I first became aware I was suffering with depression in 2014. After several flare ups of my ulcerative colitis (with complications such as shingles and sepsis), each time after it looked like I was finally improving I got ill again, and began to get more anxious about my health leading to depression. In the words of my doctor “if someone throws enough snowballs at you, eventually they start hitting you”. After a colectomy in 2015, which led to me contacting sepsis and nearly dying, followed by my father passing away whilst I was still in hospital, I began to suffer quite badly at times.
With hindsight, I think I’d always had a degree of anxiety – always wanting to do well at school, home, work and in my sporting activities, to gain praise and acceptance and to progress at work. After several setbacks in all areas of my life, I think the fear of failure gripped me on a number of occasions which in turn led to anxiety.
What was it like suffering? I felt largely helpless and drained. I needed to keep myself occupied with all manner of jobs to stop my mind racing, yet felt like I had no energy or inclination to do anything. It seemed that I had no future prospects or any chance to progress – be that in my home, work or sporting life, let alone with my health. I didn’t want to leave any of my family members in case I didn’t see them again – probably subconsciously from having seen my Dad on my last day on the ICU ward, which I didn’t realise at the time would be the last time I would ever see him again. I worried about my own mortality, and leaving those who I love the most without me. Sudden changes of routine or plans, loud noises and untidiness in the house really got me up tight, resulting in mood swings and feeling absolutely worthless. On some occasions I would be shaking and crying in my car on the way to work, or in the car park outside as I didn’t think I could face the day ahead.
My recovery was slow – and realistically is still going on. Amongst the things that helped me were exercise and fresh air. Initially as I continued my recovery from surgery this took the form of walking, gardening or taking the dog out for a walk. As I progressed, I worked on the exercise bike and started cricket nets with the (some said ridiculous) aim of being fit for the first game of the season – nine months after major surgery, eight months after getting out of ICU and seven months after leaving hospital. I initially found that setting small, achievable goals (things so straightforward as making my own lunch or going for a walk each day) helped, as did talking to people to express how I felt. I was fortunate enough to have some incredibly supportive family and friends, in particular my fiancée Abby and brother Rob who helped immensely. Two counselling sessions with the ICU team made me realise that what I was feeling wasn’t to be unexpected, and helped me deal with things when I have a bad day, by finding ways to help me calm down.
Finally, my recovery was helped by having a big target. I’d promised myself that I would be able to play in the first game of the cricket season. I even went to the lengths of having a “countdown” on the back of one of the cupboard doors at home of the number of days left until the season started. I made the first game of the season (in our fourth team having been a regular first teamer for a number of years), and although playing largely from memory I was fortunate enough to make an unbeaten half century as we won the game comfortably, which provided me with a great sense of achievement.
My message to anyone suffering would be to not give up. Talk to people – professionals, family, friends – there is always someone willing to listen. There will be bad days and weeks, but they pass. Have a goal, take small steps, and find something that you enjoy doing that helps you relax – for me things like exercise, reading, gardening, cooking, writing, walking and playing sport have all helped. I’ve made new friends as a result of everything I’ve been through, and it’s actually created opportunities for me that wouldn’t have been possible before.
Never give up!