How love stopped my depression from becoming suicide

Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1826), Self-Portrait

 

Note: this post has been written as a pledge to share my mental health history, supporting Time to Change’s campaign to end the stigma of mental illness.

Do you know how to kill yourself painlessly?

I do. Five minutes research showed me how to slip from life to unconsciousness to death in minutes.

And last November I seriously considered doing just that.

Why? I was clinically depressed.

If it’s something you’ve ever experienced, you’ll know that the thought of your life draining from your body means escape from the paralysed numbness that has become your daily existence.

It’s often said that depression isn’t about feeling sad. It’s part of it, but to compare the life-sapping melancholy of depression to normal sadness is like comparing a paper cut to an amputation.

Sadness is a healthy part of every life. Depression progressively eats away your whole being from the inside.

It’s with you when you wake up in the morning, telling you there’s nothing or anyone to get up for.

It’s with you when the phone rings and you’re too frightened to answer it.

It’s with you when you look into the eyes of those you love, and your eyes prick with tears as you try, and fail, to remember how to love them – and wonder why they should ever think of loving the grieving shadow you have become.

It’s with you as you search within for those now eroded things that once made you who you were. Your interests. Your creativity. Your inquisitiveness. Your humour. Your warmth. Your sense of joy and absurdity. Your connection with people’s thoughts and hearts and needs.

And it’s with you as you wake terrified from each nightmare and pace the house, thinking frantically of how you can escape your poisoned life; escape the embrace of the demon that is eating away your mind, emotions and sanity like a slow drip of acid.

Churchill referred to his depression his ‘black dog’. I can never externalise it. This illness is an inward looking one, a parasite of the mind that eats away your heart, emotions and vitality. It’s a disease that turns you into a barely functioning automaton, a person numbly going through the actions of life to conceal their illness from judging eyes that would stigmatise their weakness.

But always. Always. The biggest stigma comes from yourself. You blame yourself for the illness that you can only dimly see.

Depression differs from physical illness in one vital respect – you see no road to recovery, so there’s no destination to journey towards (if even you could). You are completely stripped of hope.

Break a leg. Catch a virus. Discover you have a treatable cancer. All are horrible and painful and frightening, but you can fight back, regard them as challenges that you can overcome to regain your wellbeing.

With depression you can’t define your illness, objectify it, separate yourself from it. Often, incredibly, you don’t know that you’re even depressed – your essence is just shed, layer after rotting layer, until you can hope for nothing more than gentle oblivion.

So why was I depressed?

The simple answer is that I don’t know. There was no single factor or trigger that plunged me into this illness.

I’ve turned over many possibilities in my mind.

Maybe it had its roots in my childhood? It wasn’t a particularly happy time, and at various points was overclouded by instability, violence and emotional abuse. But fuck it, many people suffer worse and they don’t get depression. And certainly not after over twenty years.

Maybe I’d overworked myself. Sure, in recent years I’d put huge efforts into my work and business – ironically to see many of the gains evaporate as I became paralysed by the illness.

Maybe I had a genetic flaw? Certainly, in past generations of my mother’s family, there was no shortage of madmen, eccentrics and melancholics. Practically every one of my grandfather’ aunts  and uncles was deaf and dumb, insane, eccentric or a combination of all three. But surely that would only give me a predisposition to depression at most, not cause it?

The best I can conclude is that depression can happen to anyone. I thought I was strong enough to resist it, but I was wrong. That attitude probably ensured I suffered such a serious episode – I resisted seeking help until it was nearly too late.

Let me take you back to 1996. I’d just begun my final year at St Andrews and had recently visited my doctor to complain of feeling low.

He immediately put me on a prescription of the antidepressant Seroxat and I got down to the business of getting my degree.

The pills took a few weeks to work, but the effects were remarkable. Too remarkable. About six weeks in I was leaping from my bed each morning with a vigour and enthusiasm I had never experienced, at least not since early childhood. I started churning out first class essays and my mind began to make connections with an ease that it had never done before.

If that had been all, I’d have stuck with the pills and counted myself blessed. After all, I had acquired a relish for life after many years of living what can be best described an intellectually and emotionally muted existence.

The only problem was that the drug did much more. It broke down any fragile sense I had of social appropriateness. I’d frequently say ridiculous and painful things to people I had no right to say them to. (I first realised this in a pub, when I heard myself saying in a very loud voice: “I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about your VAGINA.”)

I also became manic. My sense of the absurd not only rocketed, but it became my default setting. To give one instance, my flatmate wandered into the living room to find me lying ramrod straight across the two arms of an armchair. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m doing an impression of an electric bar fire,” I answered. At the time it made perfect sense.

So, after a few months, I decided I had to stop the pills. I ended them abruptly, not realising how foolish that was – and spent a week or two experiencing brain zaps and vertigo.

But it was worth it. I still felt good, my mind was still productive, and I regained my sense of social niceties and appropriate behaviour. For a while.

I had hoped that that would have been my last brush with mental health problems, but it was not to be.

On reflection, I now realise that I have spent over a decade dipping in and out of minor bouts if depression – each one slightly worse than the last.

But about two years ago I realised I needed help. I would go to my office, achieve nothing, be too frightened to take calls or answer emails. I’d take no pleasure in the things I usually enjoyed. I felt emotionally isolated. My income was suffering as it was a monumental task to complete even the simplest piece of work.

So I rang my local surgery to make my first GP appointment in sixteen years.

“Is it urgent?” asked the receptionist.

“Well, if you mean will I live, then no.”

“Then the first appointment I can offer you is in 3 weeks’ time.”

Of course, by the time the three weeks were up I felt much better and was able to cope once more. But I went along to the appointment anyway, telling the doctor what the problem was.

“If it happens again, come back,” he said. “And don’t take up jogging. It’s not a good idea at your age.”

I didn’t take up jogging, but last spring I was in the grip of depression again. I couldn’t work effectively. I couldn’t earn the income I needed. I began coming home at odd hours of the day, retreating to the safety of my bed – using sleep to escape myself and my exhausted and joyless existence.

