Pre-warning. This is a long and very personal article.
I often like to share personal memories with this blog. I enjoy looking back on my past and writing about all I have experienced in the world of gaming and so on. Of all the articles I have written over the years, this one has been the most difficult. From me starting this article to me pressing the publish button, it has been six months. Six months of writing, reading and editing. Deleting sentences, paragraphs and even the whole article… multiple times. To then re-write, re-read and re-edit… multiple times.
I don’t know if the constant editing and deletion of this article is a form of embarrassment to openly admit and detail that I have suffered from anxiety and depression, or if it is just a case of me thinking that people wouldn’t be interested to read about me suffering from anxiety and depression. Still, even if only one person reads this, understands and maybe even learns something from it. Then just maybe, it actually is worth it. Plus, this is a great cathartic release for me too.
I don’t even know exactly where to start with this one. Do I go back to the point in my life when depression first took hold of me? I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to because I honestly don’t know. Depression takes over for a multitude of reasons, the end of a relationship, death of a loved one, loss of a job and more. Sometimes depression just happens and there is no real trigger moment or reason. I definitely fall into the latter there. I don’t know how or why my depression first began, I don’t know why it still comes back now and again either. I just know that it is there, that it likes to rear its ugly head and drags me down every now and then.
I can tell you when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and when I first realised that something was wrong though. It was late February of 2020 and I was feeling unbelievably low. I mean seriously down to the point of crying… which I would often do when nobody else was around. One of the big triggers was the birth of my son, which was mid-December 2019. What should’ve been an amazing and joyous occasion, I felt nothing. I was there for the birth, I cut the umbilical cord, I held my son for the first time just minutes after he was born and I felt nothing. It was Christmas and I was at home with my partner, our daughter, my mom stayed with us for a couple of days and of course, our newborn son. This should’ve been a wonderful family memory to cherish forever and the best Christmas present ever, I felt nothing.
Still, I’m a man so I sucked it all up and just put on a brave face. That’s what we men do, right? I was on my paternity leave from work, I got through Christmas and New Year, I pretended I was happy when around family and friends and went back to work a couple of weeks later. My (as of then) undiagnosed depression was insane. I would cry on my way to work, cry on my way back from work, cry when everyone was asleep in the house. Our dog would come over and put his head on my lap to offer some comfort. The only happiness I felt was when I held my Xbox controller in my hand or when I was doing some writing. My escapism, my relief from how down I was feeling at the time.
I need to cover an issue with work for background. I had pre-arranged and agreed set hours due to childcare to look after our daughter as both I and my girlfriend worked, this was before my son was born too. I had those hours for over a year and a half and I had been working at this place for almost three years at the time. So, I had those agreed and set hours longer than I hadn’t. Anyway, when I came back from my paternity leave after our son was born, my boss changed all my hours and put me on shifts that I could not do. My hours were fine before my son was born and when we had one child but now we had two, suddenly there was an issue. Truth be told, I suspected my boss wanted to force me out of my job because he had hired a friend of his to help out over Christmas and while I was on paternity leave. I believe he then wanted that friend to stay on and me to go. Obviously, I could not prove this but the changing of my hours was a step to get me to leave.
So, I was under a lot of stress due to really struggling with these new hours and the extra childcare, new baby and all that. I spoke to my girlfriend, who is an HR manager for an international company but on her maternity leave at the time. She really, really knows her employment law. She said they can not just change my hours like that, without discussing with me first, especially as I had a long-standing agreement in place. So following advice, I put in an informal complaint against my manager. I had to have an informal meeting with my manager (who didn’t know my lass was an HR manager and didn’t know I was getting professional advice), he stuck by his guns, told me I was wrong and I had to do the hours he gave me. Long story short and I had to escalate the informal complaint to a formal one via head office. So yeah, I had a lot of shit going on at work, a new baby and (undiagnosed) depression in early 2020.
