There’s a touching scene in the pilot episode of House, in which Dr Robert Chase is at the bedside of a seriously ill patient who wants to die at home.
But the answer to her condition was simpler all along. Thanks to the detective work of Dr House, she is diagnosed with a tapeworm in her brain. As Dr Chase hands her the miracle cure – two pills daily – her eyes well up with tears of hope and relief.
As both a pragmatist and a sufferer of depression, the scene struck a chord with me. I’ve written before how two pills daily have affected me. How I took the antidepressant Seroxat – until my behaviour became manic and increasingly erratic. How its sister drug Sertraline lifted the poisonous smog of my despair – for one short month until I was slowly re-embraced by the tendrils of mental agony and suicidal thoughts.
And I wrote how, finally, I believed I had been cured by a dual-action drug, Venlafaxine, that works on two different neurotransmitters – serotonin and norepinephrine. A cure in a foil pack, popped twice daily to banish all anguish.
Of course, I wanted to believe in the two-pills daily miracle. What other choice did I have? The iller I got, the less able I was to think clearly. The further my thoughts retreated into a brittle dungeon of self-hatred and emotional paralysis, the smaller my dwindling self-employed income became – and the more the bills stacked up. I was in no position to lobby my GP for therapy, let alone pay for it.
I did try another route. After many hours of forensically searching the web, I found an NHS service I could refer myself to for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I filled in a form, sent it back and heard nothing for about six weeks. When the call finally came, I got signed up to an online CBT course – a series of impersonal videos in which Americans talked about mindfulness and the power of changing your thoughts and behaviours.
Hell, I’d already read all of this in detail in many books. I know how to think and behave and talk positively. I know how to focus on and try to relish my sensations as I walk down the street, drink a glass of milk or run my hands under the tap. So now tell me how watching some cheaply produced videos, presented by people who will never once ask me a caring question, can stop me lying in bed and relishing the thought of never waking up again.
So how am I to break the cycle of depression? As you probably guessed, the two pills daily miracle has failed again. I’m too frightened to go to the office. I work intermittently at home, breaking off from short bursts of writing to be alone with whatever unputrid thoughts I have left to me. At the age of 40 I feel like an old man, peering dimly back at a life that has almost run its course.
So I keep taking the pills and spend my days hiding from myself and from all but a few people. And the thought that sustains me is a destructive one – that tomorrow I’ll cope. That tomorrow I’ll do that invoicing I’ve put off for a month. That tomorrow I’ll ring that utility company that keeps writing to ask whether I’m ill. That tomorrow I’ll ring the G.P. and plead to be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist – anyone who can spare me more than ten minutes away from the production line to discover what is eating away my life and my livelihood.
Because now, as I sit in my garden, eyes blistering irrationally with tears of self hatred for letting down myself, my family and for shattering my ability to live life as before, I can only pin my hopes on a different way out. The two-pill miracle is only ever going to be part of the solution – it’s surely real people, their care and their kindness that will finally bring me through.