So I returned to a different doctor and told her about it. It was warm and I was wearing a cardigan.

“Are you cold?” she asked.

“No. Why?”

“You’re wearing a lot of layers.”

“It was colder at home.”

“I think we should test your thyroid,” she said. “But I think an antidepressant would help in the meantime.

And here I realised, for all my support of not stigmatising mental illness, that I stigmatised it in myself. I found myself hoping my thyroid was bust. Tell someone your thyroid’s not working, and they’ll understand and happily wait for you to recover. Tell them you’re depressed and they’ll just think you’re weak, or lazy, or just making it up.

I really wanted it to be my thyroid.

But of course, when the blood test came back, it wasn’t. I was depressed.

So I kept going and kept taking the antidepressant. This time it was Sertraline, an SSRI that works in a similar way to the Seroxat I took over a decade before.

And it worked. To begin with. A month into the course, the poisonous cloud began to lift and I even felt my creativity and urge to write begin to return for the first time in years. I’d sit in the sunshine, writing pen portraits of the more eccentric and notable schoolmasters who taught me. Not great literature, but fun to write and enjoyed by my circle of friends on social media.

And tellingly my wife, who first met me as I took myself off the Seroxat, said: “You’re becoming more like the person I first met.”

It was a turning point. The drug had given me objectivity about my illness, made me view it for what it was. I could see that for at least a decade I had been slowly dipping in and out of increasingly bad cycles of depression. It was a process of gradual erosion, almost impossible to spot while you were experiencing it.

But the effects of the Sertraline didn’t last. By September I was both deeply depressed and increasingly angry, behaving erratically and feeling endlessly paranoid. My wife threatened to frog march me back to the doctor, so I made an appointment.

It was yet another doctor. He listened to my story and switched me to a low dose of another drug, Venlafaxine. This is an SNRI, which means it works on both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.

However, he put me on only a low dose – one at which the drug works on serotonin only.

And two weeks later I was, in earnest, researching painless ways to take my life. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my wife or children finding my body, collapsed and incontinent with a plastic bag over its head.

So I went back to the doctor and he doubled the dose. Norepinephrine entered the game.

The effects have been miraculous. Nearly two months in I can feel the old me re-emerging. My engagement and interest is flooding back. I’m back at work and I’m producing copy my clients really love – and on time or before deadline. Only eight weeks ago, the very idea I would be sitting at home tapping out a blog post of this length on my phone would have made me grunt derisively.

But that is what happened, and I am truly grateful to all those who love and care for me for pushing me along to this stage.

And now I need to get back to work. Depression may start for no definable reason, but it leaves a growing trail of problems in its wake. For me, the more ill I got, the less work I could do, the more savings I spent and the larger the piles of unpaid bills became.

But now I can start to solve these things. And if you still feel stigma about people with mental illness, please remember two things. One, it could easily happen to you. And two, no-one stigmatises their illness more than the people who suffer from it.

Reach out to them.

115 Comments How love stopped my depression from becoming suicide

  1. Amro

    Dear Ben,

    I’m so sorry to read about your dreadful struggle.

    Sadly the black dog has been my constant companion through much of my life. Venlafaxine has kept me going for some time now.

    I’m glad you’re getting through it. I’m sorry I’ve not been around – I’m afraid my reaction to difficulties is to withdraw from the world into my inner self.

    You’re one of the finest gentlemen I know. What we do without you? We all love you.

    Yours,

    Amro.

    Reply
  2. Cheryl Atkins

    You are a very brave man Ben for not only coming this illness but for writing this which is what you do best. This is written so well. I really do admire you and nobody should mock mental illness as it can happy to anybody. End the stigma now.

    Reply
  3. Liz Doig

    Thank you for sharing this.

    It’s an interesting point you make about the person who’s depressed stigmatising the condition the most. I’ll try to remember that when anyone I love says: “I’m fine, honestly I’m fine.”

    I’m glad you’re feeling more like you again – long may that continue.

    Reply
  4. Ben Locker

    Dearest Amro,

    I’m so glad the Venlafaxine is keeping you going. I hope you come back soon – you can always drop me a line on email at any time. We all love you too, very much, as I think you know.

    Ben x

    Reply
  5. Dan

    Thanks for having the courage to share such a moving and personal experience.

    I have seen first-hand how depression takes hold of everything you are until nothing seems possible. The fact that we stigmatise the effects of mental illness only holds back families and individuals from facing the problems. I’m sure your contribution will help others to talk about their feelings. The sooner we all feel comfortable to talk about mental illness, the better for everyone.

    Reply
  6. Rob Priestley-Fenn

    Hey Ben,

    Yes it is Jez’s brother, slightly different name I know. When Jim Froment posted this on assbook I simply had to read it. It’s funny to say this, but I looked up to you guys back when I we used to come round and have a session. I was really struck to see the title.

    It’s as ever an incredibly eloquent and accurate portrayal, albeit harrowing. I’ve courted the arena of the mentally unwell myself, in a slightly different manner, but can certainly identify with some of the descriptions. I concur with the effect of SSRIs too, and refused to take any further medication after just a week; the old phrase from Viz, “sorted for Es and whizz” came to mind. I won’t go further online but feel free to email me if you felt like it. I’m very relieved to hear that you’re back on the mend now, if you ever fancied having a portrait done, I’d be more than willing, who knows, maybe it could be used to help illustrate the broader picture, that is the stigma of mental health.

    All the best, Rob

    Reply
  7. crushthevicar

    Thank you, Ben, for putting such considered feeling into this, i am fully aware of your pledge, and shall be attempting my own cackhanded version. This post is utterly brilliant. I have reposted it, and others are reposting it, and i hope that you realise how grateful people are to read your words.

    Reply
  8. Simon

    A very powerful piece, beautifully written. It goes a long a way in helping to break down the stigma of depression, which all of us experience albeit not to the degree you have.

    I feel I have to mention my only concern: this is the opening paragraph which describes how to commit suicide and that if read by someone in a very vulnerable state may go on to carry this out.

    Aside from that I admire your bravery in bringing this to the fore.

