Don’t let it bind you

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Disclaimer: SickNotWeak does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

I’ve learned a lot, yet still know nothing.
I’ve grown a lot, yet still feel small.
I’ve fixed a lot, yet still feel broken.
I’ve reflected a lot, yet still see nothing.
I’ve carried a lot, yet still feel weak.
The vacuous appetite of depression devours your will.

The old saying goes “you are your own worst critic,” especially when we feel things are not going the way we intended. For some, it’s a passing thought or reflection. For others, it pushes the boundary of guilt and shame. For those that suffer from any mental illness it is debilitating. It makes you mentally stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts about oneself along with creating uncontrollable emotions.

I was about the age of 16 when I began to notice my negative thinking; intrusive thoughts about my own value and self-worth. Nominal things came up like, “Did I belong? Am I good enough? Smart enough? Why wasn’t I better looking? Would people miss me if I were gone or disappeared? Would they come to my funeral?” At the time it was easily passed off as teenage angst or “growing up.”

After all, doesn’t every teen want to find their place in the world and to feel like they belong?

I never quite felt like I “fit in.”

I was in 10th grade, played high school football, basketball and ran track. I was a good all-around athlete. I had a few close friends and was “popular” enough that it seemed everyone knew my name. I was always around people through sports and yet deep down I always felt alone and always a bit sad. I never quite felt like I “fit in.” It seems strange to say that, but even though I always had people around and a small group of friends, I didn’t always feel “connected.” Somehow I always felt I was just on the outside of what everyone else seemed to be doing.

Those feelings never left me.

As years moved on it was easy to lose contact with high school friends and mates. Time gives way to work, relationships, children, buying a home and acquiring “things” that become the centre of focus and normal priorities of everyday life. Everything we do is often driven by a desire to provide, share love, connect and feel a sense of accomplishment or a sense of a defining purpose. But it’s a moving target. We are all at various degrees of completion. I always felt incomplete and so different from everyone else, even if it didn’t appear as such from a distance.

Thirty years later, I’ve been a mid-level manager of a bank for nearly 20 years. I have two children, and am happily married. My wife is caring, intelligent, driven and successful in her own career. We have a few cars, a new home and some luxury items. On the outside everything looks, tastes and feels great. On the inside, I’m a blank spot “empty.”

Like many I feel the pressure to perform at work, volunteer in the community, take my children to extra-curricular activities, and be a good father and husband. We had all the things life can expect from you, we’re as normal as everyone else I know. We had seemingly busy yet routine lives just like the people you see on the street: your friends, your family or co-workers.

On the inside, I’m a blank spot “empty.”

My wife and I both have good incomes. Money wasn’t a real concern. But there was always something that money, a new car, shopping and splurges could never fulfill. I always had a gut feeling that I didn’t deserve any of it, that I wasn’t worthy of having these things, that I wasn’t good enough to have earned them. A small voice in my mind always reminded me that I would be “found out,” that I was a fraud and that my world would crash down around me.

Once, I was offered a new role with my employer, a chance to do something new. I recall having days of anxiety deciding what to do because I didn’t feel smart enough or good enough to take on the role and the new challenges it would bring. Everyone has self-doubt but usually not to the point of disrupting sleep patterns, feeling so nauseous you can’t eat for days and getting unexpected body aches. But that has become my life. Depression has a way of stealing confidence, creating doubt, lying to you about your skills, your abilities, your value and self-worth.

I felt empty and alone, scared and confused.

I declined the job offer. No, I didn’t feel better about the decision, only relieved that my self-perceived short comings wouldn’t be found out. I could go on masquerading behind my “got it together” persona. The fake smiles, the cheerfully optimistic boss, the shake everyone’s hand and make small talk character that I had built up over my career. Things would just carry on and I could continue to pretend everything was “ok.”

I felt empty and alone, scared and confused.

Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. I spent over half my life creating a version of me that felt like an illusion. Self-confident by day, yet my depression and anxiety would wreak havoc behind closed doors and at night. Mood swings became a normal mechanism of my existence. I would exhibit 2,3,4 days of irritability, dark and angry overtones along with snapped comments. These were things my wife tolerated, but never really understood. I would withdraw and isolate for a few days. My mind would race, my heart would pound, I would become disconnected from those around me and it would last for days.

April 2017. That’s the date, I officially left my role as a bank manager and changed roles taking a career leap of faith. I took on a commercial manager role at a different bank. I felt like I needed the change, I needed to escape. I thought it would be healthier for me. I was trying to run from something but, not quite sure what it was. I wasn’t feeling well and I knew it. I couldn’t come to terms with how disruptive it was to my family and my own health. Changing career paths seemed like the best thing for me to do at the time. I needed to give myself the opportunity of a fresh start.

A year and a half later I had my breakdown… this is the toughest part… Having always known there was something about me or, in me that didn’t seem to be “right” I had always managed to just tough my way through things. So it seemed. The stress and pressure of a new role felt so foreign to me, it was becoming unbearable. It moved slowly at first. I was forgetting small things and details important to my work. Over the course of a few weeks I felt even more lost. I would confuse appointment times, miscalculate simple ratios and was unable to find the errors in my work. I often found myself staring at financial statements of my clients, unable to make sense of what I was reading. It was like suddenly I needed to understand a new language, some encrypted code I was unable to decipher.

Invite someone into your world and your story.

