Being diagnosed with depression can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.
Paul is a divorced former police officer with two sons, aged 10 and 14. Paul first experienced depression triggered by memories of childhood sexual abuse. Despite several suicide attempts, Paul now feels he very much wants to live thanks to the continuous support of family and mental health professionals.
This interview has been sourced from Healthtalk Australia. Healthtalk Australia is the Australian collaborator of healthtalk.org (UK) which conducts award-winning research into patient experiences in conjunction with the Health Experience Research Group at the University of Oxford, UK.
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Paul talked about becoming very fearful about his suicidal thoughts.
I got to a point at - where I was living we had a fantastic garage. Every man would be proud of this garage. You know all the bells and whistles of a big industrial setup. And that was - I lived there. I did. I did a lot of jobs around the house and I really enjoyed it. And I decided that’s it, this is my place. I’m going to take my life. I got some, some rope and ah some things and ah had basically set it all up. When I was doing it I was aware that I was going to use it. But at that, right at that minute there, I wasn’t. I just thought get it ready because I don’t want to have to muck around. I just want to do it.
And it stayed like that for a while and I sort of left it there. I decided - I knew I was all over the place. I’ve very close family, Mum and I are very close, always have been. I sort of shut down from them and I went into hiding from everyone. And I was, I was starting to get very, very scared. Ah I was at court one day at (name of court) and was watching a court matter that I had an involvement in and as prosecuting. And for the whole time the court matter was on and I was in the witness box as well. The whole time I was being cross examined all I thought about was going, getting, hurrying home to the garage and taking my life.
Paul discussed the importance of staying on antidepressants and coping with the side effects long enough for the medication to take effect.
But the problem is you’ve got to be on it for - unless you’re on it for four weeks or six weeks even. So you’ve got to go through all the side effects and all the reactions and most of them had something. You know it might be a headache, it might be a little bit of nausea, it might have been ah that you’d be very sleepy during the day and not sleepy at night. But whatever it was each one of them had something and that, you know and I was made aware of it. And you know I think at that stage I was seeing (psychiatrist’s name) on a weekly basis and I seen (psychiatrist’s name) predominantly.
Um so ah we continued with the medication for a while months I would say ah when it all first started. And then some would go all right for a little while and then it, the side effects would pick up, so just an absolute lottery. And then ah the - (psychiatrist’s name) prescribed Effexor (venlafaxine) and you know I - when people ask me I always use the term my life went from black and white to colour. Almost overnight you know. Whatever it was the lights went off, the whistles, everything said we’ve done it. And to this day ah I’m still on Effexor (venlafaxine) that I take every morning and now it’s just part of routine.
I’m very oh religious about medication now. I do not mess with it at all. And you know I know exactly what to do if I, for whatever reason, miss a day or whatever. I’ve, I’ve self-medicated in every direction. I’ve not taken them, I’ve taken more, I’ve tried all my own formulas but I figure (psychiatrist’s name) knows what to do, listen to her. Cause I felt every single time I’ve done it I’ve found the pitfall. But anyway I’m not necessarily one who knows best. But yeah so the - when, sometimes what - it’s almost like the, you know, I like, not like the term but the, the term the black dog you know.
Paul described his stay in a high dependency unit and being separated from his children.
I was in there a lot longer this time because well obviously things were a lot more serious. ah it was real hard in there, just mind numbing day, just - but of course that’s what it was all about. It was go there and nothing to think about. No phones, newspaper in the morning, TV during the day. Not a very big place at all but it did what it’s there to do and so after a while then I was transferred back to the hospital that I’d been at before. and you know over that time I didn’t see my boys for, it’d be a couple of months, which was pretty hard.
Paul described his immediate family support as the most important factor in his recovery, but also appreciated his friends’ interest in his wellbeing.
Can you talk a bit about what’s been most beneficial for you in terms of support or things that you’ve done that have, you know, helped you pull yourself up, up out of the depression?
Def, definitely family support. we - I have an older sister and a younger sister, there’s about two, two years between each of us. And ah my family know, as I say and I still have the bad habit of going into hiding when I’m not travelling so well. But they now, they now know that and Mum’ll say things like, you know, she’ll, you know, she might ring up one day, how you going Paul? And oh yeah, yeah and then she might ring back a few days later and she’ll say how are you and then she’ll say what time are you home today? I am coming around. I say what do you mean you’re coming around? She says I know you’re not well. I want to come and see you. And you just don’t say no to mum.
You know I have, you know, I couldn’t measure the amount of respect I have for all my family. And ah and I know what she’s doing and she needs to do it unfortunately. Because I’m just not that good at reaching out and saying I’m struggling a bit. You know I’ve certainly - my path has continued and I’m definitely up a lot higher. You know you still have that bit of a, a fade but it’s all right. Without the support of my family, no way. I don’t even, I wouldn’t even be alive. I would be - not that I’d like to think about it but I reason, reasonably sure that would have been the outcome.
My sons they don’t know a great deal. I don’t know actually. I know they’re very internet savvy and they know that I do things with (organisation name) and of course they would know what that all means. And you know I remember I used to tell them the medication was cause I get headaches and [unclear] so I’ve told them a little bits you know. And they’re starting to know more but they’re kids, I want them to be kids. I don’t want them worrying about dad you know. But ah my family, my kids.
