Now I am 54

In honour of others, especially Matt Haig (see his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’), who have been open and honest about their own mental health difficulties I post this blog in the hope that none of us need suffer in silence and feel as if they are the only ones going through ,what can be, such excruciating difficulties. When I read this it sounds a bit grand, inflation is one of my problems so, just to deflate myself I do recognise my troubles have been like a midge bite that itches for a few days compared with what many go through, but these thoughts may have some value.

Last month was my Birthday, I have reached the heady age of 54. This last year has, probably, been the most challenging of my life and my wife’s. From the end of August 2014 I was beset with an attack of Severe Anxiety Disorder. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and once it arrived, it was rapidly clear to me, it wasn’t going away without some kind of struggle. If I look back now I see that there were many factors leading up to my crash.

Busyness; this was disguised as fulfilling a whole list of worthy expectations I had set up for myself and led others to expect of me.

Unaddressed Anxiety; I was always the calm one, that was the story I told myself and others especially my own family. In fact deep inside I was terribly anxious about a great many things. But I was convinced, because I allowed none of this into consciousness, that it wasn’t there.

Ignoring My Deepest Desires; by getting involved in all kinds of good work that provided immediate positive reinforcement to my ego I was able to avoid the work that has always been calling me – to sit in front of the blank page and wait, to tend my garden, to live a slower, calmer more centred life and most of all pay attention to my own mortality.

Not Listening; to my heart, my body, my wife, my children, my own words, (this is a really clever ruse – to tell everyone else what they should do – yet to pay little attention to my own advice).

Self-Medication; it is astonishing how good I can be at this, using alcohol, food, the internet, or even projections into the future to dull the ache of not having the courage to face myself with all my mundane human ordinariness.

An explosion. All of these factors are really part of the same whole, and feed off each other. But in my case they gradually built up and then exploded on a Sunday morning in August walking along a street in North Berwick. I suddenly a sharp shock like an electric current, followed by light-headedness and palpitations. There followed a trip to A&E in Edinburgh and then 4 months of spiralling down through the vortex of anxiety and depression. This involved medication ( I would have taken anything to relieve  the perching and powerful sense of dislocation), therapy, more trips to A&E and a terrible amount of worry for my ever faithful wife and family. My emergence from the vortex has been slow and painful, and it isn’t over yet.

What helped was the gracious kindness of my wife, my children, and friends – bearing with my agoraphobia, reassuring me of recovery, and loving me. My oldest friends were amazing, walking alongside me and loving me. My Brothers in the Men’s work, face-timing, visiting, emailing and again loving me. I have been having Jungian Analysis – a lifeline that has led me into the maze of my unconscious. This was very frightening at first as it fed into a downward spiral that made me frightened of my dreams and worried that I would be overwhelmed by my unconscious. It has, however become a point of steerage in each week, a mapping and orientation of my own particular life journey.

What hasn’t helped, well to be honest; antidepressants. I reacted very badly to the first ones I was on and haven’t really seen much benefit from the ones I changed to. I am astonished that mental health difficulties have reached such a pitch that hard pressed GPs often resort to medication as the first treatment of choice. I was very quickly on a range of tablets:- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, sleeping tablets (to treat the sleeplessness caused by the SSRI‘s),  Beta Blockers (actually these did help as they dealt with the very physical symptoms of anxiety), and last but worst Diazepam. Now, as I said, I would and did take anything offered, offered by kind doctors trying to alleviate very real symptoms. They only have so much time and so drugs are an obvious choice. I also received after about a month Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the GP surgery from a man who introduced himself as a CBT self help coach. Not a therapist but a self help professional. He was truly delightful and relatively helpful, but by the time I saw him I was totally confused as to which symptom was my condition and which was a side effect of the pills, he could not be sure either.

