“If you have HIV or cancer or athlete’s foot you can’t teach them anything.
When Ashley Stone was dying of meningitis, he might have known that
he was dying, but his meningitis didn’t know. Meningitis doesn’t know
anything. Buy my illness knows everything I know. That is a difficult
thing to get my head around. But the moment I understood it, my
illness understood it too.” – Matt Holmes, from The Shock of the Fall
by Nathan Filer
Since I read Man’s Search for Meaning (http://bit.ly/1Eag3f6), I have been trying to work out how I could use it to combat my own depression. The thing that I have struggled with is whether, when I am at my worst, I retain the last “human freedom”, or can depression be defined as the inability to choose one’s response.
In my first post (http://bit.ly/1zGnn78) I described my breakdown as a complete loss of control of my own mind. How could I have had a choice, if I had no control over my own thoughts? Then again, I also felt that suicide was inevitable, that I would not be able to stop it. If that was really true, then how am I still here? Did I still have the ability to choose? Was I able to regain control, even for a split second, or did I have control all along? The problem is of course that I have no way of ever knowing for sure what happened, let alone what I was thinking at the time.
The quote above, from Nathan Filer’s moving and uplifting novel The Shock of the Fall, is written by the 19 year-old schizophrenic narrator Matt Holmes. Not only does this seem to describe one of the inherent problems in diagnosing, treating and even understanding mental illness (i.e. the fact that it is impossible to be objective about, or sometimes even describe your symptoms), it has been a useful weapon in my constant battle to stay in control.
Obviously, schizophrenia is very different to depression, but thinking of my illness as an “it”, or even better a “he”, can be very helpful in recognising when I am suffering, and most importantly giving me an early warning to seek help. This idea was brilliantly articulated by Niall Breslin, well-known Irish musician and former gaelic football and professional rugby player, in a powerful and brave speech about his experience of general anxiety disorder. If you have not seen it yet, you really should: http://bit.ly/1A50rIL.
In the speech, “Bressie”, as he is better known, explains how he personalised his illness, gave it the worst name he could think of, and fought back by doing things that he knew “Jeffrey” would hate, which, as Jeffrey was a part of him, meant facing his own fears.
I have fully adopted this approach, although my depression is called “Alan”. Not only is this an incongruous name for something so powerful, but I imagine my depression having the voice, social skills and worldly experience of Norfolk’s most famous son, Alan Partridge. Although I am not going to buy a Mini Metro, or support the pedestrianisation of Norwich City Centre, I know that the two things that my Alan hates most are writing openly and creatively about himself, and running up mountains.
This is perhaps why the blog has been such a release for me, and a massive turning point. Like Bressie, my life has become so much brighter as a result of telling the world about my experiences, and the incredible response that I have received has only made me wish that I had done it sooner.
This is not to say that anyone with mental health issues should do this. Everyone’s story is different, and all I can do is tell my own. More importantly, this is only a very small part of my treatment. I am very, and unashamedly, reliant on fairly high doses of medication, regular therapy, and having so many people looking out for me.
Moreover, there is not, as far as I am aware, a cure for my illness, and my life will be a constant battle for control. At the moment, I seem to have the upper hand, but can I promise that I will never be back to where I was at around 5:30pm on 7 February 2014? No. But what I can promise is that I will do everything in my power to keep Alan from Bouncing Back.