The Man in the Hole – a personal blog on Depression
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.