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. Wow, receiving so much response to your story must be huge encouragement in itself to keep expressing, growing and sharing your progress with others. I look through this and it encourages me to continue to try and do the same. I have been going through major life upheavals the past two years, and it wasn’t until I took the plunge to ask for help and address my emotions that I realized how deep the issues went and how far back into my past they went. I have a thing with my emotions in which I did not recognize exactly what they were about, where they came from, and therefore I assumed they were normal feelings – the anxiety, the disassociation, the loneliness, the self loathing… anyways, your post and all of the comments here in response are inspirational, thank you for sharing your story and stories. I have started to write in the hope that it will help me to progress and also be helpful in someway to others, it certainly seems so in your case. Happy belated birthday, love and light to you, your family and everyone here :)x

  2. Can +40 million people taking antidepressants to cure their malaise be wrong? Trouble comes when you see doctors prescribing those pills without going to the origin of each symptom… Mental illness as an organic illness is a fabricated myth… Live the present, each day as a wonderful gift.

  3. I’ve read that one in four Americans are taking antidepressants. That isn’t good. They aren’t candy. They take me from depressed to stark-raving, in about zero to sixty and I know I’m not the only they affect that way. I found the underlying causes of my depression and anxiety, I treat those, and I’m better. Hang in there. You can get better too.

  4. Can +40 million people taking antidepressants to cure their malaise be wrong? Trouble comes when doctors prescribe chemicals that were first given to mice with depression (!)… Mental illness as an organic illness is a fabricated myth: Live the present, each day as a wonderful gift, Adrian. Thanks for your post!

  5. Thanks for the post. With my dealings with depression I found that being honest with yourself is the best therapy. Talking to someone that will hold all your secrets about how you truly feel helps also. I have changed meds so many times because they weren’t working. I can relate on so many levels and I’m only 33. Depression can happen at whatever age it doesn’t matter, but what does matter is that you fight and not let it continue to rule your life.

  6. Hi, I’m a very down-to-earth healer. I’m recovering from a sort of separation anxiety and social anxiety disorder. I tell my story on my blog. You may find something useful there. I’m not hard-sell, I’m a genuine soul(!) and just like to help people.

  7. This is wonderful, thank-you for sharing such private feelings that I can so relate to. You will inspire others and obviously have a true flare for writing. Keep it up and good luck for each for each and every moment for your recovery.

  8. This was such a sincere account of your profound difficulties.I,along with others who would have read this,have our own issues too.
    You though,have articulated how things have been,and how they are now.They are your reality,and I am humbled that you let me,a guy from Britain with his own mental health problems,into your existence.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.May you keep going,and may there be a “safe place for you”.
    From Kernowsmith.

  9. What a beautiful blog. The clarity in the way in which you describe your experience and ongoing experiences is haunting but powerful. Anxiety and depression are dangerous beasts that are hard to learn to live alongside. I wish you well in your ongoing journey. Thank you for sharing. X

  10. Have you considered your problem may be hardware rather than software ? . Epilepsy can cause temporary depersonalization … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depersonalization , electric-sensations, nausea, instantaneous endogenous feelings which can be anywhere from dread to euphoria. Loss of consciousness & convulsions are NOT necessary for a diagnosis of epilepsy, see … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_seizure#Presentation . CBT & psychoanalysis are not treatments for epilepsy. Effective medications for epilepsy exist called anti-convulsants , ( they are used even if you are not having convulsions ). Just a though, Best wishes.

  11. Thank you for sharing this, I believe we all have a responsibility to share our struggles with mental health in an effort to reduce the stigma. The thing nobody seems to realise until they have their own struggle is that depression and anxiety have very severe physical symptoms! There is nothing worse than being told to pull yourself together, or to stop wallowing in self pity, by somebody with no understanding of the problem. I so wish I could pull myself together when I’m biting through my tongue as my teeth clench, heart pounding in my ears so fast and loud that it’s all I can hear, unable to breathe through the vice around my lungs! Hopefully, in sharing our stories, we can bring hope to somebody suffering or explain to someone who doesn’t realise that it’s a very real illness. Thanks for such an honest portrayal of your struggle, I do hope you can now see the other side.

  12. Wonderful and honest. Thank you for sharing your voice, your experience, and your strategies. It’s so important to use this public space to support one another and you’ve do e just that. Thank you.

  13. There is so much I’d like to ask and say in response to this, but I’m always imagining a project to be inappropriately big and then never do it, so I’ll keep it simple: I appreciate what you’ve written and can identify with much even though I would express it differently and have addressed it differently. Thanks for writing because it makes me feel less alone.

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  15. three simple things human being need to clings on in life: be great full (even for the tiny things), so then we can be patient for problems that occur (even for the biggest problem), and put your best efforts in moving forward.

  16. Thank you for posting your journey. I commend you for your truthfulness & clarity. I too am 54. My life, like yours, has been filled with many problems. Thankfully, I am in the midst of rebuilding my life. Keep up the hard work.

  17. Adrian,
    I have to say that I agree that the kind of friends who know how to travel “alongside” are the ones who are most helpful during the times that those of us who suffer with depression (and other related illnesses) cannot do much for ourselves. Nowadays I have milder, intermittent episodes of depression but years ago, right before I had a major breakdown, my friend Phoebe literally walked with me. She didn’t ask too many questions, just the necessary ones. What I remember and cherish is the fact that she was there. Her physical presence was a better salve to my soul than those misguided folks who looked at my face and didn’t see my soul. Those uninformed onlookers who weren’t my friends told me I should “smile.” Thank you for sharing your story.