    Reply
  9. Ben Locker

    Thank you Simon. That’s a fair point, and one I hadn’t thought of. That said, if anyone is wanting to carry anything out like that, it only takes a few keystrokes into Google – as I found last November.

    Reply
  10. Mel

    This is beautifully written. It takes huge courage to be so honest online *applause*. I hope you continue to feel positive and that your honesty inspires others to cling on and seek help.

    Reply
    1. Catherine

      Hello Ben, I do not think I have ever read such a compelling account, by anyone, concerning a very real, and often insidious mental health dis-ease.

      I have had several serious bouts of depression, and more than once felt and acted the exact way, you described your own experience.

      My personal journey was similar to yours; I was prescribed and used anti-depressants on two occasions. In addition to my states of depression, I also had a dual diagnosis of debilitating anxiety, requiring two medications to help me through a very frightening, and lengthy period of time. As a psychotherapist myself, I was mortified that I could not do a thing to help myself, and was ashamed when I finally went to a therapist for help; I did think about ways to end my life, without it appearing to be suicide. Thankfully, this particular doctor was a tremendous help, and invested in my well being.

      I am grateful to you that you wrote so eloquently, and with such profound language that anyone who has not suffered the vagaries of depression, could not possibly come away from reading your sublime account, of your own experience with this issue.

      Thank you for sharing your series of experiences with us, your readers. You know you helped save others much pain, as well as possible death. You are an gifted writer, and an amazing story teller.

      Welcome back into healing and well being. All best hopes for your recovery from the veil of vicissitudes, that depression cloaks our very sense of personally realizing, who and why we are needed in life.

      Peace, joy and health,
      Catherine

      Reply
  11. David F

    How much Helium and how big does the bag need to be?

    Good honest Article though. I am taking Sertraline currently, also a UK resident living in Sussex. My doctor diagnosed me with OCD many years ago. Basically I “fret” and go over a situation hundreds of times. I re-read emails at least 20 times after sending, sometimes more than that if I feel very proud of the contents. This was getting crippling at times because in a busy period at work I was sending 100 emails a day and punishing myself with multiple re-reads.

    Then at night I also ruminate and visualise every meeting I may have had recently and run through future meetings and encounters over and over again. At its very worst I just have a line from a song that repeats all night.

    Mostly all these things appear to lead me to anger, anxiety, tiredness and feeling very low.

    So like you I came back to find a solution, for me it was 10 years after being diagnosed. Now after 5 Months I am finding the Setraline is making me angry and the benefit is minimal.

    Interestingly both drugs I have taken result in lowered sex drive. Also (sorry to be blunt) but they dry out your spunk! Literally you get frogs spawn plopping out. This might just be a side effect I have but in discussion with my Doctor I made the broad sweeping statement that nearly all anti-depressents appear to be based on restraining male sexual desire and he agreed. How is it that something that makes you feel better, more relaxed and content also lowers sex drive?

    I have always felt that my brain is physically impaired because I remember regularly feeling the same way at a very young age, even play-school. I had difficulty then and 20 years of epilepsy, diagnosed at 18 which was certainly a real physical problem with my brain.

    So thanks for sharing and my final observation is that you don’t appear to be working with any therapy to try and work out what creates your issues. I did a lot of that over the years and learnt about triggers and different approaches to feelings and issues. I also tried meditation which does help but not when my brain was really feeling broken.

    Good luck then and hopefully I can find something different to take like yourself because this Setraline is making me angry, sexually frustrated and moody.

    One other point. You mention that you felt those flashes on stopping the original drug at Uni. I stupidly also stopped suddenly 10 years ago and found those flashes and shakes hit me hard. The odd thing for me though was the flashes felt like sexual desire? How is that possible? Like a burst of feeling sexy again! Anti-drepressents are strange things… 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thanks for this David. Sertraline, after a month, made me very randy… then, as you say, it did strange things to me down there and I totally lost interest. The Venlafaxine isn’t ideal, but it’s better in these regards.

      I tried to find CBT, but only managed to get a sort of internet-based thing on the NHS – and had no cash to go private. It wasn’t for me, but I’ve done a lot of reading which has been a great help.

      Reply
  12. Craig

    Great article, very similar to me in many ways. Thank you for sharing your story, Ben.

    My only question, is what is the name of the second anti-depressant you were prescribed and much more success with?

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      The second one I was prescribed last year is Venlafaxine. Switching to it at a low dose took me to the brink of suicide. Doubling the dose had noticeable and positive effects in days. Though I’m still not quite back to normal and I’m still very tired from the experience!

      Reply
  13. Tom Bradford

    Having struggled with depression for 40-years I can sympathise. The first ‘expert’ I was referred to by my GP prescribed lithium, there being few other anti-depressants then available.

    Depression destroyed my legal career and my creativity and nearly my marriage.

    However I have found a remarkable remedy in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (Google it). Serious science confirms that it can work and is beginning to understand why, and it is now a recommended treatment under the NHS. I won’t say it works for everyone and perhaps worked for me because my depressive episodes are generally moderate to mild, but unlike pharmaceuticals in my experience it does offer hope of the kind of fundamental change required to beat depression for ever.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you Tom – I’m glad you’ve found something that works reasonably well for you. Your story is very familiar.

      Reply
  14. petra

    Thank you for sharing Ben.
    Sharing our own experiences is so powerful and I really find a lot of strength when others can do this even though I am mostly still unable to. I know this is partly to do with the stigma. But mostly, as you mention, because I am my own worst enemy.
    I have lived pretty much all of my life with depression and also, I now understand, with anxiety. Sometimes I am aware of it, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s not too bad and I can ‘catch’ it and use what I’ve learnt through the years to keep me afloat until it passes and sometimes sometimes I can only waste away into a hole of self-loathing.
    As to peoples understanding, for anyone who has ever done MDMA, or a heavy weekends boozing, think about how you feel on the comedown.. Then imagine just waking up like that one day. There’s no apparent reason, it’s like a switch just went in your head. That’s how it comes on for me.
    Everything’s grey and meaningless. There’s no joy, no love, nothing. And I know all the things I can do to ‘look after’ myself, I know all about self care. But none it it makes a difference.
    I’m glad you found something that helped eventually, not just because I believe that everyone is important but because you have provided this space for me to share a little. To be heard. And understood.

