I’m Learning to Fight My Demons: One Man’s Struggle with Depression

Some years ago, I went to see an acupuncturist. I told him my woes, of which, as usual, there were many, and he was quite aghast at what he heard.

‘It’s not acupuncture you need,’ he said with impressive honesty. ‘It’s therapy. You strike me as someone who has everything going for him. You have a nice home, a happy marriage, you love your children, you enjoy your work, yet all you seem to want to do is wallow in a swamp of misery and imagine you’re a failure.’

‘OK, I’ll try therapy,’ I said. But I had no intention of doing so. I had tried therapy once before when I was in my 20s and found it to be the most tremendous waste of time and money. Sure, it was pleasant sitting with a sympathetic woman and talking about nothing but myself for a whole glorious hour. What I loathed, though, was the notion that the solution might involve changing my personality in some way.

However, what I did learn from those therapy sessions is that I am a depressive – a manic depressive, actually, because I go way, way up as well as way, way down. Not that I hadn’t guessed as much already, for it runs in the family. My paternal grandfather was perpetually miserable, and my father used to get depression so badly that he had to take lithium to control it.

As a child you scarcely notice these things. I certainly don’t remember, for example, the family holiday during which my maternal grandfather sat outside my father’s bedroom just to make sure he didn’t commit suicide. But now that I’ve reached the age my father was when his depression was at its worst, the odd detail has started to come back, such as the funny little sucking noises my father made when he was lost in thought. I now realise that these meant his mind was in a dark place and he was wrestling with demons. I know it because I sometimes make similar noises when I’m battling mine.

True happiness, I’d always imagined, was something for other people, not me. But I’m told that it is a simple question of practice

Though I’ve never been quite so down that I’ve seriously contemplated suicide – let alone attempted it – there have been plenty of moments when the thought of a quick, easeful death has seemed an attractive prospect. The most recent of these was last year, when I experienced my longest bout of depression ever. It started after I’d suffered a viral infection – for some reason most of my downers do – and went on for about nine months. I began to fear it would never end.

Then, just when I thought it was beginning to lift, something worse happened. I became convinced – to the point of near paralysis – that I had fallen victim to some terrible wasting disease, perhaps early-onset Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis. This bout of extreme hypochondria terrified my family, cost me hundreds of pounds in medical bills and rendered me incapable of work for a month. Clearly this wasn’t a healthy state of affairs for a self-employed father of three. If I didn’t get myself sorted out soon, my wife said, she feared for the future of our marriage.

But how do you deal with depression when you don’t believe in therapy or medication? I have depressive friends who swear by Prozac, or the new generation of serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs. ‘Life has become so much easier since I realised it’s just a question of chemistry,’ says one. But my worry about medication is not dissimilar to my worry about therapy: what if it transforms me, however subtly, into a person I don’t want to be?

You’ll find this quite a lot with manic depressives. Our condition may be ghastly, sometimes to the point of complete life ruination, but on another level we consider it a gift. We recognise how fantastically creative and powerful our minds become when we are on an up.  Against those benefits, though, you have to set the damage it does to you and your loved ones. I’ve never come close to topping myself, but Jesus, the misery when you’re on a downer! It’s worse than sadness. It’s a complete absence of feeling. Besides becoming generally listless, uncommunicative and reluctant to socialise, I find it impossible to see any part of my life in a positive light. Often, I’ll swear out loud as each new image of despair comes into my head – every other minute, say – and my children will say, ‘Daddy, why did you use the f-word?’ And if sounding like a Tourette syndrome victim isn’t bad enough, I’ve also got an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) which compels me to touch walls when I’m walking down corridors (using the exact same pressure with each hand), and to arrange cups and cutlery on gingham tablecloths so that they’re exactly symmetrical.

It drives my wife mad. ‘Doctor Johnson had OCD too!’ I protest. She’s not convinced. She thinks I need help. And now I’ve decided to seek it.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s the most beautiful summer day there has ever been – blue sky, little fluffy clouds, cooling breeze – and the hills above Builth Wells in the glorious Wye Valley have never looked more green and lush. My wife and children are happy, healthy and smiling. They adore me and I adore them. Life’s good, really good. Back at the farmhouse I’ve got the car I always wanted – black Range Rover Sport with tinted windows; the kids are at private school and I can easily afford the fees because I’ve so much more money now; more than I know what to do with…

Welcome to my dream. Only a tiny part of it has come true so far, but just so long as I can keep my mind fixed firmly on the prize, the rest will surely follow. How do I know this? Because my therapist Steve Wichett tells me so. Steve is a specialist in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). He likes nothing better than curing depressives of their mental illness. But can he really cure a basket case like me?