I just pushed on with my life, I really didn’t want to, I just did. I’d go to work all day, come home to a quiet house (as everyone was asleep), cry to myself, dog’s head on my lap and then play some games or get my laptop out and write. Minecraft was my go-to game, my safety net. Yeah I know, I’m an almost 46-year-old man playing, what many consider, a ‘kid’s game’. Still, I found Minecraft relaxing. The gentle piano music that plays in the background, just chilling out and building myself a house, etc. It took me back to being a kid playing with LEGO. I wasn’t making crappy and annoying YouTube Minecraft videos, I used the game as a means of escape, a way to calm myself down when my stress and anxiety of work took over.
I honestly didn’t know what was wrong with me at the time. We had a new baby boy, the first boy born on our side of the family too as we had previously had a girl and my two brothers had both had girls too. So having a baby boy was a massive family joy, just not for me. Anyway, I was at work one day in late February 2020, had been there for 10 hours or so and I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t sure what it was, the whole covid thing was everywhere by then and you couldn’t avoid the news even if you wanted to. So I blamed the covid outbreak and the news for reporting on all the doom and gloom for making me feel down, even though I knew I’d been feeling like shit for a long time before the covid news even broke, I just used it as an excuse.
So anyway, I was at work feeling really shitty and I called my girlfriend at home, she was on her maternity leave and very tired, looking after the new baby and an energetic 2-year-old. I hated myself for having to do that as I didn’t like to bother her and all that, which really didn’t help with my depression. I asked for some HR advice, I told her something was not right, that I felt down and really couldn’t face work. She told me to come home, that I have every right to tell my boss that I’m not well mentally and I can leave work as long as I explain. To be honest, it was nearing the end of my shift anyway, I had 3 hours or so left, so I stuck it out. I finished my shift and went home as I really don’t like pulling sickies, even when actually sick, I just don’t like letting people down. Plus, what with all this shit hanging over my head regarding my hours at work, I really didn’t want to upset the applecart too much, I needed to show that I was still a willing worker. I finished work, went home, everyone was asleep, I cried, I played some Minecraft.
The next day, following advice from my girlfriend, I called work and told them that I wouldn’t be in, I hated myself for doing that too as there was nothing psychically wrong with me. I wasn’t throwing up, I felt perfectly well in that regard. But there was definitely something wrong upstairs. I managed to get a doctor’s appointment that morning. Again, this was while covid was around and in the news but before it all kicked off proper and the world turned to shit. So I could actually get a face to face doctor appointment then. Still, I really don’t like bothering doctors.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office in a blue plastic chair. My doctor asked me what was wrong, I didn’t know how to explain it because I didn’t really understand it myself. I couldn’t just say that I felt a bit down because it made me feel like a fraud. There were people out there with ‘real’ illnesses and, at the time, I believed that being a bit down wasn’t a ‘real’ illness. So, I told my doctor about an incident at work the previous week instead. One second I was fine, the next I had a pounding headache, my heart was racing, I was sweating. I thought that maybe it was a mild heart attack or something. My doctor gave me the once over, checking my heartbeat, blood pressure and all that and found nothing that would suggest a heart attack. My blood pressure was a little high but not worryingly so. She began asking some questions about my general lifestyle, do I smoke? No. Do I drink? Yes, perhaps more than I should and so on.
I don’t know why, but it all just came out as if I wasn’t even controlling what I said. I told her about the birth of my son a few months earlier and how I felt nothing. I told her about my crying on the way to work, coming home from work, when I was alone and more. I even began crying right there in the doctor’s office. After offering me a tissue, she joined the dots. My mood, my crying, the attack at work the week before. A panic/anxiety attack is what my doctor said it most probably was. It was as if a missing piece of a jigsaw had just been slotted into place. Within seconds, my doctor was on the phone to a local mental health clinic and had me booked in for an appointment the following week. Covid restrictions had not formally been put in place yet but caution was being applied and doctors were trying to keep numbers down to a minimum if not an emergency. I was not suicidal or anything, I was not considered an emergency so they felt I could wait until the following week to be assessed properly.
