The Man in the Hole – a personal blog on Depression

Depression is a hideous illness. If I had a virus or a fever I could take medication, allow it to do its thing, and expect to get better in a few days time.

I would see the symptoms. I might be hot, cold, shivering – my body would be showing me it was not right. To the rest of the world it would also be pretty obvious that I was poorly. No doubt this would lead to sympathy from those closest to me – even platitudes from acquaintances but either way – someone would feel the need to express their concern for my well-being and hope I “get well soon.”

To the outside world Depression can be symptomless. Well – I say that – perhaps not symptomless but the symptoms can often be confused for something else. Someone can come across as miserable, anti-social, perhaps their work might suffer their relationships certainly will.

Depression often doesn’t attract a great deal of sympathy. For some people it’s as simple as suggesting that you “snap out of it” or “get a grip.”

The problem for the sufferer is that unless you get the right help there is no “snap” and there is nothing to “grip” on to.

I have suffered with depression for about twenty years. It isn’t a great deal of fun and hasn’t been for my family and loved ones either. They are the forgotten sufferers of depression.

At its worst – depression is like being in a pit. A pit with sheer walls. There is no hope, no sunshine and no-one in there with you.

You become like a passenger – watching life pass you by. You feel completely disassociated – life is something that happens to other people. You don’t want in. Let them get on it with.

You live by instinct – you eat when you absolutely have to (otherwise you can’t be bothered.) You sleep when you can’t stay awake any longer – sometimes you sleep in the hope that it passes time.

The simple things in life which should be fun like socialising or even a conversation become hard work. Too much effort. Consequently you dig deeper into your pit. Wishing everyone would just leave you alone.

It can leave you psychically breathless. Exhausted yes but also so bereft of hope that it takes your breath away. You could win the lottery and it still wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

It’s a spiral. The worse you feel the worse you get. The worse you get the more isolated you make yourself. You shut out the very people who offer the most in your life. Work becomes a burden.

When you are depressed it is amazing how empty a room full of people can be.

At its darkest comes the thought that there is no way out. That the pain needs to stop. That there is only one way out.

Four years ago my friend took this path. None of us saw it coming. He had seemed a bit down but we put that down to tiredness caused by the recent arrival of his new born child. We missed the clues as much as he kept them hidden.

The morning it happened was one of the worst days of my life. His partner hammered my door to tell me he was missing. Flipping into “work mode” I assessed this as a high risk situation and started asking questions about his life. The more I learned the more worried I got.

I started a search and called my local police for help. It was at this point that I learned they had found a body nearby. I knew what that meant but I had to absorb that and keep it to myself.

Hope needed to live for a little longer for the others.

I went to meet the officers and my worst fears were confirmed. There was my friend – his partner and child waiting at home for news. I knew what that news was going to be. I had known for a short while earlier but now it was staring me in the face.

I asked the officers to go and deliver the news and I would follow up behind them to try and pick up the pieces.

For the first time in my life I saw what happens when the police leave an incident like that. Until then, as an officer, I had done the leaving. Now I was sat in my friends house knowing he wasn’t coming home and knowing that the lives of his family were shattered.

I had no tools in the box for this. Although delivering a death message is about the worst job an officer can do I realised that once its done – its done. For those left behind, however, the problems have only just begun.

Bizarrely – even though I could see the devastation that this had caused everyone it sent me into a pit of my own that I didn’t emerge from for two years.

In that time I was unbearable to everyone. I was silent, miserable, literally hopeless. I was permanently ill and when I wasn’t ill I was imagining I was ill. A slight sore throat lasted 6 months and was investigated to the endth degree. Dizziness ended up with me having an MRI scan.

The cause of it all? Depression.

Unbelievable – horrible – depression.

Even though I had suffered with it for years it took a GP to ask me directly when he saw through my hypochondria. It was like a light coming on.

But recovery was a slow process. It took a year to find the right dose of the right medication. In that time I am surprised my relationships survived. I have a lot to be thankful for. I didn’t realise it at the time either.

I was furious with my friend – absolutely furious. Not so much for taking the path he took but for not telling anyone he felt that bad. If he had said something we could have helped. Then it dawned on me – I don’t talk about it either.

And that is the purpose of this blog. I don’t have a magical solution for dealing with depression. I have my own ups and downs where sometimes the medication needs adjusting or I need a little extra help.

Every depression sufferer has their own journey to make and I am realistic enough to know that not all of these journeys end happily.

For me there is one essential element to fighting depression and it is something that I am still bad at.

The essential element is – talking. Not counselling – talking.

