Disability and Depression: Addressing the elephant in the room

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This is a highly unusual blog for me dear reader.  Why? Well, I’m actually sacred while I’m writing it and the topic of depression isn’t something I’d normally discuss.  It is however this fear that is driving me on as I write.  I fear the topic because of the stigma that endures around it.  Yet it is that fear which drives me on to write this blog.  I’ve never ducked a topic before in the short life of this blog, and I don’t intend to start now.

I should say at the outset that this may not be an easy read, so if you aren’t in the best frame of mind, perhaps come back later.  Know this though, no matter how bleak it feels, you can come back from the darkest of places.

Things started to unravel for me quite quickly.  I was in the middle of a PhD which was little more than an exercise in prolonged misery at the time, which was causing a strain.  I then lost a couple of grandparents in quick succession and things just got on top of me.  I then began to take out my feelings on those closest to me.  I was looking for answers in all the wrong places and found them in a shape of a girl I met at the time.

Before I knew it I was a wreck.  My state of mind got worse and worse and I was unable to make even simple decisions.  One example was whether to board a flight to France.  I couldn’t decide what to do and was so conflicted that my mental knots made me a human ball of string.  My emotions were everywhere and I stood in the departure hall fighting back the tears.  I had actually been to see the doctor to talk about what was quickly diagnosed as depression and anxiety.  They prescribed a sick note and some tablets, which I refused to take.  At the time, I thought I knew best and didn’t need chemicals that I feared would a) have terrible side effects and b) turn me into a zombie.

I eventually returned from France, coming back with my poor sister.  Again I didn’t know what to do or if I could come back.  It took me an hour and the persuasion of my sister but I eventually boarded the plane back home.  I was a wreck and the depression was sucking all the life out of me.  In my wisdom I decided it would be a good idea to move out to live with the girl I had met.  That was not a good move.

I had isolated myself from anyone who could help.  Apart from my parents that is, who understood what was going on and still spoke to me.  The depth of their compassion and understanding knew no bounds.  Things were still getting worse.  At my lowest points, getting out of bed to have something to eat was a good day.  This for someone who had graduated from Cambridge a few years earlier and who seemingly had the world at his feet.

You have to hit the bottom though to bounce up.  This for me took the form of setting off for a train station and not intending to come back.  I had written a note and just didn’t want to be here any more.  I saw no way back.  I couldn’t bring myself though to follow through with my plan.

Instead I phoned my parents.  Before long I had returned home with my tail between my legs.  The flip side of being suicidal at that point was that I got quick access to therapy through the NHS, which literally saved my life I think.  I had a brilliant therapist called Graham who, through a combination of carrot and stick, got me to see where I was going wrong and gave me the tools to dig myself out of the hole I was in.  To the frustration of the numerous professionals involved, I maintained my refusal to take any form of tablets, so of course things took longer.

Eventually, having built up my levels of resolve, I returned to my PhD.  I probably should have not completed it, but by now it had assumed a great significance and I was determined to see it through whatever the outcome.  My supervisors continued to doubt whether I would be successful, which was fantastic motivation.  I also gradually began to repair my relationships with family and see friends who I had isolated myself from for about 2 years.  By making myself do the things I used to, I gradually became my ‘old’ self.

I then met Fran, which was a real turning point in my life.  I was honest with her about where things were at, and we were able to build something that became, and is to this day, life defining.  I was back to my old self.  Almost.  One thing I learned was that the depression was always there, and I always had to be self aware and manage it, as I do to this day.  Continuing improvement saw me building up my own athlete management business whilst I finished my PhD corrections (much to the surprise of my supervisors I got through my viva with relatively minor things to address.)

I eventually was told I was to be awarded my PhD and be Dr Chris just before the start of the London Paralympic Games and one of the busiest few days of my life!  By now I had moved in with Fran and settled in Cambridge (it’s funny how things go in circles, returning a few years after I graduated.)  However.  Things had taken their toll and my old ‘signs’ of depression were returning.

To stop this, I decided I needed to look for part time work.  I got an interview with a local charity.   The first interview, somehow went really well.  Now for the second interview.  I needed to prepare a presentation.  All my nervy habits were set off again.  I nearly didn’t go back.  The day before the second interview I went to see the local GP and was in floods of tears again.  This time though, I actually took the tablets prescribed!  And they helped..in the end!

I convinced myself I had nothing to lose and went into the second interview.   Pure adrenaline got me through.  I was offered the job and was delighted to accept.  Three years later, I still work there!  I took the decision to tell my line manager about my depression, who was brilliant and never looked back.  I have to keep an eye on things, and am still on the tablets, but have managed to negotiate a path to being comfortable in my own skin and quite successful at ‘life.’  In my darkest moments, I never thought I’d be able to say that.

Depression is awful and the stigma around it endures.  I offer this blog as my own contribution to helping to gradually break that down, and to show that it is possible to come back from the darkest of places.

Thank you for reading.  Now my final battle with this blog…to hit ‘publish.’  Here goes..!


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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.

Leave a Reply 2 comments

Nicola Burton - August 15, 2016 Reply

What a brave post. Well done for sharing. Your family and close friends are the ones who can pull you through touch times like this. Stay strong x

Shelley - August 16, 2016 Reply

Thank you Chris

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