Sunday Life #1 – Wrestling with depression

Depression doesn’t discriminate – rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, it can hit everyone and often with little warning.

  “Chris Cornell@P&L”  by   Andreas Eldh   is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

“Chris Cornell@P&L”  by Andreas Eldh   is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yet still there’s something massively shocking about someone in the public eye taking their own life. The untimely demise of Chris Cornell this week really shook me up. The last time I remember feeling like this was when Wales football manager Gary Speed took his own life.

I was working for Yahoo! New Zealand at the time and I wrote a heartfelt blog that seemed to resonate. I was proud of it yet still surprised to see it being used by others in New Zealand as a good example.

At work I was congratulated on the blog, it was mentioned in a weekly e-mail to staff across Australia and New Zealand – and yet something bothered me about it and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then as I pondered the answer to life, the universe and everything in the wake of Cornell’s death it came to me.

It bugged me, I realise, because people thought I was brave for doing it. And that’s the problem. Depression is still a massive issue because people are still scared to talk about it. Not everyone, but a lot. And why wouldn’t you be? Why would you tell an employer that you suffer from depression knowing there’s a chance they’ll think less of you – or even discriminate? Could it stop you from getting promotion? Could it make you a target if there are redundancies? Will people talk about you behind your back?

And why wouldn’t they when there are their political parties proudly standing on platforms knowing cuts they make will impact on mental health services. Cuts that could kill you, your best friend, your hero, your mother or your child. That’s how little some people think of us.

I wasn’t brave for saying I had depression, no more than I was brave those times I had pneumonia or the flu or the shitty cold that left me under the weather. Yet because some people are ginormous fucking arseholes it might appear that I’m brave to some. And it will continue to be like that while those arseholes have power.

I’ve had experiences at both sides of the spectrum. At Yahoo! New Zealand they were great. I had to take the odd day off because of my depression and it was never questioned. I never felt my job was at risk because of it and no-one ever treated me differently.

The opposite was true at another place of work.

I had a boss, who shall remain nameless, for whom depression was cured by getting some fresh air at lunchtime. I was low, not quite as low as ‘oh my god, I could step off the edge and the pain would be over’ low but low enough. I needed a few hours off to compose myself – I wasn’t putting anything at work at risk and I could have lied, made up a doctor’s appointment or a family emergency. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and admitted my depression. It was dismissed, a fly swatted away by someone who didn’t appear to believe depression was that big a deal.

The reaction, in hindsight, was exactly what I should have expected. And, although I have no way of proving this, I believe I almost lost my job after my 90 day trial (a legal mechanism in New Zealand that allows employers to ditch employees after 90 days with virtually zero recourse) due to it. In the end I waited two days to be told my job was safe, only pushing me further into my depression.

Yeah, I understand why people don’t want to admit it, even to a doctor. Why they’re scared to and why they feel they have no-one to turn to. Why they feel alone and no-one understands. I’ve been there many times. As you may have been too.

Things have improved for me over the last couple of years, so much so that there are times when I’ve felt like I’ve put the Black Dog far behind me. Deaths like Cornell’s remind me that it’s never truly gone but waiting for that opportunity to bite again. I’ve recommitted to myself to never taking it for granted and to live for every glorious new day – and when it does come back to try and remember that this is how it can – and will – feel again.

No-one is immune. This insidious, heart-breaking, shitty fucking disorder can affect everyone – and just because someone seem okay, or are even fully functional doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Chris Cornell played an amazing gig, and gave little indication there was anything wrong – and yet his wife and kids face life without their loved one and – on a much lower level – us fans mourn a voice of a generation.

Thank you Chris Cornell for sharing your gift with the world. For cheering people up at their moment of need, for giving pleasure to many and for reminding us never to make presumptions about someone’s mental health.

But also for giving us this opportunity to support those who show empathy and care in dealing with anyone who suffers. It’s the least we can do.

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