(For the sake of disclosure, there’s one part in the video I took out which I thought I was ready to reveal, but I’m not quite there yet to talk about. I will at some point, though. Sorry about the length by the way)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 – 4:00pm (the appointment)
All I could think of beforehand was the nerves. Why was I so nervous when this is something I had wanted and actively sought out for? Yet, sitting in the waiting room of the GP’s office – for the record, I had my sister-in-law there too with me for support (actually my brother’s partner’s sister, but I usually go with in-laws because it’s easier and because of the amount of time my brother and his partner have been together) – was perhaps one of the most anxious things I’d had ever felt and certainly one of the most dread-filled days of my life.
“Jonathan P Cullen – Room 3, Dr Doherty,” the electronic sign then flashed up. Given final words of encouragement by said defacto in-law, I went to the door, took a second or two to take a few breaths, knocked and in I went.
After a few minutes back and forth on stuff and why I may have what I have, I got the diagnosis: depression and anxiety.
Since the start of the year, I’ve been in a rough spot. mentally. Next month (a month today actually as of this going up) will be two years since my mum died. As I wrote last year, I wasn’t exactly in the best place then, but this year has severely taken its toll on me mentally.
I’ve not had the passion in me to write as much as I wanted to, whether personally or professionally, and I’ve had little to no need to do the things I love. Even playing games, the one thing I could usually hold up as the thing I could use whenever I needed them for both fun and as a thing to help me cheer me up, wasn’t attracting me anymore. That was perhaps the first sign something was majorly wrong.
Not only that, I was not who I was as a person anymore. I’ve become more and more closed off to the world. I was shutting myself away from the world and becoming a massive reclusive shut-in. I’d only leave my house if and only if I absolutely had to. Now I’ve always been a reluctant person when it comes to trust. I don’t trust a whole lot of people thanks to two people: a major family fallout with a cousin of mine a few years ago (we’ve since made up, but the relationship isn’t as it was back in, say, 2010 or most of 2011) and someone within the games industry in 2012 – I trust my main family only by necessity and I could count on one hand the amount of people I trust outside my family – but more than ever, this year was especially hard for me to open up to people.
And also because of my closed off nature, I was becoming more anxious, depressed, lonely and certainly a lot more grumpier and angrier than I was ever in the old trope of ‘Old man yells at clouds’ thing. I am 25 years old turning 26 in January. Something had to give.
Monday, October 3, 2016 – 12:40pm (the first tablet)
I was prescribed anti-depressants by the GP the day I went to see her and was planning to start taking them the following morning. Except… I couldn’t. As silly as this sounds, I wasn’t ready then. This wasn’t painkillers or a course of antibiotics over a two week period.
This honestly felt like a big deal to me. I was then asked by several members of my family that day who knew of my prescription if I had taken my first tablet. While I did answer in the negative, I was also annoyed with that question. Mainly because it’s no one’s business whether, when or if I take it nor should it be anyone else’s business in regards to their meds (if you’re open with yours, fantastic, but I’m not that sorta person who’s open with the exception of this blog and subsequent video with this sort of thing). I remember saying something along the lines of ‘I need space’ so I can be ready.
After an otherwise decent if not okay remainder of my Thursday, I had planned on the Friday being a mental health day: seeing a movie in the cinema, buy a game, buy silly treats for myself that make me happy. Instead, I got a text from someone: it was my defacto sister-in-law who was there with me in the GP telling me to start taking my medication. That and then having my head screamed off by another family member really made me feel like shit that morning, followed by subsequent anger that near enough ruined my self-care day.
No-one should never – and I mean NEVER – tell you this in any way at all. I knew I’d have to start at some point and I knew once I started, I couldn’t suddenly stop. But I had to will myself up to it and at that point in time, that text completely soured my mood to the point I had to delete it because every time I looked at it, I was just pissed off.
The following Monday was the day I decided to start taking my meds. I remember looking at the tablet for what felt like forever, thinking once I started, I couldn’t just stop if I wanted to and go cold turkey (don’t do this, it’s massively dangerous – if you’re looking to get off antidepressants, talk to your GP first). This felt large to me. After five or ten minutes looking at the damn thing willing myself up, I took it and down it went. Done.
Sometime in April, I remember having a kind of mental health breakdown on Twitter just spewing stuff about anxiety and knowing at that point I really should go and see someone, a professional. But I was so spent in a sense – not necessarily of energy, though it’s still kind hard to explain what I mean by that in writing really – that I just didn’t have it in me to go see someone.
I remember the same night I got a Twitter DM from someone. They had sent a message saying how they went through the same thing I did in trying to will up the strength and energy to see someone before they eventually ended up going. That message has been in and out of my head for a while whenever I think back upon the middle half of this year.
But it was only in July where things got to the point of hard times.
Thursday, October 6 – just before 9:00pm (the near panic attack)
I woke up from a nap drenched in sweat, near pins and needles on my arm and my chest slightly tightened. I could sense that a panic attack was coming. I couldn’t really sit through it by myself nor did I want to. So I seeked out my brother’s partner, who is also my neightbour, and asked if I could sit with her for half an hour to an hour, just in case anything did happen.
Perhaps watching an episode of The Fall didn’t help in easing said fears, but otherwise, there was no panic attack. Unfortunately, it only delayed it approximately eight hours.
For most of July and August respectively, I was in a really, really bad place mentally. To be crystal clear here, I was not suicidal, but at the same time, such was my mood, my energy, my outlook on life in that period of my life that I felt like I wished people would leave me be and just let me wither away in peace. I had no positive outlook on my life at that point.
