Hi. I'm on anti-depressants.
There you go. I can already hear a chorus of "I wouldn't open with that" from my comedian friends. And of course they'd be wrong. They usually are.
Yes, I've started taking anti-depressants.
Why am I telling you this? Apart from my constant desire to make everything about me? Well I think it's important to say. Don't worry, I'm not going down the "spokesman for mental health" route. I just thought I'd share some information and my experience so far to help lessen the stigma attached to it.
And that's the thing. I've always been very open when talking about mental health issues. I talk about it on stage, to my friends and family, I even organised an Edinburgh Fringe show on the subject. It was only when I started taking anti-depressants about five weeks ago that the stigma became real for me. And it was a self-imposed stigma. I only told my very closest friends that I had started taking them, the ones I thought would be the most understanding. Thankfully they were, even the ones who said "I presumed you were on them anyway".
On Saturday I was at a conference and went to take my meds after lunch. I caught myself surreptitiously taking my daily tablet so that no one would see or notice. I did it without really thinking why and realised afterward that I was worried someone would ask what I was taking. I was worried that someone would see and would think "Look at yer man, he's on pills for his nerves". That somehow it would mark me out as being abnormal in some way which is just ridiculous. So in order to mitigate that, I thought I'd put it out in the open if it means others will be more willing to tackle it.
So why anti-depressants? Well, just over a month ago, I was made redundant. This in itself wasn't a reason to fall into a depression. In fact I was delighted to be made redundant. As my friends or those who follow my Facebook feed will know, I didn't like my job. I hated it. Over the past five years it had slowly eroded my self-confidence and sense of self-worth down to the point where I dreaded every day I had to go into the office. It's partly for this reason that I started doing stand-up comedy.
What leaving my job did for me was give me time to think and to start making some changes in my life. I realised that I hadn't been myself in quite a while. A good number of years. I needed to do something about that in order to get my life back and be the person I used to be.
Having depression is hard to explain to people who have never experienced it. By that I mean people who haven't been effected by it on a daily basis. Having one bad day now and then where you "can't even" doesn't count. For me, I'd have good days and bad days. The bad overwhelmingly outnumbering the good ones. The thing is, I'd try and rationalise it and tell myself that the bad days were normal days. I was always anxious about something from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep. I'd be anxious about going to work, anxious about what mood my boss would be in with me, anxious about meeting people, anxious about driving to a gig, anxious about doing the gig etc etc (you get the idea). When one hurdle was jumped, I'd immediately move on to the next one and start worrying about that. It was like having a constant weight on my shoulders while trying to keep 100 plates spinning on sticks.
It was also very easy for me to fall into a black mood over the most insignificant thing. Things that most people would take in their stride could ruin a day for me. Someone being rude to me at work, some perceived slight or a snarky comment on Facebook could leave me fed up for a day. That's not to say the people involved weren't pricks, it's just that I didn't handle it very well and I let it effect me way more than it should. It also had the effect of making me want to isolate myself from people. I wouldn't want to leave the house to do anything other than go to gigs. Even a trip to the cinema would be an ordeal as even before I'd leave the house, I'd already be fixating on which person in the cinema would ruin the film for me by talking or kicking my seat. I wasn't much fun to be around a lot of the time.
Not the best way to be.
So about six weeks ago I went to the doctor and explained how things had been for me. They were really great. Very understanding. They listened to what I said, nodded in recognition and said that all I had told them was typical of someone who was depressed and could benefit from the use of anti-depressants. I was very wary at first, worried that the pills would in some way change me. Make me someone who wasn't the "real" me. That I'd be zombified in some way. My biggest worry was that if I was numb to everything, I wouldn't be funny anymore and I'd struggle to write anything for stand-up again (You were never funny Christian).
I gave it some thought for a week, reading up on the anti-depressants that the doctor suggested and finally made the decision to give them a go. And I'm glad I did. It's probably the best decision I've made in years. Within a few weeks I was feeling much much better. Again it's hard to explain but that feeling of anxiousness has eased significantly. It's not there as a constant. I'm a lot more positive about things. Don't get me wrong, I still get irritated when someone's a prick, I just doesn't ruin my day anymore. Or even my minute. I still angry get about things except it's about the right things.
Others have noticed a change too, saying I'm more like my old self. More confident, positive and a lot more pleasant to be around (I hope). I feel happier. Not happy. But happier. And that's a good start.
So what was my point? My point is this. If you're feeling depressed (and I know there's a few of you reading this), don't put off doing something about it. It doesn't make you weak. It makes you stronger. Go and see someone about it. A doctor, a therapist or a counsellor. But do go and see someone. It's made a huge difference to me so far, all I can do is encourage you to do the same.