Accepting helplessness... and doing something about it

When it comes to mental health, we need to accept that there are conditions which prevent us from seeing any bright side and that for the most part this is a chemical problem

Life has many ups and downs - everyone knows this.

Knowing there’s another “up” moment on the horizon normally allows us to plough through even our darkest hours. Unfortunately, not through any fault of their own, some people find it much harder to climb out of life’s many valleys and instead find themselves falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

More than other things in life, mental health can only be measured on a continuous scale; there is not a straightforward yes/no question on whether one is suffering from depression or anxiety.

“You know the feeling when you do not feel like going to work in the morning, but ultimately get up and get on with it? When you repeatedly fail to get out of bed and get on with your life we have the first sign that one is suffering from depression and we need to intervene.”

I recall the above words spoken by our GP, precisely capturing what my now wife had been going through. It took desperate circumstances and a lot of effort to drag ourselves out the door and to the clinic where we would be able to awkwardly explain our predicament.

Personally, I am fortunate enough to be in relative control of my thoughts and actions. Thus far, I’ve never struggled to focus on happy thoughts whenever I needed to. This is why I simply could not understand how to relate with what my partner had been going through. When faced with the pain of my loved one, a pain which she did not even understand herself, I had no idea what to do or where to look.

We both agree that this particular visit to the GP was a turning point in our life. Before he spoke to us we had no idea what we were going through, we had no idea how to deal with it and we were very scared about our future. For most, the weekend is a much needed time to relax and recover from a long stressful week.

Getting home on Friday evening to find all windows closed, pitch black and your beloved wife (then fiance) held up in bed - was not something I was used to. That is how the weekend proceeded until Monday, when I had no choice but to go to work knowing that I was leaving her at home; she was stuck in bed and unable to get up. Sometimes this spanned two entire weeks. It was hard for me; but I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it is for the person who is actually pinned to their bed by some form of mental chemistry.

Fast forward to after our visit to the GP, here’s what our life looks like today. My partner has been given medication; she takes one pill every evening which aims to control some of the chemical imbalances which cause depression, and as far as we can tell this has been a blessing.

We still have several moments of darkness here and there, sometimes more often than others, but most days, life is better. Cancelling events with our friends has become rare, we now get to spend a lot of time with our family, we got married and have had a wonderful first year.

It is not always good; just recently she had been going through an unusually bad couple of weeks. I still do not fully understand what is going on during these times, she doesn’t either. There is usually some trigger which causes an avalanche of inner struggles and negative thoughts.

Just like I do not understand what goes on in my heart when I have an increased heart rate (diagnosed as frequent SVEs - which apparently/luckily are nothing to worry about). Truth is the inner workings of our bodies are complicated, and even more so when it comes to the brain. The fact that medication exists to threat things like Depression is an amazing accomplishment of science and medicine; an improvement to our quality of life for which we are very thankful.

Life has many ups and downs, but many of us have downs from which they cannot recover. They feel helpless and may very well be. It is natural to try to find the right words, to say the right things to help trigger some positive thoughts or remind them that we’ve actually had good days - few times words work, most times they do not.

When it comes to mental health, we need to accept that there are conditions which prevent us from seeing any bright side and that for the most part this is a chemical problem.

What can you do?

Very often a video, image or article about depression goes viral - awareness is good and I’m glad when it happens - it is in part one of the goals of this article. Many of these articles have advice on things you should not say or do. Useful, but I feel that is not enough. When my partner was going through her worst times, I yearned for someone or something to tell me what I can do. I had no idea what to do.

Now I feel I am a bit more prepared and I feel we have learnt what works best; amongst which is a not so popular idea; accepting the situation. Yes, while going through the hurricane of emotions it is helpful to just accept the fact that many times we simply need to wait things out.

Closing down all windows in the house and spending a couple of days in darkness may very well be what we need. Sometimes we need to allow some time for this down state to give way to a slightly less down state.

Accepting helplessness does not mean that we are not willing to do something about it, it means that we are not able to do anything about it just yet. The good news is that time can help in in the healing process. During the next less down moment we might be able to do something about our condition and hopefully take the decision to seek help.

While every case is unique, there are many people who suffer from this condition. Our GP tells us that one in every four visit revolves around some form of depression or anxiety.

More worries bring more darkness. Being stuck in bed for the whole weekend prompts worries about Monday - how will I be able to go to work? How will I be able to face my colleagues? How will I be able to hold up when faced with questions about the state of my hair or the weight I’ve gained during the past 2 weeks? How will I be able to get on with my life?

Truth is, none of this matters. Your health, mental or otherwise, trumps everything else. If you need to call in sick on Monday or to miss an important appointment - you have every right to do so. Being depressed is the equivalent of being unwell in any other physical way. It is similar to having the flu or contracted a virus - you are unwell and you have the right to stay at home to recover. Nothing else matters.

As for the insensitive questions, gossip or weird looks - remember that they are in the wrong. You have a very valid reason why you feel the way you feel and it’s no one else’s business really. Most people are not evil - they do not really mean to hurt us. Some are, but most aren’t. In fact, this is why both me and my wife agree we need to be vocal about our experience. If people knew what someone might be going through, then they might think twice about making a joke about gained weight, funny makeup or the friend who didn’t show up for a much anticipated meet up. We cannot count how many times we had to cancel one of our many commitments on the last minute, making up some weird excuse to avoid the unnecessary follow up questions.

A silly meaningless comment might not mean any harm, but it may very well cause significant amounts of pain. People are good at hiding their emotions in public, but your friend who always seems lively and jolly might be going through a very miserable time. In fact it’s very likely that in any gathering of five or more people, at least one person in the group suffers from depression or anxiety. Amongst the small group of people I count as close friends, I am aware of at least three people who suffer from such a condition. And I would never have found out had I not approached the subject.

So next time you are in a gathering of people, make an extra effort to be nice towards those around you - you never know what they might be going through.

Reaching out

Raising awareness around mental health does not mean making a big deal out of it. I do not think that getting everyone to talk incessantly should be our goal. One worthy goal is simply to remove the taboo. We do not constantly talk about physical injuries, yet if one of us breaks a leg we become mindful of their state and do our best to help in subtle ways.

It is our hope that by sharing this experience people who suffer from this condition or are helping someone who is, can find some guidance or even solace in knowing that there’s many out there going through the same struggles.

If you happen to be feeling OK right now, but know that you can very easily fall into a pit of darkness, loneliness and sadness; now is the time you can take some action to improve your predicament next time around.

Read a book about how others deal with such a situation, or maybe talk to someone who would listen; a family member, friend, medical professional, or even better a make an appointment with a psychologist. Just like you’d make an appointment with your dentist, physiotherapist or accountant - it’s also very OK to take care of your mental health.

If while reading this article, you are currently not in a good place and cannot fathom the idea of reaching out, do not worry about this detail right now.

Wait for the next moment when you are slightly less down, maybe that will prove to be the right opportunity to find some help - just know that if you do reach out things can only improve. There is no shame in feeling down and there is most definitely no shame in reaching out for help.

There are many of us out there who are willing and may be able to help - finding the courage to speak out about your feelings is the first step towards acceptance and improvement.