Archive for category Personal

Thankyou for listening

10476399_10100915509179671_9088546730157656764_nA few years ago I was invited to become a regular part of Better Nation, at a time when it was the only blog in Scottish politics that did not exist entirely to massage one person’s ego or to cheer-lead religiously for a particular political party. It was something I was happy to do, but all things run their course.

This year has seen the independence referendum and much else, but on a more personal level I have finished my PhD and have now turned back to doing what I really enjoy, writing foreign and cultural journalism. I’m also writing a book, which all being well should appear this summer. What’s inside will be familiar to anyone who has read my Better Nation posts, and there are some other interesting projects in the pipeline to do with Scotland’s growing new media. I have also been reminded that taking an obsessive view of Scottish politics leaves little time for reading books and climbing mountains, which are the essentials of a fulfilling life as far as I am concerned.

Scotland is a much more complex place than anyone would really care to admit, and what needs to happen now in reflecting that cannot come in the form of a blog, however well intentioned its authors might be. I have never been the kind of person to salivate over polls or write insight pieces just to cultivate my own sense of performative hackery, and I can’t sincerely stand up and try and pass off my personal beliefs as being particularly valid compared to the general population. Politics is interesting, and important, because it ultimately impacts on people. As a game in itself though it is often no better than navel gazing. There’s more fun and good to be had in writing about life than about Holyrood.

There are still things to be written, not least over at the Scottish Review and The Conversation, but not here any more. You can just about feel the spring in Stockholm, and that makes me think it is time to go.


The Black Dog on My Shoulder

A fair few people found Malc‘s last blogpost about depression pretty helpful. Here’s a wee followup. Thanks Malc!

malc-bigFive weeks ago I decided to write about my battle with depression in this article.  Five weeks later, I thought I’d write an update, hoping that I’d be in a better place.  In truth, that was probably a failure in expectation – a fairly common experience in this journey I think.

The slight increase in medication didn’t really do anything for me for the first three weeks.  I had a couple of pretty bad episodes.

The first, I was away at a conference in Berlin.  At times I felt really good – I’m contributing a book chapter to an edited volume and we were discussing the theoretical framework, methodological issues and themes which would tie the chapters together.  Oftentimes this feels a bit out of reach for me, but I genuinely felt like I belonged in the discussion, which is progress.  On the other hand – the lack of familiarity, the vulnerability of not being able to speak the language and the distance from home comforts took their toll.  I opted out of the conference dinner to go for a walk then head to bed early, feeling better in my own company and not trusting myself to hold interesting conversations with the other participants.  The following morning it took me 40 minutes to get myself roused and out of bed – and I was presenting during the morning session that day.

The second, I was at home.  And I just couldn’t get out of bed.  Trying to explain this to someone who doesn’t have depression is pretty difficult.  I guess it’s like if you break a vertebrae or something – you physically can’t get out of bed.  Depression is (I suppose) like a chemical imbalance which has the same effect – part of your brain is screaming its desire to move, your body reacts to the other part of your brain which just says “no”.  There was no specific trigger, no reason that I was more “depressed” this day than others – I just couldn’t get out of bed.

That was around 2 weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve had some pretty tight deadlines for work, as well as a bout of the winter vomiting bug to contend with, which didn’t really help matters, but when those things were out of the way, I did feel that my shoulders were just a little lighter.  That said, I’ve had some “down” time – needing to sleep more than I should, feeling pretty run down and irritable – with good times that I have enjoyed being followed by pretty low lows.

There is no overnight cure for depression, I realise that.  Medication is part of it, and it’s a long-term treatment.    Support – from family, friends and fellow-sufferers is also a big help.  I can’t begin to thank those around me – and those who are not even that close to me, but who got in touch to say “me too”; to offer advice on how to deal with it; to set up a private support network of open ears.

So, again, this isn’t about my writing to help myself – though it does a bit of that.  It’s about helping others to identify a problem within, and to seek help.  Writing works for me, and so too does personal reflection: I’ve recently realised that I put too much pressure on myself, and have incredibly high expectations both for myself and events around me which are difficult to meet – with the result that when I don’t always succeed, my mood shifts downwards.  This is not something that I can fix quickly either, but it is something I need to be aware of, and try to deal with better.

