Depression – something personal

W1

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this blog as it’s been a personal struggle which I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share. Then I looked at the stats. Depression kills. It kills far more men than it does women and it kills more men in my age group than in others and is avoidable in many cases. I am in a privileged position through my work to reach a few thousand people so for me I need to try to help anyway I can. So here goes.

I have probably suffered from depression for several years and looking back have had several episodes over my adult life. Up until the last year or so, I’ve been able to bring myself out of most of them most of the time, with the support of loved ones and exercise. This last year has been different.

Andrew Solomon, who is a psychiatric expert on depression likens the mind to an iron structure. When we get deressed, the rust sets in. It eats away constantly at the structure and then sometimes parts of the structure collapse. These are the acute episodes. During these episodes everything is difficult, no, it’s not, everything is extremely difficult and some things are impossible. For me as well, I think it’s like when you have a bad cold. You know thet there are times in you life when you’ve not had a cold but you can’t remember what it feels like. That’s depression too.

I’ll not go into the full details of why I became ill but this is what some of what I experienced and if you are suffering from it you are not alone. Some days I could not get out of bed. I still have days like that but work forces me to get up as does needing to get Watson out and take care of her needs. At the weekends my brain and my body need time to heal so there are times when I don’t get out of bed until 1pm. At first I would get annoyed with myself that I had spent so much time in bed and not been more productive and this would make me feel worse. So I started to give myself a break about it. A few weeks ago I came in from work and went to bed at 5.30pm and slept til 7.30am the next day. My body was telling me something and I listened. I need to rest. A lot. So I do.

Up until last year, I was working full time and doing my dog training on the side. My physical fitness then dropped off due to constraints on my time and I few strains and niggles would creep in. I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as my hobby and it has been an absolute tonic in my life for the last 11 years. My injuries meant I couldn’t get off the couch when I came home after class and getting dressed the next morning was a huge physical struggle. I could harldy get out of bed or put on my clothes. Tying my shoe laces was very painful. So I stopped going.

I felt bad. BJJ, which made me feel better was now no longer available to me so I felt worse. It spiralled down. I needed to do something about it as I am not depression. It is only a part of me and something I am trying to make a temporary part of me.

So, I started yoga and saw and osteopath to help make my back better. I tried to do one thing very day which I didn’t want to do, one small thing which might be as simple as shaving (no, this wasn’t the reaons for growing the beard; my neckline and cheeks still needed attention). If I became overwhemed when out I would try to centre myself in the moment by concentrating on 5 things I could see, 4 things I could hear, 3 things I could feel, 2 things I could smell or taste. This works well. Depression is about loss and anxiety is about uncertainty of what will happen next. One is in the past, the other the future so mindfulness brings you into the present. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed and need to go home. I feel ok about it as these episodes are lessening but they are still there. Ride the wave, it passes.

I previously worked in an extremely male dominated, macho bullshit environment. I’ve grown up in the West of Scotland where men needs to be men. We don’t talk about our feelings. So talk. Especially the guys, talk to someone, please, if you feel like this. It helps. A lot. If you think you are being unfair to your wife or girlfriend by burdening them with it, talk to someone else. Talk to the dog, call a helpline but for fuck sake please talk about it. It might help but it most often doesn’t make it worse. You need to get it out in some productive way.

Find the tiny little things which give you pleasure. Anything you can, you need to redress the balance. Engage as much as you can. Our industry can be very isolating so we need friends and a support network. If we practice positive reinforcement with out animals we need to practice it with each other. Stand up when you see others being bullied or harassed as you don’t know how it is effecting the recipient. A couple of months ago I defended a dominance based, balanced trainer who I recognised as being emotionally vulnerable against an immature campaign of online harassement from a so-called positive dog trainer. We need to do this. We need to try to practice it in all aspects of our lives.

Find something you are good at and can be successful at. Practice it. Everytime we are successful at something we start to redress the brain chemisty. Help your body and your brain out, you have the power to do something about it.

GO AND SEE YOUR DOCTOR!

I know this has been a bit disjointed but we are not defined by our depression. It is not who we are it is only part of us. There is still such a massive taboo about mental health issues in our culture that we don’t talk about it. This needs to change. Depression kills us if we don’t. Ask for help if you need it.

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://breathingspace.scot/

Love and peace.

John

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45 thoughts on “Depression – something personal

  1. Your personal journey reasona yes with me. Depression has nearly ended my life three times and I’m never fully free of it. The struggle to help others understand is real and your writing will help me to help my family understand. My relationship with animals, dogs in particular, gives me hope and joy. Thank you. Your skills training dogs are incredible. Your decision to share your journey remarkable.

