I wonder if it’s different for everyone. With me, it was the hat made of lead. I’d feel it start to press down on my skull as I entered the practice, and with everyone that approached saying “I’m sorry to grab you before you start, but I need to talk to you about…” that hat would get a little heavier.
Knowing the hat wasn’t really there didn’t make it any lighter – at least if it was a real one I could have just taken it off.
Imaginary as it was, it was a very real, physical presence, pushing down on me and making it hard for me to lift my head, think clearly or even smile. How could I smile with this thing pressing down on me? It made me feel like I was a mile underwater, and that was fitting, because I was slowly drowning.
What’s the point?
It was my parents who made me go to the doctors. Depressingly stereotypically, I didn’t think there was any point – I knew there was nothing physically wrong with me, so what was a doctor going to do? My dad looked at me one day and said he really thought I should go, and to reassure him, I decided to acquiesce.
I wasn’t really expecting anything to come of it. I had been through a few periods like this before – maybe not quite as bad as this one, but I thought I’d get through it.
In the consulting room, the doctor asked me what was wrong. Instead of saying, as I had planned to, “I’m just a little stressed at work at the moment”, I was surprised to find myself crying and unable to speak.
Torrent of anxiety
My doctor was a patient and kind man, and took his time. In a few moments it all began to spill out of me – the fact I couldn’t stop thinking about work; the mistakes that haunted me; the fear of making more mistakes that paralysed me when I looked down my consulting list; the feeling that I was an imposter not worthy of the job; the mental exhaustion that never seemed to go away; the irritability, the short temper, the tears. The fleeting thoughts of suicide…
The torrent of anxiety that flowed out of me sounded like someone else talking, not the happy-go-lucky Nick I always thought I was.
The doctor listened, and nodded, and didn’t judge (I wondered as I spoke if he had ever had feelings like this too). He nodded, and asked me a few questions about the darker thoughts I had been having. Then he nodded, told me that I had a depressive illness, signed me off work and put me on medication.
Denial, then realisation
I was shocked, and I knew he was wrong. It wasn’t depression – well, not “clinical” depression. I wasn’t the type. I was cheerful, happy, I didn’t dwell on things. I was just going through a bad patch. I was just stressed at work – there was a reason for it all.
So if the diagnosis was wrong, then the treatment wasn’t really going to work, was it? I just had to get through it.
The doctor was right. The treatment worked. The medication made things easier, and the time gave me perspective to work on the root causes of the problem. It wasn’t all that quick, and it wasn’t all that easy, but eventually that bloody lead hat stopped pressing on my brain, and eventually I found I could think clearly again.
It might be that you’re lucky. You might never have feelings like I did. You might not be as lucky as I was to have someone that cared about me encourage me to get something done about it. You might not be as lucky to have a doctor that understood what I was going through, even when I didn’t myself.
If you aren’t so lucky, and if you have your own version of a lead hat that is making it feel like you can’t smile, or think, or carry on, I want to give you a very clear message: you are not alone.
It’s probably different for you, because it’s different for us all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find help. However bad it feels, and however bad it seems, there is help for you, and there’s no shame in finding it.