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Alcoholism, Depression and Mental Health - Let's Get Talking

“If one of my friends committed suicide, I would have no sympathy for them. I would possibly not even attend their funeral. Suicide is the ultimate cop-out.”

One of my greatest friends spoke these words to me when we were having a natural conversation two or three years ago. I cannot remember how the subject arose, knowing nobody suicidal at the time, but his strong stance resonated with me, almost making me ashamed to recall how I had such thoughts a couple of years previous. I didn't truly understand mental health issues myself at the time so was inclined to agree with his strong sentiments.

Today this blog returns to Steve. I hoped I wouldn't need to return to speaking of alcoholism again on a blog that promotes the drinking of fine beverages, but it is an inevitable occurrence. For those of you who have not read my two previous posts regarding this man, Steve (not his real name) is somebody very close to me who is an alcoholic and who I am involved strongly in the impact it has had to his wife, family and friends. I spoke of the subject first last year, believing we needed to address the issues of alcoholism and called on him again with regards to detrimental radio comments about Paul Gascoigne’s family. After hoping to never speak on him again, Steve brings me home again once more after a traumatic Christmas period.

Steve spent the entire Christmas period, long into New Year, in hospital after his biggest alcoholic relapse yet that nearly claimed his life. The embarrassing nature of his behaviour added insult to major injury to a concerned family, though it is perhaps inappropriate of me to divulge such details here. Let us compromise by saying that nothing I have written about previously compares to the period spent over those weeks and the impact on close relatives, close friends and… me.

Steve’s continued illness is something that affects me greatly and those who are particularly close to me know its importance and impairment. They see the heartache, anguish and inurement we face yet how often do you think I am asked about Steve’s state and progression? The truth is alcoholism is still avoided as a disturbing elephant-in-the-room illness that people find unapproachable. Had Steve been a long sufferer of cancer, I am sure people would routinely ask me how he is getting along, but because of the nature of his problems it is avoided, often to my dismay. I can understand and do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When an alcoholic is concerned and you are asking the question with an alcoholic drink in your hand whilst stood in a pub, the very nature of the encounter is cringe-worthy for all present.

That said, I still long for it not be so. I have been told enough times during Steve’s recoveries and relapses that alcoholism is a mental health issue and mainly cognitive based. When put in those terms, you are reminded of mental health advertisements from the past that have encouraged us to “get talking” and this is the same. I do not need to remind people of the inner torment I have suffered through Steve’s seven years plus of alcohol abuse, as to do so would shy away from his own problems but…

When an alcoholic bleeds, those closest to him open up life threatening wounds.

What Steve’s plight isn't telling you is the impact it is having on those around them; this time, unfortunately, on myself specifically.

My ongoing internal war with anxiety and borderline depression began to be lost in the last 2-3 months. Numerous big life events, including Steve’s closest stroke with death, impacted me as much as they've threatened to do for some time. I hadn't realised it immediately, having spent years being the face of emotional strength to many, but I was surprised to find a huge increase in my panic attacks, a sudden striking fear to be behind the wheel of a car and a passion explosion that led to over analysis of everything those closest to me said and did.  Not everyone will know medical depression until they've experienced it but you will know when you are suffering. By mid-February this year a final battle seemed to be war decisive. I explored how I could end my own life. I didn't raise the white flag, so much as sobbed into it then formed a noose from the tear sodden rags.

Depression is another mental health issue that people are afraid of – or worse dismissive of. The fact my treatment for anxiety occurs at a Mental Health hospital should be explanation enough for all but still most don’t view it as a “real illness.” The friend quoted at the beginning of this blog remains one of my closest friends, but do you think I told him what has been going through my head recently? I was afraid of what he would think of me as a man/human if I told him that I couldn't last another round in this fight; that the towel had always been in my hand just waiting to be released.

It was difficult enough to explain to my friend that I'd had a panic attack in his house because I couldn't decide where I should put my coffee down.

I am writing this today so that I am hidden no more. This time, the entire world will have access to the truth.
Is a blog celebrating beer the right stage for this outpouring of veracity and admittance? Yes, as my ongoing problems have been impacted by my relationship with alcohol. I'm already somebody who drinks more than most of my peers, though I can firmly say without excuse that this is due to my unusual hobby. This causes due diligence, however, when faced with depression, as the initial reaction is to hit the beer a little harder than normal. How does one with such passion and enjoyment from alcoholic drinks stop themselves becoming the next Steve?