My doctor couldn’t sign me off work yet as I had not been officially diagnosed with anything but I could self-certify, so I did. I signed myself off work for a week, which would cover until I got assessed by a mental health worker at my appointment. The days rolled by, I still felt shit… maybe just slightly better as I didn’t have to face work for a few days. I would cheer myself up by escaping into gaming and writing. It was the 6th of March 2020, a Friday, the day of my appointment at the mental health clinic and the covid situation was clearly worsening. Still, no official restrictions had been put in place yet but you could ‘feel’ that something was different, there were fewer people on the streets and anyone you did see would do their best to avoid getting close to you, in case they caught this mysterious killer virus.
I got assessed by a mental health worker, I was asked all sorts of questions. Questions that were different to what my GP asked, far more personal and less general questions. I’m not going to go into great detail here (as not to bore you too much). One question was, was there any history of mental health problems in my family? I had to think for a while but I remembered the time my mom attempted suicide. I was a young teenager at the time and, being completely honest, I was a bit of a cunt. I put my mom through hell doing things that I am deeply ashamed of now. My mom was a single parent and struggled to raise three kids at a time when being a single parent was a serious taboo. The help for single parents was not there like it is today and things were very tough, with my mom often holding down multiple part-time jobs to put food on the table. As an ignorant and selfish prick of a teenager, I never appreciated all of what my mom did at the time. I would act out and be very disobedient, skip school a lot, and worse.
This had a massive negative impact on my mom, who was already struggling. One day, she had enough. She grabbed a big bottle of paracetamol (from the days when you could buy big bottles of paracetamol) and a bottle of Martini and downed the lot. My older brother found her, she was taken to hospital, had her stomach pumped and she survived. Mom was in the hospital for several days, I refused to go and see her. At the time, I felt that if she wanted to kill herself due to how I was, then so be it. As I said, I was a bit of a cunt back then (possibly even depressed?). Anyway, when I told the mental health worker this story, their attitude changed. The questions got even more personal and I was eventually diagnosed with SAD (stress, anxiety and depression). My own acronym for this article and not to be confused with the actual SAD (seasonal affective disorder). The mental health worker got on the phone to my GP there and then and told them to sign me off work for the next two weeks, linking what was going on at work with the dispute over my hours and everything else to my state of mind and general mood.
So that was it, I was officially diagnosed as depressed. There was talk of putting me on mediation but nothing was set in stone as they just wanted to see how the next two weeks went first. I was given loads of pamphlets, phone numbers, like the Samaritans and such, then sent on my way. If I felt seriously low, then I was to call my GP/the mental health clinic immediately. I went home and did nothing much. I tried to connect with my then three-month-old baby boy but I still felt nothing… and that made me feel worse about myself. My two weeks were almost up and I had an appointment booked to be re-assessed at the mental health clinic on the 24th of March and return to work on the 25th if I was deemed okay. But something happened that changed all of that. On the 23rd of March, the UK went into national lockdown due to covid.
I was actually dreading going back to work and being forced to do the hours I could not do. I had all of this formal complaint stuff hanging over my head, the stress and depression were slowly killing me. I was officially diagnosed with SAD and everything was seemingly falling down on top of me. But then, I suddenly didn’t have to go to work. For how long, I didn’t know at the time. Was the lockdown going to last a few days, weeks or more? Boris Johnson said we would beat the virus in twelve weeks. It’s funny looking back as to just how clueless he really was and still is. Anyway, there was this strange mix of emotions going on in my head. Okay, so I didn’t have to go to work for a while but I was still massively depressed. There was a killer virus going around and we were in a full lockdown. We couldn’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary. The streets were deserted and it looked like something from a post-apocalyptic film. That first lockdown was genuinely scary, the virus was still being studied at the time. The news was saying it could be worse than the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 with 50,000,000 dead. There was a lot of uncertainty and fear. I remember one day when my girlfriend hugged me tight and said that she was scared and that scared me. What if we did die, what about the kids? In between feeling like utter shit, I played some games and did more writing, It helped. My mental health specialist even said I should concentrate on something that would occupy my mind, so I did and it really did help too.
You couldn’t move for covid news, it was everywhere and it was always doom and gloom. That first lockdown kept getting extended and it ended up lasting several months before being relaxed with restrictions in place in August. Through those months of that first lockdown, I could not see my GP or go to the mental health clinic. Though I could speak to them over the phone. My complaint at work had to be put on hold because well, there was no work due to the lockdown. Though did have a few Zoom meetings and exchanged many emails with HR just to keep everything ticking over to show that I wasn’t going anywhere.
