As a companion piece to yesterday’s blog I’m back to talk about talking and… yes companionship.
Given that I talk to strangers for a living you’d think talking to loved-ones would come easy. Well it does, except for when I talk about depression. I know I’m not the only one to struggle in this regard and, while I can’t speak for others, I can say my reluctance to unburden to those closest to me is down to the fact that I don’t want to bring them down with me. “She has enough on her plate already,” I say to myself, “she doesn’t need the gravy of my depression overflowing it.” I know the thought is irrational, because our loved-ones don’t feel that way, they love us back, it’s in our minds only.
In fact when I really think about it, and I do try not to, I find it difficult to talk about depression full-stop. It’s not that I see myself as weak any more. I used to before I read The Curse of the Strong* but not now. It’s just that it’s so damned hard to define, to describe, even for someone who purports to be good with words. But practice, they say, makes perfect…
A few days ago I attended my first CBT session. It was an hour long and my Primary Careworker (whom I’ll call Michael) began to explain how the series of sessions would work, the ground we’d cover, and the overall aim in terms of improving my mental wellbeing. But within moments of the overture I was giving Michael my backstory, not just of my illness but of my life! This wasn’t prompted it just happened. In the days since, I’ve wondered why it happened, and decided the reasons are several: I felt at the time that Michael would want the information; I felt if anywhere this was the platform for unburdening; and most importantly I felt comfortable, because it was easier to talk to him than to my loved-ones who have a naturally-vested interest whereas his interest is professional, detached.
Anyway, I don’t profess expertise in psychiatry, suffice it to say in laymen’s terms that the session helped me reconcile with who I am when I am depressed, and how I can feel comfortable in talking about it. I’ve always believed that those of us with mental health issues have a responsibility to both seek help and to help ourselves, and my attending CBT I think embraces those criteria. The fact that I talked my head off helped enormously, and the fact that I’m committed to completing the course of sessions helps enormously too – that’s the kind of contract I’m talking about.
Of course this was a first step and there are many more to tread, but already I felt enlightened. It’s almost like the session was a rehearsal, I was practising the art of communicating my problems. It sounds a bit weird but it’s true, because later that day my girlfriend asked how it went, and before I knew it I was telling her everything too, and I didn’t think for one moment the irrational thought that it was gravy spilling over the side of her plate.
The other week I gave a talk which charted my downwards spiral from the higher echelons of television to homelessness, in which I tried to describe to an audience of 200 how my depression manifested itself then, and how it continues to do so. I was unusually nervous, self-conscious, knowing I was exploring an inner-truth of me I hadn’t explored before, at least not in public. The talk was well-received and that was nice, but because I’m a perfectionist I believed I could’ve done it better, I could’ve described it better. Now, because I’ve rehearsed, because I’ve talked a whole lot more, and because I have a contract, I absolutely know I can do it better, and feel better about it too.
*Depressive Illness – The Curse of the Strong by Dr Tim Cantopher, Hodder & Stoughton.