A new start...
By Soldier, Ian Eaton.
1 year ago, I was at the lowest point in my life. I hadn’t slept properly for a few weeks, stressing about my job, about the workload I was going back into after the Christmas holidays and dismayed about what I was seeing happen to colleagues as the business I’d worked at for the previous 14 years became more and more corporatized. On the morning of the 4th of January 2016, I got out of bed early, sat at the kitchen table and wrote letters to each of my family members. I sobbed as I wrote them, telling each of them how much I loved them, told my kids to enjoy life, to pick a path doing something that will make them happy, not just one that will make them financially secure. In my sleep deprived, depressed mind state, I’d rationalised that we’d all be better off if I wasn’t around. I couldn’t see any other way, sick of not sleeping, sick of going to a job that I hated, sick of being a poor father, being grumpy and absorbed in my own head. Something needed to change and at that point in time, ending my life seemed to be the only option. I drained the hose of water and put it up the exhaust pipe of my car, then sat in the car and cried, I knew that I didn’t really want to do it, but I really couldn’t see any other way out. Then it happened, I looked up to the rear view and caught a glimpse of my wife in the kitchen.
At that point I knew I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t leave my family to carry on without me. I got out of the car and ‘fessed up what I was about to do. My wife was awesome, I still don’t know how she coped in those early days with everything else she has to contend with. She contacted the mobile community team and sat with me all day as we waited for them to come around. It was difficult talking to anyone about what was happening, the psych nurse with the mobile community team was fantastic, he got me to talk through all of the events leading up to and including my “mental health episode”, I felt so stupid but he put me at ease and helped me talk and talk and talk. I still can’t believe it now, but I went to work the next day trying to act like nothing was wrong, I was a complete mess, and should have had time off just to try to get my head sorted as the MCT had tried to get me to do. I reluctantly agreed to go back onto anti-depressants, I’d had spells on them previously and really didn’t enjoy the feeling they gave me, leaving a sense of being numbed or that there was a sheen stopping me from feeling anything at all. The new pills I took were awful, they left me feeling completely drained of energy and not really interested in anything, I remember being dragged out to play football by my daughter, I couldn’t even bend down to save the ball. The MC Team were convinced that medication was one of the answers at least for the short term. I was convinced otherwise, the meds were making me feel worse (aren’t they called anti-depressants???) so I decided to wean myself off them without telling the MCT. A really silly decision, but I’d weaned myself off similar meds before with the aid of my GP so followed the same sort of guidelines.
I did talk to my cousin (a Dr) who encouraged me to talk to the MCT, it took me a couple of weeks of avoiding phone calls from my case nurse but I finally came clean. He was brilliant, and was completely on my side. He was concerned about how I would cope without the meds, but by then I had found a new approach. Disclaimer – this approach worked for me, but meds help lots of people, please talk to your health carer about your methods of treatment. My cousin had recommended an app called Headspace, it’s a guided meditation app and I took to it like a duck to water. Meditation really helped to clear my head and help me focus. My psych nurse referred me to a counsellor. By this stage I was meditating twice daily and starting to practice mindfulness. I clicked with my counsellor straight away, we talked a lot about music, it was great to have someone who could relate through common interests. Life carried on over the next few months, I stumbled through work, just going through the motions. It wasn’t all bad, slowly, I could feel myself becoming more resilient, I was loving coaching my daughter’s football team with two other coaches who held the same approach to the game as me and mid-way through the year I was asked to join my friend’s band for part of their show in the Nelson Light Festival. I was extremely nervous and at one point I pulled out. When helping to set up the stage I made the decision to re-join. I’m so glad I did, I made my stage debut, going on stage making “industrial noises” for a few minutes for 3 shows a night over 5 nights. I loved it, it let me see what went into putting a show together and more importantly, that it’s ok to make mistakes during performances and gave me the push to finally start trying to make music of my own.