James Delingpole feature

The imagining-your-perfect-future game is one of the first tricks he teaches me. First you create the mental picture – sights, sounds, smells, the more detail the better; then when you’re happy with this biographical movie you’ve created, you insert yourself into the body of this brighter, happier, more successful, future alter ego of yours, and bathe in contentment, fulfilment and security. Keep practising and, hey presto, fantasy will become reality.

All that’s stopping you is that your brain has not yet been correctly programmed. Once that has been done – and it’s easy enough to arrange once someone like Steve has given you the right software – you’re ready to go. Your potential is limitless.

You won’t be surprised to hear that NLP – a technique developed in the 1970s by ex-Hell’s Angel Richard Bandler and linguistics expert John Grinder – has had a massive influence on management training, life-coaching and the self-help industry. Psychiatrists are less convinced. They are understandably resentful at NLP’s claims to be able to cure in a matter of weeks – or sometimes even in one session – phobias, traumas and other mental problems which conventional therapy would take months or years to alleviate.

Steve Wichett claims to have resolved cases far tougher than mine: multiple-rape victims, soldiers with post-traumatic stress, even a gangland torture victim. Client confidentiality means I’ve no way of checking up on this. But something in his manner – warm on the outside, firm-but-fair toughness within – tells me Steve is not a man to bullshit.

My wife, a far better judge of character than me, feels the same way. At Steve’s invitation she comes to our sessions because, after all, my depression is as much her problem as it is mine. Her presence is useful because she understands things that come as news to me, starting with the idea that the purpose of my life on this earth might be to learn how to be happy.

‘What?’ I go in absolute astonishment when she – with Steve’s help – formulates this bizarre proposition. I can honestly say the thought had never occurred to me. True happiness, I’d always imagined, was something for other people, not me.

When I find my thoughts drifting into dark places, I now possess the mental tools to go, ‘Wait a second. What do you think you’re up to?’

This is what NLP does: it helps shut down all those negative thought patterns in our brains that have been reinforced by years of bad habit. Think of these patterns as neural pathways. Each time we re-tread them they get worn into an ever-deeper groove, which is why we so often find ourselves getting stuck in the same old rut. In this way unhappiness becomes an addiction. To kick it, we need to forge new neural pathways, this time leading to positive thoughts instead of negative ones. Happiness, in other words, is a simple question of practice.

Naturally I have my doubts about this. What use is it telling the mind to be happy when the outside world is so abundant with misery and woe? Steve has answers for this, as he has answers for everything. He hands me a list of the top 30 objections most commonly advanced by his clients as to why NLP isn’t going to work for them, together with a persuasive rationale as to why it will. The bottom line is: it’s your choice. If you decide that NLP isn’t going to work for you, then it most likely won’t.

It sounds harsh, this idea that if the treatment doesn’t work it’s all your fault. But then the essence of NLP is taking personal responsibility for your life. NLP has nothing to do with blaming your parents or trying to unearth the experience that lies at the heart of all your troubles. If anything, it’s about the exact opposite: not dwelling on the past but escaping it altogether.

‘What I find with my depressive clients is that they’re brilliant at describing the hole they’re in,’ says Steve. ‘They can tell me how dark it is and how grim. But what I want them to tell me is what it’s like outside the hole, where it’s open and warm and the sun’s shining.’

This is why, in every one of our sessions, Steve encourages me to play mental games which will help me get out of that hole. We do hypnosis-induced meditation sessions where I imagine my body filling with the colours of the rainbow; we practise tricks to deal with the siren voices in my head whenever they try luring me to the dark side; we revisit the happy future-me on the Welsh hillside, knowing that one day we will merge.

You’ll be dying to know whether NLP has cured my depression. My honest answer is: how can I possibly say at this stage? What I can tell you is that the effects so far have been near miraculous. I’ve experienced more moments of prolonged happiness (which I enjoy and notice much more when I’m having them); I’ve stopped having sleep problems; I’m no longer shackled by the obsessive-compulsive urge to touch walls in order to ward off the attentions of malign gods, and when I find my thoughts drifting into dark places, I now possess the mental tools to go, ‘Now wait just a second. What do you think you’re up to?’

