Graham Down, 60, is a business owner and county councillor from Monmouthshire. He has had experience with depression since childhood. For many years he felt he had to bear this in silence. However, his decision in recent years to tell people about his experience has felt like a weight lifted from his shoulders. He hopes that sharing his story may help others with depression to open up as well.
For many years I kept my depression under wraps. After all I’m a bloke. Blokes don’t have feelings, and certainly don’t have weaknesses.
However, since I have decided to be more open I have found that, in a sense, a burden has been lifted.
I’m afraid I can’t tell a tale of a deprived or abusive childhood. I was brought up in a perfectly normal, lower middle class home. My parents were loving and caring. I suppose it was disciplined, but not outrageously so. They gave me the best they could.
I was (and in many ways still am) quite shy and introverted, and spent a lot of time in my own company. I never had masses of friends, was never (and never will be) the life and soul of the party, but I can’t find anything in my formative years to cause any sort of failing.
But something must have gone wrong. I can’t have been more than 10 or 11 when, one Saturday, I decided to run away. When I say “run away” I packed a bag and hid it in the garden, but it was teatime, and food took priority. As she was preparing tea, my Mum looked out of the window and must have seen the badly concealed case.
By my mid-teens, however, there was certainly something wrong. From time to time, I would just go to my room and weep.
This was the early 1970s when science was a lot less advanced than it is now, and my GP prescribed Librium, although fortunately it was not long before my Mum and Dad hid the tablets. Not well enough, as it happened, because at about 17 I took an overdose.
Neither the running away nor the overdose was because I particularly wanted to die but because I just wanted to hide, to get away.
I had ups and downs over the years, but let’s skip forward to 2012.
Now I’m running a business. We’re not making loads of money but we’re doing okay. It’s local election time and I’ve had a result which was, on any analysis, outstanding.
So why was I so low? I could barely get up in the morning. There was no death in the family, my relationship was fine and I had no particular money worries. And that is where the guilt kicked in. What right did I have to feel that way?
I’d go to work, switch on my computer, and just surf the Internet. But I was also the person responsible for making sure there was enough money in the bank to pay my staff’s salaries at the end of the month. I have to acknowledge my fantastic team. They kept the show on the road, and my gratitude knows no bounds.
I eventually saw my GP. Medication was duly prescribed, and duly had no effect. Stronger medication was prescribed and I felt worse. I had some therapy (fortunately I was able to fund it myself – I’m still waiting for the NHS referral), but things didn’t get much better. I remember sitting at Worm’s Head on the Gower just sobbing.
By 2014 my life should have been looking rosier. My son had got married, and he and my daughter-in-law were expecting our first grandchild. But I was as low as ever.
Eventually I saw a consultant who prescribed different drugs. I got better for short periods but also had bad times.
I recall walking my dog Ruby at the top of some cliffs at Southgate, again on the Gower. At the bottom of the grey cliffs was a white rock. It looked a great target. Ruby came up to me and nudged my arm and snuggled up to me. I wonder if she knew what was going on in my head? Would I have actually jumped? Who knows? Perhaps not, but just maybe she saved my life that day.
I continued with the medication. Then, last year, I met someone called Ruth Steggles. I now know her as “the awesome Mrs Steggles”. She calls herself the Fresh Air Coach. Essentially it’s counselling and coaching in the open air. We go whether it’s sunny, raining or a monsoon, and I credit her with a transformation.
Whether it’s the drugs, the counselling, the coaching, the support of my wonderful wife and my work team, or Ruby, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m in a much better place than I have been.
That’s not to say that everything’s great. I still struggle with the telephone, and I avoid social situations like the plague.
I know that there will be bad times to come, but just at the moment I have the confidence to believe I can cope. When the “black dog” comes back – as I know it will – I feel that I’m equipped to send it away with a high pitched yelp and a bloody nose.
I’d just like to end with a quote from Britain’s best known depressive, Stephen Fry …
If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.