Would it surprise you to know your coach might suffer from depression?
I’ve thought long and hard about making this post.
I fell down on the side of “ahhhhh sod it” and decided I would be open about an issue that still carries taboos, although it is now more open that ever, due to great organisations like MIND and social media campaigns to talk about depression.
This has also really been prompted by a recent testimonial from an amazing client, who also suffers from depression, and in her testimonial stated that she felt sure I’d understand. I think it’s possibly a touch of, “it takes one to know one.”
But yes, hi. *stands up* I’m Paula, and I have been clinically depressed. More than once. And I will be again, I imagine.
This doesn’t mean I’m not happy.
I have a great life, a husband who makes me laugh every day, and I’m easily pleased. But depression is like nothing else on earth, and we can’t snap out of it, or cheer-up-love-it-might-never-happen.
Depression is as much a part of me as having freckles, small feet, and snorting when I laugh. What are you gonna do.
You might wonder how I deal with this as a coach and a therapist.
By definition, I hear about people’s problems on a daily basis, and it can sometimes be a bit difficult if I were to see too many people a day. So, to make sure I am useful and productive and can listen to my clients and focus on them, I work with low numbers of people at any one time, and I have supervision. It’s all good. I retreat in my personal life a little; I have a few friends who see me as a bit of an agony aunt, but if I need to be off the clock, then that’s it.
So, professionally, it’s a bit of a blessing really, because I DO understand, I have been there, and it’s all good.
If I’m in the depths of a depressive episode then I take steps to look after myself a lot more.
I never wanted to be depressed. No one does, but I never wanted to even have that teenage pretence that everything was just too much, you know. I didn’t need the attention that badly. And it started way earlier, anyway. I remember watching a programme with my parents when I was very young, about six, seeing a woman sobbing and being comforted by people in a big group hug. I asked my mum why she was so sad. She told me, “She’s depressed. She has sadness about everything and doesn’t know why.” A big bell rang in my head as that explained how I always seemed to feel, probably from about the age of three. As I grew older, I realised I had inherited my Dad’s depression.
I had a major episode at 17, and I would sleep and sleep, sometimes for up to 20 hours at a time; I’d be woken by my mum, encouraged to eat with the promise that I could go back to bed. I don’t know how long I was like this, but I was bought a dog, a daft little black and tan King Charles Spaniel, and I utterly adored her, turned my focus onto her, and I got better.
When I was 32, I went through the blackest period of reactive depression when my father died, my marriage ended and I lost my job and my home, all in rapid succession. At this point I understood what it was like to not want to be alive any more; not to want to end it, but for it never to have begun. That feeling will never leave me, and is the only real burden that I carry from depression, that, in truth, I would rather not have been born, and am glad to have not had children and not run the risk of handing this to them. But, once again, to be clear, I live a happy and useful life, and I make the best of being here.
That black phase began to regain some colour eventually, and I came out of the other side, wiser and a lot stronger. My tunnel vision opened up, I began to interact with the world again, and it’s all good. I have, in the last year, been on the verge of an episode, but turned it around. There have been other occasions, some serious, some less so, all have had an impact, and left their mark. Some have involved what felt like a constant stream of tears and crying and agony for months, just wanting to not be alive; some have been about living life almost normally, but as though we’re on 33rpm instead of 45 (you might want to Google that if you’re under 30!). We don’t get through each one unscathed, but it’s ok.
So I guess that really, it’s important to know that depressed people are all around you. I’m hardly unique. I won’t be the only coach who has been through this. I would even dare to put it out there that it makes us stronger in our profession.
People who have depression are fully functioning and normal members of society. We just have problems that sometimes make us too sad for the world. If a person doesn’t exhibit symptoms it doesn’t always mean everything is hunky dory. We don’t need to hear, “it could be worse, you could have a real illness”. Or the evergreen “pull yourself together.”
If you know someone is struggling please, offer some help. Just a hand to hold works wonders. And a nest to retreat to for a little while.
See you next week.