Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday was a great day. Everything seemed effortless, I felt in full control. Whenever I looked at the future, I was filled with hope and optimism; when my mind strayed to the past, I was filled with acceptance and peace; when I spent time in the moment – the now -butterflies of excitement started to flutter. ‘This,’ I thought, ‘is what recovery, and life, is all about!’ I was, to coin a societal catchphrase, in a ‘good place’.

I went to bed that night, content, and drifted off to sleep.

I awoke at around midnight. Not in that dreamy way, that merely requires a turn of the pillow or an adjustment of the bed spread before returning to sleep. No. It was as though all the lights, noises and rides at the funfair had been switched on simultaneously, and the excited little boy inside wanted to play. With so many distractions, and no doubt a sugar load of candy floss in the system, my little man wasn’t going back to sleep anytime soon.

As guardian of my thinking, I felt powerless, as I watched on. Over the convening hours, I tried, in vain, to get back to sleep, knowing that being tired is my number one enemy in my struggle with depression. With that fear already present, and with a host of negativity banging at the door, I decided to get up, go to the office, and try and work my way through it. The first sign that something nasty was coming happened in the shower. The knot in my stomach had moved to my throat, and every drop from the shower head seemed to carry more weight. Just lifting my head seemed difficult. The chatter in my head was at fever pitch, and none of it good. I chose to ignore it, stick to my routines, and kept the one positive thought in my head that ‘this too shall pass.’

The one thing that I have learned, during my relationship with mental illness, is to make the people around me aware of my dark state of mind; partly to try and unburden myself, but also so that I don’t have to try and hide my emotions. I did this when I got to the office, but in true Sully style, I minimized it all by finishing with, ‘But I’ll be fine, don’t fuss.’

It didn’t pass. How could it, it hadn’t fully arrived yet! In the next few hours, in the office, the black clouds rolled in thick and fast; the harder I tried to repress and ignore, the more petrol I seemed to pour on the fire.

Then the terrifying bit. As I sat at my desk, the storm cracking thunder in every corner of my mind, I attempted to summon up the thinking that had left me feeling so good, just 24 hours before. As I broke down the sum of the parts that had me buzzing, in a desperate attempt to relieve myself of the futile pain I felt inside, not one ‘positive’ thought emerged. Instead, the same train of thought that a served me so well, had now turned on me. I frantically searched the inner workings of my brain for respite, but everything that seemed so good, now seemed so bad.

Not only had my depression infested every part of my being, but now my anxiety, already on high alert, was being converted to panic. There was no relief anywhere. Everywhere where I turned – nothing. I stared blankly out of the window. Then the self- pity got on the mic. I remember clearly thinking, ‘This is so unfair, I have worked so hard to create a ‘good place’, and soon as I have it, it is ripped away from me to be replaced with abject misery.’ That is what depression is. Abject, unconditional misery.

I stayed balanced on this knife edge, praying for intervention, for a good while. I was on the top of my emotional precipice, and I was fighting hard to make sure I didn’t fall.

The banks of the dam burst around lunchtime. When approached and asked how I was doing, I toppled and fell, breaking down and releasing a rip tide of pain and sadness through a torrent of tears. Ironically, it was in the moment that the first of many pressure valves released, and a small ‘relief’ of sorts, could be found.

I normally have a routine for dealing with my depressive ‘episodes’ but on this day, Wednesday, I decided to throw that out of the window, and not accept fully what was happening to me, instead preferring to go toe-to-toe with the illness and fight. And just like all the fights with my mind that I have had before, I was losing, and this time I was taking a proper pasting.

Survival mode kicked in, and I decided to go home and, belatedly, put those best practices into action. I lay on my bed, and went through between 5-10 mins of deep breathing, whilst allowing the thought train to move through my mind with sickening speed. After a while, the thoughts slow down, and with my eyes shut, I can see them, acknowledge them, and let them pass on their way, to be followed immediately with another. It’s a mindful practice I have yet to fully master, and it takes incredible patience and fair amount of courage, but when I stick with it, as I did this afternoon for just over an hour, the intensity of the episode wanes and some, not all, perspective starts to return.

I slept for a few hours, as exhausted as I was, and woke up feeling vulnerable but better. The anxiety had dropped to alert level 3 – still there, but manageable – and the depressive thoughts had relaxed. The clouds started to shift. The calm started to form as the murkiness headed off in the distance.

I made sure I spoke to my nearest and dearest to reassure them that I was feeling better, put on the television and disappeared into the wonderful humour of ‘Silicon Valley’ – if you haven’t seen it yet, you must! I was dozing again by 7.30pm.

The aftermath of the episode hangs around a bit, meaning broken sleep, but by 6 am the next morning I was up and ready to get stuck back into my daily routines.

This happens to me about once a month on average. There are other dark moments, but I put that down more to just feeling flat, as we all can do at some stage, and I’m able to notice the difference between a low mood and full-frontal assault on mind. Big difference.

I haven’t written about specific ‘episodes’ in the past, preferring to focus my efforts on raising the generic awareness around mental health disorders and the stigma attached to it. But by opening up and getting honest, I hope that someone, anyone can find some comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and millions of us can empathize without sympathy. Sympathy plays into that pesky self- pity that we can all latch on to, and I cannot afford to live like a victim…that’s asking for trouble.

I hope that my words resonate in some way, and if you can relate just a pop a note in the comments or hit the like button (or emoji’s) to add your strength to the beating back of the stigma.

Today’s Friday and I’m feeling great once again, but know that the clouds will gather again, and when they do, I have the reassurance through experience that I will come through once more.

Sending you all my love, warmth and support,

andrew x




Sully xx