Symptoms. I was terrified of everything and this expressed itself in physical feelings such as hot tingling in the back of my neck, a feeling like an ice bucket had been poured into my stomach, pins and needles in the forearms, numbness in the shoulder blades. Psychologically I felt totally altered and dissociated, like I was watching myself and monitoring every thought. I was overwhelmed by a sense that I was going mad. I had very odd thoughts of violence and self harm, this increased the terror and a large part of me wanted to be admitted to some facility that would look after me. The psychosomatic feeling of depression  followed hot on the heels of all this. It was a kind of relentless plunging feeling that robbed of any savour, all the things I had previously loved. Random thoughts and experiences  would bring with them this sinking in the pit of my stomach and wrench me back into anxiety.

Writing. The one thing I continued to do, actually needed to do, was writing. It was salvific, I wrote recently in a poem that, when all was dark : ‘only my pen know its way’. I sensed on walks around a local dam with my wife who has been my constant companion, and with our dogs that something might be stirring. Here is the poem.

The Tremor of Silk

I can glean a seed of comfort
from the breath panting, running,
huffing happiness that Gabriel,
my dog finds in our long walk.

It sets up a yearning that is
painful to my stomach sinking,
down bringing, drear morning
waking, aching for more sleep.

I never dreamed that I would
be called anxious, depressed,
an object of sympathetic card
sending, sad condoling nods.

I have never longed more, or
implored, or burned for relief,
rescue, to gain a vantage point
that sees ahead, an end to all this.

We are walking round the dam,
all three dogs are in full stream
where as I flood, sporadically with
down the neck, hot water panic.

Will it end or am I stuck in this
wet pathed, leaf dropped winter
that issues into no spring as the
raven dark maw won’t release me.

I wonder if dogs get depressed,
Gabriel seems the steadiest of
friends as he wanders ahead licking
the water, unfazed by my state.

His unperturbed gaze is that seed,
not relief, but the tremor of silk,
that grows in his dark eyes and enters
my belly unseen, at least that’s my hope.

So now I have turned 54 and experienced one of the most unnerving periods of my life from which recovery is not so much returning to my old self as a discovery of a deeper, more complex self, a self that has optimism and trepidation in equal measure. The journey to a new life is something I want to offer, as someone said like; ‘postcards from the edge’ on this blog. Or as Thomas Merton called them ‘raids on the unspeakable’. If you have insights to share please don’t hesitate, one of the keys to all this is never to believe you travel alone.

192 comments

  1. Hi, my english is not THAT good (I´m German), that I understood every single word. And I also had the luck, not do experience, what you did, although many reasons were present. I guess, I was too strong for those reasons to win the fight. I WON! Nevertheless I fellt very clearly, what you wanted to express. My conclusion of what I experienced in my life, was “do, what you want, what makes you happy, and not, what others want you to do”. That´s the reason, why I live alone. Thats´s not the solution for anyone, but it´s for me.

  2. Adrian, I too accidentally came across your blog but I am so glad I did, thank you. Truestory also, I can relate very well to your comments to Adrian. I try to keep a distance from most people in the fear that I am causing damage or will say the wrong things to them. I try not to let anyone know exactly how I feel and, like a lot of people here, I put on a front.

  3. I am so very happy you wrote this. Struggling with the same exact clinical diagnosis and symptoms you did, it meant a lot to read your experiences! I know first hand the struggle, the at times unrelenting struggle, but I also know the strength that comes from it! As a matter of fact, I am now in the processing of getting my PhD in clinical psychology so that I may be of help to others like us. Be strong my friend!

  4. Also, having read everyone’s very smart comments concerning their thoughts on medication and over-prescription from doctors, I have to agree. In this time the focus seems to be on numbing rather than healing, and I long ago made the oath to myself to never be that kind of doctor. The primary emphasis should always be on getting to that inner root of the problem and trying to solve that, rather than its physical manifestations as anxiety. Medications are certainly great supplemental aids in the healing process if needed, as some patients certainly do, and I have seen time and time again they can save lives. But the dependency upon them is truly scary, and it is important that we realize this trend! Best of luck to all who expressed experiencing the same debilitating anxiety, you are stronger than you think!

