Before I start, let me paint you a picture of my Dad. Imagine you are looking at a newspaper clipping of a workers strike from the 1970’s. My dad is the third guy on the left. In his prime he worked three jobs, seven days a week. Monday to Friday he would work 6.30am – 6pm as a factory foreman. He would then race home, bolt down his tea, before heading out again to work for a youth club 7pm – 9.30pm. Saturdays would be back to the factory, 6.30am – 1pm. Sunday would be refereeing kids football games at the city leisure centre. Two weeks off at Christmas, one week off for summer. He did this for 25 years. Oh and I forgot to mention – My Dad’s knees have been deteriorating since the age of 21. A few years ago his doctor took an X-ray of them and then said to my dad, “You must have a very high pain threshold. You shouldn’t be able to walk.”
Are you exhausted? Me too.
In all the time I have known him I cannot recall him ever buying anything for himself. No wait – in June 1992 he bought himself a Toffee Crisp, but apart from that, nothing. In short, my Dad is a badass. He is a fucking powerhouse. He is invincible, or so it would seem.
Over the past 10 years or so my Dad has been (for want of a better word), difficult. He is cranky, his temper is short, he is distant, he is always asleep. Years went by and things got worse. My Dad became undervalued at work, had sleepless nights, his temper got shorter, and his worldview got narrower and darker.
Then, when staying at my parents one weekend I was in my room and heard my Dad and Sister having an argument on the landing. I heard a door slam, then silence. On leaving my room I found my Dad sat halfway up the stairs with his head in his hands. I asked him if he was ok – no answer. I asked again – He grunted. I asked a third time.
“I’m…I’m just tired”.
In the blink of an eye I had gone from looking at a working class Chuck Norris to being sat on a step comforting a frightened schoolboy. This was different. I had never seen him look so vulnerable. My Dad wasn’t just a grumpy old git anymore. This was something else.
So, we took the NHS online depression test and came back with a result of 25/27 and he was shortly diagnosed with Anxiety and Severe Clinical Depression. So now it had a name. Did things finally make sense? Yes. Did this make things easier? Not really. Understandably, it took my Dad a while to get used to it. He is from the “stiff upper lip” generation, and initially chose to ignore it.
“I just need a good night sleep”, he would say.
Confronting him would just make him angry. Alongside trying to convince my Dad, there was a lot of arguing and frustration from all directions. His employers were, lets say, not very supportive. Ah to hell with it – they are fucking tossers. None of us knew how to help, or really understood what was happening to my Dad, and a lot of hurtful things were said.
One of the most difficult things I have found living with depression as an outsider, is that it is hard to separate the disease from the person. With a disease of the body like Chicken Pox, you can point at the spots and say, “Look! That’s the Chicken Pox bit!” Depression affects the part of the body where the actual person is. It can be hard to tell whether the person is talking or acting as themselves, or under the influence of their illness.
Depression is often called the black dog, but it is also a black hole. It can suck you in and engulf surrounding people, even entire households. When things were particularly hard I would sometimes wonder whether I myself had depression. As it happens, I don’t have it, but being surrounded by it can’t help but influence you as you evaluate your own life when things don’t always go to plan.
A few years on, things aren’t ideal, but they are better. My Dad is on medication for his depression and anxiety, which appears to be helping. There are still ups and downs, but he is sleeping at night, he has two shiny new knees, and is overall a lot calmer. The black dog still hangs around the house from time to time, but through trial and error we are working out our own ways of taming it. Although like with any dog, you still wake up every now and then to find it has been sick in one of your slippers.
Whilst I am no expert, there are a few things I have found to be helpful whilst trying to care for somebody with depression. What are they I hear you ask?
Well I will bloody well tell you…
- A sense of humour – Imagine depression is a Boggart in Harry Potter. For all you non-Harry Potter fans (seriously, get with the program) a Boggart is a creature that manifests itself as what it’s beholder fears the most. The best way of dealing with a Boggart is laughter. Things are easier to deal with if you can see the funny side of things, and spiders aren’t nearly as scary when you imagine them in roller-skates.
- Don’t take it personally – A depressive may lash out, appear not to care what you think, and let you down. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. Try to remember it is an illness. Would you take it personally if they had a cold, and accidently sneezed on your breakfast? No. (Well, if it was bacon, maybe.)
- Don’t get angry – It doesn’t help. It can be frustrating to feel like you can’t help a depressed person, but getting angry will make things worse. You cannot fix someone else’s depression. It is not your responsibility, but you can help by taking it easy on them.
- Learn to compartmentalise your life – It is easier to help a depressed person when you take time to look after your own mental health. Read. Walk. Sing. Play. If you are able to separate yourself from depression, you can confront it with a fresh pair of ears next time around.
Above all though, I have learnt that we all need to talk about mental health a lot more, and websites such as this are a great step in the right direction. As Hermione once said, “Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself” (Seriously – the Harry Potter books explain everything). If one good thing came out of the death of Robin Williams it’s that for a week everyone was talking about depression. The more we talk about it, the more we can understand it, and the more we can help one another.