    Reply
  15. jon

    Ben.

    I’ve lived the way you describe since my early adolescence. Only through transforming my life from one extreme to another, staying one step ahead of myself, staying in the light, staying in the strength of my belief that I must as a human being be able to free myself, have I avoided the conclusion that I’ve reached today. But now, in my 33rd year of life, all I can see is the dip beyond the next burst of self-belief.

    In 2009 I spoke to a doctor about physical symptoms which I now know were purely an expression of the force of feelings I couldn’t understand. The prospect that it might be a dysfunctional thyroid gave me something that I thought I could work with. But that was quickly ruled out. The doctor suggested that the night sweats, oppressive dreams and aggressive outbursts might be the result of depression or anxiety. This wasn’t something I could entertain. I’m stronger than that. What I’ve lived through and survived was testament to that.

    Your article arrived in front of my eyes after another particularly bleak day. Tomorrow I will yet again awake with a desire and hope for change. And now I think it might be ok to think that some assistance will not lessen who I am, but aid me on my way.

    Thank you, Ben.

    Jonathan

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      No, thank you Jonathan. You’re talking about the same experience. Night sweats. Dreams. Aggression. Yes. All of those and more. Feel free to drop me a line – and good luck with tomorrow. Ben

      Reply
  16. jimmy k

    Ben,

    Reading your story I had tears in my eyes, I know that feeling of trying to escape the numbness. I have forgotten the person I was and it was only after 14 years and much intervention and a peer led course that I could tell anyone other than my closest family that I had depression. Speaking about it helps to break down stigma as well, I wish you well in you recovery. Take Care.

    Jimmy

    Reply
  17. Helen Noonan

    Thank you for the article I read in the Guardian. Very clear description that mirrors my experience of the effects of depression very closely.

    Reply
  18. Lizzles

    wonderful article, elegantly describing the horrors of depression. Like Ben and many others posting here, I too am a “survivor” – thank god for anti-depressants. I know they’re not for everyone, but after many years of darkness, I felt that someone finally switched the lights on! I’ve nearly finished training to be a counsellor/person-centred therapist (there are lots of different types of counselling, which adds to the confusion over seeking help!), and it has helped me finally accept that I am not weak or pathetic, just one of the unlucky ones. I tried CBT, but it didn’t work for me. Good luck to you all and I hope you keep the darkness at bay.

    Reply
  19. Ann

    Dear Ben, I too have suffered the despair of depression and anxiety throughout my adult life. I can only describe my experience as feeling stuck at the bottom of a dark pit of despair with no way out. Unreachable. It’s the most terrifying, hopeless feeling. Like I’m on the outside looking in. I have felt the physical effects of it too – those surges of adrenaline that have no where to go but back into your system. Dizziness, sweating, shaking. SSRIs have been my on and off companion for many years, taking the edge off the intolerable. During my worst periods of depression and anxiety I was told to “pull myself together” like I had made some kind of conscious choice to be ill. The fact that I have survived these darkest times has, however, empowered me. I’m stronger than I thought I was. I have learned that fear is the biggest enemy. Take away that fear and it loses its power. I wouldn’t say I’m cured but SSRIs have made it possible for me to function and deal with life’s challenges. I do find though that they tend to numb the emotions, good and bad and add to the sense of detachment.
    I enjoyed reading your article and I wish you all the best for the future.

    Reply
  20. Shelley

    I am moved to write this to you because I understand your suffering and you understand mine. It won’t make you feel better.

    I am depressed and have been for most of my life. I also take venlafaxine, 225 mg per day, but I have had to increase the dosage during the past year and I think I must do so again and very soon. Suicide is very much on my mind because I have fallen so far this time, lost so much this time, that it’s unbearable. I am a disgrace to my son, a burden to my one friend, and a stranger to myself.

    As I write this, my eyes cry, my stomach fears, my head aches. I also dread phone calls, emails, knocks at the door, running in to people I know and especially people who may have known me when I was well. I am poor now, having lost every asset I ever had. I’m also old but not too old to work, which I must, if I could find a job. Ageism is a much bigger problem than sexism or racism as I have belatedly discovered.

    I long to redeem myself if only I could believe in myself for longer than a few minutes. I would like to give my son a reason to be proud of me. I owe my friend so much I will never be able to repay her but I would like the opportunity to try.

    Depression is a marker in my family on my dad’s side. After the war, he was diagnosed with shell-shock (PTSD) and he self-medicated with alcohol and drank himself to death by age 52. My sister was as dysfunctional as I am and took her own life when she was 29. They’re all gone now. By the time I was 50, I’d lost all my (first) family. I let friends go because I couldn’t sustain friendships. No husband to love and be loved; gone. A son, but he’s moved on too, as sons must. I am not bitter but long for him, as mothers must.

    It’s pitiful, my life.

    I’m exhausted writing this but I hope it’s useful to you in some small way. It sounds trite, but knowing we are not alone really does matter. Hold your family tight, not in desperation, but in gratitude.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you Shelley. Please talk to someone if you feel low – does your country have something similar to the Samaritans? Do call them.

      Reply
    2. A M Y

      Dear Shelly. You are definitely not a ‘ disgrace ‘ to your son but a loving mother who deserves much love in return. There is no ‘ reason ‘ you should give to your son to be proud of you but I wish he would understand that your condition is not self caused but ( perhaps biologically ) imposed on you and so far you cannot get out of it. Get him to see that and hope his humanity will respond. You have been hurt enough — don’t knock down yourself anymore. AMY.

