Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Happy Birthday to me!

Actually, I do have a real birthday coming up. It’ll be tough, as it’s going to be the first one in my life when I won’t get a card from my mother. However, this week is also a different kind of anniversary. It’s two years now since I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Of course, I’d like to say those years have raced by, but it’s far from true. Today I found myself looking back at old blogs and diaries to reassure myself it really was “just” two years. One of the great things about blogging for a while is having reference to old stuff and seeing what you were saying around then. This was my blog at the time. The cold I mention there only made matters worse, but it’s interesting, given the truth, to see what light I made of that trip to Ghent. Because it was there, in the  solitude of a room at the local Campanile motel, that I first admitted to myself that “things were not right”, and that maybe, just maybe, I needed some professional help.

The racing that weekend was indeed good. Such has been my situation subsequently, that I’ve probably not won more than one or two races since that 60 metres title in the 2010 Belgian Masters Championships. The performances there were really a bit of a “last hurrah” on the steady slope down which I’d been sliding in the previous eight months or so. They happened at the point at which I can now see that I just “lost the plot”.

I recall the Ghent weekend as being a pendulum of emotions. Up, as in our visiting team of GB Masters won several races. Then down, when the Belgians wouldn’t award us medals, and celebrated the first Belgians past the post as “winners”. That was false, forced and even embarrassing to the local athletes. Up, as in I ran well. Down, as in I realised I’d got a cold coming. And so on. The cold was real, by the way, not a euphemism for my parlous mental state.

I returned to the motel, closed the door, and recall saying to myself “Is that it, then?” Athletes on the professional Grand Prix circuit probably feel a bit like that all the time. I was suddenly almost completely overwhelmed by a desire to go straight home. My Tunnel ticket was for the next day, and I’d promised a small group of other athletes I’d join them for a meal that evening.

I’ve come to understand that I am what, I think, is known as a “high functioning depressive”. Quite what I actually looked and felt like as company that evening, I dread to think. However, I remember it as a jolly time in an excellent little restaurant, and I’d be very sure no one I was with had the slightest idea what was going on inside my head. With hindsight, I am hugely grateful to Keith, husband of athlete friend Ann, for engaging me in conversation that evening, because I really do shudder to think how I’d have been or what I’d have done, had that meal out not provided the diversion it did.

Belgian beers and some paracetamol for the cold were a potent enough combination to let me sleep. My memory of next day is almost blank, however. I recall being in the streets of St Omer in northern France, but having not the faintest recall of the journey there, or even why I’d made the journey there. It was well off my direct route home. I remember overdosing on coffee in a motorway halt, being home again, and fortunately getting an appointment next morning with my very excellent GP. Thus began a two stage process of my eventual diagnosis.

The regular reader of this blog will recall it was eight full months before I felt able to blog about depression. In the meantime, that “high functioning depressive” continued to wear his “normal person” mask. The feeling of release when I did write about it did make me feel bad about, lets face it, being fairly dishonest in the intervening blogs. Or maybe not dishonest, just very partial.

So, two years, eh? Last weekend, I won a couple of minor medals in regional championships. The national championships are in two days from now. I’m still racing. I’ve stopped taking the anti-depressants. I still have great days and they outnumber the terrible, grindingly awful ones. We athletes can be pretty self-centred at times, but the big change in two years is that I have come to see how valuable other people are in my life. For example, the people who have just been around and aware when I’ve been in a bad place; the people who have shared with me their own experiences of depression; those who’ve shown me how interesting, fun, challenging and sometimes downright stupid this life can be. And my fellow athletes particularly, who have not made any allowances for me on the track, whatsoever!

Elton’s title (off the “Captain Fantastic…” album) is for all of you.

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