The old idiom of “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” doesn’t only just apply to physical journeys.
Yesterday was quite a surreal birthday. The day started with a plethora of people posting happy birthday greetings on my Facebook wall (that continued right through until this morning, in fact), and ended with a birthday dinner with my two best friends. On that definition, “surreal” doesn’t seem applicable, until you add in what I did in between … I went to my GP and started a conversation about my mental health. In particular, about my struggles with depression and my anger management.
Leading up to it, I was practically in two minds about it. Part of me was detached and content that the ball was going to start rolling, with a strong curiosity as to where the conversation would go. The other part of me was quite literally, terrified. That part of me would have traded the #112 tram ride with having to speak in front of 6,000 people in a conference about a backup product I’ve never used, in a heart beat.
Yet obviously I managed to avoid leaping off the tram at every stop (other than the correct one), quite likely for the simple fact that Darren was on the tram with me to offer support. And mercifully, when I arrived at the doctor’s, he was pretty much running on time. If I’d sat for an hour in the surgery the potential of chickening out would have likely started to rise.
It was almost soothing that I could start the conversation with a general medical question. The dryer climate in Melbourne is allowing a couple of allergies to resurface and for the first time in over a decade I had to ask for a prescription to deal with those allergies. So that was an ice breaker. It even had allowed me to start the conversation with “I’ve got two things I’d like to talk about, one simple, and one that’s a lot more challenging.”
And, as I’d been assured by a half dozen people or more, the conversation, once started, flowed remarkably easily. It was also quite clarifying for me. That analytical, reserved part of me, was able to process the general chatter and start nudging me in particular directions even as the conversation flowed. Even in that short consult – maybe thirty minutes or so – a lot of things gelled for me about where issues were springing from. We are ultimately conditioned with what we experience during childhood, and even that conversation linked back to something mentioned almost in an off-hand comment in the R U OK forum – my anger suppression likely comes from a time when I’d be incessantly teased but then castigated for getting angry … I was just being a bad sport. And so, other than a few eruptions when I completely lost control, I learnt while growing up that the way to deal with anger was to just bottle it all up. That’s not a solution though – in fact, it’s pretty toxic.
At a subconscious level, you could say that I already knew a lot of what was going to be discussed. Despite those moments of self-doubt (and sometimes, they come fairly regularly), I also know that I’m strongly introspective, articulate, and have an above average IQ. You can’t be in that position without having a good level of self-insight, and therefore I can’t say anything in the conversation took me by surprise.
Sometimes you just have to start the process with someone outside your “loop”.
I was particularly glad of one thing though – my doctor didn’t want me to go on anti-depressants. I think that was partly what had held me in reserve for so long from talking about it. I’m not knocking them – for some people, they’re so important and useful they literally save their lives, and I have no doubt of it. Yet my entire job and most of my interests and pleasures lay entirely within the realm of my mind anyway. Chemically altering that has always left me with a profound concern that it would, subtly, be replacing me rather than fixing me. Again, that sounds judgemental towards anti-depressants – it’s not, it’s most definitely not. This is a personal thing, between me and the drugs, nothing else, and not reflected on anyone else. It’s the path I’ve taken.
Even that conversation was interesting – for people without a diagnosed condition, he’s seen anti-depressants as being something to be used to give someone the equilibrium to actually reach a point where they can ask for help.
In a long, hard and painful struggle, I’d already got to that point on my own.
So, I now have a referral to a psychologist to discuss depression and anger management, though I’m sure other things will come up as well. I also have a bunch of basic blood tests to do in case there’s contributing physical factors (hey, I’m in IT, and I’m not into sport … I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t show a vitamin D deficiency), and I’ve been put in front of a path that will, undoubtedly, be an interesting journey.
Lions and tigers and bears.