      Reply
  21. John Duff

    Dear Ben, The past two years have been a nightmare that may come to a suden and abrupt end. Everything you wrote is very much accurate, with slight differences. It’s not that I blame myself, I get so frustrated because I can’t seem to turn on the switch, that hs been turned off. I desperately want to get back to, or close to the person I was. My girlfriend died almost two years ago and then I lost my little Cockateal 4 months later. My GP told me it has been a cattalist for the rough, distressing life I’ve had. Losing my sight at 18, going through a quadruple heart bypass, Passing my Social science degree 5 years ago, then being diagnosed with diabetes. Plus loads of other psychological stuff. Medication for me is no good as I have encountered too many side effecs. Counselling was no good. I have very few friends and getting the help I really need is impossible. I have decided that one day I will end it all. My loss won’t make any difference to the world.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      John, please find someone to talk to – whether a friend, a relative, Samaritans or anyone. You’ve got major challenges, but every person is a loss to the world when they have gone. Samaritans are on 08457 90 90 90 – write it down, put it in your wallet and please – for me – ring them if you feel you can’t continue. You can overcome this. Ben

      Reply
    2. Lizzles

      Dear John,
      Words don’t do justice to what you’ve been through, but you have survived this far and that has taken real strength. Yes, for every obstacle you’ve overcome, something else has come along and knocked you down again and I sense that you’re losing the strength to keep fighting back. What’s the alternative? Death is final and won’t help you get back to being the person you desperately want to be again. Ben is right, please, please, please don’t suffer in silence. You can talk to the Samaritans: jo@samaritans.org
      or email them if you are not in the mood to talk; also speak to/email MIND: http://www.mind.org.uk

      You are not alone. Please, please, please go back to your GP. There are shedloads of different drugs out there and it may be a case of finding the right one for you. I had to try several different types of anti-depressants until I found the right one for me, at this time. Please don’t give up on counselling; it’s a bit like finding the right drug for you – therapists/counsellors are people (I’m not trying to be clever!!) and some you like and some you don’t. I feel it is important to find one that is right for you. I have had three counsellors, one was rubbish and actually did more harm than good, one was OK-ish and my last one was fantastic and really helped me. I know it is hard to persevere when you’re at rock bottom and counselling may not be for you right now as you’re just trying to survive. If you do decide to try therapy again, contact the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: http://www.bacp.org.uk to check or contact a counsellor/therapist who is appropriately qualified. However, it is not a magic wand and it will not “fix” you, but it can help.

      Hang in there, John, things won’t stay bleak forever – it just feels that way. I wish you lots of love, strength, hope and luck in your journey – remember, you are not alone.

      Reply
    3. kitty

      John,
      Please get help. My mum died of pills and alcohol at 51 and left her immediate world bereft. She felt alone and that her life was useless and futile. She has no idea of how her death in 1993 has left a gaping whole in people’s lives that can never be filled. She was lonely and isolated and felt like you, that she had few friends.
      Your life is precious;it might not feel like it at the moment, but you have so much to give to the world. Already I know that your resilience is remarkable; you will be able to use this resilience to help you turn your life around.
      John, you have no idea what devastation you would leave behind. You need space and time to talk. You have experienced a lot of loss in your life.Believe it or not, how you are feeling is natural. You need time to heal, to talk and to find a way through. Thinking of you John. I echo Ben’s words…Please reach out and get help. The Samaritans are there for us all. Please use them. Xx

      Reply
  22. john

    Hi Ben, I just read your piece. It is the most honest and authentic article I have read in a long time. And it is so beautifully written. Well done. I have seen people close to me experience what you put into words so so accurately. Thank you.

    Reply
  23. EM

    I am very concerned about the use of drugs; they appear to be given out without much follow up, and on an already fragile mind they can have devastating consequences. Some terrible family circumstances led me to depression. I think I’d been depressed in the past, but I did start running and for a few years it helped immensely. But health issues stopped that and I became almost paralyzed with fear about the future. I went to see my oncologist for a last visit as we could not longer afford him and while I sat sobbing in his office he prescribed anti anxiety and anti depressants and told me that I “must” take them.
    I did, and almost immediately I became a shell of myself. I slept 16 hours a day. I felt no emotion. I didn’t care about anything. I could barely function. After 3 days, I still had enough of me left to research the drugs (I can’t for the life of me remember the names, but they were serotonin based).
    I read about how it might take months to step down off them, how people’s loved ones committed suicide after only taking them for a few weeks, of the life damaging effects of these drugs. I could not see any future for myself on that kind of medication. I stopped that day.

    2 days later, my husband of 18 years said to me “thank god! You’re back. I was so worried I’d lost you.”

    It was the fear of a life on that kind of medication (or the suicide it would bring) that brought me out of my depression: as strange as that sounds. I’m not saying I cope well with stress; I don’t. And life has turned around for us again, making things easier for me. At that time, I started exercising again, I threw myself into house renovations, I made myself do things. It all helped.

    However, my eldest child, who suffered through all that with us has sunk into the depths. He’s moody and angry and he’s lost his spark. I can see that his circumstances of late have made life hard for him, but he’s self medicating with alcohol and things are rapidly deteriorating.

    While I want him to get some help, the prescription of drugs worries me. I don’t think any doctor knows how any of these drugs will react with the individual chemistry of a patient’s brain. I’m not convinced they don’t do more damage than help. And while I am glad that you have found a dose that is working right now, your other experiences highlight my own concerns.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      I think everyone’s different. I have relatives that the medications haven’t worked for. For me, getting the right drug really helped. Your son may well be someone who responds, or who doesn’t – encourage him to talk to his doctor and discuss both drugs and therapy.

      Reply
  24. M

    Hi Ben

    I am a health professional. I really like your blog, you have articulated your feelings and journey so beautifully. In particular your reluctance to accept your depression which is something I see commonly.

    Could I please make a gentle request that you edit your first paragraph to remove the act you describe? I appreciate that this is a cathartic process for you but there is compelling evidence that publicizing such acts leads to imitation from vulnerable people and there are guidelines on this for media.

    http://www.mediawise.org.uk/suicide/suicidal-behaviour-and-the-media-findings-from-a-systematic-review-of-the-research-literature/

    Once again I must say how much I like this blog and it can really help reduce the stigma of mental illness. As a health professional it has also given me a real insight into the mind of patients like you who I see daily and for that I thank you. I wish you and your family all the best for the future.

