In Our Own Words: Middle Aged-Dread
Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide and can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
I had the privilege of speaking to Mark Lancaster who wanted to share his story with the world. He kindly opened up about his struggles with his mental health condition alongside having physical ailments.
It has been said by many, and I believe it to be true, that the first step on the road to recovery from depression is to actually admit to yourself that you are living with it. I have lived with depression and anxiety for about 20 years. At least that is when I realised depression was what it was. On the outside people often think I am a happy go lucky person and I generally am but there are times in my life that it is all a façade. The old analogy runs true, I am like a duck on a pond. To the outside world all appears calm but underneath the surface all is frantic and I am paddling like mad just to stay afloat.
So who am I? I am a fifty year old single disabled male living in a seaside town thirty miles east of London. I am not worry about anonymity so I will tell you my name is Mark. My mobility impairment means I no longer work having been medically retired about two years ago. I have been single for a great deal of my life, twenty-eight of the thirty-four years since the age of sixteen to be exact and have been single for the last five years. All this means I spend a great deal of time in doors on my own. I am not physically capable of doing much exercise and I need to rest because of chronic pain for quite a bit of the day. Pain is something I am used to. I have lived with it for over thirty years but although I came to terms with being a disabled person years ago and even celebrate the fact that my impairment has afforded me opportunities I would not have had had I been non-disabled, I believe that there is a link between my pain and my depression. My brain is so busy fighting off or dealing with the pain that sometimes when I get very low it hasn’t the energy to deal with that too and I end up spiralling downwards.
"On the outside people often think I am a happy go lucky person and I generally am but there are times in my life that it is all a façade."
I admit that being single bothers me. It has always bothered me. Although I am okay with my own company, I have had to be, the lack of someone special in my life can make me feel so alone. I lack the self-confidence to even consider approaching someone in a bar, club or social situation and the thought of online dating just doesn’t appeal. I know people who love it and go on several dates a week but it is not for me. I’d be so anxious all the time about any forthcoming date I’d be a wreck if I was a serial dater. Society these days is so geared towards being in a couple so if you are single and hate it you are reminded every day that you are not the norm.
My bouts of depression almost always take the same form. I meet a woman, fall for the woman, invariably end up entering the friend zone with the woman and then I enter a period of depression because I am not with the person I want to be with. It is the old ‘no one loves me’ scenario. I can rationalise it and see that this is not true, as I am surrounded by friends and family BUT and it is a big but, in my depressed state of mind I feel becauseI don’t have that special person in my life it invalidates my worth as a human being. I write this as I go through one of my depressive states and I can see how ridiculous it looks from the outside but in those periods of despair that is exactly how I feel.
"The anxiety that goes with the depression comes from the fear that I will always be alone and that I will die alone too."
I know being single shouldn’t be such a big deal and that many relationships are far from perfect but when you are alone and without company the grass does always seem greener on the other side. For example, I was at a New Year’s Eve party a few weeks back and I suddenly realised I was the only single person there. So what I hear people say, no one noticed, and some of my friends have said just that, but to me who wants nothing more than a relationship and even a family of my own, (which at fifty years old seems increasingly unlikely) it is a big thing. Even when surrounded by my very best friends, at moments like this, I feel like the loneliest person on the planet. As a single person living on my own I rarely get any affection and I crave touch and intimacy. I find it hard sometimes to even watch people kissing in a film or on television because that is missing for my life. It sends me into a black hole of despair.
The anxiety that goes with the depression comes from the fear that I will always be alone and that I will die alone too. I have had relatives that never had a partner and the possibility that I might never have another leaves me feeling very sad and lonely.
"I was on beta-blockers for ten years or more to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, which for me were a constant fluttering in the chest that was like the after effects of watching a scary film or being made to jump"
So how can I combat this depression of mine? I have seen evidence that physical activity is a great in helping fight off depression. Unfortunately my mobility impairment and chronic pain means that I can’t partake in strenuous exercise and can’t walk very far either. I do however, find solace in music. I can’t play an instrument but love listening to and collecting records. I help out with a local internet radio station and broadcast and engineer shows on it. It is at times like this that I can lose myself for a couple of hours and relax and the dark mood can lift and I find it a great comfort. In recent weeks I have been very low and the thought of broadcasting or producing a show was something I was really not looking forward to but I get to the studio and for those couple of hours at least get lost in the moment. Music alone is not the answer though.
Over the years I have sought help from medical professionals to ease the symptoms of both anxiety and depression. I was on beta-blockers for ten years or more to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, which for me were a constant fluttering in the chest that was like the after effects of watching a scary film or being made to jump. I have also been prescribed many different types of anti-depressants too during the episodes of depression over the years. They all had varying degrees of success. Initially I believe that medication is the way to stabilise yourself, but it is not going to get to the route of the problem. I have undergone several forms of counselling in the past from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Transactional Analysis to hypnotherapy. I am currently investigating Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which also uses meditation) in the hope that it can combat my current bout of depression and give me the tools to head it off if I feel it coming on in the future. Neither medication nor therapy on its own has helped me it is a combination of the two that I have received the most benefit from.
If you are living with depression the most important advice I can give you is get help from a medical professional. Chances are that you will not just get better of your own accord. There should be no stigma attached to being depressed and remember that you are not alone. I have received loads of messages of support from people who are going through, or have been through, the same as me since I admitted that was what was happening to me again. Given time and support I feel positive that I will feel better.