Sometimes I find it risibly easy; sometimes I find it so hard – it really is tough taking responsibility for your own mind – I feel like giving up. But I’ve had enough positive experiences now to know NLP really does work for me. It has made me better; it has made me happier. Perfection may have to wait.

(to read more, click here)

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14 thoughts on “I’m learning to fight my demons: One man’s struggle with depression”

  1. brian says:29th July 2010 at 4:20 pmIf you’re not depressed you don’t understand what’s going on.
  2. John of Kent says:30th July 2010 at 8:52 amYou do realise that Warmists are going to sieze on this and proclaim:- “aha, only the mentally ill are sceptical about man- made climate change” and give one James Dellingpole as an example! Where the truth is, when presented with the true facts about climate, one has to be mad, deluded or making money out of it to believe in CAGW.But seriously, self help is the way forward here. I have known some friends benefit from CBT, look it up, try it! Better than medication.
  3. John of Kent says:30th July 2010 at 9:31 amAha, having read the rest, I see you have discovered NLP. Good one.
  4. Simulated Torso says:30th July 2010 at 3:05 pmThere’s something quite hokey about NLP which leads me to believe the whole ‘movement’ is a load of trendy pop-psychology nollocks. I read a book back in 1980 called, Psycho-Cybernetics, which, essentially say the same things as NLP. Good luck.
  5. JLK says:30th July 2010 at 7:08 pmFirst of all thank you for having the courage to discuss your “personal hell” I have suffered from what’s called “Double Depression” a fairly rare disorder, most of my life. It consists of a constant “flat line” depression along with periodic major Depressive Episodes.My disorder came from a near fatal encounter with Hospital Staph infection (of the flesh eating variety) in 1958, when I was 11. Unfortunately in those days there were no effective antibiotics so I spent 3 months hovering between life and death.
    The damage done to my Amygdalae and Hypothalmus brain centers by an out-of-control immune system gave me a life sentence of the periodic “Black Dog” as your most famous PM used to call it.

    I do wonder about your avoidance of medications. If you do have Bi Polar disorder it is very difficult to control the mood swings without them. Of course the problem for sufferers, as you have already stated, is that standard meds “flatline” your mood so you miss those great “up” periods. But I really can’t see how you can use the method you are touting when a Major Depressive Episode kicks in. In my experience fluffy clouds and great plans for the future would be crushed under the weight of the black cloud that descends over your mind.

    I am a firm believer in meds, at least for my problem, which is actually physical. The many Freud- following Psychiatrists I have seen over the years did absolutely NOTHING for me with the exception of lightening my pocketbook. Recently I found a physician who specializes in brain chemistry and medical treatment of these disorders. He was a literal life saver as I could be a suicide candidate at some point.

    Lastly I don’t understand why you would even consider SSRI’s such as Prozac ( a real stone age version of the medication group) anyway. Here in the States they would rarely if ever be used for Bi Polar disorder. Possibly for OCD (Obssesive Compulsive Disorder) in some cases. Your OCD is probably an offshoot of BPD anyway. I have some of it myself. I actually own 7 vacuums! But I don’t worry about that, I just sweat out the next depressive “episode”.

  6. Michael St George says:31st July 2010 at 2:44 pmJamesFirstly, can I echo the praise rightly given by previous commenters for your courage and integrity in discussing this openly.

    Can I recommend you get hold of a book called “Overcoming Depression” by Paul Gilbert. It was recommended to me about 12 years ago by a psychiatrist (but as a friend, not as a medical practioner) when I was going through a prolonged period of anxiety & low self-esteem probably verging on clinical depression, following the rather brutal break-up of a relationship in which I’d invested a lot of emotional capital. I found it a great guide to the self-application of the basic techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy, and it was a huge help at the time.

    It may be out of print, but if you would like to read it but can’t get hold of a copy, please, please e-mail me and I’d be delighted to pass mine on to you. It’s the very least I could do as a contribution towards ensuring that the multiple and manifest inanities of ManBearPig continue to get the excoriation they so thoroughly deserve.