    M

    Reply
  25. Graham Ford

    Hi Ben. Just read the edited version of this on Guardian website. As soon as you mentioned ‘brain zaps’, I thought, Venlafaxine. I have been prescribed this for anxiety for around 4 years now. It helps but the brain zaps or brain wobbles as I call them are horrible. Glad your life is getting back on course.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      I’ve started getting them in the morning if I forget to take my dose – but they soon wear off thankfully. Venlafaxine has a very short half life, so it is – I think – a particular problem with this drug. Try and take them at the same time each day.

      Reply
      1. Anon

        Hi Gents,
        Just wanted to let you know that there are a few different manufactufactures of Venlefaxine now and also a prolonged release version (I’ve tried several of them and was surprised by the differences of the same dose) so it’s worth mentioning any adverse effects to your GP as a simple manufacturer switch may help. Hope it does.

        Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      I’d rather not share as I’d prefer people to get the right dose for them with their doctor. However, it is above the dose needed for norepinephrine reuptake to be inhibited as well as serotonin. I do think this was the clincher for me.

      Reply
  26. marty

    Just came across this in the guardian.spot on with how i feel .ive had depression for 15years and it eats your life,will,enjoyment and all the goodness in it.

    Reply
    1. BK

      No that’s NOT true.
      There are physical illnesses and some medications that can cause depression and, fairly commonly, a genetic predisposition (particularly in Bipolar Depression) although a genetic/family history isn’t a pre-requisite for the diagnosis of Depression).

      PLEASE let’s not add to the Stigma of Depression by saying it’s contagious! It’s definitely NOT contagious.

      It is possible that some confusion arises because of illnesses such as M.E. (also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / “Yuppie Flu”), which is thought to possibly be post viral (Coxsackie virus), which can MIMIC depression OR because Depression can sometimes be MISDIAGNOSED as M.E., but Depression itself is NOT contagious.

      Some of the physical causes of depression include:
      Hypothyroidism (under active Thyroid), Myocardial Infarcts (Heart Attacks), CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery), CVA (Stroke), Rheumatologic Diseases (such as Arthritis), Parkinson’s Disease, amongst others. There are many others.

      More recently a genetic error in the metabolism of the nutrient FOLATE, which is required by every cell in the body but especially by the brain, has been identified in a lot of people suffering from Depression. These people can not metabolise Folate into the active form, METHYL- folate, or can’t do it as efficiently as people without this genetic mutation can.
      This genetic mutation can also cause elevations in Homocysteine levels, although normal Homocysteine levels do not exclude it. So to test for the mutation we order a Homocysteine MTHFR PCR blood test. I don’t think that the NHS/ government health services will pay for the test and it is not well known by Drs at all (you may find a Psychiatrist who has heard of it or can read up on it). I’m not sure what the test would cost in the UK or USA, here it is fairly expensive +- R900. Obviously it would be best to know whether you have either or both mutations or not (and whether it is Homozygous or Heterozygous {i.e. involving both copies of the gene or only one}) so that you know whether it’s necessary to spend the money on the supplement or not. However, given the cost of the test, the alternative, if you can’t do the test, may be to try taking the supplement for about 8 weeks (increasing from 1/day to 2 after a few weeks, if there is no response to 1/day) and see whether you benefit from it or not.
      The supplement is the already metabolized form of Folate, L-Methyl Folate. It is registered under the trademark “Metafolin” (by Merck) but marketed by various other companies. Here we have it from Metagenics, Solal and Solgar, but if you Google Metafolin or L-MethylFolate you’ll find others.
      It is quite a bit more expensive than ordinary Folate but for those who have this/these mutation/s (the 2 commonest ones that are tested for are 1298AC or CC and 677CT or TT) it makes a big difference, not only to mood but in some people also to concentration and memory.
      Well worth checking!
      I’ve seen it change people’s lives.

      Reply
  27. Tellmemore

    It is the best description of depression I have ever read and I read quite a few.. Totally identify myself with all your suffering. The medication works on me but unfortunately interferes with my other bodily functions and I tend to give it up as soon as I feel better. Depression has destroyed my life, my career, my relationships, my family. And reading this sentence ‘The only thing that stopped me was the thought of my wife or children finding my body, collapsed and incontinent with a plastic bag over its head.’ I simply burst into tears… this has been the black dog of my life or ….you are right, more like a parasite of my mind. I constantly analyse the genetic factor in my family, I constantly look into my relationship with my negligent mother. But that is enough – beautifully written and I thank you for that. I just feel I am not alone.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you. You’re not alone – keep talking and I hope you find the treatment that works long term for you. My treatment has side effects too, but I think the benefits outweigh them for the moment at least.

      Reply
  28. Kirsty

    Hi Ben,
    I have just very randomly come across your blog, and I must say I am deeply impressed on how you have portrayed your depression. It has been very similar to my own experience, though I have never been able to vocialise it as well as you have just done.
    Self stigma is crippling, and you are very right in what you said in your last couple of paragraphs.
    I have been reading some of the comments left and really hope you did not edit too much of it, although yes it may be a catalyst for vulnerable people it is also a relief for others- like myself-to see that they truly are not alone in understanding the need fo release and relief from severe bouts of depression.
    This is the first piece of writing that I have come across in which I very much feel that someone out there really does know how it does feel.
    It’s painful, but you’ll get there. We all will.
    Thank you for your wonderful piece of writing.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you – best of luck to you Kirsty. There are lots of people out there who understand. Keep talking. (And no, I only edited out a few words!)

      Reply
  29. lindy

    Thank you for writing your blog, I have just recently been diagnosed with depression. And I am currently undertaking my final year at university so the pressure is on. Particularly as the course requires a work placement running alongside it. I am taking consolation that the medication I have just been given may kick in, in a few weeks from what you and others have said.

    Just knowing that others have felt or are feeling the same as I am, makes me feel that I am not losing my mind,that others have come through and gained normality again.

    Reply
  30. helenpw

    I just commented on the Guardian piece before reading the blog. I mentioned the ‘black dog’ not knowing you had referenced it. Your blog much more informative than the Guardian extract. Thank you.