  2. Very very brave of you John. I think why it hits men so hard is because they are hanging on so tight. Men are not supposed to get depression and if they do they’re not allowed to admit it and ‘man up’ and get on with it. I too have been in that dark place and it’s truly terrible. However, one thing you must, but must remember is that you are here today because of the strength you have had in the daily struggle against those demons. Don’t be afraid of the help there is out there ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, when you have a good day. Always remember, when describing how you feel to medical people to imagine it’s your worst day. In my darkest hours I would say to myself I will wait until tomorrow and if I still feel the same I’ll do something. If I felt the same I’d say again I’ll wait ’til tomorrow. Thank goodness the fog would part eventually. Take care.

  3. John, I am a fellow sufferer of almost lifelong depression. I recently read a book by Dr. Kelly Brogan called “A Mind Of Your Own” that addresses a whole new treatment for depression that is not based on drugs. I urge you to read it. I am having great success in weaning off meds & actually healing my brain. Wishing you well…….

  4. Bravo, John! Well said. I too have struggled for years with depression with a side of anxiety. For the most part it is under control now. I still have my blue days though.

    I agree wholeheartedly that mental illness is still a taboo in our society & we need to stop treating it as such. Mental Illness aka depression, anxiety, etc. needs to be treated like any other illness. Seek the help you need! Life is too short to live in the dark. There is hope! 🌻

  5. I would like to say I don’t know what it’s feels like, but I’m suffering from depression, I’m a dog trainer and I don’t know what to do. I have days that nothing can get me up, just maybe the threat that if I cancel all my appointments people could sue me (in case they bought a package of classes). It’s not making me feel better, it’s like learned helplessness or so. Sure, the people, the dogs, it’s all great and makes me smile and that’s it. I lost this attitude I had at the beginning. But most of the time I’m just in my bed. I’m over the feeling guilty part, but even now it’s impossible for me to do the simplest tasks. I’m so scared, I don’t know what to do, I don’t have anybody near me to ask for professional help. I feel like I’m feeling now better than ever but still dying inside. I know it will take time, months, years, my whole life, and I hate this knowledge so much! I hope you are doing well.

    1. Pat, what you are going through is very, very difficult to handle alone. You need and deserve support. It is like asking someone with a broken leg to run a mile. They can try and try but eventually they need to lean on someone to get through it. I am betting there are counselling services near you. Depression is so common, every doctor deals with it and may be able to prescribe some meds to give you some relief. Get off the treadmill and change directions. You life and your work are too important. Peace.

    2. Look for help. Tell someone who loves you to look for help for you if you feel you can’t do it yourself. It’s an illness, like any other, don’t suffer alone. Find support groups online, cognitive-behavioural therapy can also be partly done without the need to see the therapist every week or so. And, as John said: depression kills.

  6. I also wanted to thank you for posting this. I don’t have the courage to speak loud about my depression but I feel more confident and strong fighting it thanks to people like you.

  7. Thank you for this! I was diagnosed bipolar I at the age of 41, after a lifetime of suffering. I am a suicide survivor and lived with suicide struggles for many years. I am very open about my illness. It is not as easy as “take these pills, you’ll be fine,” but meds – *for me* – have been a huge part of my recovery. I like you also now take more time to rest. Isolation kills. When we talk, we heal; not just ourselves, but others too. Thank you for this post.

  8. I just to say a HUGE thank for this! I have suffered from Very bad depression and Extreamly severe GAD. I also come from an couture that does not talk about emotions or ask for help, you just Man up and get on with it. Well for years that is what I did, but 5 years ago part of me broke and I could not cope and I got some much needed help, and magaed with the lovely Bella to start to build my life again. Loads of ups and down and last year it got so bad that I tried end things. Thanks to Bella , someone found me and I have fought tooth and nail, to get back to my baseline of I’m ok. I to started yoga, I started studying , I started thearpy (rape crises, cbt and anger management) , and I worked on getting my happy back! Well I got better , but still had dark days . I some how got to the final of scruffts with Bella , and she won! I’m just so glad, I have a second chance at life , and so amazed by the great people I have met and that are part of my recovery . Much love to you all h X

  9. Very brave and kind of you to share your story. Courageous of many who have replied to add theirs. So, be well John, be well.

  10. John – you are so brave for sharing your experiences and reaching out to people about this. Sending healing thoughts and please look after yourself. You are now part of a profession which is notorious for burn out and compassion fatigue.

