I was first diagnosed with depression by my GP way back in 1998, though he reckoned I’d been depressed for quite some time even then. In retrospect, I believe it was probably due to my excessive drinking, or maybe my excessive drinking was as a result of my depression and anxiety?
I was not nearly so well informed about mental illness back then, nor so proactive as I am today in terms of maintaining my health. There was no discussion about the side effects of the medication he prescribed, and to be honest, I didn’t really care. I just wanted to get better. The anti-depressants certainly did their job, and I began to take a long absent interest in life again. I began enjoying my hobbies and spending quality time with my wife and step children once more.
My job however continued to be very stressful, and I continued to drink as a coping mechanism, which in turned fuelled my depression. Another trip to the GP and he advised a higher dose of anti-depressants, which helped a lot, until the side effects started to kick in. One of the more common side effects of many anti-depressant medications is suppression of libido, and for men, dramatically decreased sexual performance. I think if I’d know this then, I might have been able to save my marriage. So there I was, with a wife I loved dearly, but for whom I no longer felt any desire. Even on the occasions that we did become intimate, I couldn’t perform. I was at a loss as to what was going on, and my wife simply presumed that I no longer loved her. Our marriage went downhill from there, I drank more to compensate, and within a year we were separated.
Cut to 2007, where my drinking is pretty much out of control, my depression is becoming unmanageable, and I’m in a horrendous relationship with a much younger woman who has significantly bigger mental health issues than me. I started to make poorer and poorer choices until I ended up breaking the law, landing me with significant legal problems, and ending a 22 year career. The ensuing 18 months were a blur. I was unemployed for the first time in my life. I was pretty much in limbo until I was sentenced. Sentencing finally happened in late 2008, and to everyone’s surprise I managed to escape a jail term, which is probably just as well, because I seriously doubt I would have survived even a week in prison.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself in Townsville, trying to make a fresh start. A wonderful friend welcomed me into her home, and even helped me find a job. Things went really well until my six month contract ended, and I found myself once again pitched into a deep pit of despair. With my friends help, I made contact with a local GP and got referred to a wonderful psychologist who suggested I might like to get in touch with Hand Up. The first meeting I went to was amazing. As I was telling my story, for the first time in my life I found myself in the company of a room full of people who understood. People who actually “got it”. They understood how I was feeling because they had experienced, or were experiencing it themselves.
Two years later, I’m still involved with Hand Up. I won’t pretend that life has been all beer and skittles ever since. Three days of homelessness led to a six day stay in the Mental Health Unit last year, but unlike many, I had visitors everyday.
Late last year I made the monumental decision to return to University and study Psychology. I remember the look of delight in my psychologist’s face when I told her. It was not because I’d chosen Psychology, but as she pointed out, it was the first time I’d made an actual decision in the twelve months I’d been seeing her. A week later, I landed a part-time job in a bottle shop.
I’m enjoying my studies, and continue to work in my bottle shop at the weekends. Whenever customers ask me how I am, I reply with a smile and tell them, “I’m a work in progress.”