Stephen Fry on Depression: this statement is 100% correct

I posted a photo to my twitter account yesterday that attached a photo off Stephen Fry with this quote of his:

“If you know someone who is depressed, please resolve never to ask them why.  Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. 


Try to understand the blackness, the lethargy, the hopelessness and loneliness they are going through.  Be there for them when they come through the other side.  It’s hard to be a friend to someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.”

Stephen Fry has absolutely nailed this quote.  He is 100% correct.  

Reading made me think about my friends, few though they are, and made me realise that I probably have not, and arguably will never be able to, thank them enough for just being my friends.  I know, at times I can be difficult to be around but my friends, the true ones, have stuck by me on this journey living with depression. 

Simply: thank you for being my friends (you know who you are).  If you know someone who is depressed: please follow Mr Fry’s advice.  I promise you will not regret it! 

Kudos Darius, Kudos: Both for seeking help and speaking up

I have read with interest the Sunday Mail (there are words I never ever thought I would say on this blog or any other forum) article today about Darius Boyd and his battle with depression (link here: ).  It is a quality article about a long misunderstood rugby league player.

There is one quote that really resonated with me:

“I felt a sense of relief because I just needed to do something. I didn’t want to keep going the way I was going.’’

It is so true that the hardest step to getting diagnosed and treatment for a mental illness is to actually do something about it yourself.  The relief that Boyd speaks of and the realisation that he did not want to keep going the way he was going is something I am sure that many sufferers who have gotten help have felt.  I know I certainly did.

I salute Darius Boyd for having the insight to realise that he needed help, for getting that help and for having the courage to speak out about his condition.

In a week where we have lost the Elvis of our generation in the form of Robin Williams it is important that sufferers realise that they can seek help and they can succeed after diagnosis.  Darius Boyd’s honesty, I hope, will play a small part in that realisation.

Kudos Darius, Kudos!

Vale Robin Williams

I, like many people around the world, am saddened by the passing of Robin Williams earlier today.  Mr William’s death is being reported as an alleged suicide.

Robin Williams was one of the comedians who dominated my viewing during my childhood and continues to this day to make me laugh until my sides hurt.  Mork and Mindy repeats were a staple in the Humphreys household during my childhood and from Good Morning Vietnam through to the Birdcage and many movies in between and since Williams’ supreme talent and ability to make people laugh he put a smile on my face and filled my heart with joy.

As a fan of many stand up comedians and having watched or seen live a number of stand up performances I have never had the privilege of watching a funnier stand up performance (on DVD or live) than that that Mr Williams produced in his Weapons of Mass Destruction tour in 2008.  If you have never seen this performance then stop what you are doing, find it and watch it now.

There will be many statements made about Williams’ best movies: I have a smokey to put in the mix for that discussion.  I rate Mr Williams’ performance in “The Big White” to one of the best performances I have seen by him in what was a very dark comedy.  Again: if you have not seen it check it out.

It has been stated in the formal statements about Williams’ passing that he was suffering from depression at the time of his passing.  I am not a fan of the statement “if something good can come out of his passing, then …” but I will say that Mr Williams’ passing again puts a spotlight on the fact that the insidious disease that is depression can strike anyone at any time.  That spotlight, if a “good” is to come from Mr Williams’ passing it is it, I hope, will help other sufferers step forward and seek assistance.

Goodnight and Goodbye Robin Williams: thank you for making us laugh, smile and, at times, cry.  I hope your pain is now at an end.

Living with Depression and Anxiety: some lessons learned

I have had the privilege of mentoring a group of students at Corinda State High School this year as part of the High Resolves Leadership program.  The group of students I have been working chose Mental Health Awareness as their project focus, specifically community awareness of depression and anxiety.  Yesterday I was honoured to be the guest speaker for their school wide awareness session.  I was asked to speak about my journey dealing with depression and anxiety.  I thought I would share my speech here as well:

Thank you for that introduction and I would like to thank the Grade 10 High Resolves group for inviting me to speak to you all today.   I am honored to speak to you on what is a very important topic and one that I am particularly passionate about.

The ideology of Project SMILE is to enhance your awareness of one of the most significant issues in society today: mental health and, particularly, dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that this issue is so important is obvious from the statistics that surround the suffering of these conditions.