You know I’ve got some friends that know, maybe not everything, but they know enough that, you know, occasionally just give me a phone call. Or occasionally, you know, how are you travelling type thing. I don’t want people asking me every five minutes how you going, how you going and all that. But it’s nice just to get, you know, an email or something like that you know.
Paul’s depression meant that while he was working twice as hard, he was not achieving the same level of output. He appreciated his colleagues’ support.
I think I had to work twice as hard to do half as much I guess is one way of putting it. My mood was, was not bad. You know I’d, I probably fluctuated I guess say 40 to 70 per cent. I felt like I could never hit the bell. You know those carnival things with the hammer. You hit them, the thing goes up and dings the bell. To me that was like the ultimate happiness. That was bliss. And no matter how hard I whacked that thing I could never get the, never get it to go up quite as high as I once did. Now every now and again I can hit it, not consistently but that’s all right, that’s life.
Some friends had been, you know, I’d trusted and no one’s ever let me down. No one. even in the police and a couple of senior people. You know when I went for the detective sergeant’s job, you know, I said to myself I’m going to tell this boss if you take me this is what you take. You know you bring my skills and knowledge, yes, but you also bring me. And his response to that - I didn’t know this guy from a bar of soap. He knew what I had done and achieved in the past.
And he said Paul, he said, I’ll help you deal with all that, can you do the job? I said yeah absolutely. He said no worries, he said put in, I want your application. And I got the job. and so yeah, you know, I’ve been very humbled and inspired by what I thought - the biggest fear of course, going back to the gun safe, was being judged by coppers and being run out of the job for being a dud or a failure or weak. Never, you know, certainly not that I’m aware of and nothing that, you know, it’s ah the rumour mill and the gossip, you know, flows thick and fast. Never heard a thing [got] back to me and, and very happy with that.
Paul’s decision to retire from the police force at the age of 37 was not an easy one. Finding manageable part-time work since then has also been difficult.
I was sort of coping at home and dad came and saw me with my uncle who’s quite high ranking and someone who I’ve just - who’s just been a hero to me since a kid, as a kid. And you know getting into the police force and all that sort of thing and so they came and talked to me about you know, work and all that sort of thing. And all I wanted to do was get sorted and get back to work. But in the conversation and obviously they came deliberately for a reason to talk to me at home was about leaving the police force and my being entitled to a pension.
And so that, you know, I hadn’t resigned yet, I wasn’t going to resign until that would be approved. I don’t know what I was going to do if it wasn’t. I wasn’t, you know, I just wasn’t there anymore. I just - you know it was a job that I was very proud of and still am but if I can’t do it properly I shouldn’t be doing it. You know I, I didn’t really tolerate people who were slack or, you know, I would sort of, you know, not so much to their face. But I would be - I just wouldn’t like it.
But yeah when they mentioned pension I just thought, yep, that’s appropriate. And ah so yeah went through the process and it was all approved and I put in my resignation which was pretty tough. Still wasn’t really well but sort of moved on from there. Ah took a job as a groundsman. The pension’s very good and it’s, you know, you can still go and work and earn a certain amount of money. But the pension’s you know, it’s, it’s - you know, I’m not struggling for food. But I took a job. I can’t sit still. I’m only 39 now, I was 37 then. So I took a job.
I’ve always had a passion for baseball so I got a job at a baseball stadium which was, you know, sort of four hours five days a week which is just fine. I enjoyed that. But then I think after about six or eight months, you know, there just started to be a bit of pressure and a few deadlines and just didn’t really cope very well. And I’ve had a couple of jobs now, what two and a half years later. I’ve had a few jobs and I’ve enjoyed them and enjoyed getting into them but as soon as there starts being a bit of pressure and a few deadlines I’ve just - I really don’t handle it well.
Paul had positive experiences following his disclosure of his depression. He thinks that public awareness is ‘getting better’, however institutional discrimination still exists.
I guess I underestimated a lot of people. No one ever, in my whole journey, no one has ever, have I ever heard, oh you know, Paul oh, you know, careful with him, he’s a bit dodgy. Not even in the slightest. It’s only ever been encouraging. You know I think when I finally told some mates, one time I remember a really, really good mate, very, very hard man. You know ah man’s man, loves a beer and then bites the top off the stubby at the end, you know. And the bloke you want when you’re in the police force and in a bit of, in a bit of trouble.
And he came to hospital to see me and he walked in the room and he was already crying before he got in the room. And put his arms around me and just hugged me so tight. And he’s probably one of the people that I feared judgement the most and oh he just yeah, it just broke me up. And was, you know, has always been very supportive.
So yeah look, it, it’s all right. My life’s moving forward. I think, as I said just somewhere recently, I said you know, I’m certainly not where I would have pictured myself or I wanted myself to be. You know I can’t even get a home loan. They won’t give me a home loan. They don’t recognise the pension as an income. Yeah and, and the pension is quite a bit higher than the average wage but they won’t give me a home loan so ah yeah, a bit frustrating. There’s, you know, I know that a lot of things in the community are changing and a lot of them the awareness is getting better. But it hurts that.
Source: Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia, 30-39 Paul
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Last reviewed: September 2013