Counselling is extremely useful and I would recommend it to anyone but before you can get access to it. You need to talk.

You need to recognise that you are in the pit and the only way put of it is by talking to someone. A friend, a doctor, a charity – anyone – this is the first step on the road to recovery.

The resultant journey can take months or years but you can’t begin it until you talk.

I will leave you with a parable which is used in The West Wing. There a scene where Josh Lyman is battling some personal demons brought on by PTSD. His boss, Leo McGarry stops him in the corridor and tells him this story.

I have used it twice to other people in real life. I am convinced it is a life saver.

A man is walking along the street and he falls in a hole. It’s deep, the sides are steep and he can’t get out. He calls for help and eventually he sees a doctor walk past.

“Hey Doc! I’m stuck in this hole – you think you could help me out?”

The doctor peers into the hole. Writes down a prescription, throws it into the hole and walks on.

The man is still stranded and starts calling out again. He sees a priest walk by.

“Hey Father. I’m stuck in this hole -is there any way you could help me out?”

The Priest looks into the hole, scribbles down a prayer and throws it into the hole. He walks on leaving the man stuck.

After a while he starts shouting out for help and sees his friend walk by

“Hey Jimmy, I’m stuck in this hole. You think you could give me a hand?”

Jimmy looks into the hole and then jumps in. His friend is astonished.

“Hey Jimmy – why did you do that?! Now we’re both stuck in this hole!”

“Yeah,” says Jimmy “but I’ve been in here before and I know the way out.”

This is why I love the West Wing.
This is why we need to talk about depression.
This is why talking is good.

Help and Support

For more information on depression please take a look at the website of The Depression Alliance

You can always talk to the Samaritans – 24 hours a day – 365 days a year on
08457 90 90 90

Or visit their website for more information

The charity The Police Dependant’s Trust (who provide welfare support in the event a police officer is killed or injured on duty) has now announced that funding is available for police officers whose mental health illness results in them being sectioned. You can follow them on Twitter here

The PDT has also announced that £3 million is available to forces to fill gaps in their welfare provision for mental health. The #OneInFour Fund. More on their website.

A support programme specifically tailored for emergency service workers is also available via the mental health charity “Mind” called Bluelight. 1 in 4 emergency workers will suffer from some kind of mental health illness and this is a unique initiative covering many aspects including depression.

This blog was first published in 2013.


21 responses to “The Man in the Hole – a personal blog on Depression”

  1. Helen says :

    Before I suffered depression many moons ago, I thought, as a professional in the field, I could help. How wrong I was and it was the only good thing that came out of my experience. I now know the danger signs and can get the help I need but more importantly, be there for others. Thankyou for your honesty.

  2. Kate Blair says :

    Nanthan thank you for this blog. You say that you are still not good at talking but this blog really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing it

  3. Rachel Rogers (@DorsetRachel) says :

    NC, your blog moved me to tears, especially the part about the loss of your friend. It’s immensely brave of you to describe your reaction so coherently and to render yourself so publicly vulnerable so thank you.

    I know a little of suicide and more than a little of grief and loss, I know how these emotions can knock even those who don’t suffer from mental health issues totally off-kilter and for the rest of us…

    Reading the blog will help others and I hope will encourage them to talk in the way that you recommend, Talking really does help, so to your recommendations I would add Cruse 0844 477 9400. Because when my mother died, when I fell apart, it was Cruse who rescued me.

  4. tomsprints says :

    Here’s another depression suffererer who found this blog really helpful. Thanks.


  5. Mark says :

    Excellent blog boss. I’ve been there too and it is horrendous. Strangely, I have almost always found myself to be fine at work, it was only when I left that it would kick in. A moving account which has some great truths in it. I have suffered with depression for many years on and off, but fortunately, I have been on an even keel for about 5 years. It is a platitude, but it can and does get better, which could be something to hold onto when people are their worst. Keep it up, the mental health debate is really interesting and possibly the most productive thing I have ever seen in the police blogging realm.

  6. CS says :

    Thank you for sharing this. On the day I first read it I had spent the entire day crying save for a few hours where I picked up my prescription and then had a nap.

    Depression is such a spiteful, noisy ****. It robs you of everything. Pulls you away from your loved ones; destroys all major (and minor) accomplishments; and completely disintegrates your sense of worth. I know this too well.

    On paper, or from the outside, I’m sure people see me as a high-achiever, but from the inside the view is very different. It’s the woman in the hole.

    For everyone, including you NC, hang in there, this isn’t you that’s doing the talking, it’s the depression. Two very separate beasts.