Here are some of those statistics:

  • One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime.
  • Depression has the third highest burden of all diseases in Australia. Burden of disease refers to the total impact of a disease measured by financial costs, mortality, morbidity and other indicators.
  • Depression is the number one cause of non-fatal disability in Australia.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the number one health concern in both the developed and developing nations by 2030.

So I think it would be fair to say that depression, and its related disorder, anxiety are shockingly prevalent in society.

I did not come to speak to you today though to bombard you with statistics. There is a plenty of literature available where you can find out more about the numbers.  What I did come to talk to you about today are the lessons I have learned from my own journey as a man living and working with depression and anxiety.

You see I am one of those one in seven Australians who suffers from depression and anxiety.

 I cannot really remember when my depression and anxiety started.  I guess if I had to nail down a date I would say that my symptoms started in my last year of high school or first year of university.  At around this time I started to display these types of behaviors:

  • Not going out anymore.
  • Withdrawing from close friends.
  • Not doing activities I would ordinarily do.

At the time I was feeling:

  • Irritable
  • Frustrated; and
  • Lacking in confidence.

And I started having sleeping problems as well as started to gain significant weight.

All of these factors, I now know, are indicators or symptoms of depression.

Whilst it is great that I can identify these symptoms now and I know that at the time I knew I was feeling that way I did not know that what I was feeling was either anything unusual nor different to that which everyone was feeling.

Because of that fact, being that I was unaware that was I was feeling might have been indicative of something going on with my health, it was well into my 30s and only some 3 and half years ago that my depression and anxiety disorders were diagnosed and I got treatment. By that point I was displaying, in addition to the behaviors noted earlier, the following behaviors:

  • Not getting things done at work.
  • Withdrawing from my close family as well as my friends.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Reliance on alcohol.

By the time I was diagnosed there was not a day go by that I did not have thoughts like these running through my head:

  • “I’m a failure”
  • “Nothing good ever happens to me”
  • “People would be better off without me.”.

I mention all of these this symptoms, feelings and thoughts not because I wish to self-aggrandize. Nor do I wish for or seek sympathy.  My intention in revealing what my symptoms and thoughts during the 15 or so years I was living with my depression and anxiety without being treated is to give some context to the key messages I wanted to get across today.

The first message is this: there is no more important a lesson to learn in the area of dealing with depression and anxiety than to realize how important communication is to the treatment of these disorders.

From the perspective of a sufferer, there is not a day that goes by that I do not wish that I had have communicated what was going on with me much earlier than I did only some three and half years ago. The fact is that I did not have the courage to talk to people about what I was going through.  Not my family, not my friends and not my doctor.

It would also be fair to say that, particularly in the last couple of years before my diagnosis, when I was displaying obvious symptoms of some form of mental illness that I became an expert in deflecting the concerns of others and, indeed, got angry when some of those people closest to me asked me whether I was ok. So much so that those closest to me stopped asking me how I was feeling.  

If you are suffering from the symptoms of the depression and anxiety, I implore you to find a way to communicate how you are feeling. Talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to your teachers … in fact talk to anyone you feel comfortable talking to and be open and honest about how you are feeling.

Just as importantly, if someone who is close to you is exhibiting the signs of depression and anxiety you have to ask them whether they are ok. And when they rebuff you, which they will inevitably do, you have to keep asking until you are satisfied that you have received an honest answer.  That is your challenge, everyone one of you, to engage with those around you who you suspect might have a problem and help them if you can.  You will be astonished at how thankful that person will be for your help.

Depression and anxiety are significant issues in society. They affect one in seven Australians at some point in their life.  Look around you, consider that statistic and then consider the number of people in this room.  Being aware of and able to communicate with each other about these disorders could very help a number of people in this room at some point.

I am pleased to say that, eventually, I was able to seek help for my conditions and 3 and a half years later I am in a better place than I have been in a very long time. Therein lies my second message that I wanted to impart on you today: depression and anxiety disorders are treatable conditions.  Sufferers of these disorders can and are treated for them whilst leading successful, fulfilling and happy lives.  Of course, in order to get that treatment communication, as I have already discussed, must occur.

I thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today.


Managing Stress: Everyone has a different method!

It is a problem that everyone in every walk of life goes through to differing degrees from time to time: stress. The management of stress is a topic that takes up multiple tomes in libraries and multiple gigabytes on the internet and yet no one has the perfect answer or strategy to how to deal with it.

