Overcoming depression and becoming Dr Chris

Yet again, I find myself in conflict as my fingers hover over the keys.  Normally when I write a blog I am decisive and it is written in a few minutes.  With one topic it is always different: Depression.  Should I even write about this?  What will people think?  Will they think any less of me?  Is it just too much to share?

When I started this blog, I had one rule in my mind: That I wouldn’t back away from anything. I wanted to raise awareness about disability issues and give people what I hoped would be a useful and thought provoking perspective on things.  Writing about depression is always an acid test.  Despite the openness around depression increasing, it is still a really hard one to confront and describe due to the questions above.

I hope that this blog, written to mark 4 years since I became Dr Chris, is helpful.  If you read nothing else from this blog, just take away that depression can be beaten no matter how bleak the situation seems.

So to set this all into context:  I have always been fortunate to be successful.  I was in my early twenties, had just graduated from Cambridge and was training for the Paralympics in London alongside working on my PhD, for which I had just won a rare scholarship.  The world was my oyster and I was on course to get my PhD before my 25th birthday.  I had a loving family, brilliant friends and a season ticket to my beloved Sheffield Wednesday.

Then though things changed.  The combination of training for the Paralympics and trying to do a PhD alongside teaching was tough.  For the first time in my life I was struggling academically.  Then a series of events knocked me for six.  I had a family bereavement, my best friend was tragically killed and I started to hide away.  I then got swine flu proper to top it all off!  Things got worse and worse.  I moved home and even my relationship with my family which was normally rock solid began to suffer.  Around that time I had met someone and decided that I was going to move in with them.  I realised that things were really bad when I couldn’t decide whether to board a plane to join my family for a few days away.  Even being on the train made me nervous and I had a panic attack.  I eventually boarded the plane but it had taken me an hour to decide what do to.

Something needed to change.  After weeks of agonising I decided I needed to go to the doctor.  That was one of the hardest things I had to do.  I was lucky in that I was ‘bad enough’ to get some time away to begin to regroup, together with some prompt help and that started the process of recovery.  Though I felt as though I was on the floor for a period of time, at the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to return to my studies.

I had a long period of counselling which gave me some great insight, self awareness and the tools to keep myself in a healthier place.  In true Chris style I did this the hard way, but I got there.  Eventually I was able to return to my studies, albeit very anxiously.  I don’t think anyone thought I was ever going to get my PhD, but in a way that was all the encouragement I ever needed.  Due to the time away, I had a revised goal, get my PhD before I was 30.

My time in counselling had given me some perspective too.  I gradually began to see the people I cared about again and to let them know what had been going on.  I had not seen some of my friends for about 3 years but put that right bit by bit.  I had also met Fran who was a rock for me and had decided to start my own business representing Paralympic athletes like Fran after seeing a gap in the market.

It was a really hard slog building up my own business and finishing my PhD, but I got there.  I hit my goal, graduating from my PhD exactly one day before my 30th birthday.  I have now been Dr Chris for 4 years and during that time have got married, held down a good job and am a trustee for two charities.  I have also found my voice via this blog and am excited by life and all that it offers.  I am also in training to become a counsellor myself, so I can use my experiences to be there for others.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given is that when all feels hopeless, sometimes you just need to let other people hold on to hope for you.  Consider this blog as a contribution in that sense.  Talking about mental health issues isn’t easy but it does help, and there is a positive way forward.

I beat depression, and you can find your own way to do so too.

About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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