  5. Truly the world should be enlightened how hard it can be when it comes to anxiety, little take seriously, until it happens to their loved ones. I have been in the same situation and I do not ever wish on anyone. Pains me to see you are in the same situation but at the same time fills me with happiness that you are not alone. The most difficult must be to focus on the good things when your own brain drags you down, is exhausting. As long we keep love in our backpack during this long journey called life we shall endure everything. I have got mine, have you got yours? Let’s not travel alone, let’s hit the road and travel along, in the road of happiness.

  6. Adrian
    I admire your courage. I too have suffered from depression most of my life. I find great solace in reading and recently writing. Ive a short talk on Keats & Spirituality you may be interested in.

  7. I have two adult sons with anxiety and I just wish they could find what works for them. The endless cycle of pain in their eyes breaks this mothers heart.
    I will try to remind them, they are not alone or crazy because that is how I know they feel. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I am no expert just a sufferer. But I would say seek help, talk to people you trust.
      This all started in my teens, but it improved and only came back later for the reasons described above.
      There is always a message that can lead to healing.
      Seek good therapy if you can afford to. Know that depression lies and that you are so much more than what you feel on the dark days.
      I am going to post a poem today that might help too.
      Peace and good
      Adrian. xx

    2. Get to know yourself. I spent years believing i was all sorts of terrible things. I’m now on a journey of self discovery and have learned to love and forgive myself, but it has been a long, hard road and I still have to be aware of staying on my path and working my plan every day as it is so easy to slip. I highly recommend connecting with others in the same boat, searching out their experiences like this blog. I have also found the SMART Recovery tools so helpful in challenging my negative thoughts and stopping them progressing into damaging feelings. Sorry for hijacking your comment but I read it and wished I’d got help at your age. Good luck.

  8. Hello Adrian
    Firstly, thank you for writing this brave, selfless and brutally frank piece about depression and how it’s affecting you and yours. Depression is truly a terrible thing and there is still too much ‘taboo’ associated with it, still there remains stigma and widespread ignorance about it. As you and I both know (having suffered from bouts of depression most of my adult life) it is a terrible, terrible thing. And only those who have suffered from it can truly empathise.
    Thank you for sharing the details of your darkest moments. The pills – I can relate to that… They do not work in isolation. I hope you are getting other means of support. You speak of CBT – I too endured that. It helped some. Only time helps. Time and an understanding and patient network of family and friends, and hobbies… For me, it was music and writing and photography that helped haul me out from beneath my dark clouds. They still appear, but I can recognize the signs now and have my own mantra and means of ‘distracting’ myself and pushing these feelings aside.
    The first time I was like you… a nervous collapse, and ended up in hospital. Depression can really make the body ill. But time spent doing what you love, and being around those you love, will help you.
    You’re a brave man, writing this. It’s great to read as there will be others out there who have or are going through this. They, like you, need to know you’re not alone. Everyone suffers from some form of mental health issue at some point in there lives and it’s through articles like this that people realise it SHOULD be talked about. Talking about it helps greatly.
    If you want to talk more here, or off the radar, please feel free to contact me. katmcdonaldphotography@gmail.com
    sometimes, an impartial ear, a sounding board, can help.
    You’re not alone. And thank you, once again, from the pit of my heart for this wonderful, enlightening, piece of writing.
    You’re stronger than you know. Love & light, Kat

    1. Dear Kat
      Thank you so much for your gracious words, I am a little overwhelmed at the out during of kindness in response to my post. I sit here typing with Arthur our 14 week old puppy at my feet and I accepting the love that has come my way. The sun is shining and today I can feel touch more of that shimmering silk.
      Go well,
      Adrian x

      1. You’re very welcome, Adrian. I was, genuinely, concerned when I read your post and re-read it a few times prior to replying. I meant what I said. If you need an impartial ‘ear’… I am here.

        Peace, love & blue bananas
        Kat
        🙂

        PS – hope the sun continues to shine for you. Literally and metaphorically. Stay well. Stay strong.

  9. I admire you greatly, I Am not as good as you but I hope one day I will. I have struggled with depression and anxiety and reading your post just inspire me.
    Maybe you could take a look at my first post, http://wp.me/p6fUWb-5

    A little humor, a little hope.