The fact is that everyone reacts differently to stress and everyone finds a different way to deal with said stress: it is only the effectiveness of the stress management strategies used that changes.

There are obviously some stress management strategies that are more destructive than useful. I know that I used to abuse alcohol as a method to seek to manage my stress. That approach was obviously self destructive and unhelpful. I also used to be a wanton spender when I was under times of significant stress: I own more blue business shirts than any man should ever reasonably need in one lifetime as a result.

The obvious corollary that comes from these destructive forms of stress management is that often they provide a very short term release of stress whilst leading to deeper long term problems. I know they certainly did for me.

I mentioned in my blog of last week when I wrote about the things that I wished I had known as an eighteen year old ( ) that one of the things that I wish I had known earlier was that there is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help, metaphorically “sticking up ones hand” is a principal means by which I now seek to reduce my stress. The reason is simple: I find talking about a problem relaxing even if talking about the problem does not solve it.

The other principal methodology that I use for dealing with stress now is one that my psychologist taught me. It is a pretty simple visualisation technique that involves working through a series of questions about whatever is causing me stress. Simply I ask myself what it is that is stressing me and answer the question honestly. Then I ask myself whether there is something immediate that I can do about the “problem”. If there is then I have to stop whatever it is that I am doing and take that step. If there is something that I can do about it but I can not do it immediately then I have to do that think whenever I am able to do say. Here is the most important part: if there is nothing I can do about the thing that is stressing me then I have to “let the stressful thing go”.

The last, and most important part, of this method of relieving stress is the act of allowing yourself to give up that which is stressing yourself. Being able to do that is sometimes the most difficult thing one can do.

As I said in the title to this post: everyone has a different method of dealing with stress. I hope your particular method, whatever it is, is as successful as you need it to be.

Things that I know now that I wish I knew when I was eighteen

Off the back of a particularly positive meeting earlier this week and much reflection on life and dealing with mental illness over recent weeks, I have been pondering those things that I could have done differently over the last couple of decades. Let be clear: I am very happy with my life at the moment, almost content, but I have come to the conclusion that my life would have been much easier if had have known during my teens, 20s and early 30s what I know now.

I make no criticism here of my parents, other relatives, partners and friends during those years: all of my failings are down to me and me alone.

In no particular order, here are the things I wish I had have known in the past that I know now:

There is no shame in asking for help

This is an easy and obvious one: I spent so many years being afraid to ask for help that the hole that I had gotten myself into mentally just continued to deepen and deepen until there was no metaphorical way out. I thought there was a stigma that would attach to sticking my hand up and asking for help and the attachment of that stigma to me scared me.

It is who you are that defines you, not what you do

I only ever wanted to be a lawyer, right from the first year of University, and I spent many years so focused on being a lawyer that I began to believe that being a lawyer was what defined me. I could not see a future without me being a lawyer which was just stupid. It sounds obvious but obviously it is who you are, and your values, that define you. It does not matter what you do for a crust.

Showing emotion is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength

I always said to people that I was not the most emotional of people. I did not think that showing emotion was the done thing and that I would be considered weak if I did. That had the flow on effect of me having quite deep emotional lows that also could manifest themselves in violent (emotionally) anger. I have cried more in the last 3 years than I had in the previous twenty and frankly I couldn’t be prouder about that. The “red mist” that once engulfed me from time to time has not returned in a long time and I am sure that, in part is because I now have learned to express my emotions.

The answer does not lie in the bottom of a bottle

I have been honest and direct in this blog and in person with people about my struggles with alcohol. This one is simple: I wish I did not spend so much time drinking to make myself feel good about myself. For a start I have learned that I do not need to drink to have a good time and I do not need to get drunk in response to a bad week at work or a bad mood.

Be patient with yourself, you are going to be wrong more than you are right

I am my own harshest critic and spent a long time during my career and my life beating myself up over my failings however small. I never really appreciated what I appreciate now which is that sometimes mistakes happen and it is how you react to those mistakes and attempt to remediate them that is most important rather than replaying the mistake over and over in your mind.

Life is too short is the commonly trotted out maxim when one looks back at the life they have lead and the mistakes they have made. I have an amendments to that maxim: life is only as short as you make it by your own actions. I am not perfect and I am never going to be perfect but I do intend to live every day I have left hopefully as free as I can be of the depression and self doubt that have plagued me for so long knowing what I now know. And that is all anyone can ask of themselves isn’t it?