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Head Space

November 20, 2009

I read in the Metro paper on Monday an article about the memorial for the German national goalkeeper Robert Enke, which took place at the Hannover stadium on Sunday and it got me thinking about depression. It was depression that led him to step out in front of a train and kill himself on Tuesday. He had been battling depression since 2003, lost a child in 2006 and kept his illness a secret because he feared losing his adopted 8 month old daughter.

One in four of us suffer or have suffered from a mental illness. The range is broad, but depression seems to be a very common form and although it’s becoming better known and more talked about, there is still enough stigma for it to remain a secretive illness. In times past a depressive would’ve been told to buck up and get on with it. It was seen then and probably still in some cases as an excuse for malingerers or a weakness and an indicator of instability. In this fast paced, fast track pressured world, where we have to be constantly doing and be seen to be doing, rather than just being and having the space to think, it amazes me there aren’t more of us going off the deep end.

I had my own brush with depression many years ago, though I didn’t realise that was what it was at the time. I had the old school thinking that I was weak and couldn’t master life and just had to ‘get a grip.’ I couldn’t even tell you what kicked it off, but I believe it’s something that creeps up on you as you struggle with life’s difficulties and it feels relentless. After a while you start to believe less in your abilities and it becomes a vicious circle. It went on for nearly a year and I pulled myself out of it eventually, but it was a hard slog. So now we’re back to the present day. When I had my operation in January and had to claim sickness benefit, the rules had changed so that part of the condition of my receiving this benefit was to have a medical assessment and then attend an employment programme to get back to work. I took part in a workshop where out of the 8 people sitting at the table, I was the only one who didn’t have long-term depression. They were lovely people and some of them were quite funny, but I could really hear the pain as they spoke about wanting to break out of the vicious cages they were in, but were unable to.

How people with long-term depression keep going is truly a masterclass in endurance. Unfortunately, some, like Robert Enke can no longer endure. No matter how strong you may be physically, your mind is the real master and when it decides to steer you to dark places, no amount of reaching out from your loved ones, as Teresa Enke found, is going to help you. Until there’s a culture of acceptance rather than shame, where revealing our vulnerabilities is a mark of strength, there will be plenty more Robert Enkes in the future. The Lower Saxony governer Christian Wulff said at his memorial that Enke’s death should make people rethink society’s values. He also said this:

“We don’t need flawless robots. We need human beings with rough edges.”

Nuff said.

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