Some events are etched into our minds. Of those, many might be of national or international significance. Along with very many others I can remember how I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Centre (it was on a car radio of a friend, who was helping me move flat in St. Andrews). I remember hearing about the death of Princess Diana. Others events are of more personal significance – I remember very clearly meeting my wife for the first time, and for some reason I remember extremely clearly when I took up Lord of the Rings for the second attempt (when I was 9) having been put it down several months previously. I also remember the time I took a step towards the road, in that moment fully intending to step into the path of an incoming lorry.
If that sounds overly melodramatic, well, in my mind that is because it is. I know that many thousands of people have made similar steps, and I know far, far too many take the subsequent ones. I have no idea why I did not.
That happened five years ago, in the first week of July. Until that point, I did not consider myself depressed. The first person someone on a downward spiral deceives is themselves. I could walk (about two and a half miles) to work thinking about “arranging” an accident – “slipped” so that a car would run over and break my leg, and think it normal. I could have tears in my eyes on that walk, and ignore them. If that sounds stupid, well, in many respects it is. A person on a downward spiral doesn’t think straight. I was drinking more as well, at times quite heavily, but this was another warning sign unheeded.
At the time I did not know I was Aspergic. I always used to describe myself “at a tangent to the world”. I knew I had a tendency to prefer my own company, that I often did not get others’ humour (as they did not get mine). However, there was never any opportunity to find out more – and indeed, how could there be? Life was apparently fine. However, there were circumstances occurring at work that, in the course of the spring and early summer of 2007, conspired to bring about my fall. My case worker on experiencing my workplace later said he thought if one wanted to create an example of a job that would be hell for an Aspergic person, my job would have been it. Not because of the job itself, but because of the circumstances. In addition, that spring my farmor* was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer (my farfar* had very severe Alzheimer’s, my other grandparents had already passed on). On positive notes my youngest brother was getting married that summer – the first of my brothers and I to do so. Change though, even positive change, can be stressful.
The breaking point came when my supervisor went on her summer holiday. I did not always see eye to her, but ultimately I always knew that we were on the same side. That could not be said about others in a position of responsibility in that environment. On the Thursday of that first week, I stepped towards the road, and stopped.
In that moment I began to realise, not necessarily consciously, that I had a problem. I stopped walking to work, and took the bus, to reduce temptation. I stopped drinking, almost entirely. I put on a good face on my brother’s wedding (which was the Friday of the second week) but I am sure plenty of people there must have realised something was wrong.
My supervisor came back the next week, and I was obviously in a state. Partly on her advice I saw my doctor on Wednesday 18th July. I went in, and said I thought I was depressed. I filled in a questionnaire with questions like how often I had thought of self-harm, or practised self-harm. I answered truthfully, and scored quite high. Initially though I clung to the idea that I could work through it. He supported this. It is, after all, an approach that works for very many people.
My birthday was the Thursday, a quiet low-key affair. On Friday I went to work just like any other. That morning, it came to light I had made a minor mistake the previous week. I felt myself starting to tear up, as if to cry. Wishing to protect my dignity, I went to the gent’s bathroom, and I fell apart.
I started to cry. I started to hyperventilate. I hugged myself so strongly it restricted my lungs. My body started to jerk beyond my control. Another member of the team called from outside the door if I was alright. I still don’t know how I managed to open the lock, and I fell out of the toilet onto the staff room sofa, unable to properly breathe, rocking violently. I was suffering my first full blown panic attack. It is a curious sensation, being aware of everything that is going on with oneself physically, but being utterly unable to control one’s own body. It is also very, very frightening.
I literally have no idea how long this lasted, but at least one of the advantages of working in a hospital is that medical staff don’t panic in these situations. My colleagues got one of the doctors, and were simply brilliant. At some point, I started to calm, and the attack passed. I was, of course, a wreck. Someone contacted my brother (who at that time was living with me) and he drove me home. I was placed on sick leave.
I remember those events so clearly, in part, because I really don’t remember very much of the next six weeks or so at all. I had panic attacks 2-3 times a week. I remember one day sitting down on the living room sofa mid-afternoon, and stayed sitting on that sofa for hours, until it was dark. I remember staring at the tv, which was turned off. I did not have the energy to pick up the remote that was just next to me on the sofa to turn the tv on. I remember once scaring my brother my going to bed in the mid-afternoon. I slept so heavily I did not hear the phone ring, or the doorbell ring, so he had to almost break into the house (he had forgotten his key) just to check I was still amongst the living.
Until those six weeks, I really had no idea of what depression was. Until then I just thought it was some serious kind of “feeling bad”. It is something all consuming. I could hear people – friends and family – saying everything would be alright, that it would in time get better. I did not believe them. I basically stopped laughing – I would occasionally smile.
I would not wish those six weeks on my own worst enemy.
Yet, I at least had the support of my family and some friends in the USA that I had made thanks to the Paradox Interactive forums. So many in this situation do not.
I think early September, though it might have been late August, my medication changed, and the new medication helped stabilise me.
This is already a very long post, and is going to be the first in a series detailing the series of events that have led to be becoming an expectant father. They will be written in order, but other posts will be in between. It is as good a stopping point as any. I just want to say here however that one of the reasons I want to write this is because I know there are many people out there now in exactly the same situation I was five years ago. If someone in such a situation stumbles across this post, I want to beg them to go and seek help.
Because even the longest night will end, and the sun will rise.
*I am increasingly finding myself of using Danish terms for grandparents, as they make things so easy. Farmor is fathers mum, farfar father’s father. Mormor and morfar on the mother’s side.