  7. Mike Paterson says:1st August 2010 at 10:34 amJames, it’s hard for us “normal” people to get their heads round this condition, but the litany of successful, popular and talented people who suffer from it demonstrate that it’s a real and nasty problem. Can’t help, I’m afraid, and at a loss as to what to suggest, except maybe listen to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, which always gives me a lift. With Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy as backup!In the knowledge that you and your work are highly appreciated by thousands of perfect strangers, good luck.


  8. Pete Mc says:2nd August 2010 at 6:36 amGood on ya James. Get well soon.
  9. John of Kent says:4th August 2010 at 2:13 pm“Simulated Torso says:
    July 30, 2010 at 3:05 pmThere’s something quite hokey about NLP which leads me to believe the whole ‘movement’ is a load of trendy pop-psychology nollocks. -snip- ”

    Yes, it might seem like that to you and me and others who are mentally healthy- because we don’t need NLP or CBT etc. But to someone that needs help with “matters upstairs” it can be a huge help- gives them the tools they need to regain control of their own thoughts.

  10. James W says:5th August 2010 at 2:17 pmJames – take heart, your prolonged depression should be lifting soon…………after all, 13yrs of Labour tyranny ended 3 months ago.Be patient, life will be infinitely better without the likes of Brown, Smith, Harman, Balls, Straw and others in it.
  11. crownarmourer says:6th August 2010 at 4:21 amHaving been a long time sufferer of depression and OCD you have my sympathy, I have tried medication and it sucks even Lithium which makes you lethargic and gives you I don’t give a sh*t attitude, tried another which had the effect of turning me into a raging maniac. I decided enough was enough and quit cold turkey. I tried therapy and some therapists have some weird belief systems and generally don’t work.
    Eventually with some thought I changed my diet more fresh food prepared from scratch and I feel a lot better these days and one thing that brings me great peace is going for a walk in the countryside with a dog, being further south latitude wise helps as the sunshine levels are better and so no winter blues.
    As for the OCD that took great effort on my part to stop but by force of will I have stopped most of the worst effects.
  12. Don Stuart says:6th August 2010 at 9:06 amOn the theme of diet in the posting above, I seem to remember a few years back seeing on TV a programme where a woman depressive (herself a doctor I think) tried fish oil, or possibly just oily fish, and her depression disappeared.Just tried googling it and several things come up. Here’s an example:


  13. Amanda B says:7th August 2010 at 12:36 amJames:Perfection *always* has to wait.

    I’m touched by your predicament. Any medical aspect, of course I can’t and wouldn’t comment on. But otherwise: would you mind if I gave my advice as a ‘friend’ (it’s a sympathy/empathy/mind thing, I don’t have to be someone you dine with)? Forgive me if it is surplus to requirements and/or what you already know.

    My immediate thought was: Try to think about yourself as someone interested in the truth of things. And be that person — as of course you really are. That does not mean confronting all evils. In fact, the truth may well be that an evil would be bad for you to look straight into — like a sensitive person seeing a film about torture, for instance. So it’s not just ‘confronting reality’ — whose reality? what reality? for what purpose? — it’s about being truthful with yourself about what you can know, who you are, what is the best step to take, and so on. Sometimes the answer is contrary to ‘the obvious’. The important thing is to retain your confidence even when you have discovered something contrary to ‘the obvious’, the conventional, the commonly accepted, etc.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like awful waffle — it’s not meant to be — I’m completely sincere and I’m describing how I orient myself; it means accepting some limitations you may have, right now or always, as truth rather than as something merely bad. Because the love of wisdom — self-understanding and the capacity to understand others as well — that is the greatest virtue. And I think that virtue — the striving after and grasping of real virtue — is important to happiness. It’s essential, in fact. It is the foundation of any philosophy — philosophia, you know what that means — worth the name. (There is much ‘philosophy’ not worth the name.)

    Anyway it sounds as if I’m getting abstract but there is nothing abstract about this. To have integrity regarding the truth — which might *involve* a kind of courage but is not the same as courage, and might *involve* justice but is not identical with being just as most people think of it — this is what I would think about and aim for. In fact the virtue most closely allied with the truth-seeking I’m speaking of is prudence. But it’s not a cold, merely calculating, unerotic prudence. It’s a prudent truth-seeking that wants the best for everyone, including yourself. It’s a yearning for the good and even the beautiful in truth, a reaching-out for truth that you can use. I wish you well, truly. Amanda [Bernsen — surname confidential please]

  14. tiggy says:11th August 2010 at 11:42 amA sure sign you are very intelligent, those way ups and downs.

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