    Reply
  31. Richard

    Ben,

    You’re description of depression is incredible, and bizarrely accurate. I feel I’m at, or close to the peak of mine at the moment, having also had waves of it for years with those spaces in between growing closer and closer together. Those breaks between aren’t happening anymore and it’s just existing with me constantly. I’m not sure if i have anything specifically to ask you, your blog says more than enough, but I guess again to thank you for at least reassuring the fact that, whether it’s a good or bad thing, other people know exactly what’s going on and, similarly, have no idea why.

    Very best,
    Richard

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you Richard. Please get some help from your doctor if you haven’t already – it can make all the difference when you are in the place you are at at the moment.

      Reply
  32. Sh

    Hello Ben,

    Thanks a lot for posting this. This is such a well written piece; it very accurately depicts the trauma of being depressed. I am quite young (25 years old) and I believe I have been suffering from depression for some 10 years now but im not sure. I have tried very hard to find the reasons for my illness but really cant find one. It was particularly bad late 2008 beginning 2009 and i saw a counsellor at my university (it was email counselling). Things got better ” by themselves”. However, it was really bad beginning of 2012 to the extent that I had laid out plans to commit suicide. But then I saw someone from my university (a visit to a counsellor) and things got ok again. However, during the past weeks, I have felt low again. I have never seen anyone who could prescribe some medicines yet. I dont know, am I just ‘sad’ or what. Good things have happened to me during those years; i am now a barrister and things are going rather well for me professionally. I dont want to sound like an ungrateful brat.

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you SH. Please go and see your doctor. Your profession is a very intense one and I think it would help you professionally as well as personally if you went to see your GP.

      Reply
  33. kat

    Hey Ben I have a personal question. Do you exercise regularly cardio 3x a week and weight training? If you’re are what exercise regimine are you doing?

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      No, I don’t I’m afraid. I walk a lot and work on my allotment. I’m not keen on formal exercise regimes, sadly.

      Reply
  34. hassan

    Dear Ben,

    I have been victim of depression from last 11 years…. I went to many psychiatrists but only they can give me is anti-depressants…. I used paroxetine, fluoxetine, and estalopram….

    I also feel very depressed and sick like I have the highest temperature and I could not do anything or want to do anything but when I take a estalopram I feel good for 3 days but after three days again I feel depressed and sad and sick feelings… so now I am using it after every three days regularly from many years… I wish I could stop using it and I don’t like it but I don’t have any option…..

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Hi Debbie – please encourage your child to see a professional. Their problem is unlikely to solve itself for the long term.

      Reply
  35. Kim

    Hi Ben,

    I too was truly encourage by your battle with depression because as I was reading your blog I thought to myself “This is how I feel”. I want my fiance to read your journey so that he can better understand what is happening with me and not just me trying to explain to him how I feel. The guilt that I feel when I become unwell and that no one understands, except other people like yourself. It’s hard for everyone involved. My battle has been for 20 years however some long periods of being fine but always on anti depressants. I dont understand though why they dont seem to work well as Im going through a bad depressive and anxious time again. Off to my doctor I think. Thankyou for sharing yourself….Kim

    Reply
  36. Belle

    Great article. I needed Venlafaxine at 75mg – only partially treated on other drugs. Good on you for opening up the topic – I find it hard to tell friends how often I get depressed.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  37. Laura

    Very moving article. I have first hand experience and must tell you that it is refreshing to see such honesty and insight. I hope you continue to write.

    Reply
  38. Adam

    Add my thanks to the pile as well, Ben.

    Didn’t think I had a problem until you hit the nail on the head, as many here have stated. You’ve encouraged me to tell my doc & speak with other professionals experienced with this. Don’t know what took me so long. I don’t consider myself prideful. Didn’t want to complain or quit – all considered signs of weakness in my line of work (my stigma). Thought I’d “beat it” though I knew one day it’d best me, an unlucky punch on a bad week. But it helps knowing there are people behind me who’ve been there & made it through, it encouraging.

    Anyway, Thank You.

    Reply
  39. Kate

    Wow. It is refreshing to see a blog…and respective posts … express such honesty and clarity about this disease. I really value the time and courage requires to write about this ….in spite of it all… and only wish I could be so brave. Kudos!! And thanks.

    Reply
  40. Kate

    Also – for those in Australia, there are many services available to help. I called Lifeline one time, a while ago and that was a good decision. I was just overwhelmed and needed someone to chat to. You don’t need to be super super sad and depressed to call – just in the mood to chat and get something off your chest.

    Reply
  41. Matt

    Hi Ben
    Thank you for sharing your story. You write about your experience with really moving insight. It resonates with my own experiences and others I’ve spoken with. I think particularly that sense of self-stigmatising rings so true, a feeling of guilt about the impact on others around as well as a sense of self-blame for feeling this way.

    I’ve started a website called http://www.depressionstory.com to try and capture people’s stories of depression to build awareness for others and also to create a sense of both what’s shared and different for each person. I’d love to feature your story on the site if you allowed me.

    I’d also invite anyone reading this blog who would like to share their depression story to contribute too. I’m hoping writing like yours will help others to understand what it is to have depression and to deepen their compassion for it.

    More information at http://www.depressionstory.com

    Reply
    1. BK

      Hi Matt, your website sounds really interesting & a site that I could contribute to both from personal experience and as a health professional.
      But why the cookies on your site? Surely that will put some people off?
      Also some computer systems (like mine at the Hospital/University automatically won’t allow them.

      Reply
  42. hannah johnson

    thanx for sharing so honestly and i will pass this to my son who suffers simular … self reflection is painfull and confusing at times but u do it well in writing ,,,fond regards hannah

    Reply
  43. Pingback: Qualcuno ne esce | Dolore

  44. Sandles

    I don’t think people stigmatise depression as much as they fear it, and don’t know how to react to it. I don’t suffer from depression but people around me have or do and this illness they have can make them behave badly with the people they love and who are willing to help them. This makes it so difficult for both parties. One gigantic step would be for doctors, shrinks, etc to pinpoint this and encourage people to express the trouble they are having communicating (I realise how contradictory this sounds). Basically, close family and friends should always be taken into account when someone suffers from depression.