Gradually I began to worry obsessively about my productivity and work performance. I increasingly felt more and more incapable. I didn’t or couldn’t understand why I was having such a difficult time understanding what I wasn’t comprehending. Something in my brain just shut down. It was as if I was having fewer and fewer moments of clarity. I felt confused for days in a row. My world, it seemed, from my perspective, had slowed down. My thinking and response time made me feel like I was in super slow motion. The world was moving around me but, didn’t include me. I was distant, I was numb. Worst of all I was scared. Scared, that all of my insecurities were true, that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t smart enough, that I wasn’t ever going to succeed. My anxiety grew as more and more of these catastrophic thoughts ran through my mind. “Would I lose my job? Would I lose my car? Would we lose our home? Would I lose my family? Would they better off without me?”

Few things make you feel or believe you are less of a man than feeling like you can’t provide for your family. The torment was always followed by negative thoughts that were crushing my very soul. “It’s your own fault. You should never have left your job for this. You’re selfish. You should have expected you were going to fail.” These are the thoughts I battled the most. The agony made me physically sick. My ability to sleep became more difficult. I was tired both mentally and physically all the time. My appetite worsened from the constant worry and intrusive thinking.

I was running inside of an awful cycle of self-doubt, self-defeat and sabotage.

As of the date of me writing this story I am not yet back to work. I am still testing out different medication combinations. I’m still seeing a counsellor and a psychiatrist. I still have terrible days that don’t allow me to get out of bed, to shower, to eat, to sleep, to love or feel loved. There are days I don’t smile, days that I do cry, days that are dark, days that I feel trapped and confused and days that I am angry.

I am not depression. I am not weak.

But, this is what I need you to know most of all. Despite all of these things that, at the time, felt tragic and too much to defeat all at once – I did reach out for help. And this is important. Seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist are still difficult things for me to do. But I do them. As difficult as dealing with my benefits provider is, I do it. It’s been two-plus years since my “official” diagnosis and a lifetime of living with negative thoughts, self-doubt, low self-confidence and the host of physical and other mental manifestations depression and anxiety create.

It does get better, slowly at first. I’m still finding my way. I know I have a long road to travel. I’ve come to accept that I believe being honest with myself has taught me a lot more than denying the fact I have an illness ever could. I don’t always believe that I’m strong. In fact, it’s still rare. Though I do know I won’t quit, I won’t give up or give in. Will I always have to deal with my deficiencies and inadequacies? Maybe! Probably! And that’s OK! It’s OK because I’m learning that depression doesn’t define me. I am not depression. I am not weak.

There are very important people in my life that I need to thank. They have helped me along my often winding path of confusion. My wife is foremost. Having someone – anyone – that is willing to stand beside you and love you unconditionally for what you are is critically important. For me it was my wife. For others it may be a friend, a parent, a sibling, a coworker, someone you met through a support group or a new connection over a social network. What’s important is that you allow yourself to be loved. Invite someone into your world and your story.

I also need to thank #SickNotWeak. Because of them I have met some incredible people, strong people, people just like me. They allowed me to believe and understand I am not alone. There are others with a similar story. That also means I want to thank one special #SickNotWeak volunteer. When I needed someone to support me, encourage me, to simply listen without passing judgement, they were always there for me. Whether it was late at night or early in the morning there was always a kind and thoughtful response to my thoughts and comments. Naturally, a significant amount of gratitude needs to be given to Michael Landsberg. As the founder of #SickNotWeak he is a beacon of hope for those struggling with Mental Illness and has created a platform that allows us to share our stories and our moments, both victories and set-backs.

Finally I must thank a dear friend that I met online through SickNotWeak on Twitter. He lives thousands of miles from me and across the Atlantic Ocean. We share a similar background and story. He has been another outlet that has encouraged and held me up in those moments when I felt like I just didn’t have it in me anymore. We chat, we email regularly, we stay in contact to make sure we are there for each other. Each up and down is shared. We celebrate little victories and we do our best to carry each other when we fall down. This has become a remarkable friendship that has helped to save my life. Literally!

Each up and down is shared.

Depression is a symptom caused by many conditions. Sometimes those conditions are environmental such as a traumatic life experiences that are not in your control or by your own doing. Sometimes the conditions are biological, inherited from your family.

It doesn’t matter how you get to this place or even where you want to be in five or 10 or in 15 years. What really matters is now. The moment you choose to break free of the bondage that is mental illness is the moment you will begin to heal, the moment you can begin to break the chains and weights that keep you down and the fear that you will never escape the hole you’re in. Everyone has a different healing cycle. Some are a lot longer or a lot shorter than others. That’s OK too. Don’t judge yourself based on what you see others doing. Judge yourself based on what and who you want to be. Your daily test is to measure how far you have moved towards that goal. Your goal is to be the best you. The best you is the one that you love the most and not the one others love most. Whatever it is that you were feeling yesterday is gone. Don’t let it bind you. Learn to grow within yourself.

You can hate the bad days when pain is real. But also love the good days because they are real too.

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Comments

Amy
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This was a very emotional read. I’m going to share this story. I know there are other men out there that struggle to find acceptance with their own mental health. Thx for sharing this story.

Amy
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This was a very emotional read. I’m going to share this story. I know there are other men out there that struggle to find acceptance with their own mental health. Thx for sharing this story, it’s very courageous.

Sally Taylor
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This is an excellent account of the journey a man travelled from youth to adulthood, how his MI effected his life experiences, his family, his job and his surroundings. You can hear sincerity and empathy in his voice as he realizes this is an ongoing battle but acknowledges his wins and the importance of reaching out and connecting with others. It provides us (especially men) with hope and encourages us to keep moving forward.

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