    In many developed countries, rates of anxiety and depression are absolutely sky rocketing. You look at the rate of prescribing of anti-depressants and it would suggest that our human brains aren’t coping well at all in the modern world. We’ve got these brains which evolved in a very different period of time for a completely different world. What happens when you expose our brains to this kind of pace in the modern world? I do think we are overstimulated from constant information and communication and we can feel powerless and helpless when we see cruelty and witness bullying etc. in the environments that we share.

    The modern world is testing all of us but men are so much more vulnerable because they are traditionally seen as being the supporter and not the supported. Speaking up will hopefully help to change this stereotype.

    Grayson Perry recently explored the macho culture stereotype in a three part series on Channel 4 as he well knows that the macho bullshit culture can be emotionally brutalising. Definitely worth watching and fantastic that he is speaking out about this. I feel so much for the young men growing up feeling so desperate to fit into their communities and genuinely thinking this is what is expected of them as the stereotypical male. It is tragic. I grew up in the NE of England. Father and brother both fit this stereotype but deep down they are both deeply sensitive and feel things quite intensely. I wonder whether the heavy drinking culture that developed in this part of the world was a way for some men to numb or crush their feelings full stop.

    I first experienced depression in my teenage years, yet I can remember it vividly. What struck me was that I felt paralysed by emotional pain because I was finding the people in the world to be generally hostile, insensitive and uncaring. I remember thinking’ I can’t wait to be a grown up so I can have some control over my life’. I have since experienced a couple of extensive periods of depression as an adult induced by work stress and eventual burn out (medical profession) and have been unable to do anything much at all at the time. I also decided to withdraw from most social media platforms as I found them isolating and lonely experiences. I also found that my animal welfare sensitivity gets sorely tested on line so tend to restrict what I look at and how often. I spend at least two hours most days hiking in the countryside with my beloved girl. She has helped me heal with her love and zest for life. The time I share with her is the time that I really seem to get enormous fulfilment. It’s uncomplicated, authentic and sincere and I absolutely treasure every moment.

    Love and peace right back to you.

    Be well and take time to do what you need to do to heal. Your work is important, valued and is making a difference for the better in the world.

  11. You are such an amazing and kind person John and I am always appreciative of the fabulous rational advice in your blogs. At the risk of being poo pooed 🙂 I have found dropping all grains from my diet has helped my black dog stay at bay. I read “Grain Brain” by neurologist Dr David Perlmutter and “Wheat Belly” by Cardiologist Dr William Davis. Both books refer to how bi polar and epilepsy could be well controlled by diet before the event of drugs in days gone by…. and I use that as a reference as to how powerful the effect of diet can be. I know that different things work for different people but I was desperate to find nearly anything that improved my quality of life and freed me from that clawing dark abyss. Hugs and all strength to you x.

  12. Think of depression like a cruise ship. A cruise ship does not turn on a dime but is a long, slow arc. This is what recovery from depression is like. Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral therapy are the best tools for depression and anxiety.

  13. Wow, totally from the heart it just shows how much you don’t know what another person is going through. I struggle with depression a lot and only recently went to docs about it, life can be tough. Hope your well and keep your chin up.

  14. I also have been a sufferer since 2000. Twice it has become too much and I hit rock bottom and am lucky to still be here. It isn’t easy living with depression, you are always aware it is there. I have had help with medication and therapy in the past, now just cope as best I can on a daily basis. My energy levels are low and it is easy to stay in bed for many hours so I give myself a time limit. I try to look for all the positives each day, but find that things easily stress me out and I find it very difficult to cope with decisions, responsibility, any anything not routine. It is a terrible thing to live with but many people do. Thank goodness for my young enthusiastic dogs!

  15. My husband was an O.P.P. K9 handler for fifteen years before he retired. His work area was huge. He was on call 24/7. There was never any counselling after a particularly gruesome call. He retired after thirty years as a police officer in 1997. We were breeding German shepherd dogs and he turned his work experience to helping others with their dogs. I think all the terrible things he’d seen as part of his job were no longer able to stay submerged in his mind. He was depressed. Over a span of about ten years he fought, with medications, hospitalization and therapy. He had lost weight. 154 pounds for a 6’2″ man is way too thin. He couldn’t fight any more and completed suicide on April 3, 2011. Even the arrival of our first granddaughter wasn’t enough to keep him fighting. We had four GSDs at the time of his death. Two have since passed on, but I still have my two girls. Depression is so insidious, but worse, it’s invisible to most others.

  16. Very brave of you, weldone, I hope you go from strenght to strength, an inspiration in many ways x

  17. You have described American culture, as well. Probably most cultures seem to force men into being super heroes from the day they are born. It is ridiculous. As ridiculous and impossible as culture that tries to shape every woman, from day one, into the perfect sexual, but demure homemaker.

