A special guest blog by Luke Maxted…
Last week I read a blog featured by Sorted (a Christian men’s magazine) which was a response to the tragic death of Gary Speed. It commented on the way in which men deal with their emotions, on the fact that men are now apparently more likely than women to commit suicide. In England and Wales a man under 35 is more likely to die at his own hands than any other cause. The blog cited most men’s inability to share in times of struggle as a major factor in this statistic.
In many ways I’m one of those men.
I’ve never been good at telling people how I feel. I very rarely admit to finding life difficult, but I am learning. I don’t have many pretensions about what a man should or shouldn’t do/say/feel so please don’t chalk it up to an ill conceived notion of masculinity. I just find it hard.
In finding it hard, however, there feels some value in trying. The piece by Sorted made me wonder if my sharing here may allow those who suffer from depression to feel that they might be able to share with someone. Maybe just talking about mental health might allow for some of us to know that it is ok to talk about. Please don’t misunderstand this as a cry for help, thanks to a loving wife, good friends and a gracious God I have that. I just hope that some honesty might allow for conversation.
Today has not been a good day, that’s possibly what made today the day to write. I got up this morning and managed to read a few chapters of various books, made a few hundred words of notes, but this afternoon has been a write off. I’ve tried different things, I went for a walk, changed topic, read a different book but all I can really feel is a deep sadness. The frustrating thing is that I can’t work out when I first came to feel this way.
My earliest memory is being 4 years old and sitting in my room, hitting my head on a wall telling myself that I wasn’t good at anything. My Dad wondered what the noise was and found me in tears, convincing myself of my idiocy.
When I was 9 I wrote a letter explaining how worthless I was and that I would never succeed in life. That letter became a key part of me going to a Christian secondary school; my parents wanted to make sure that I went to a school which had the value of each individual as a core part of its ethos.
There was no dramatic event that started this. I grew up very loved, with supportive parents, caring siblings and a stable environment.
As a teenager my depression got worse. I was considered ‘bright but dark’ by most people at my school. I used to panic on my way to school, the anxiety would make me feel sick and I would go home. My teachers told me that it was ok, that things would improve when I took my A-levels, that success would follow because more challenging work would help my self esteem.
Sixth form (age 16-18) was, unfortunately, even worse. I was warned by the head of the college that I was at risk of being expelled because of my poor attendance. The modules that I enjoyed were fine, I got ‘A’s for those. The same was true for exams on days that I felt happier, but on days where I felt low I would get ‘D’s or ‘U’s (ungraded).
Finally I went to university. Whilst I was studying Philosophy in Manchester my best friend died. Emily was 19 when she finally succumbed to Leukaemia. The moment I heard I was torn apart. A week later I was informed that I had failed my first year of my BA because, despite getting very high marks for the work I submitted, I had not submitted 7 essays and thus could not pass the course. I repeated the year, took my Certificate of Higher Education and left.
My time at London School of Theology marked a huge change. Surrounded by friends, given a good routine and encouraged by the faculty I succeeded and graduated with an Upper Second Class degree. I was the student body Academic Representative and won an award for my contribution to the community. That’s not to say that it wasn’t hard. During my second year I had a recurring nightmare in which I was stabbed repeatedly in the neck. The anniversaries of Emily’s death and her birthday were a huge challenge. Some days I didn’t get out of bed at all. Yet there has most definitely been an upward curve.
People often tell me that depression is only a temporary thing, it stems from an event and will pass if you do the right things. So far the temporary thing has lasted approximately 20 years and counting. I can’t pinpoint where it could have come from. As for doing the right things: I eat well, have corrected my sleeping habits, I go to the gym about 3 times a week. I still struggle though.
Some days are good, some are not. Through prayer, good habits and the support of those around me the good days are starting to outnumber the bad.
My hope in sharing is that those who read this who, like me, suffer from depression will know that to share is not weakness. Please be encouraged that you are not alone, not in how you feel, nor when you come to deal with it.
My project in my final year at LST was a 10,000 word piece on Ecclesiastes. I did not do as well on it as I had hoped when my marks came back, but the opportunity to wrestle with the themes of the text and with my own experiences was invaluable. My closing paragraph of the piece said this:
‘Life is, as it was and shall always be, fleeting, a mere whisper of a beautiful secret that if clasped too tightly will slip away. Those who strive after it may as well chase the wind (1:14), yet for those who seek a full life, in partnership with another (4:9-10, 9:7-9) or in the fullness of one’s heart (11:9) life might be found. As Krüger writes: ‘In view of death and the uncertainties of life, wisdom leads people to seize possibilities for pleasure and enjoyment in the present, as well as opportunities to act’1 Thus we conclude here, then, as Fox begins, a reading of the work of Qohelet in which ‘he maintains a faith in God’s rule and fundamental justness, and he looks for ways to create a meaningful life in a world where so much is senseless.’2 For, in spite of all of that which may come to pass and that will pass away, ‘life is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun’ (11:7).
Fox, Michael V., The JPS Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastesקהלת, Philadelphia:The Jewish Publication Society, 2004.
Krüger, Thomas, Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible: Qoheleth, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004.