My mood was seriously low but not being at work made me realise just how much I hated being there. I knew I wanted to leave but not let this whole complaint thing slide. My boss broke employment law by changing my hours without my consent, he put me in a situation I struggled with due to childcare. I had the backing of my HR manager girlfriend and we even sought out proper legal advice via a lawyer too. We had a very strong case and began to build that case against my employer. This, of course, was more and more stress for me to handle. My diagnosed SAD began to seriously kick my arse what with everything going on. I need to talk to my GP and after conversing with the mental health clinic, I was prescribed anti-depressants, Venlafaxine.
It was August and lockdown was ending, my GP signed me off work for a month at the request of the mental health clinic and I got my first batch of medication. One a day for a month to see how I get on. I did was I was told and took the pills and I felt even lower than ever before. I had to tell my GP how bad the medication was making me feel, I was told to stick with it that my mood would eventually balance out, so I did. It was September and I still felt like shit, seriously down, the medication didn’t seem to be working. I reported back to my GP and was prescribed more Venlafaxine. I was told (again) to stick with it and that my mood would even out eventually, so I did and I was signed off work for another month. At this point, I got messages from my boss inquiring about my illness and when I would be coming back to work. Something he was not allowed to do as I had been signed off by my GP who had told me to avoid anything to do with work, info that I had passed into my employer. My boss was being kept in the loop whenever I spoke to my GP and yet, he sent me several messages saying I had to attend a ‘back to work meeting’ and more. It was bordering on harassment. This was something that helped strengthen our legal case against my employer too. I’m pretty sure he didn’t actually want me back, it was more a case of him being left in limbo and not knowing what was going on and just wanted to know if I was coming back or not.
Anyway, it was now October and my Venlafaxine had run out again, I was prescribed more even though it clearly was not working for me. In fact, it was having such an adverse effect on me that suicide entered my mind. I even began researching suicide on the internet (don’t do it folks, it’s seriously fucked up out there). I looked into the most painless way to end my life. I remembered my mom’s attempt from when I was a teenager and thought about doing that, just swallow a load of booze and pills. I planned on visiting several shops and chemists near me to buy as much paracetamol as I could via multiple visits over the course of several days, as we now have restrictions on how much you can buy in one visit. I then decided to look at the side effects of Venlafaxine. There was the usual loss of appetite, dizziness, sweating and so on. But the drug also had some severe side effects such as mania and an increased risk of suicide. Yup, I was taking an anti-depressant that made me even more depressed. It was me doing that bit of research that woke me up. As The Verve said: the drugs don’t work, they just make you worse. I think I was told of the side effects when the Venlafaxine was prescribed to me, I just didn’t listen or my depression made me forget.
So that was it, I had a new prescription of Venlafaxine (see the pic above, my actual medication) but I never took them. Those pills in that pic, dated the 12th of October 2020, were the last ones I had prescribed to me. I didn’t even take a single one, I kept them as a reminder of just how low I got. I stopped the medication myself, against the advice of my GP at the time. But I hadn’t told them about my suicidal thoughts. I’m sure that if I had, they would’ve taken me off the pills immediately anyway. I quit my job in November (even though I was still signed off by my GP), feeling a little better after a month without the medication. My girlfriend went back to work as an HR manager for an international company and I became a stay at home dad as her salary was more than enough to keep a roof over our head. I learned to control my depression myself, the gaming and writing massively helped. The fact I was now a stay at home dad meant my relationship with my son grew from strength to strength. I went from not feeling anything towards my son, to him and me now being inseparable. My work issue, the whole legal case and all, I won. My boss did break employment law and harassed me when I was signed off ill. So I got a nice several grand settlement. It was a very rough few months but I came out of it a better person.