  10. महान पराक्रमी हनुमान अमर हैं। पवन पुत्र हनुमान रघुकुल के कुमारों के कहने से प्रतिदिन अपनी
    आत्मकथा का कोई भाग सुनाया करते थे।
    उन्होंने कहा कि मैं एक बार संध्या समय अपने आराध्य श्री राम का स्मरण करने लगा तो उसी
    समय ग्रहों में पाप ग्रह, मंद गति सूर्य पुत्र शनि देव पधारे। वह अत्यंत कृष्ण वर्ण के भीषणाकार थे। वह
    अपना सिर प्रायः झुकाये रखते हैं। जिस पर अपनी दृष्टि डालते हैं वह अवश्य नष्ट हो जाता है।
    शनिदेव हनुमान के बाहुबल और पराक्रम को नहीं जानते थे। हनुमान ने उन्हें लंका में दशग्रीव के बंधन से
    मुक्त किया था। वह हनुमान जी से विनयपूर्वक किंतु कर्कश स्वर में बोले हनुमान जी ! मैं आपको
    सावधान करने आया हूं। त्रेता की बात दूसरी थी, अब कलियुग प्रारंभ हो गया है। भगवान वासुदेव
    ने जिस क्षण अपनी अवतार लीला का समापन किया उसी क्षण से पृथ्वी पर कलि का प्रभुत्व हो
    गया। यह कलियुग है। इस युग में आपका शरीर दुर्बल और मेरा बहुत बलिष्ठ हो गया है।
    अब आप पर मेरी साढेसाती की दशा प्रभावी हो गई है। मैं आपके शरीर पर आ रहा हूं।
    शनिदेव को इस बात का तनिक भी ज्ञान नहीं था कि रघुनाथ के चरणाश्रि्रतों पर काल का
    प्रभाव नहीं होता। करुणा निधान जिनके हृदय में एक क्षण को भी आ जाते हैं, काल की कला वहां
    सर्वथा निष्प्रभावी हो जाती है। प्रारब्ध के विधान वहां प्रभुत्वहीन हो जाते हैं। सर्व समर्थ पर
    ब्रह्म के सेवकों का नियंत्रण-संचालन-पोषण प्रभु ही करते हैं। उनके सेवकों की ओर दृष्टि उठाने का
    साहस कोई सुर-असुर करे तो स्वयं अनिष्ट भाजन होता है। शनिदेव के अग्रज यमराज भी प्रभु के भक्त
    की ओर देखने का साहस नहीं कर पाते।
    हनुमान जी ने शनिदेव को समझाने का प्रयत्न किया, आप कहीं अन्यत्र जाएं। ग्रहों का प्रभाव
    पृथ्वी के मरणशील प्राणियों पर ही पड़ता है। मुझे अपने आराध्य का स्मरण करने दें। मेरे शरीर में श्री
    रघुनाथजी के अतिरिक्त दूसरे किसी को स्थान नहीं मिल सकता।
    लेकिन शनिदेव को इससे संतोष नहीं मिला। वह बोले, मैं सृष्टिकर्ता के विधान से विवश हूं। आप पृथ्वी
    पर रहते हैं। अतः आप मेरे प्रभुत्व क्षेत्र से बाहर नहीं हैं। पूरे साढे बाईस वर्ष व्यतीत होने पर साढ़े सात वर्ष
    के अंतर से ढाई वर्ष के लिए मेरा प्रभाव प्राणी पर पड़ता है। किंतु यह गौण प्रभाव है। आप पर मेरी