  18. Belated happy birthday Adrian! My father is of your age. Thank you for the complete honesty and transparency of your story. You have inspired me in a way that reminds me to pay attention to my mortality. I pray for your recovery and well wishes for your loved ones too.

  19. Beautiful post, as an 18 year old writer I haven’t thought about many of these things before reading the post, and I feel you’ve helped give me insight on how an older character would think. Thank you for that, and I’ve followed btw, feel free to check out my blog if you want 🙂

  20. Have you ever dropped a lead crystal glass and found yourself transfixed by the rainbows gleaming off the jagged edges? Have you ever wanted other people to be smashed by an incongruously falling boulder simply because they are laughing and care free? Do you feel like the sky may fall at any moment?

    What about your physical health. Has your immune system collapsed leaving you at the mercy of pneumonia, and constantly recurring strep throat? Have your social skills broken down completely, leaving others awkward in your silent presence, struggling to find a connection with you?

    Do you boil with unreasoning rage at the drop of a hat? Do you find yourself waking up already sobbing and then in the midst of insanely hysterical laughter over some banal not funny day time soap opera? Do you have periods where you can just lie in bed, not moving a muscle, getting dehydrated and noticing no hunger pangs for several days?

    Are those days when you do get out of bed ruled rigidly by paranoid suspicion of every mundane event on the street outside your home, glueing your eyes to the gaps between your curtain panels or in your venetian blinds? Do you live in cold, shaking terror of knocks on the door? Have end of the world panic attacks just because you have to go and buy some milk and bread?

    Welcome to what was my world.

    SSRIs helped me very greatly.

    Major Depression, Psychotic Depression and Anxiety Disorders are all about brain chemistry. I also found CBT did actually help me with useful insights. It isn’t everyones’ Gin and Tonic, I know and I suppose it depends on how intuitive and skilled your therapist is at guiding you to confront your demons and see how pointless and insignificant they are. The things that work for us are as individual as we are. Experiences are subjective. You won’t know if it works if you give up quickly. Then again, we shouldn’t be afraid to dismiss new ideas and methods. Because something has to work.

    Wishing you good luck and peace of mind.

  21. Three aspects come to mind after reading this deeply expressive post. First, the pen is mightier than the sword. Earlier in life it was difficult to see how strength could be overpowered with a pen and the way you have connected with people truly experesses the pen’s power.

    Second, have you heard of Dr. William Davis? He has a book Wheat Belly that touches on a connection of modern grains and mental disorders.

    Third, what role do you feel food plays in your condition? I have a theory that a more natural diet with supplements to add vitamins and minerals would alleviate much.

    Regards,
    Clifford T Mitchem
    Advocare Distributor
    Nutrition + Fitness = Health
    http://www.AdvoCare.com/13087657

  22. I think dogs do get depressed. Our dog sleeps outside and one day I realised that she was not eating all her food. I let her into the house to sleep in the dining room and found that she was “better” the next day, eating her food as usual. She was also more playful.

    1. I have a depressed Raven. But that is totally irelavent. Have you tried getting your dog a cat? Apparently stroking a cat is good for depression and high blood pressure.

      … Smile and everybody thinks you’ve done something naughty. Laugh and the world gets you sectioned.

  23. Hi Adrian, First of all , I would like to wish you a very happy belated birthday, because i came across this post today and I read it today, so your birthday is belated .
    I loved your post. It is written so honestly and i feel we all will get some good knowledge after reading it. It was so good to read and feel and know about your wife , I think I am not wrong, her name as you have written Wilma, (sorry 😦 if I am wrong) was very strongly with you. Depression is something that many people now suffer from it and most of the time , I think thier big egos don’t let them go to the doctor to get themselves checked because they are like, “Oh com’on, I am a strong man/woman, i cannot have all these things, I know what I am and I am not worried about anything.
    It is so true what you have written . What you wrote about the garden was also too good to read. I remember my father. He isa nature lover and he loves gardening. Last month he fell sick because he use to sit in the garden in the hot summer without any hat. He loves to be in the mud like a baby and he never uses gloves. MY mom is a teacher and she had summer vaccations . So all her vaccation went is taking care of my dad. They both are one of a kind I tell you.
    At one age , it is just you and your partner the only best friends left to look after each other. Children are all busy and most of the time not that near to just rush and come by. I want to write so much to you but I gotta go. I am new but I am more of a reader. I post , but less. I love to read and respond. I loved your post and i like you very much.
    God bless you with long and healthy life accompanied with your b’ful better half,
    Happy belated birthday man, happy blogging!!!

  24. I feel like I can relate to you on so many levels. It’s an epidemic that has gone unnoticed in the United States. Because of the things I’ve personally experienced I’ve taking a lead of faith to start this blog to hopefully help others relate and let them know that they aren’t alone out there but have an entire community of people to speak to.

  25. Adrian, thank you for being so honest and sharing this with us! I’ve been “away” for a while, but I too, find that writing is necessary. I look forward to exploring more of your blog and reading more of your work!

  26. I can not begin to imagine what you are going through! I have never had depression or anxiety. However I do believe that writing is something that really allows people to express the things that are bothering them and can help relieve some of that pain or anxiety.

  27. I am glad that you had a family and support, it is said that is always the best medicine. You write beautifully.

  28. Yes! Thank you! I was feeling all alone, like I was the only one. May you be blessed with a great light on your way through your dark tunnel! I look forward to reading your future posts.

  29. this is a great post!! So many want to hide theise things away but they are real and we need each other. I thank you for your courage and honesty and I this will help many people.

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