“a man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has
ceased to belong to the future”
– Albert Camus, the Myth of Sisyphus and other Essays
Friday 7 February 2014, around 18:00.
Sitting at my desk (not unusual), staring at my screen.
Looked around, surrounded by piles of paper and coffee cups (also not unusual).
Photos of my wife and two boys looking back at me.
Got to focus. But on what?
Why are my hands so cold?
Right, no more messing around, just get this done and then go home.
Why is my hair wet, and what the hell is wrong with my hands?
Trying to get myself to concentrate, or think about anything at all, was like trying to start my first car (an H-reg Vauxhall Nova Flair). Turning the key pumping the accelerator, adjusting the choke, a splutter, then silence. Try again, still no luck. Panic setting in, what if it never starts?
Like my beloved Nova, all of a sudden my brain kicked into life with a roar. As soon as the noise died down it hit me, I had just come back to the office, but had no idea where I had been, or for how long.
It was at that point that I was forced to admit, for the first time, that something was very wrong, although I would only fully understand how wrong when I eventually worked out where I had been, and what I nearly did.
Up until 18:00, 7 February 2014, I had been convinced that I was a perfectly healthy, and very lucky person, the only problem being that I was too weak, too stupid and too selfish to function as a normal human.
And so it was, after 36 hours of blind panic, I found myself in bed, violently shaking but otherwise convinced that I could not move, even if the bed spontaneously combusted.
One of the best descriptions I have read of depression is that it is not the presence of sadness, but the absence of hope. For me though, at this point, it was the absence of anything at all, except for alternating feelings of panic and exhilaration that I had completely lost control of my own mind.
There has been a lot written about the state of mental health care on the NHS, but for me there is no better illustration than the conversation I had with NHS Direct, while I was lying in bed, shaking and terrified. I was really only asked one question by the nurse and the doctor, and that was whether I was imminently going to harm myself or my family. My honest answer to this was no, but this was not because I did not want to, in fact hurting myself was all I could think about, but because I felt incapable of getting out of bed.
I was thus informed by the doctor, and these words will stay with me forever, that NHS Direct “can only deal with urgent cases, and yours is not a priority…”. I was told to that I would have to wait to see my GP, despite the fact that my appointment was nearly two weeks away, and my wife had already asked for urgent help due to her concerns about my mental state and my denial of the situation.
From that point on, thanks to a swift intervention from my incredibly compassionate employer, and Bupa’s fantastic mental health team, my “non-urgent” case was taken out of the NHS system altogether.
I am painfully aware how lucky I am for this, and for the unerring support of everyone around me, particularly as many who suffer from mental health issues, particularly men of my generation, are not so lucky. I am prone to melodrama, but in this case I do not think that it is in any way an exaggeration to say that it saved my life.
In addition to lots of running geekery, I am going to write a bit more about how I got to this point, and what I am doing now to stop myself from getting there again, which is really unavoidable, as running and my mental state are now fully intertwined.