  7. CS says :

    I just wanted to update you on something. I had to share it with someone. For the last 9 months I have been so depressed that I haven’t been able to clean my flat. On the flipside of depression is anxiety, and the state of my flat has been a cause of great anxiety for me.

    Today, I pulled a sickie from work and I’m cleaning my flat for the first time in 9 months. Fingers crossed I can keep it that way.

  8. Mike says :

    I lost my best friend to suicide in August 2009. I wish to this day he had spoken to me, or someone.

  9. J says :

    Thanks for writing this – it’s blogs like this that hopefully will enable ‘ordinary’ people to understand what depression is all about.

    You’re so right that talking is what you need to do. Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of when I fell apart – when depression hit me but no one could see what was happening. It’s invisible – people don’t believe you. I couldn’t talk about how I felt. I’m still stuck in that hole and when I feel suicidal my crisis plan is to talk – not much use turning to the mental health service they don’t have time to talk. Thanks God for the Samaritans – they care.

    I have 2 friends who killed themselves 5 years ago – if only they had felt able to talk to me.

  10. Ann Carline Gilks says :

    Try your local emergency access centre (used to be mental health unit back in the day). i am lucky mine is good and a CPN answers you. Grassroots Suicide Prevention good too. Samaritans great but not perfect. Who is? not me .Sometimes, as happened to me last week, you have to try again until you get the Good Samaritan,the right one for you,but you must keep trying,you must survive,you are important,you will get better, i will get better,i know i will,but oh its hard work just surviving sometimes….keep on keeping on..keep asking for help til you get it…May your god bless you if that is what you want…praying helps me,not everyone’s cup of tea,but worth a go??? Take good care of yourself (cos no other bu–er will as my mum used to say)

    • J says :

      Not so lucky with our local crisis service rang 11pmish on monday and was asked to wait for the day service. Why are they there overnight then? I put the phone down at that point. Crisis went from bad to worse at that point. Still here to tell the tale though.

      Re Grassroots suicide prevention – everyone should do their training – I have. Should be rolled out to all the emergency services.

  11. Tony says :

    Excellent blog. Suicide has often, and still does, seem like my best option far too frequently. I feel sorry for those who are left to pick up the pieces but I also know why the decision is taken

  12. May says :

    Wow! What a brave and brutally frank blog – I applaud you for finding the words to convey what a debilitating illness depression is. From someone who has suffered mildly in comparison to a sibling who fought and struggled daily for years. It is very hard for friends and family, made no easier by the lack of care, or rather continuity of care, where Pandora’s box is opened in a session and left open for weeks if not months due to lack of appointments with the sufferer left to deal with those thoughts. But you are so right – talk, talk and talk – I am so glad the ‘stigma’ of mental health issues are lifting through people such as yourself being brutally honest, this can only be a positive thing. Wish you the best.

  13. Bernie Condon says :

    In 1996, I was a PC in the Met, and after a number of events in my life, some at work, some outside, I was eventually diagnosed with Sever depression & anxiety. The job had just started a sickness reduction scheme, which was, well, lets say unsympathetic in application. The Dep Ass Commissioner for my area was equally unhelpful, by saying anyone going sick with metal illness would be out on ill health grounds. So a good time to be ill!
    I stayed at work, as Nathan says, life is a pit. There is not light, there is little hope. Worry is constant, in my case, if I go sick, I will be out. If I am out who’s going to employ me. The circles spins and spins. I tried an overdose, luckily, I wasn’t very good at suicide!
    I cut myself off, I became withdrawn, it was seen by one sergeant as something it wasn’t. His behaviour led to my being stuck on and disciplined. I lost my job. Sympathy? Help? Understanding? No chance, simply march in the guilty bastard.
    OK, life was crap for a number of years. Slowly, I dragged myself out of the mire…well, mostly. I no longer need to take medication, thankfully! And most of the time, I am on a level plane.There are still times when the ups and downs of life take on a much bigger perspective, but on the whole I manage. I am bitter about how I was treated. I hope the job has changed in that respect, it seems that they talk the talk now.
    Its a long time since I told anyone the above….I am not even sure I know why I am doing it now, but I hope someone finds it useful.

  14. David O'Sullivan says :

    Nathan, thanks for your honesty. It made me laugh that you used the passage from The West Wing. I showed the same passage to the friend who talked me out of taking the path your friend took. It was the only way I could let him know how much what he did meant for me and for my family.

    Keep writing, keep talking. Talking is the biggest show of strength we can (as men anyway) show to the world.

    All the best,

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