Getting a bit philosophical now, but perhaps that’s the biggest thing for depression sufferers: the self-awareness to recognise a problem, and to take action to deal with it.  So yes: that’s what this is about – identifying issues and taking steps to address them.  I’m more hopeful of progress on some days than others, but I think the fact I’m thinking about this and I’m aware of the problem is a reflection that some form of fixing is happening.  So, I guess that’s something.


De-pressing depression: a personal reflection

A brave and very personal guest post from Malc Harvey, one of the original founding team of this blog. Thanks Malc!

MalcTaking a leaf out of the book of John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow and Furness (ironically, part of the world where I visited on holiday last week – lovely views, shame about the weather) I’m just going to come out and say this:

I have depression, and I’m dealing with it.

I write this not for sympathy or support, but for myself and for others who suffer from the same condition.  I’ve been struggling with this for a reasonable length of time in private and I’ve found writing about it, and being open and honest about it in public, has been usefully cathartic for me.  Much as everyone experiences depression in different ways, so too solutions present themselves differently. While this works for me, it wouldn’t work for everyone, but other things which do work for others – like CBT, or talking through things with a specialist – don’t appear to be things which would work for me.

If this sounds a bit confused, that’s because there’s nothing about this that isn’t.

Why am I depressed?  In the last 18 months I have (in no particular order): become a dad, defended my thesis, started a new job, co-authored and published a book, published chapters in other books, taken research trips in some of Europe’s fine capital cities, moved house, bought a house, appeared on live TV and radio around the referendum, and run a marathon.  In 18 months.  Sure, not all of it has been easy, but that’s a lot of successful stuff to be noting – a lot of milestones reached, a lot of bucket-list things ticked off.  So why so sad?

If you’re asking that question, you’re falling into the same trap as I did.  Depression isn’t about success or failure (though, in some cases, it can be).  It just is.  It just happens.  What is important is to recognise it – not to bury your head in the sand and ignore it – and tackle it head on.  I’ve spent a lot of (what I realise now to be wasted) time trying to figure out why I’m depressed.  There’s been no trigger, no trauma, no crisis.  I just am.  And that’s partly where the frustration lies.

The thing is, it took me ages to identify it too.  I was irritable, lethargic and eating more than I usually would.  I overslept and grabbed naps in the afternoons at my desk.  I obsessively checked my emails, Facebook and Twitter feeds for replies, even though my phone would provide an indication of a new interaction.  Something wasn’t right, but I was just ignoring it.  Then, a turning point came, and it wasn’t anything that happened in my immediate vicinity.  Someone who made their life about making others laugh succumbed to depression and took his own life.  I’ve always tried to bring the fun, whether I’m working, playing or whatever, and the realisation that someone as brilliantly funny and (seemingly) with a heart full of laughter could suffer from such a deep depression really hammered home to me that something wasn’t right in my own head.  And so, to the GP I went.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for a couple of months now.  At the start, they had limited effect – they take some time to absorb into your system, and for a while, the side-effects are pretty gruesome.  But after a while, they seemed to have a pretty decent go at making me feel better about myself – I got through referendum night with a buzz of adrenaline, and a similar thing kept me going at the Loch Ness Marathon 10 days later, in spite of the depression limiting the training I’d endured.  But in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a few more bad days – lethargy returning, concentration slipping, irritability increasing.  Not quite back to square one, but a reassessment required.  Another GP appointment to discuss options, and a slight increase in medication dosage.  We’ll see how that goes, but I’m positive at least about doing something to help myself improve.

In the meantime, support from family and friends has been incredible.  I “came out” about my depression in the wake of finishing the marathon last month.  On Sunday, I reflected upon the support I’d had, and thanked those who’d helped.  Privately, I got no fewer than 10 emails and phone calls saying “I’ve been through/ am going through similar things, I’m really not ready to share it publicly, but I wanted you to know that you’re not alone, and you can talk to me about it if you want”.  There remains a stigma attached to mental health issues which slightly baffles me.  If you break your arm, you get medical attention – a cast for support, medication and time tend to fix the break.  Depression should be seen in a similar light – and treated in the same way: support, medication and time.  It isn’t – it’s seen as a personal weakness and it really shouldn’t be.  It’s time we fixed that, and much work is being done in this area at the moment.

So yes – this is cathartic for me to write, but if it also helps others who experience similar things, I’m glad.  I’ve found writing and talking helps, and on good days I’m happy to do more of it.  On bad days, however, I need a bit more help.  Hopefully though, there will be fewer of those in the near future.