As I've struggled through the past weeks my beer intake has tripled. It should be cause for alarm as I convince myself that I've no chance of sleep without a few beers in me. Arriving to play football on a Monday night fuelled by four pints is more than questionable. I may gain enjoyment from beer, but when one is depressed is that enjoyment replaced by necessity?

All I can say is that I've been saved by the company of others – the best known remedy for depression. When I considered taking my own life I found a good network of very close friends who took it upon themselves to keep me alive; whether it was through company or having somebody to talk to. I was convinced and overwhelmed by responses that did their best to convince me that the end of my existence would be a great loss to many. Though recovery will still take a long time, the act of reaching out and finding a few open hands has eased the pain for now. People are doing what they can. Some that I loved have shown that they are not prepared to join in my fight and have walked away. I don’t criticise or resent them. It is not easy to be the carrier of another’s bindle. I am thankful for those that will bear the cross.

I am not sat alone drinking bottles of vodka. Even my bottle stash has not been touched for weeks (until this evening whilst writing this post – I've missed entering my hoard.) I am drinking more simply out of social occasion. People are dragging me out of the house or to social events to keep me company and this is the reason for my greater alcohol intake, but also the reason I am still here. As long as I am around others who are looking after me, I do not fear being another Steve.

But buried beneath that is the selfish realisation that maybe somebody should question my current drinking and should say to me “Don’t drown your sorrows in the manner that you are.” Still nobody wants to suggest that I might be suffering. Still nobody wants to question my extra rosy cheeks. Still nobody is actually asking what has made me feel so low.

And still nobody has asked about Steve…

The subject remains unapproachable even if I, as a person, do not. People know I'm mentally unwell but do not wish to speak on that. We remain in a culture where anything uncomfortable is avoided. It has long been the British way.

I implore all of us, especially those within the beer community, to speak up, to not be afraid to talk about the shadow of our culture. There are people out there fighting a continuous internal battle that is constantly on its final wave of attack. I spoke in my final post on Steve how I felt other drinking friends of his or pub landlords could do more to help his plight, but they are afraid to admit that one of their soldiers is lost and should be handed his leave, rather than encouraged to pick up the gun again. Why shouldn't we approach it? If Steve had heart problems and was seen buying a 24 pack of Red Bull, would you be so afraid to question him then?

For those that you know suffer with anxiety and depression – drop them a text this evening, take them to the cinema, go round to their house, buy them a bunch of flowers. Do not be afraid – or selfish – to be the one to listen to the problems; to be the literal shoulder to cry on. Let’s get talking because there are lives to save. You may not think my life is worth saving as you read this but there is, thankfully, enough who do. Sometimes all it takes is being reminded of that.

Every human life is worth saving. You are not better than the next man. 


Kiran said…
Honest, brave and beautifully written. The hugest respect and love to you xxx
Unknown said…
I agree with what Kiran said, very well written, quite refreshing to read someone else's inner monologue when dealing with depression.

I find that because of the social stigma associated with depression (and any mental illness) it is very difficult to actually discuss depression and anxiety in real life. Which can compound the feelings of being alone, and make any serious depressive cycle even worse. From the perspective of someone dealing with the depression or anxiety, there is also the worry that you are either boring the person you are talking to by telling them your problems (is this an instilled British thing?) or even burdening them your problems.

All of these things, for me, mean that when I am going down, I start to regress even more. Not wanting to bother people, or bore them. All the problems are mine, and mine alone.

One of the most difficult things I ever did was actually realising that what I was going through was actually a problem that required attention and help, and the only way I was able to do this was with the help of a supportive partner. I still had difficulty talking about this, even to her. But she pushed me to go and seek support and help.

For me there is one thing I need to remember, which is something I still have difficulty believing when I am on a down cycle, and that is to believe and know that I am not alone when dealing with any of my problems.

Good luck man dealing with this, and thanks for writing it.
Unknown said…
Alcoholism is a tough thing to deal with, and sometimes a sensitive topic to talk about. Tact and sensibility are prerequisite in confronting the matter, as well as information about its effects and its biochemical consequences.

Environmental Diseases
Unknown said…
This is an intresting blog that you have posted, you shares a lot of things about Depression,Online CounsellingHarley Street Psychotherapy.
Which are very informative for us.Thanks

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