Retirement, depression and treatment
I formally retired 8 years ago but I stayed working running a course I’d developed for another 4 – 5 years. When I stopped doing this, I collapsed into depression. I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. I felt hopeless, helpless and useless. There was no joy to living. It didn’t matter how much people who loved and cared for me tried to help, I was unable to receive, to feel, their care and love. I was in a miserable grey world.
Liz (my wife) was worried and encouraged me to go to my GP. When I told her some of the details of how dreadful I was feeling and ended up crying in front of her, she told me I was depressed. Extraordinary but I had not realised I was depressed. Being told this was a revelation and it meant that at last something could be done.
After a year of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), a course of Prozac and a further year of CFT (Compassion Focussed Therapy) I am much better. It took a while. During the CFT process, when I was particularly low, I used to joke to my therapist that I wish she had a magic-wand and could ‘make it all go away’. Although I think my language was quite a bit fruitier! But life, and we, are not like that. There’s no reset button and it would be odd if there were!
I am now far more aware of our human condition. Something we all face. And am far more compassionate to myself, and try to be to others.
But where did the depression come from, and why didn’t I know I was depressed?
The causes of my depression
I knew my childhood had involved parental conflict and coldness, and then constant arguments. All four of us children knew that. What I hadn’t realised, until the therapy, was just how bad it had been. I’d suffered complex and continuing trauma throughout childhood. And this was amplified by my Catholic religious upbringing and education. It has been a lot to carry within me for my whole adult life. I’m not saying my parents were bad people. They had damaged childhoods too, and had to cope with the times they were born into.
When you’re young you cope. Whatever you get in the way of parenting is “normal” for you. I kept the hurt, loneliness, confusion and trauma at bay by being young and having friends and fun. And as a teenager following the latest music and lusting after unattainable girls. Eventually, after I left home, I regained some intellectual and personal confidence, but that’s always been provisional.
In Aston University on the MSc course, I discovered an obscure science-based specialism called occupational hygiene. I enjoyed it and became very good at it and ended up teaching it. In HSE, as a Specialist Occupational Hygiene Inspector I found I could really fly, be original and creative and have an impact. Working with a wonderful bunch of colleagues. And with these compadres I had a lot of fun too. When all that work, purpose and creativity stopped, I crashed.
We are the most conscious beings that have ever existed, and this is great, and this is awful. If we can get the right balance, it’s possible to have a calm(ish) joyful existence. But for many, our conflicted minds cause much mental ill-health. I was one of those people.
I am not claiming that my trauma has been any greater than anyone else’s. I know people in this room who have had to deal with a lot worse. And some still are wrestling with mental ill health.
I am saying that it’s taken me a long time to realise what’s happened to me, and to find effective help.
My take-away message from all this is that it’s never too late to realise you’re not mentally well, and to ask for, and to find help.
My critical supports
I have always had my siblings, especially my two sisters, and certain close cousins for emotional support. They had children much earlier than me, and it’s always been a joy to meet them, and now their children! And with Liz came her family who expanded the tribe. In small and big ways, they’ve been oases of stability, joy and love.
I’ve also had very happy, joyful times with good friends too.
Family and friends are the foundations of my life.
Throughout my life I’ve also had role models. Not to follow slavishly but to show that it’s possible to do things differently and live differently and better. To learn from. We all need such people, and they come from all walks of life. We’re all human after all.
Having children, and Liz’s Form
Last year Liz had to fill in a form connected with training connected to her being a non-executive board-member of the Birmingham Children’s Trust. The first question was “What’s the most important thing you’ve done in your life”, which is a really stupid question. Because the answer, automatically for any parent, is, my children. The question should be, “Apart from having children, what’s the most important thing you’ve done in your life”. The thing that changed my life for ever, for the better, is the birth of Alice in 1985 and then Sam in 1988. They’ve now grown up and found their life partners. Sam and Jessy had a baby boy in June Edward Mingchu Gao Stafford. It’s a cliché to say we’re all unique, but it just happens to be true.
There never has been another Edward Mingchu, and there never will be. He is his unique special self. But that truth applies to us all. And we all have to face the conflicts and the joys this brings. How do we do this? By:
- Being caring and being compassionate.
- Reaching out to friends and family.
- Admitting feelings you are worried about or ashamed of.
- Plucking up the courage to ask for help.
- Accepting that all people struggle with being a human being
- Seeing common humanity in others.
- Sharing our common humanity
As this Site develops I’ll add more thoughts on mental health