Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Winston Churchill called depression ‘The Black Dog’, inspiring Sally Brampton to call her book about depression ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’

When the Black Dog bites…

The news of Sally Brampton’s death earlier this month came as a shock to her many friends in Hastings, and many, many more people who only knew her through her journalism. Sally often wrote about depression because she knew about it first hand. Below, Cllr Robert Cooke, Deputy Leader Conservative Group and Councillor for Ashdown Ward writes about his experience of depression.

I have been a Borough Councillor for 14 years, in that time I have held a portfolio running a department, led my group for two years and until recently I was the deputy leader of my group. I have a full time job, a wife and two children who are my rock. To the outside world I am healthy and well adjusted. I have also suffered with depression now for around six years and decided that it was time to speak out about a subject that is all too often taboo – until it is too late.

It is only right to start too at the beginning to get a feel of the picture. As a child I was very laid back, in fact my family used to joke if I was any more laid back I would be horizontal. Over my teenage years and early 20s this seemed to change and I cannot deny that I was signed off with what I now believe was misdiagnosed short term stress, I don’t blame the doctors for this, I blame myself and my refusal to accept that perhaps something more serious was amiss. I was offered counselling, medication but said no. Why? For fear of being seen as weak.

Between the ages of 28–33 I had a good spell with very few problems but as I approached the election in 2012 it became clear there were issues, I was not sleeping and, as someone who has always slept this was pretty concerning, I ignored it and put it down to getting older. I was prone to what my wife calls periods of the ‘sullens’ where I would withdraw and not talk to anyone, I began to hate being in crowded rooms or dealing with people, I was making mistakes at work and missing constituent queries and emails, something I had always prided myself on dealing with well. I suffered from terrible bouts of stomach upsets, every mistake was magnified a 1000 times, I lost my self esteem and confidence and by July 2012 I found myself bursting into tears and unable to leave the house for work. Clearly I had to do something.

My Doctor gave me an anti-depressant and my work place were fantastic referring me to a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) who taught me about the illness. I learnt to meditate and have safe places where I could go in my mind to be calm. I would recommend to anyone suffering from depression to look up mindfulness – a fantastic meditation technique that really helps. I was taught about the downward spiral of negative thoughts and how not to accept them but instead to question myself on whether I was being fair on myself e.g. “it’s all my fault, everything always goes wrong for me”, I had to ask myself, “is it really my fault? What evidence is there?”.

Bit by bit I managed to pull myself out of a pit of despair, my confidence began to return, I began to sleep (a pastime I had truly missed!).

To this day, I have only had one bout of depression since, but I am in the main now stable. Depression is not something you ever get over, but with the right help it becomes something you can deal with, I still take the anti-depressant and I still use the meditation, one of the things I have learnt is to recognise when I am getting stressed or beginning to feel depressed, strangely this gives you an immediate boost because you have spotted it before it becomes a bigger problem. But perhaps most important of all I have accepted that it is not a weakness or something to hide, it is just a problem like anything else that needs to be dealt with and managed.

If this article helps one person it will have been worth writing. For anyone out there suffering with depression or similar mental illnesses I want to finish by saying something a very good friend of mine said recently – “Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of being strong for too long” how very true that it is.

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Posted 17:47 Wednesday, May 25, 2016 In: Health Matters

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