple of weeks later I had my first CBT session. I’d been on a waiting list for the better part of a year and I was dreading it. I found it hard enough to see the doctor to ask for pills in the first place – the idea of sitting in a room with someone for over an hour and talking about me made me want to chew a hole in the floor and hide in my pit with my newly bleeding gums.
It was, obviously, nowhere near that bad. I’d whipped myself into a foaming terror that I’d just clam up, that I’d second guess everything and tell her what she wanted to hear, that she’d think I was wasting her time and I should (here we are again) just pull my socks up and get on with it.
All together now: all bollocks, of course.
CBT was one of the best things I have ever done. Sitting and talking to someone about you, talking without the weight of expectation that you’ll gloss things over and make small talk. Talking to someone whose actual job is to listen to what you have to say, and help you see the world a little differently. It was difficult and weird and challenging and wonderful. There were things I didn’t want to talk about because I thought I’d be judged, or that they were only trifling concerns, but through our sessions I slowly became more comfortable, and better at placing my trust in this calm, patient lady.
I was genuinely surprised at how much good it did me. I was feeling better to the point that, after talking to my doctor and my therapist about how best to reduce the dose, I decided to come off my medication (please god do not go cold turkey on brain meds).
This was a real test of whether it worked. By the time I was off my medication completely, I’d started a new job at the department’s busiest time of the year, and for the first time in 5 years I wasn’t doing a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe. I was stressed, panicky, anxious, lonely and jealous.
I did it, though. I realised that I’d rather have one big bad time than stagger it over several months of things being terrible.
After a while, things began to calm down, and I had the chance to reflect on the last few years. Turns out, I really hadn’t been well.
Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but it’s still a kick in the head to look back at a string of fuck ups, mistakes and lousy times and think “Yep. I now know exactly what was happening there. Why the hell did I let it go on this long?”
But that’s what’s so fucking vindictive about anxiety and depression. It feels normal. It feels like it’s the default state of the world and everyone else is just blind to the whole thing. Of course you’re going to drink a ton to help feel better. Of course you’re going to feel like a failure. Of course of course of course.
Four years ago you could have told me that I was in a bad way until the cows came home, and I just wouldn’t have listened. It’s one of those things that only become clear when you allow it to. That is fucking hard.
When you’re depressed and anxious, the world’s against you. All your friends hate you and there are networks of lies and conspiracies that spread out through everything like the mycelium web of the world’s worst mushroom farm.
Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. Fuck you, depression, you’re a fucking liar.
One of the most powerful things my therapist told me was also the most disarmingly simple: “People see the world the way they are, not the way the world is”.
It sounds superficial. Like some Jerry Springer homily given to a crowd who go “aww” on cue, but it’s absolutely true.
I was assigning motivations to people that made no sense at all. Interpreting actions or tweets or off-hand comments to be some coded dig. It was a weird form of narcissism. Everything was about me me me. That person didn’t meet me for a pint because they secretly hate me, not because they’re worried about money at the minute. This person hasn’t interacted with me on Twitter for a while because they’ve muted and only follow me because they think I’ll go mad if they unfollow me, not because there’s only so much emotional energy you can expend on laughing at shit puns and knob gags. So on and so fucking forth. It’s bullshit.
I realised that my depression made me see my friends as awful, scheming villains, rather than people with their own internal world. I didn’t know it could do that. The fucker. Even knowing that’s the case it’s still something I struggle with. Knowing helps though. It really does.
Not sure where I’m going with this, to be honest. I just wanted to make sure it was said.
This happens to so many people, and you never know what’s going on in their head at any given time. Talk about mental health more, guys. Talk about anxiety. Talk about depression. Allow yourself to realise that you don’t deserve to feel this way. There is help out there. It comes in many forms. There’s no shame in asking for it.
Depression is a scheming, lying cunt. You don’t have to put up with it.