In this series, Lucy Nichol proves you never know who mental ill health will come after next by celebrating the diverse qualities and eccentricities of her lovable friends and acquaintances. This week she’s looking past the fizz and the funnies, darling.
My mate Tom lives the life of a 90s PR. Those halcyon days when journalists had time to lunch with you at the restaurant responsible for underwriting your mortgage.
In reality, me and Tom (or Tom and I, as he will no doubt correct me) were just starting out in our PR and marketing careers back then, and all we knew of this glitzy lifestyle was Patsy and Edina’s version.
Still, Tom continues to embrace the Absolutely Fabulous notion that PR is glam. His house is equipped with a mahogany drinks cabinet and he always greets you with a ‘filthy fizz’ in a ridiculous champagne saucer. The fizz is usually accompanied by a new and searing insult.
“Are you really wearing those pedal pushers with those cankles, darling?”; or “What’s with the Croydon facelift?”; or “Did you wake up in 1992 this morning?”
We worked together in PR. That’s how we met. But the office became a glum place when Tom was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We were all gutted, but he’s a trouper is Tom. “We’ll fight them on the beaches,” he said in the same breath as announcing his diagnosis. And he certainly kicked cancer’s butt.
In true PR style – off the back of a footballer being diagnosed with the same illness – he hooked a piece on BBC Look North.
He made us laugh with his frustration at the crew’s choice of filming location, (“I can’t believe I dusted the dado rail for the BBC then they decide to film in the living room!”), to say nothing of his faux rage that a passer-by recognised his other half, a regular star of the local musicals scene, and not him. “I’ve been on fucking Look North with fucking cancer and he gets spotted for prancing around on stage in Sweeney Todd,” he fumed.
But underneath it all – the PR, the TV appearances, the cutting but hilarious jokes – Tom was struggling. Much more than we knew.
Tom explains: “I knew I had had a lot happen to me in a relatively short space of time – a cancer diagnosis, issues within my team at work and conflict involving the parenting of my son. All were fairly major in their own right, but in combination they chiselled away at my internal support structures to the point that I was on the verge of falling over.
“I didn’t realise how far it had gone until one weekend when I took offence at something inconsequential that my partner said on the Friday night. I got into a huff and silently shut myself away in the bedroom.
“The next morning, I couldn’t remember why I was in a mood but I held onto the feeling of moodiness and isolated myself until Sunday evening when I felt ready to ask for a hug. My partner gave me a hug and held me tightly.
“A few days later, he opened up and began to cry, telling me that he didn’t think I was very well. This hit me like a punch to the stomach and there was a dawning realisation that what was going on with me was having an impact on the people around me.”
Tom was diagnosed with depression. We had all started to wonder what was wrong. Where was he with his WhatsApp group insults and his running commentary on what Dot Cotton was getting up to in the square?
“I tried everything to avoid taking medication”, he says. “I met with my doctor who referred me to telephone therapists who in turn referred me for cognitive behavioural therapy. The whole process was very protracted, but fortunately my earlier cancer diagnosis threw me a lifeline and my nurse specialist offered me 10 sessions with a psychologist attached to the cancer centre.”
“Underneath it all – the PR, the TV appearances, the cutting but hilarious jokes – Tom was struggling. Much more than we knew.”
But just as all the issues in his life seemed to be working themselves out, Tom hit a new low. “I told the psychologist that I feared that if the wheels started to wobble again that they might fall off.”
After a particularly tough week, he went into work one morning to be told by a well-meaning colleague that he looked like shit. He couldn’t deny it any longer and, making an excuse about feeling sick, he got into his car and drove home.
“I arrived to find my partner’s sister at the house. I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the car so I drove the car into a side street and broke into deep, body-shaking sobs. I drove – not sure of where I was going – and somehow found myself in the car park at my GP’s surgery.”
His GP, who quite randomly happened to be the wife of his oncologist, prescribed sertraline, an antidepressant. Within days, Tom began to level out.
“If life was a Harry Potter book, Sertraline would be my Patronus charm to keep the Dementors of depression at bay,” he says.
And luckily, when the cancer came back, it was caught and treated quickly and successfully. Tom is now feeling fit and well again on all fronts. Thank God – who else would bake us Fat Rascals and keep up a running commentary on our style choices.
“Everyone is different, and depression can be tackled in a number of ways. For me, Sertraline provided the crutch that I needed to get me back on my feet. It didn’t apparate my problems away, but it gave me clarity and strength to deal with them.
“With the love of my family and friends, I have got better and with the support of my doctor, I have been able to reduce my dosage back to the starter dose. While I hope that in the future I will not need to take my Patronus Pills each day, I now don’t feel a stigma from admitting I need to take them to cope with life.
“Life can be cruel and challenging but, as Dumbledore once said: ‘happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ Sertraline helped give me back some light.”3822 Views
Neurotic hen-keeper, feline friend and mental health blogger. Prone to catastrophisation and over excitement at the garden centre. Caution: do not give Diet Coke after dark.