Mental Health Awareness Week begins today, with this year’s theme being “relationships”. Dan McLaughlin joins the open and frank discussion about mental health with his account of facing depression.
I am depressed.
Not by the recent news announced by universities minister Jo Johnson whereby academic institutions will now be able to raise tuition fees from the already staggeringly high and class dividing £9,000-a-year – ridding this lost generation of “thinkers” and replacing them with soulless “customers”.
Nor am I depressed because of the childish penis-measuring contest they call the EU Referendum where one side compares the European Union to Nazi Germany and the other tries to scaremonger the apathetic, to whom they are responsible for creating in the first place.
Or even reflecting on yet another mediocre season for Blackburn Rovers with a departing manager and incompetent owners who are beleaguering my childhood club. We were the Leicester City of the 1990s. We are now the Lib Dems of the 2010s.
I am depressed, because…well, your guess is as good as mine.
In 2012, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (the artist formerly known as manic depression). Bipolarity means that I experience an extreme in moods: manic highs where I think that I am the next step in human evolution, and crippling lows where I wish natural selection will do its job and add me to the list containing dinosaurs, dodos and Katie Hopkins’ common decency.
Since last Wednesday, I have been experiencing the southside of bipolar.
Lethargy, contempt, sheer dislike of human beings (with myself claiming top prize).
Like Marley in A Christmas Carol, I feel like I am burdened with weights and chains – lowering me to a pitiful and cowering stupor. I am in a disgraceful yet loyal compliance to a mood much like the Judeo-Christian Old Testament god: punishing, petty, resentful, sulking like a pubescent teenage boy.
From Wednesday until this mood lifts, I will not look in a mirror.
I fear that it will reflect a Dorian Gray-esque magnification of my hideous traits.
I am overweight. I have horrible teeth. I am 5′ 6”. The bastardisation of East Lancashire and the occasional Derry has created a mudblood accent, where the creeping stutter and lisp will return as the sequel nobody ordered; a bit like Transformers 2.
A black and white vignette of an old memory plays out from an old, dusty cinema projector in my limbic system.
I am in a classroom at my old high school, aged 14. Two girls, whose names and faces fail me or they have simply been deleted for something much more useful in my storage, gossip and cackle about boys they fancy – as though they are selecting poor souls from a menu, whom they will devour like their spirit animal: the black widow spider.
They scour the classroom, ticking off this checklist of crushes.
“Athletic sports guys with perfect hair and an inferiority complex?”
“Yeah, he’s cute.”
“Boy destined for renowned institutions, such as Strangeways?”
“The Class C**t?”
“What about Danny Mac?”
The tape is trapped in the cogs, playing their hysterical hyena laughs on loop.
And today, they are right to laugh.
As a man who usually takes great pride in his appearance, this begins to decline with the mood. The suits are replaced with baggy t-shirts, the shoes with trainers.
I have even grown a beard.
This lax attitude to aesthetics is not some vain attempt to join the lumberjack clone race they call hipsters; although I do already own a pair of stupid spectacles.
It is simply because I do not care.
The beard is almost a defence mechanism: with more inches on my face, that means people will be more inches further apart.
As Stephen Fry gravely remarked in the documentary The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: it’s not that I want to die, it’s just that I don’t necessarily want to live.
But I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that Stephen Fry saved my life, and continues to save it today.
No, he did not heroically save me from drowning or some other form of misadventure.
He made me aware of my illness.
There are many ways I can attempt to combat bipolar disorder.
I could temporarily release endorphins to make me happy through exercise, sex and chocolate (or if I am feeling particularly adventurous, all three at once).
Or I could swallow happy pills prescribed from a general practitioner. I have, admittedly, tried this between the years of 2012 and 2013 and whilst I do not refute it helps others cope, I have developed my own method:
Educate, not medicate.
As one of those charming atheist creatures, I value nothing more than my rationality. What I find utterly frustrating about my decline in mood is that it is so irrational.
Why should I be unhappy? I have a caring family whom support me in whatever endeavour I partake. I am in a job I love, surrounded by people I respect and whose company I enjoy. I have my own place in a city I have grown fond of. I have a Netflix subscription. You selfish, selfish man.
There’s certainly no grievance from my early years: my childhood memories are of that of sunny days, Pear Drops and Blackpool.
I have absolutely no reason to be sad.
But neither does an asthmatic to have breathing problems; or a diabetic to require insulin; or for someone to have a severe reaction against a very specific type of nut.
Depression is illogical, but it’s not selfish – it just is.
(And an excellent argument against the intelligent design theory)
Instead of hopelessly shouting in the wind, I try to check the weather report beforehand. Being aware of bipolar disorder, being aware of the symptoms wins you half the battle. If I know what’s coming, at least I am prepared to tackle it.
To carry on the weather analogy, I cannot prevent the rain from coming – but I can wear a coat or bring an umbrella.
And like the rain, as Mr Fry observes, I know that this depression will, at some point, stop.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs between Monday, May 16 and Sunday, May 22. You can find more information about the campaign here.
Photo credit: PDPics.com via Wikimedia Commons