(Originally published in April 2013 at MensDepression.org.)
In the late Spring of 2012, I went to see my General Practitioner (GP) after a nine-year hiatus. I was physically healthy throughout my thirties, and simply did not see a need for any kind of medical check-up.
What finally prompted me to make the call, and virtually beg my doctor’s office to take me back as a patient, was self-diagnosed professional burnout. I’d been burning the candle at both ends for so long, that I’d finally hit a wall after a string of 60 to 70 hour work weeks. The BlackBerry was, for years, a permanent fixture in my hand, and unplugging, even for just a few hours, was to my mind not even a remote possibility and simply unfathomable.
Imagine my state of shock when my GP promptly informed me that “burnout” was not a medical condition and that in fact, his diagnosis was Major Depression. High blood pressure as a result of work-related stress was also of concern. Blood tests and an electrocardiogram ensued to rule out other possibilities such a thyroid issues.
In subsequent visits, my GP confirmed his diagnosis of clinical depression, then dropped this bombshell: he suspected that some form of mood disorder was also at play. Possibly Dysthymia (chronic depression) and as such, I was likely contending with Double Depression. Typical, I thought… I never do things half-way; if I’m going to be saddled with depression, may as well make it a double.
Initially, I experienced the typical phases of denial and anger, and what I now recognize as a period of self-stigma. At the outset, I refused to take medication, believing that somehow Depression was a mindset and not a “real” illness… that somehow mental health issues were a sign of weakness, an inability to cope with normal life stressors that other men seemed to manage just fine, if not thrive on.
Up to this point, at 40 years of age, I had been completely unaware of a maternal family history of depression and anxiety, because mental health issues were not something we talked about in our household.
I figured the doctor would prescribe 3-4 weeks of medical leave, get some long-awaited and well-deserved rest, and I’d get back to the usual daily grind in no time. The weeks dragged on, with the end result being a work stoppage of two-and-half months, tagged with a progressive return to work over the following eight weeks.
Fortunately, during this time I had access to a generous Employee Assistance Program for preliminary counselling, albeit with a limited number of available sessions. Counselling led to acceptance of my medical condition and subsequent medication regime. An 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program was also integrated into my treatment plan, followed by formal psychotherapy where an official diagnosis of Dysthymia and General Anxiety Disorder was rendered.
Earlier this year, I moved beyond acceptance of my mental health conditions, to the point of participating in awareness-raising campaigns and volunteering with a national mental health advocacy group. I have also taken my awareness-raising efforts and advocacy online, through Movember fundraising, daily news monitoring and information-sharing on social media (@DysthymicDad), active participation in this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, as well as through a personal blog (www.dysthymicdad.wordpress.com).
If there is one thing I have learned on my current journey of discovery and recovery, it’s that mental health issues are under-reported in men due to cultural conditioning and associated social stigma. More outreach, education and support need to be undertaken in the area of male mental health. And it starts with more men speaking out on mental health issues and their experiences with mental illness and mental health care.
That’s why I commend, and thank, both Sean and Ryan for their One Man Talking to Another Man project… and for setting up mensdepression.org as a vehicle to open up discussion on male depression in all its forms, in a safe, secure environment where your journey to recovery can begin.
Be well, for the sun will emerge and chase away the darkness.
Dysthymic Dad Ottawa, Canada