The King of Hearts told Alice to begin at the beginning. That’s good advice, but it presupposes that you actually know where the beginning is. So for convenience’s sake, let’s take up the story from after my last post in LAM.
I left off Lam abruptly right at the and of March after posting about the UC semi final. A few days prior to writing that I made a visit to my GP, during which he diagnosed me with depression.
Since being diagnosed, I’ve been hugely surprised by the number of people I’ve met who have also gone through it. If you’ve been through depression, then you’ll know that any description I try to make of it is likely to be inadequate. If you haven’t, well, I will try my best to describe it for you.
From January onwards I had become (more) moody and irritable, and started losing interest in, well, pretty much everything. I fought against it, because I’ve felt like this before a few times in the last few years. You may be aware yourself of my long periods of silence in the blog in the last two or three years. That was bad enough, but this was something different, or worse.
By March I found that certain things, many concerned with work but not all of them, left me a quivering wreck of anxiety. For example, in certain situations I was finding that I just couldn’t make a decision. And I was scared, many days absolutely terrified of God only knows what. Many days I would drop one or other of my daughters into work, then drive to work myself gripping the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles would go white, trying very hard to stop myself from crying. For no reason that I could put my finger on. I started missing the quiz in the rugby club on a Thursday night, and I announced that I would be retiring from the Bridgend Quiz League when the season came to an end. No matter how early I went to bed I was waking at 4 am every morning on the dot, heart thumping and a feeling of dread and terror wrapped around me like a cloak.
I didn’t go to see the doctor, though. I tried to just carry on as if nothing was wrong. I don’t think I was making a brilliant job of it, mind you, since I had a growing number of colleagues telling me to please go and see the doctor.
It finally came to a head over my diabetic check up. I knew full well that I had to take a party of children from the school to Swansea University on the day that I had my appointment, yet could I bring myself to tell the Deputy Head? No. What made it worse was that I didn’t go to my GP’s surgery to cancel the appointment until the day before. That was the last straw. Pretty much failing to hold back the tears as I apologised to the practise receptionist, and tried to explain the inexplicable convinced me that I had to make an appointment to see my GP – well, that and the wife beating me over the head with a frying pan until I agreed to go. Joke. That’s another thing too – I lost my sense of humour. Some would argue I haven’t got it back yet.
I was in such a state going to see the doctor that my youngest daughter, Jessica had to accompany me. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with depression. I found myself admitting to my GP that while the thought of the effect that it would have on my family had stopped me going so far as making plans for suicide, I certainly went to bed every night hoping that I wouldn’t ever wake up again after falling asleep. In fact the real thing that stopped me was imagining my eldest daughter having to explain what had happened to my grandson. That chokes me up now even thinking about it. The moment the doctor suggested a month off work I could have kissed him. He also prescribed a course of fluoroxetine, which I’m informed is either a type of Prozac, or similar to it. He also told me not to expect improvement for a few weeks.
What brought this on? To this day I have no idea. It would be easy if there was one traumatic event I could point to, but there really isn’t. I suppose that the most traumatic thing had been changing schools. We were first told of the plan to merge our school with two others in a brand new school way back in October 2010, and the school opened in September 2016. The school is 3 times as big in terms of numbers as my last school ever was, and frankly, some of the worst groups are awful. In many ways, it’s like being a brand newly qualified teacher all over again. The worst thing about this was that I was 23 last time, and I’m 53 now. So yes, probably moving schools brought it to a head. But I think it has been building up for several years. I just don’t know exactly why. Maybe I never will.
There were only two weeks left in the term before the Easter holidays. The best thing I can say about those weeks is that there were only two of them. In addition to the huge anxiety and gloom I’d been feeling everyday, I now had a shedload of guilt over missing school to deal with. In 30 years the longest consecutive absence I’d had so far was 3 days. For those two weeks and a little bit more it was as if there was a little invisible demon sitting on my shoulder, whispering all the worst things I have ever felt about myself before, constantly, and what is more, in my own voice.
I’d booked a short solo sketching trip to Prague for the second week of the Easter holiday, the 4th since my diagnosis, and my family were adamant that I should still go. When I was there, I found that the whispering demon had gone, but he’d actually left a huge void. It was like it wasn’t me – or indeed anyone. It was a little bit like somebody walking around in my body – I was doing all the things I had planned to do, but it was like somebody else was doing them and I was watching the video. The only people I spoke to for three days were the hotel staff, and hot dog vendors. I made some great sketches though.
I had a telephone consultation with my GP, and I said, and he agreed, that I didn’t feel ready to return to work yet. In truth, I thought that I’d never feel ready to go back ever again. He gave me a paper for a further month. The first sign that I was improving came about a fortnight later, when I found myself actually hungry, and actually enjoying a meal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d been eating meals previously, but this was because it was something I thought I should do rather than something I actually wanted to. I started to take myself out on visits to places in Wales I’d always wanted to visit but had never got round to, places like Dylan Thomas’ boathouse in Laugharne. I sketched constantly. My sleeping became better than it had been for years. More than that, after the sixth week of being on medication, I could face phoning the school to discuss my return. When I had a meeting with the school’s business manager I surprised myself by saying that although she offered me to start after the half term holiday, I’d like to come back for the two days before. Where did that come from? Well, those days were the first two days after my second sick paper ended and. . . I felt ready.
We agreed that we’d do the Thursday, and then talk about whether I could do the Friday. Both went well, and (whisper this quietly) for the first time in I can’t remember how long I actually enjoyed some of the lessons. I started back full time after the half term holiday, and the only day I’ve missed since was for my diabetic eye check up (had the results, all fine, no change thanks for asking).
I don’t kid myself for one minute that I’ve bid a final goodbye to the little demon on my shoulder. I wasn’t as bad two years ago, but looking back, I can see that I was on the way at the time. So I know that he could be back, and that’s something I have to live with, and something I find I can live with. At the moment, then, I’m taking it one day at a time. Well, as much as I can take one day at a time – at work there are times when you have to look forward to later in the week, term etc when you have events coming up which need to be prepared for, but ok. So far, I can handle it.
So I’m back. For today, at least, I’m back. Whether I’ll have anything worth saying in the blog now, well, that’s something which will only become clear as time goes on. One post at a time.