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How to Manage a Depressive Episode

Reading time | 6 mins

In my experience, there’s nothing more humbling than coming out from a severe depressive episode. I’m referring to those low points, points that feel like they absolutely knock you sideways. These are the times where I can understand the things that people do out of sadness, frustration and desperation just to make the depression end.

I’ve recently experienced one of those times.  

Even though I’ve been really busy lately – getting excited about upcoming projects including going on a gorgeous, wild glamping break with my family – there have been very few times where I’ve felt as down.

During these low periods, I have to deal with things internally that can be distressing, disturbing, and completely out of my control. For example, when I’m talking to someone about upcoming events or holidays, my brain kills any kind of excitement by telling me something horrible will happen – like a plane crash.

I’d probably see about 10 to 20 of these horrible ‘visions’ daily and I’d exhaust myself, arguing with my brain about the disturbing images it conjured up. This built and built until I was in an angry, dark mood. These unwelcome thoughts had the ability to change my thought processes and feelings about everything and everyone in my life.

Self-destructive and intrusive thoughts

When my symptoms are bad, it makes it hard to communicate anything to my family. Instead, I become defensive and self-destructive. Recently, a silly joke with my wife turned into a full-blown argument because I had blown something small massively out of proportion. This led to me driving around in the early hours of the morning, fighting unwanted suggestions and intense voices in my head telling me to harm myself.

It felt like an impulse and it was terrifying.

When your brain is telling you that this horrible and intense feeling that you’re experiencing is what the rest of your life is going to feel like, the thoughts of self-harm and suicide can feel like they are inescapable. These images are now branded into my vision and it feels difficult to get rid of.

Sometimes, this period of low mood and the intrusive thoughts can verge on ‘passive suicidal ideation’ where my mind suggests self-harm or suicide. Thoughts about dying suddenly, not waking up in the morning, and being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease become the new normal.

The fact is though, I am absolutely petrified at the thought of dying. In fact, I am very happy with my life and everyone and everything that’s in it.

Typically, when I am stuck in a depressive episode, I push my family away through my really difficult behaviour and my desire to be alone most of the time. Guilt usually follows soon after, because I worry that my kids might think that they have done something wrong because I don’t want to spend time with them.

This becomes an emotional cycle and gets more and more intense. I become angry, snappy and extremely blunt in translating my emotions and have no remorse about saying what I think. It feels as if I’m watching another person who is causing all this hurt, but I have no control over it.

A blur of anxieties and excuses

I, like most people living with depression, have to try to overcome many emotional changes in various aspects of my life. And when you’re trying to get on with your routine at home or at work, depression makes that extremely hard to do.

When I was feeling low, my work week became a blur of anxieties and excuses to keep me from doing my day-to-day duties. I had massive apprehensions about helping anybody because I felt worthless and like I wasn’t good enough to do it. One minute I was holding it together and the next I was completely miserable.

I went from being someone who is outgoing and confident to someone constantly on the verge of tears, as if I was going to cry at any given moment. I didn’t want to socialise at all, which is a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ kind of thing that’s really hard to explain. I didn’t have the physical energy to pretend like I was happy and I didn’t want to ‘perform’ for people anymore.

Then after all that retreating from work, I still had the family fallout to deal with. They felt as if was being boring and that I was finding excuses to get out of doing things.

Depression symptoms are invisible

People think that because I’m chatty and can have a laugh and joke around, because I can be confident in meetings and talk at events, or because I can play a two-hour long set to any audience (while coming across as confident as Prince himself) that I cannot be as depressed as I say I am.

What people don’t know is that I often hope and pray for a show to be cancelled just so I can hide away. They also don’t know that when I have to play a show during my lowest points, there are times when the anxiety brings on agonising stomach cramps which often leads to an upset stomach and inevitable ‘vocal warm-ups’ in a toilet cubicle (not the delightful kind, I assure you).

At times like these I can’t help thinking about the high-profile suicides of frontmen like Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell. They travelled the world, played to hundreds of thousands of fans every year and experienced things they would never have dreamt of when they first started out. Yet, depression doesn’t care about that.

You can’t assume that somebody isn’t depressed just because they are ‘living the dream’.

Identifying your triggers and allowing time to heal  

Often, it is only when I have come out of a depressive episode that I am able to reflect on the things I said or did. Once you sit back and think of what may have triggered a low point, it can give you the ability to identify when the episode began and how to recognise those feelings in the future. This will help you warn your family if you feel a low period coming on again.

For me, time is the best way to heal and get back to feeling my usual self after a depressive episode. I am extremely lucky that I have a family who supports me and gives me the energy I need to ‘reset’ myself. They give me patience, time and the opportunity to figure out my triggers through conversation.

The relief and happiness that I feel once I am able to reflect and look back at a tough time is unmeasurable. It makes me feel like I can be a fun dad, husband and person again. And I truly appreciate it in the moment.

The takeaway

If you are going through some of the things I have written about, I would recommend finding out what it is you need to feel better. Talk to your loved ones, but also talk to a professional. You don’t have to suffer in silence.   

If a loved one is living with depression, try to bear in mind that their behaviour is not a personal attack against you. They might be saying and doing things they can’t control, and often this is a cry for help. Try to support them in getting the help they need.

If you or someone you know are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, we urge you to call the suicide prevention hotline. If you’re in the UK, or Ireland call the Samaritans at 116 123.  Or find more information here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/. If you’re in the rest of Europe, please find your country’s number here: https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/Europe/

UK/MED/19/0289 November 2019