Work was still getting me down, the more I practiced mindfulness, the more pointless the work I was doing seemed to get. My manager resigned and the atmosphere changed for the worse, a culture of bullying in the workplace seemed to be creeping into the place and I wasn’t happy. About the same time, I started listening to a podcast called Ink and Echo, they talked about the “Sunday Night Dread”, the feeling of impending doom every Sunday night as you prepare to go back to work, and if you feel like that then you’re really in the wrong job. This really resonated with me, the only nights I didn’t dread were Friday and Saturdays, let alone just Sunday dread. Listening to the Ink and Echo podcast remains on my must do list every week, Josh and Andy are great to listen to. At this point, I’d started to self-harm, my left arm bore the brunt of my frustration, sometimes I’d drive past work park up at the local football field and cut myself for a while before going in, I kept a knife under my pillow and would cut myself when I couldn’t sleep. It feels completely alien now to think that I’d want to do that but I guess at the time I just wanted to feel something, anything. A tattoo now covers the scars and serves as a reminder not to be so stupid in future. Things came to head after a week-long trip to head office. I hadn’t been sleeping and was feeling completely crap, my flight home got me in around 11pm on a Friday night and I didn’t sleep that night. The next day, for the first time ever, I wasn’t able to attend my daughter’s football game, I was spinning downhill and the months of good work were unravelling fast. That Saturday night I didn’t sleep at all, around 3am I was crying uncontrollably, my wife phoned my dad and we began the conversation that changed everything.
A few weeks earlier, dad had been in Nelson, I told him how much I hated my job and if I could retrain tomorrow, I would. My wife has health issues and can’t work so how was I going to retrain and still support my family? I’d been looking at retraining to become a Primary School Teacher for a while, even talked myself out of the idea about 6 years earlier, the coaching I’d been doing with kids over the previous 9 years had drawn me to it, I know that I work well with kids and coaching has been one of the things that’s made me happy over the last few years. Back to the phone call, dad asked why don’t I just move back to Palmy and do the study I wanted to do? He had arranged a place for us to live and suddenly it seemed possible, it was a lightbulb moment. I started looking into what was required; just a year out of employment and full time study. For the first time in a long time I was excited about future possibilities. I applied for uni, arranging an observation day as part of the application at my daughter’s school. I loved the day I spent in class and knew from then that I was making the right move. Things moved at pace from there, we sold our house to good friends in what was a great deal for both of us, I was thrilled to help such a good mate get into a house in the area he and his family had wanted to move to and we freed up cash to help with our move. I had an interview for uni, I knew it had gone well and was accepted the next day. Finally, things were starting to look up.
Throughout my counselling, we kept coming back to the same conclusion, I can use mindfulness and meditation to help combat depression, but something fundamental needed to change in my life. I couldn’t keep going to a job that I hated, that kept me awake at night through stress. Resigning from my job felt like a huge weight had been lifted, I started sleeping better and feeling better almost immediately. So here we are, January 2017, a year later, I’ve managed to drag myself out from the complete depths of depression. I’ve moved cities, and I’m enrolled for a year long course that will change my path through life, hopefully for the better. I’m moving into the new year with no job, and no house of my own and I couldn’t be happier, I’m still scared about the change, but also excited by it too. I’m seeing this as a chance to reinvent myself, challenging the ways that I’ve approached life previously. I’ve not written this looking for pity, or support, I’m writing it to hopefully show others that there are ways out of the depths, that you can make positive changes to your life and change your mindset. These changes may not be obvious right here, right now, but they are there. If you’re feeling low, please talk to someone, anyone who’ll listen, make contact with the mental health team in your area. Keep talking until you find someone who’ll listen, who will take you seriously and who will help. The more I’ve opened up to people over the last 12 months about what’s happened to me, the more I hear about people who’ve had similar experiences, depression seems to have touched a lot of people I know in one way or another. I can’t help thinking, if it’s so prevalent, why does there seem to be such a stigma associated with it? I know that I’ll always be on a knife edge with my depression, I’ll continue to be vocal about it, if only just to keep myself in check, but if it has the added benefit of helping others, then I’ll be happy.