It could have been Mel Gibson’s acting, but I was pretty sure it was a brain tumour. The pain had been building, on and off, for weeks; but it was while I was halfway through a screening of Gibson’s 2010 ham-fest Edge of Darkness, that the sensation of the right side of my head being squeezed in a vice overwhelmed me. Panicking, I stumbled out and found a walk-in GP clinic, where the doctor quickly ascertained that nothing was wrong physically. I was right as rain. ‘But how are things emotionally?’ she asked.
And at this simple question, quite unexpectedly, I melted completely, and began to sob. I’d had no idea.
The problem with depression is that every element of it can be so nebulous; even the terms for describing it – depression, stress, anxiety, disorder – are inexact to the point of meaninglessness. Other ailments deliver a specific pain, rash, reaction, or worse, pointing to a specific set of answers. They can be located. Depression has no location.
“Therapy isn’t humiliating, it’s liberating. I feel better”
Even when it provokes a physical reaction, it’s merely a diversion. It’s like a fine mist that descends without you realising; and even when it’s completely enshrouding you, and seeping into every pore of your being, you’re not quite sure whether it’s there at all.
Against all the intangibles, though, one thing has become perfectly clear to me: that toughing it out, or just expecting to snap out of things at some point, is as futile as expecting that you’ll start losing weight and getting fit if you just wait long enough. Just as the more time and effort you put into maintaining physical health means the healthier and fitter you’ll be, so it is with mental health. Acceptance comes first – hopefully before you find yourself wailing on the floor of a doctor’s office – and then action.
For me, talking about things with someone trained to listen has been crucial. There’s plenty that’s off-putting – the nagging idea that ‘therapy’, as it’s often simplistically referred to, is an indulgence practised by crybaby celebs; or the feeling that it’s for people with ‘real’ problems, and surely you’re not that bad; and (sadly) the cost of it.
But it’s worth it. It isn’t humiliating, it’s liberating. At different times, I’ve gone through both short-term counselling and more in-depth psycho-analytical psychotherapy. In some ways I see it as taking the weight off my brain – it allows me to step back and see things, and myself, differently. Inevitably, ‘success’ – the sense of being cured – can seem as nebulous as the problem itself; I’ve had those head pains, or other symptoms, at times since, but at least I understand them, and can address them. I feel better.
Mind you, I’ve not seen a Mel Gibson flick in about the same amount of time…