15 July 2015
Alan's story: Dealing with depression
by Alan Hawes
To tie in with our request for testimonies and stories of positive transformation, Alan shares his story...
When depression hit
November 2013 had been quite a busy and stressful spell, but that's life. I was dealing with an allegation at work against some of my colleagues and, by inference, me. I was quite upset that something small had been blown out of all proportion. One Thursday afternoon I received an email that on a normal day would have irked me, but I would have simply got on with it. Not that day. It felt as though my whole body had just shut down in an instant –completely out of the blue. I sat in my chair looking blankly at the screen. After a while the screen went blank. At going home time I said a very limp 'cheerio' to my colleagues and headed slowly to the car. I was physically drained, and felt as though I could hardly make it.
When I arrived home my wife Sandra was out, so I ate and went straight to bed. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I thought I was just over-tired, but I didn't want to eat anything. I didn't want to drink anything, either. I didn't want to see anyone. I felt the same the following day. I didn't care about anything –including whether I lived or died. Death felt the better of the two. What was there to live for? My family would have been financially secure, Sandra would have coped, and the 'children', at 20 and 18, didn't need me anymore. I was taking up unnecessary space and being a burden to those around me.
I finally took a few sips of water on the Friday evening, and then slept for more than 36 hours. By Saturday evening I was less keen to die, and more keen to eat. I clambered out of bed for a couple of hours, but had no interest in anything. Sunday morning came, I couldn't face meeting all those people at church, so I stayed in bed. By Monday I was eating and drinking, but had no energy, no motivation, and no concentration. I quite expected that in a few days I would be back to work.
Sandra made me an appointment to see my GP. I told her I wasn't going –there was no way I could go out –so they offered me an appointment outside normal hours when no one would be around. As we sat in the waiting room I started to get breathless. By the time I was in with the GP I was crying, fighting for breath, and almost unable to speak. I didn't know what was going on. I felt embarrassed. It began to dawn on me that there actually was something wrong with me. I was having a panic attack, which lasted for an hour. The GP said I was suffering from depression, which I found hard to take in. I didn't feel depressed. I was still capable of a joke and could still raise a smile.
The next few weeks were surreal. The world was just carrying on, but without me. I avoided the phone. I sent a few emails, but even a short one took hours to prepare. I watched more TV and did more jigsaw puzzles than I had done in years. I was constantly tired, but sleeping became difficult.
I felt guilty, as though it was my fault, as though I was letting people down –my family, my work colleagues, my church family. I wanted to pick myself up, make myself better. It took time to understand that I was suffering the effects of illness, and like any other illness, there are steps you can take to make things worse or better, but healing takes time.
It all had a strange effect on my spiritual life. It was a bit embarrassing for a while;I would have easily reeled off about how God is my refuge, my strong place, about how I could rely on Him in every situation. Yet here I was, unable to cope. It hurt that not only had I let Him down, I was clearly not trusting Him properly.
It took a little time to realise that God had never promised me immunity, just help through the bad times. He was right there beside me. I was used to reading the Bible every day, but now I could only read a couple of lines before my concentration was shot to pieces. I couldn't cope with going to church, either.
And yet, through it all, I felt at peace with God. He understood. He knew I wanted to read but couldn't, and He was OK with that. He knew I really wanted to get to go to church, but couldn't quite make it. It somehow drew us closer together, and I started to realise that these experiences would better equip me to understand and help others who might go through the same things.
What might have helped
As I struggled through those early months, what could have been done to help me?
What I really needed was friendship and company. Someone just to pop in and sit quietly with me for a little while. I didn't want someone who would stay for an hour constantly talking. I didn't want someone asking me lots of questions, trying to make me think. I didn't particularly want someone coming in to pray with me. I did want to see that people cared enough to visit, but outside of my immediate family there was precious little of that. And for the first couple of weeks or more that was fine, but the number of knocks on the door to come and spend 10 minutes with me could be counted on the thumbs of one hand over a six month period.
I understand why. It's partly because we had at first let it be known that I didn't want visitors, and it's difficult to visit someone who has depression, it's difficult knowing what to say, or what not to say.
After three months I returned to work, and I loved it. I was still on medication, but I felt fine. And then, in early June, it all went very wrong again. Things had happened at work that had upset a number of people, and I was angry. In the end I walked out of work, vowing I would never go back. And this time I held someone accountable for my relapse. For weeks I was consumed with an anger I couldn't shift. It was frightening because I didn't know anymore what I was capable of if my anger erupted at the wrong time. And it almost did. At an appointment with my health link worker I thumped his wall. I told him some of the plans for revenge I had hatched. He suggested I wasn't likely to gain much, and would certainly be arrested and spend a long while away from my family. I didn't care.
I thought this was going to just be short-term illness again, but it wasn't. It took a while for the anger to die down, and the energy to build up. In October, almost a full year since I had initially been ill, I attended a meeting involving the two colleagues I held responsible for my illness. I was feeling much better then, and expected I would agree to go back to work. But it didn't turn out like that. By the end of the first hour it became apparent that walking away was a very real possibility. It frightened me. Who would employ someone in his mid-50s, prone to long periods off work with depression?
Looking back now I'm sure it was the right decision.
Comforting those with the comfort I've received
My concentration gradually improved and I began reading the Bible again. There were a couple of points where the Lord was specifically trying to tell me something. As I read 2 Corinthians chapter 1, I read these words: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so thatwe can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."
God was wanting me to use my experience to help others. I pondered what that might mean in practice.
I'd started to meet others that had experienced depression, and I found in my heart the desire to do something for them. I started to get a feel for what God was drawing me towards –comforting the lonely. Stepping out in faith, and trying to meet the needs of people in the villages around me. I couldn't do it –I'm not outgoing enough –so if God wanted me to do it, He was going to have to help. How was I going to reach these people? I can't just turn up on their doorstep, invite myself in and solve all their problems. But if I could get them together, perhaps at something like a coffee morning. And so was born my current project. It's taken time, discussion and planning, but I'm happy and fulfilled.
I'm now expecting to be weaned off the tablets imminently. I recognize that I may be vulnerable to depression in the future, but for now I'm trying to make a difference –for people and for God.
That is my story, but it is not the end. The project is unfolding. Other challenges lie ahead of me. How the future unravels is of course unknown to me, but this is where I'm up to and I'm excited about the future.