    Unfortunately, in the USA, it is not always possible to get help, thanks to the republicans in our government. They continue to insist that mental health does not matter and it is simply a matter of bad character. They have made care far financially far beyond most people’s means. I know.

    Clinical depression has a 20-25% fatality rate, yet it is treated as not big deal. “Snap out of it!”, they say, or “Exercise more!” they say. The trouble is that they don’t realize that a true clinical depression makes doing anything impossible. In the depths of my despair, it took someone else to get help for me.

    I was one of the first to try Prozac and it was a magic bullet for me, after having tried almost everything else. Of course, shortly thereafter, the “great” republican president, Ronald Reagan, decided to close down nearly every mental health treatment in the country and turned many patients out on the street, where they became homeless. So, it continues today.

  18. John, WOW just WOW. I know exactly how you feel. I recognise these symptoms in my days too. I admire you for speaking out. I wish you well with your coping and I hope you know your not alone too. 😊

  19. Great that you have shared this – its difficult to talk about like you say so kudos for sharing. For those who pregyer to talk to someone unrelated and who live in Glasgow there is free access to stress management sessions ond one to one counselling from lifelink.org.uk or 0141 542 4434 – its free, confidential and funded by the health board xx

  20. Thank you, John. The worst thing about depression (or any mental illness) is that those affected think it’s a stigma and fail to find treatment. It’s an illness, nobody’s fault, it doesn’t make you less masculine nor less human. No illness does. I don’t really have a touching personal story but a few years ago my best friend killed himself just before Christmas (and his birthday). I knew he’d been depressed for a long time. I was one of very few people who knew. I didn’t save him and was left to live the rest of my life with guilt and anger and obsessive suspicion anyone else I love might do the same: hide from me and kill himself.

  21. Thank you for that, I often thought ‘if it weren’t for my dogs ……..’
    I need say no more but thank you.

  22. Bravo for using your position to get the word out about depression. I have Bipolar disorder and while I don’t have a following of any sort, I do talk about Bipolar disorder to anyone who wants to listen. I tell everyone I have it, I want to end the stigma that goes with having a psychiatric disorder. If those of us who have them to not speak out about them and educate people, the stigma will never go away. I also talk openly and freely about it in hope that others who are battling the same beast as I am, will know it is possible to fight and to function and to have a productive life, even it it is not always as productive as I would like. I figure if I can make it out of bed, then it has been a productive day and anything else is just icing on the cake. Your making it know that you battle with depression will help others, you may never know who it helps, but I assure you that it will save lives. Keep up the fight and if you ever need a shoulder to lean on, I would gladly loan you one of mine. Just not the left shoulder, it is hurting like crazy, but the right one is still good.

  23. I can relate to everything you’ve said, having depression all my adult life, with some really low, dark times. With the support of my amazing family and friends I’ve always got through, thankfully. I also have an under active thyroid, double whammy.
    I grew up with dogs and they are just always in my life. I’ve worked for the NHS and local government on and off for 20 years, but last year decided to step away from that and become a dog walker. Do something I love and help others. I’ve not looked back, although it was a scary thing to do, would people need me, would they want me to become part of their life and card for their precious babies. Thankfully yes. I’m pretty busy, probably could be busier but I want to keep a balance too. I’m not a trainer or have any knowledge apart from basic but I adore dogs and people. What I provide is love cuddles and fun walks for people’s beloved pets. I am much more relaxed, happy and minimal stress, have only had one day off due to illness, I just don’t get sick now, and I achieve much more. I have found my mojo again and it’s thanks to a bit of courage on my part and my wonderful hairy clients. I’ve also got fitter and lost a bit of weight! 😀
    There is always room for improvement and learning but small steps at a time, so I will be looking to get a bit of training/input at some point to help with problems or general things I have found as I’ve gone grouch my first year.
    Brave thing to say that you have suffered with depression and more so as a man, shows how far you’ve come, but saying it out loud helps and helps others suffering.
    I hope to meet you sometime and learn something.
    Until then, bravo, and I’ll continue to watch your videos.
    H

  24. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, peace & love xx PS your one heck of a trainer pls pls stay strong xx

  25. I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with depression sometimes, but I so respect your generosity for being open about it. Secrecy is a burden you are helping to lift for someone else. Like so many others, I wish you well!

  26. Thank you for speaking so openly and honestly about the day to day challenges, while you’re still in the midst of it. I have felt your pain and still have days… I am fortunate to have built a great network of supportive professionals in this industry. Having a community in such an isolating career is a godsend, as are the daily practices that help keep us going.

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