    साढ़े साती आज इसी समय से प्रभावी हो रही हो। मैं आपके शरीर पर आ रहा हूं। इसे आप टाल नहीं
    सकते।
    फिर हनुमान जी कहते हैं, जब आपको आना ही है तो आइए, अच्छा होता कि आप मुझ वृद्ध को छोड़
    ही देते’
    फिर शनिदेव कहते हैं, कलियुग में पृथ्वी पर देवता या उपदेवता किसी को नहीं रहना चाहिए। सबको
    अपना आवास सूक्ष्म लोकों में रखना चाहिए जो पृथ्वी पर रहेगा। वह कलियुग के प्रभाव में रहेगा
    और उसे मेरी पीड़ा भोगनी पड़ेगी और ग्रहों में मुझे अपने अग्रज यम का कार्य मिला है। मैं मुख्य
    मारक ग्रह हूं। और मृत्यु के सबसे निकट वृद्ध होते हैं। अतः मैं वृद्धों को कैसे छोड़ सकता हूं।’
    हनुमान जी पूछते हैं, आप मेरे शरीर पर कहां बैठने आ रहे हैं। शनिदेव गर्व से कहते हैं प्राणी के सिर पर। मैं
    ढाई वर्ष प्राणी के सिर पर रहकर उसकी बुद्धि विचलित बनाए रखता हूं। मध्य के ढाई वर्ष उसके उदर
    में स्थित रहकर उसके शरीर को अस्वस्थ बनाता हूं व अंतिम ढाई वर्ष पैरों में रहकर उसे भटकाता हूं।’
    फिर शनिदेव हनुमान जी के मस्तक पर आ बैठे तो हनुमान जी के सिर पर खाज हुई। इसे मिटाने के लिए
    हनुमान जी ने बड़ा पर्वत उठाकर सिर पर रख लिया।
    शनिदेव चिल्लाते हैं, यह क्या कर रहे हैं आप।’ फिर हनुमान जी कहते हैं, जैसे आप सृष्टिकर्ता के विधान
    से विवश हैं वैसे मैं भी अपने स्वभाव से विवश हूं। मेरे मस्तक पर खाज मिटाने की यही उपचार पद्धति है।
    और आप अपना कार्य करें और मैं अपना कार्य।’
    ऐसा कहते ही हुनमान जी ने दूसरा पर्वत उठाकर सिर पर रख लिया। इस पर शनिदेव कहते हैं, आप इन्हें
    उतारिए, मैं संधि करने को तैयार हूं।’ उनके इतना कहते ही हनुमान जी ने तीसरा पर्वत उठाकर सिर
    पर रख लिया तो शनि देव चिल्ला कर कहते हैं, मैं अब आपके समीप नहीं आऊंगा। फिर भी हनुमान जी
    नहीं माने और चौथा पर्वत उठाकर सिर पर रख लिया। शनिदेव फिर चिल्लाते हैं, पवनकुमार !
    त्राहि माम ताहि माम ! रामदूत ! आंजनेयाय नमः ! मैं उसको भी पीड़ित नहीं करूंगा जो आपका
    स्मरण करेगा। मुझे उतर जाने का अवसर दें।
    हनुमान जी कहते हैं, बहुत शीघ्रता की। अभी तो पांचवां पर्वत (शिखर) बाकी है। और इतने में ही शनि
    मेरे पैरों में गिर गए, और कहा’ मैं सदैव आपको दिये वचनों को स्मरण रखूंगा।’
    आघात के उपचार के लिए शनिदेव तेल मांगने लगे। हनुमान जी तेल कहां देने वाले थे। वही शनिदेव आज
    भी तेलदान से तुष्ट होते हैं।

