Bressie on Depression: "I was low, very low and scared s***less"
The backlash against John Waters' recent denial of the existence of depression shows that although we are making some progress, we are not there yet.
Published 21/04/2014 | 02:30
I have never hidden the fact that, at times, I can get over zealous and react before I think, especially when the subject matter is something I am truly passionate about.
Last Sunday morning, I was inundated with tweets and texts asking me had I read the interview in the Sunday Independent with John Waters. If I am being honest, John's views on an array of various matters do not sit well with me, so reading his interview was not on the top of my agenda on a Sunday morning.
However, my twitter feed started highlighting some of the unfortunate points being made on depression by John.
My first reaction was anger towards the Sunday Independent for giving such ignorant and insensitive comments stage time but, upon reading the interview a second and third time, and in context, I felt it actually was a positive situation that highlighted to the nation that, although we certainly are moving in the right direction when it comes to breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in Ireland, we still have quite a journey to go.
I do feel some of the interview questions were fuelled slightly towards sensationalism but, at the end of the day, that's the journalist in question's job and she does it well.
However, this is too complex and sensitive a subject to underestimate, and I wish I could understand how such an intelligent man has such a toxic viewpoint.
When I was 15 years of age, I would spend countless nights up in my bedroom gasping for air. Choking as I tried to switch my mind off so I could fall asleep.
Naively, I thought I was struggling with some form of asthma and went to see a respiratory specialist who told me I was healthy and strong.
Frustration started setting in as my daily panic attacks and insomnia started to spiral out of control.
I asked doctors what was wrong with me and some suggested puberty as a cause for my nightly terrors.
What was at first frustration, quickly became fear. I truly felt I was losing my mind and I was too confused to tell my parents.
That's the point – I had an amazing family and lived in a stable and healthy environment. Why was this happening?
One evening, I anchored myself to a chair as I lay by my bed and intentionally and repeatedly crashed my right forearm against the bridge of the frame until I felt the bone break.
I needed to get into hospital so I could ask what I perceived as a "real" doctor what was wrong with me. I explained to the doctor that I broke my arm intentionally, to which he, incredibly, suggested that perhaps it was just puberty.
It was at this point, leaving the hospital, where a darkness set over me.
I was low, very low and scared s***less.
In the mid 1990s, mental health was not on the agenda and there was very little information on it, so I honestly felt like I was possessed by some dark demon that had such a powerful hold over me.
If no one was talking about it, then it didn't exist, right?
You see, if I was a 15 year old teenager today, struggling to breathe in my bed, having daily panic attacks, dosed with crippling insomnia and feeling so down without yet having found the strength to tell anyone about it, the last thing I would need is to read an interview with a highly intelligent and successful man, telling me it does not exist. That it's a cop out. I need someone telling me that "It's okay not to feel ok, and it's absolutely okay to ask for help".
My anger upon reading these comments was born in those days when nobody would give me an answer and I felt like I was alone and losing my mind when, in reality, I was very much not alone and indeed was just experiencing what many men and women throughout the world face and deal with on a daily basis.
Over the last few years, I have been heavily involved in organisations that try to highlight and create awareness about the epidemic that is suicide and depression in this country.
As my close friend Jim Breen, the founder of Cycle Against Suicide, suggested, this is a war and I can tell you we are sincerely starting to make headway.
Grown men and complete strangers are talking to me in bars, restaurants and workplaces about their mental health struggles.
The Irish media is being incredibly forward thinking and supportive and genuinely having an impact and, without doubt, saving lives.
Schools are opening their doors to speakers and educating their pupils on the need to seek help if you don't feel okay. A long way from the Christian Brothers I attended.
Hand on my heart we really are going places. Let's not be naive here – mental health issues are dark as hell and can be a very lonely and frightening place, but the reality is that they can be dealt with once the person has the inner strength to talk to someone.
We as a society have a responsibility to destroy this stigma surrounding mental health. The most interesting, creative, extraordinary people I know are people that deal with mental health concerns.
It's not a weakness, in fact, for years, I have used it as a strength to motivate and focus me in other aspects of my life.
There may still be people like John out there who either don't fully understand the complexities of mental health, or have been lucky enough to have not been affected by it, but I can tell you one thing, there are far more people out there who do understand.
When you investigate further, you will find that their stories are as inspirational as they are devastating.
Unfortunately, depression does exist and is not a cop out, but, fortunately, it's an issue we are now tackling and normalising and, for me, that's half the battle.
In hindsight, I feel John's intent was not to offend and it has helped highlight many holes in our war on depression and suicide in Ireland. Just remember: "It's okay not to feel okay and it's absolutely okay to ask for help."
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