It has taken me four goes to write this sentence.
Depression is quite a difficult thing to get down in print. Not because it is stigmatised, which increasingly it is not. It just hits people in different ways at different times.
We don't all hit the bottle like Phil Mitchell, or go all Tommy Tiernan on the back of the bus.
Turning the muddle and incoherence into the words you see requires more of a 'run-up' than when you are feeling yourself. By its very nature, depression is your brain working against you, and you almost disassociate from the 'you' that you recognise.
The thoughts can be tricky to describe without feeling like it's a 'woe-is-me' monologue, designed to get attention. It's definitely not that. I mean it is that, because otherwise I wouldn't have looked to publish it here, but it is because getting it down here feels cathartic. A problem shared, and all that.
Just to get the 'me' bit out of the way: Of late, I've found that I wake up - generally quite late due to working the same - with a feeling like my brain is encased in lemonade. I'm fairly sure I've nicked that from somewhere, but it feels like the best explanation for a feeling of sluggishness and numbness that takes a shower and a coffee to somewhat equalise. You know you're in bad shape when you start empathising with those wanky 'comedy' coffee mugs.
The problems occur when the usual mitigation of exercise and regular sleep don't get rid of the lethargy. There is good tired and bad tired, as we all know.
What is strange is that I have started to notice in friends of mine aspects that I would see as low mood, veering toward clinically-so. At Off The Ball, the majority of our listeners - and I could be held under the Official Secrets Act here - are men largely between the ages of 25-50. That is not exclusive, and we do our level best every day to improve the stories that we are telling, while widening the group that we are telling them to.
But the reason it is relevant is that this will likely be read by people that might feel close to slipping out of touch for a variety of reasons, specific to their physical, mental and social situations.
The statistics are grimly interesting: women in Ireland are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, while men are three times as likely to take their own life as women as a result of depression. Hopefully it goes without saying that depression knows no gender - suicide rates were up 19% last year, pre-pandemic - but it appears that the voices that call out for help are largely female.
David Foster Wallace
By way of illustration, I found author David Foster Wallace's description of that level of desperation to be the most powerful. I pictured the protagonist as a man, due to the stats and the author's ultimate demise, but it is universally-applicable:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.
"Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant.
"The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
In my case, I have never felt anywhere close to that; nor do I feel that way now. But the point is that silence can kill.
Depression is insidious, partly because comparison to others is inevitable but unhelpful. You can look at others in situations deemed objectively to be worse than your own, and see people muddling through. But the monologue inside one's head is usually very different to the dialogue aloud, and it might just be that any one of us needs help but can't find the words. For me, it was helpful to hear a colleague mention their experience, in passing, on air last week.
To reiterate, I know that this is not a male-only situation, but the tendency is - as the statistics reveal - a relative unwillingness among men to seek help. We live in a world where talk about mental health is so ubiquitous as to become almost self-parodying, but there is often more heat than light.
The seeming reality is that women hold their hands up more and ask for help. It might be due to unspoken social dynamics, or many other reasons besides, but women are empirically better than men at grabbing the hand held out in assistance.
Depression in men
At OTB Sports, I am proud every day to work with a talented, hard-working and collegiate team. We don't take things for granted when we put our work into the public domain; we scrutinise each story, how we can approach things and how to do justice to our contributors' - and our - work.
But the longer I work here, and the more contact we have with listeners and a wider range of contributors, the more I cherish that what we do has an impact. The stories that we have covered with male contributors that have resonated most with male listeners have involved the deaths of children, overcoming bullying as a child and as an adult, the depths of low mood and many other subjects besides.
To me, the reason that these are all the more jarring is that discussing these issues is still rare among men, particularly men of a certain age, despite campaigns encouraging people to talk. I hope that doesn't come across as a crass cliché; it is to say that as men we need to begin checking in with friends, family and colleagues when we see vulnerable traits that we recognise in ourselves at low tide.
In that vein, I would like to offer what support I can to anyone who just wants to talk. Disclaimer: I have absolutely zero psychological expertise and almost zero expertise in any other area. But if you feel like you can't talk, then get in touch by email or Twitter. Naturally, the more obvious route would be one of the many mental health charities.
But keeping it bottled up reminds me of Homer Simpson in the tar pit:
I feel a lot lighter for having got this down, and this sentence - thankfully - only took one go.