Beating the Beast


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This is how it was for me:

At the age of around 7 -10 I was taken to a child psychiatrist, I think because I was not at all sociable.  At 19 I was at university doing a degree in applied physics and failing miserably, I was put on Amytriptyline which made me stop worrying about those silly exams so I dropped out and took a career in local government.  At 42 I had achieved some success, I had a staff of 9 and a budget of £2m/year, but I was working 70 hours a week and not coping so they made me redundant.  I think that sowed the seeds of the breakdown I had aged 48 - after redundancy I had had to take a job at a basic level, and with difficulties in my marriage and unreasonable demands by my employers I had the Big One.

Before that, aged 46, I became tearful at work whilst being disciplined and was sent to see my doctor, who laid me off work (he put stress depression on my sick note) and put me on Prozac.  It sounds incredible but I had not realized that I was suffering from depression - I was too close to it.  I went back to work after 6 weeks and stayed on Prozac for sixteen months, when I gave it up because I was feeling better.  I had done it!  I had beaten the beast of depression!!!  Six weeks later I had a kind of nervous collapse so I went back to the doctor and was put on Molipaxin.  No-one told me that Molipaxin can make you impotent - modern ADís are not supposed to have side-effects - but that is what it did and this put additional pressure on me.  If you havenít experienced it, the inability to satisfy your partner, you canít understand.  My wife thought I had gone off her, I was bent double with sexual frustration (occasionally I managed to satisfy myself but it took 40 minutes) and my self-esteem was reduced to zero.  At the same time my job was undoable, 3 of my 4 kids were being difficult.  The kids were a constant cause of disagreements with my wife, I was always a weak father and too soft, while she was too hard on them.  Then one of the kids crashed a friendís car and wrote off that and two others, which I paid for by cashing in a chunk of my life savings.  My wife was sleeping in my daughterís room.  Over the next year I had times off work with depression but my doctor put other things on my sick notes, including back pain.

During this period I contemplated suicide many times.  My state of mind was that I could not get out of the situation I was in, either at work or at home and I had heard that the death of a parent is less harmful to kids than a marriage break-up.  I would make it look like an accident.  I just wanted a trigger.

My head of department told me he was going put me on a disciplinary which would lead to a final written warning.  That meant total failure to me.  That evening I drove to a car park near the river intending to park my car and jump in - I wanted to be carried out to sea.  But there was a Samaritans office nearby and I went there instead: they saved my life.  Iíve visited them a few times since.

This is how it happened on 17 July 1997: I had had four weeks off sick, coming back to work on a Monday.  The following Wednesday I was working late and stopped briefly to chat to a colleague.  My boss ( who was working late to check up on me) told me to get on with some work.  I suddenly flipped.  I threw all the things from my desk onto the floor and stormed out. Then a student (and friend) came after me, and caught me on the landing, where I was standing because I had realized I had left my wallet and jacket behind.  I asked him to get it for me, but instead my boss came after me and the two of them persuaded me into an interview room.  I can remember a few of the things I said but wonít repeat them.  I tried to open the window (we were on the 3rd floor so I didnít expect it to open) and was surprised when it did.  I think I remember the student saying ĎJesus!í when I tried to climb out, then they grabbed me and dragged me in.   A secretary was outside the room and I remember her calling to me ĎAlan, donít, please donítí.  I think my boss asked her to call the police.  After a while I got away from them and made a second, more determined effort to jump out of the window but they pulled me in again.  The second time, I know I would have jumped out, fallen 3 floors onto concrete and my family would have had to live with that for the rest of their lives.  I know from other cases that children of suicides are more likely to kill themselves

I was taken to a police station and after a few hours a doctor saw me. I was sent to a mental hospital for my own protection.  I will never forget the time I spent in the cells.  My wife drove 50 miles to see me, and the car broke down on the way, so she was a long time coming.  She asked Ďwhy didnít you tell me?í and I couldnít reply - but the answer would have been Ďbecause you were part of the problemí.  I was transferred to another mental hospital closer to home, and spent 3 months there - it was wonderful, you could be your real weak pathetic self and everyone understood.  I made friends there, but lost touch after I was discharged.  One girl I will never forget.  She was almost young enough to be my daughter, but somehow we got on so well.  I loved her - I still do.  She was the first Ďcutter Ď I ever knew, she used to cut her thighs and wrists and I couldnít understand.  No, we were never physical, I couldnít take advantage, but we would walk and talk and I would sing to her, and she sent me a sketch she had done of herself (but I had to throw it away for my wifeís sake).

After I was discharged (before I thought I was ready) I gradually, over five years, got back to my old energy levels.  I could never go back to my old stressful job, but for years I had worked Saturdays doing building work and I built that up to a full time job.  Self-employed, of course, I could never work for anyone else.  I have been incredibly lucky in my friends: two friends I have known for years have recommended me to all their friends and I have never been short of work.

And now, age 54: I still suffer from depression.  Sometimes it all crashes down on me, sometimes for no apparent reason, and yet I have to keep going.  My marriage is still together, my wife and I have to work hard at it but we manage somehow.  The sex never fully recovered - it seems that self-esteem is important.  After the hospital I never got much support and now my doctor doesnít believe that I am depressed - if only he could see inside my head, and understand the terrible urge that keeps recurring to go out and kill myself.  I am still on the trazedone they put me on in the hospital, but I hate the side-effects (mostly nausea and dizziness) and the unreal feeling the day after if I miss a dose.  I know how hard my wife finds it to cope with me.  She also suffers from depression but believes it is only reactive depression, brought on mostly by me.  I have a few friends but do not socialize much - but thatís no change from the old days.  My business is not very profitable, partly because I work for friends but mostly because I canít start early in the mornings and I work slowly, but it keeps me off benefit and I love the work.  One of my sons works with me part time and we share so much quality time together itís great.

I know the longing for an end, the compulsion to bring life to a close; I know how the knowledge that your passing will cause sadness or worse actually deepens your depression and doesnít, as you might expect, make you want to stay alive.  There are thousands of people who would dearly love to kill themselves.  One of my sons tried it - he took all the pills he could find in the house, fortunately that included a lot of my Trazedone and they made him throw the rest of them up.  (Thank God.  He didnít tell us for two days - I thought he had just hidden my pills because he was in a mood with me, I never dreamed he had swallowed them.)  And I know that itís different for every one of us.  But I have found help and support here and I am determined to carry on, if only for the sake of everyone else.  But itís not easy.

To anyone recovering from an attempt, or from a breakdown: take your time.  What you have been through is unbelievably weakening and you would not believe how long it takes to recover.


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Revised: 04/02/05.

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