Being diagnosed with SAD really helped in the long run. I look back on certain events and memories of my life and I now realise how I was suffering from depression long before I was diagnosed with it. Still, I had to be diagnosed and go through hell first. Before that diagnosis, I used gaming as a means to escape my (then) undiagnosed depression. It really helped too. One of the reasons I started this blog a few years ago was as a means to combat my depression that I didn’t even know I was suffering from at the time. All I knew was that writing, and writing about games mainly, made me feel a bit better when I was down.
It has been a little over two years since I was diagnosed with SAD in March of 2020, it’s been about a year and a half since I stopped taking the medication. My depression hasn’t gone away, I don’t think it ever will either. It is still there, I have days when it takes over and I feel like shit. Just last week, I had a couple of three days when my depression hit me like ton of bricks. Thankfully, my lass can spot the signs and knows when I may need a little lift. She got her mom to come round and look after the kids while we went out as a couple and had a few hours to ourselves, had a meal, a couple of drinks and a good chat. The depression comes and goes, often without any trigger, it just happens. Sometimes with a trigger, my aunt died of cancer last May and that was a massive test of trying to control my depression. I found solace in compiling her teenage poems into a book for her (royalties go to charity). An example of my writing being used to help keep me a bit more stable.
This is probably why working on the blog has massively increased the over last two years. Why I am doing more and more indie gaming reviews these days. It combines the two major factors that help me control my depression, gaming and writing. Indie publishers and developers really appreciate when their games get reviewed as it gives them a little boost, However, for me, I’m the one getting the boost when I get sent a game to play and review. My reviews may get these guys a sale or two, get their games known to more people but they help me manage my depression too.
Depression can really have an effect on how I perceive a game or even help with my mood too. Take two games that I have reviewed recently, Martha is Dead and CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience, as an example. With Martha, the game’s story deals with some pretty sensitive subjects such as death, depression and even suicide. Playing through that game affected me due to those themes and helped me to cope with my depression a bit more. CHANGE has been the most emotionally effective game I have ever played. Though only a game, playing as a homeless person and failing so many times, made me look at what I do have in my life and appreciate all that I had. The flip side to that is games that help get me out of a depressive funk. Titles with a minimal story but a lot of fun action. HyperParasite’s twin-stick shooting and non-copyright infringing pop culture character references put a massive smile on my face. Or maybe the brilliantly titled Alien Scumbags and its stupidly over the top violence, silly humour, shooty-platform action… and non-copyright infringing pop culture character references. Games really can affect me in many different ways when I’m feeling particularly deflated.
I’ve made several lifestyle changes too. I have massively cut back on the amount of booze I drink. I was a serious drinker at one point. I don’t know if I would say I was an alcoholic but I must’ve been borderline at least. But now? I know we are only in mid-March but I can count on one hand the times I have been out for or stayed in for a drink. Even last week when my girlfriend took us out for a meal when I had a bout of depression, I drank lemonade. I only ever drink on special occasions now, birthdays and the like and even then, I stay sensible with it. Still, Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up (probably today when I publish this) and I do already have some Guinness in ready, I think it is the law or something. Even so, I can still count my drinking sessions for this year on one hand. Alcohol is a depressant after all and cutting back as I have really seems to have helped out a lot.
I also now go to bed at a reasonable time. I used to stay up until 4 in the morning quite regularly, then I’d have to be up a 7 to get the kids ready for school. I’d then blame my tiredness on my depression and my depression on my tiredness. Now, I got to bed around 11 or 12 and try to get a good 7 hours of sleep. Routine is the key and sticking to it is even more important. Little changes in my life have helped to make me feel better, helped me manage my depression. And then there is gaming and writing, this has become my new medication, my Venlafaxine without the side effects and suicidal thoughts.
I honestly don’t really know what the point of me writing all of this was. I know it helped me to understand my depression a bit more. For me, writing works better than medication ever did. Look, if anyone out there is suffering from depression, especially us men as we act like this shit doesn’t affect us, speak to someone. Me going to my GP was the point where my life changed as being diagnosed with depression helped me to understand. It got worse before it got better, I admit… but it did get better. Crying is okay, talking about it is another option. If you are feeling down and depressed, concentrate on something that makes you feel better. For me, it is gaming and writing. The depression may never go away completely but you can control it.
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