    Reply
  45. Keira Williamson

    Wow, I read this and could relate to it within a heart-beat. My nan is a good friend of your mums. It’s so nice to know you’re not alone in the battle. Thank-you for writing this. I wish you all the love and hope for the rest of your journey.
    Kind Reagrds

    Reply
  46. Tracey Dooley

    Bloody heck, Ben, I had absolutely NO idea!!! (But that is often the point with these silent maligners, isn’t it?)

    It’s so good to hear that the shitty ‘black dog’ is firmly on its leash and that things are looking really good for you. And what a wonderful family you have, it seems.

    Thank you for showing such courage and frankness about this much-misunderstood illness.

    Your words had me welling up in parts. I could see the very void that I call my self leaping from paragraph to paragraph: I too feel the bite of that black dog. I too plough through panic attacks, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, apathy, isolation, hopelessness, separation… It’s as if the very essence of me has slowly been disintegrating — a kind of closing off…a shutting down, if you like.

    The problems is, aside from this blog post, I have never let on that this is the case; opting instead to attempt to live my life (at least my ‘online life’) through an alter ego. One that is not ill. Stupid, I know, as it’s akin to sticking a plaster over a gaping wound that will never heal in an attempt to cover it up.

    But then because I ‘look okay’ I guess it’s not such a difficult act to muster up.

    Prison without bars is one way of describing depression.

    The thing is — imprisoned as I am by an incurable illness named Graves Disease (you’d think the chap who ‘discovered’ it could have had a less ominous-sounding surname!) and also M.E. (Myalgic encephalomyelitis) — I haven’t a clue if the depression is a consequence of the illness, the medications or some other factor.

    It is my great hope that we will continue to see a greater understanding and acceptance of mental illness in our society.

    The strength you have showed by posting your story is a positive conduit for change.

    All the very best, Ben. xX

    Reply
    1. Ben Locker

      Thank you Tracey… your description completely nails it. I knew a little of your illness, but not of the Black Dog. Keep talking about him – it cripples the bloody so-and-so. Keep well and keep in touch. Ben x

      Reply
      1. Tracey Dooley

        Not many people do, to be fair! I’m quite good at putting on a ‘face’ (or at the very least, a passable grimace) to the world at large. It’s behind my own inner closed doors where the black dog lives…

        Flip, that was supposed to sound ‘deep’, but is total trash. Must go and make a cup of tea.

        Keep smiling… xX

        Reply
  47. Pingback: Depression story 4: Ben Locker - My depression story

  48. RW

    I first read this piece on The Guardian website and then in full here.

    Astonishing Ben. It’s literally like you are writing what I’m feeling and thinking.

    The physical pain I feel when I try – and fail – to love my family is immense, and this turns to overwhelming guilt when despite this they love me unconditionally in return.
    All of this despite me behaving like a complete arsehole, lashing out at them for the tiniest things.
    Because of this, whilst only having fleeting thoughts of actual suicide, I regularly think that it would be better for everyone if I weren’t around.

    I look at old photos of me in happier times and its actually like I’m seeing a different person.

    At work though, no one knows. I’ve become a master at hiding it.

    I have only recently sought help.
    You see I didn’t want to be a “freak”. Who does?
    I’m sorry to use that description – I know it flies in the face of your campaign – but that’s just how I felt. The more I read though, and the more I’m listened to, the more I realise that though depression can be a freak occurrence, in terms of it’s causes, it doesn’t make the sufferer one.

    I’m starting a course of CBT in May. Hopefully that will help.
    I guess I’m fortunate in that I believe I know what is causing me to feel this way – my lack of love for my wife – and my hopeless love for another (married) woman who is also a very dear and kind friend. There – I’ve told someone, and for the first time.
    The depression stems from the fact that I know there is nothing I can do about this without hurting those who love me and depend on me. So I carry on, all the while keeping to myself what feels like an enormous guilty, shameful lie.

    Well, this post appears to have drifted from a heartfelt thanks to you Ben for understanding how I feel, into a selfish rambling, so if you’re reading this, my apologies for that.

    But again, thank you for your article, it’s given me the courage to tell someone, anyone, about what is really hurting me, even if only in the virtual world.

    Reply
  49. Alison T

    This is such a helpful and beautifully written account of how it feels to lose yourself to depression and the shame and self-disgust that goes with it. Many thanks

    Reply
  50. Margaret

    Thank you for sharing your candid journey Ben. My husband died by suicide about 15 months ago. Your blog gave me a bit more insight into his illness, unfortunately undiagnosed and untreated. I have had to dig very deep to live through the trauma, isolation, and despair of losing the man I love so deeply to depression. Today, I just hope, hope for more conversation, more help, and less stigma, hope that as more of us open up, more people will listen, more people will seek help, more lives will be saved. I’m learning to live life without him, its a slow and painful process; our family has been shattered by this loss; no one knows what to make of it, no one knows what to say, blame is rampant, and no one wants to talk about it. I’m left isolated and alone, missing him him every painful moment of every day. To Dougie.

    Reply
  51. Alexander Gent

    I can only echo what so many people have written before me. Like some I discovered your posts through The Guardian, like many here you have opened my eyes and helped me realise that I am not alone in this fight. I am going to save this blog and post it too myself so that I can refer back to it in the dark times.

    I used to think that taking tablets was a failing on my part and fought against it. CBT worked for a while, but then that insidious, creeping menace found me again.

    I did not feel it coming and it was only when I was on a tipping point towards lashing out that it came to me that help was needed.

    Thank you for sharing your story. If it goes anyway towards helping you, know that your clarity and compassion have helped yet another person fighting with themselves.

    Reply
  52. Mike

    Ben thank you for your story I have battled depression on and off for many years I think I had it as a child I’m about to celebrate my 50th birthday but can only think of dieing and being old I seen my doctor last week and he upped my dosage I’m impatient and want to be better yesterday he said it takes a week I started therapy last week didn’t really like him gonna try someone else the cost this disease takes is terrible thank you for being strong

    Reply

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