  11. Not to belittle your realizations and self-improvement/family love saga at all, but have you been checked for an adrenal tumor? That is usually the cause of late and sudden onset “anxiety,” especially with heart palpitations which have no previous history or obvious cause. Please get checked. This is life-threatening. If you are otherwise healthy, this kind or benign tumor seems to “come out of nowhere” as well.

    best to you,

    Sally

    1. Thank you Sally – I have a very thorough GP who put me through a barrage of tests and there were no adrenal issues. I had a low Vitamin D count which has been treated -I also had para thyroid investigations that were also negative. Thanks for the heads up though, Adrian x

      1. Hi Adrian, I’m new to your blog and don’t mean to interrupt your original conversation, but I keep hearing this thing about vitamin D and currently everyone being too low in it (regardless of it being added to the milk…) Is this real? Are we all really suddenly low in Vitamin D and why I wonder if so… Not that you have to have this info, or be an expert in anything other than your own health. But the vitamin industry is about as reliable as the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry as well as the naturopathic “tincture” industry…
        The best sources are going to be our natural foods which unfortunately in many cases, we’ve polluted with chemical pesticides or genetically modified…
        so I don’t mean to veer anyone from help, or presume to know about clinical mental health diagnosis… but sunshine, clean air, clean water, clean food… walking and “keeping it simple” seem to address anxiety best. Listening to your heart… following it… and not taking pills with side effects or numbing qualities… but rather feeling your body and experiencing the feelings, the resistance, the nervousness, the pain, and not denying the sensations is the only way to move through and past them in my own understanding. So that we can be aware of where we plug into old patterns of thinking and defense mechanisms or survival mechanisms which no longer work and or the preconceptions that block us and paralyze us… and then take the right actions to move forward.
        Anyhow, I sure don’t mean to get preachy… but vitamin D seems like a new fad… or the climate change thing has just made us use to sun screen and we aren’t leeching from the sun like we used to be able?
        In any case my very best to your healing, and happiness. 🙂

  12. I’ll be 54 in three weeks, if that means anything. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002 and, looking back, I could see the tracks of it following me through my life.
    I’ve learned a fair amount about the condition and that helps but the most important things I have learned have been about me. In fact, I think I may have to write my own post about it. Thanks for putting me up to it. Do your best and Scotland Forever.

  13. Adrian, I can go on and on about my own experience. The advice I would like to give is this, try to do without the medications. The medications keep you in a vicious cycle and trying to get off of them is extremely difficult. I would also tell you to start honoring who you really are, not what others expect or want you to be. If you are not a Christ follower then I will tell you to follow him. It is a difficult journey and you cannot go back to your old self but you will come out of this better in due season. Good Luck Adrian and I am praying for you!!!

  14. I enjoyed your post. Thank you! I have struggled with general worry and anxiety my entire life, panic disorder and agoraphobia the past 10 years, OCD and hypervigilance the past 2. None of it is any fun. I am not married, have never been married, no children. I separated from the military in 2005 and the transition had become too much. It was on a Sunday morning in a Church. My whole life literally changed over night. That was then and now things are a little different. I was in my late twenties at the time. It was a wake up call. I still struggle with it but it’s no where as bad.

  15. Hello Adrian, thank you for sharing your story with us. I hope you are tracking well at the moment.
    It is such good news that you are being loved and supported at this time.

  16. I looked at your post because I had just turned 54. A post on depression was not what I expected but I’m glad I read your post. Thank you for talking about your experience. I’ve just decided to try to draw more on my experience to include more story telling in my blog. I’m an academic and for some reasons we are not trained to be good story tellers. I enjoyed your very personal easy-to-read style. So thank you.

  17. A very big happy birthday hug from me to you though belated. Just to let you know that you are very much loved even though i just met you through your writing. I once experienced a season of panic attacks in my life. At the time i didn’t even know what it was but i got through with the support of my husband, friends and Pastor. I later got to know the source of my panic attacks: I didn’t have time to grieve for a brother i lost, then followed by my sister’s husband. I was busy being there for everyone that i forgot my own need to properly grieve. Well i learned a lot about taking time to take care of myself also and not just others. I got through that period through prayers and love. Thank you for sharing your experience. One thing i am taking away from it, is the need to slow down and enjoy my everyday life and blessings instead of being anxious. I love to be busy doing great projects but…Life is more than that.

  18. Thank you for sharing. Your list of anxieties before you had your full blown attack are many symptoms that I’ve felt. I too am known as the calm and collected one. Sometimes I’m too scared to face the possibility of being diagnosed with depression. Become of my job and the work I do, I cannot go on medication and it’s a lot of paperwork and questions if I seek professional help. I’ve tried to self-diagnose myself, possibly with PTSD. Possibly depression. I’ve been on a rollercoaster the last year or so, feeling great and loving life, all the way down to hurting myself, praying that I don’t wake up when I go to sleep. I thank you for writing what you did. I’ve been slowing picking back up on writing and I think it’s been helping. All I know to do right now is press on.

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