I had no desire to do things I love like write professionally (I’ve not written anything games related to date this year and I’m taking a break from games writing until I’m ready to go again) or personally on this blog (most of the blog posts you’ve seen on here since the start of the year has felt phoned in because I felt I had to hit a quota in my head of posting at least one blog on here a month), no further desire to make more episodes of My Favourite Game (I’d planned to make a few additional episodes that weren’t a full season for the end of the year, but those aren’t happening anymore – instead Season 5 will drop next year as is), no further desire to do things I love like playing games, going for a looping walk around the town centre of Derry across the Peace Bridge, no further desire to do near anything beyond looking after my dog and feeding myself. That was it.
At that point, something had to change. I had another mental health breakdown on Facebook when someone came to me in PMs who has since become one of my biggest go to people if I ever need to vent about stuff. And considering my untrusting nature, that was a bit of a win for me. Even moreso when considering we’ve never been in the same place at the same time (though we will eventually – that’s a promise). In one such message sent to me, I was asked if I had ever thought about seeing someone. It wasn’t the first time someone asked. And it was of course something I had thought about a lot before. But it was the first time where I felt like I’d gotten to a stage where I felt it was time to seek help after being asked the question.
I was finally on the cusp of doing such a thing, finally at the point where I was starting to will myself on to get the help I wanted and needed. But then, something happened which dragged up feelings of two years ago that were still a bit raw for me.
Another round of the grieving process began: my mid-90s grandmother had passed due to illness. And while I managed to get through that a lot better than, y’know, perhaps the month-to-six week period after I lost my mother, it still made me think a lot of that time when I had to go through that unspeakable period.
Friday, October 7 – around 6:50am (the actual panic attack)
I woke up roughly around 6am with what still felt like pins and needles in my arm with my chest slightly tightened, but moreso than it was a few hours beforehand. I went outside to get some air and to take a small walk around my house and the 100 metres it took to get to my gate in my PJs (it was 6am and considering how shit I was feeling, I think I could get away with it).
But it didn’t help. I tried breathing out as much as I could from my chest, but it was laboured. And every time I did it, my chest got tighter and tighter. Just as I got to the back of my house and outside our kitchen windows, I basically went dizzy in the eyes and just collapsed on my back and just remained there for a good five or ten minutes, giving way to my first major panic attack in well over a year. Whereas a year ago, I figured out why I got the panic attack then, I still don’t know why now I got the attack I had this past Friday.
Needless to say, a fun experience.
Around the middle of last month, I had an unexpected talk with my sister, at that time set to head to Mexico on holiday. It was a lengthy chat, moreso than I expected. It was something in the ballpark of half an hour long. It was just the two of us standing outside her car talking family stuff and me and how I’ve been these past four or five months especially at that time.
It was a surprisingly encouraging and gratifying chat to the point that I decided to call someone who I trust immensely and have known for nearly the better part of a decade and talk to on the phone for an hour. Beforehand, I wouldn’t have reached out to anyone if I hadn’t had that chat. I’m not very good at that, in fact, very bad. But if it weren’t for that conversation earlier in the day, I wouldn’t have had that cathartic phone conversation. And if I hadn’t had that, I wouldn’t have had enough in me to finally get an appointment sorted to see my GP.
Today is World Mental Health Day. I was not aware of this fact until earlier this morning. And while I knew that I definitely wanted to share my story sooner than later, I had planned on waiting a few more weeks considering the GP visit was only two weeks ago.
But if this story helps anyone at all and it encourages them to go see their doctor or GP about depression on World Mental Health Day, it’ll be worth it.
Seeing the GP to get a diagnosis for depression and anxiety was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to in my life. It is such a life-changing moment and somewhat bittersweet. But I don’t regret it one bit now. I asked for help. And I’m glad I did.
Right now, I’m on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Citalopram specifically. I also asked if I could be put on the list for CBT and counselling, though I was told it’d be a few weeks before I’d hear anything back on that. As of writing this, I still haven’t heard anything on that.
I’m also starting to take in more mental health resources online through websites (I have Buzzfeed’s mental health section and a Twine-made self-care checklist sent by a friend already booked) or Twitter. Following Esquire’s Sammy Nickalls has a god send to me about my MH. She’s been open about mental health to the point it started making me feel good seeing other people be open about their struggles with mental health using #TalkingAboutIt. I’m still gathering resources and I feel like I’m barely just starting, so if you’re reading this, please by all means, send some stuff my way on Twitter.
There will never be a time where I will feel cured of depression and anxiety. You just have to treat it as best you can. And lets be clear here, you will still have bad days. But if you manage it well and treat yourself well, the bad days will reduce significantly in number.
A few years ago, a friend of mine and someone who has been the biggest influence on my career, posted a video that perfectly represented depression and anxiety on Facebook. I see it now and then and is a perfect analogy for mental health. I’ve posted it below.
If you have the black dog of depression, don’t let it control you. Manage it and become you again.
Thanks to Korina Abbott, Kristin Knillmann and my sister Joanne for finally giving me the push and inspiration to finally go see my GP and get an official diagnosis.
If you feel you need to talk to someone, reach out to family or friends. Or in lieu of that, in the UK, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (in Northern Ireland, the number is 0808 800 8000 or call 116 123 in the Republic) or Mind on 0300 123 3393. If you’re in the US, call the US National Suicide Hotlines at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For mental health help services for the rest of the globe, please visit this guide here.