When we suffer from depression, including bipolar disorder and postpartum depression, we may feel responsible, like it’s somehow our fault.
We may also feel alone in battling the illness and lack support or inspiration from others.
Sometimes this may cause us to give up hope and feel like there’s no end to how low we’re feeling; after all – we reason – if there’s nothing we can do and nobody we can turn to for help, there’s no point in trying to get better.
Celebrities can’t get depressed, can they?
After all, only ordinary people like you can suffer from depression. High-flying celebrities are immune, right?
In recent years, numerous prominent figures from politics, sports and entertainment have ‘spoken out’ about their own battles with depression, bipolar and the stigma surrounding mental illness.
In fact, the pressures and expectations of public life often make dealing with mental illness harder; denial and the need to fulfil high-profile duties can be compounded by the fear of stigma and the intense scrutiny and consequences that may come with admitting that something’s not right and seeking help.
We can draw plenty of reassurance and inspiration from these candid accounts of grappling with the black dog in spite of – or sometimes due to – a very public life in the limelight.
We can also learn plenty of lessons from how others have fared in coping and living with depression, bipolar or postpartum depression and apply them to our own situation.
Here’s what three prominent figures from the worlds of sports and politics – interviewed in my book Back From The Brink – can teach you about coping with depression.
A successful tennis star in the 1960s and 70s with over 500 tournaments under his belt, Cliff Richey was the original “bad boy” of tennis, well before the likes of John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase.
But the decline of Cliff’s tennis prowess precipitated a slide into depression, though he didn’t realise it at the time.
Cliff now shares his story and gives presentations on how to stand up to depression. He calls depression a liar and likens the illness to a schoolyard bully, and teaches others how to stand up to it. For Cliff, the gratitude offered by those who attend his presentations is very powerful and fulfilling.
Cliff’s lesson: Get help as soon as you suspect something is wrong. At the height of his career, Cliff realised something was up and toyed with getting help, but didn’t go through with it. Now, he wishes he’d got help when he first had the chance. Even when housebound with depression, he self-medicated, not seeking help until 1996. In Cliff’s own words:
“I needed help before I got it. I think it has to dawn on you that you do, in fact, have something wrong…. I want to encourage people that there is help, that there is reason to hope, and that recovery is possible.”
Before a high-powered role in UK politics as Tony Blair’s chief adviser and Communications Director, Alastair was a successful but stressed journalist. After a breakdown brought on by overworking, undersleeping and heavy drinking, Alastair became more aware of his own vulnerability and took action to get back on track.
But despite resisting a diagnosis of depression and being in denial, Alastair thrived on a heavy yet fulfilling political role for many years. It was only after stepping back from politics that Alasdair crashed and finally got the help he needed.
Alastair’s lesson: Fulfilling work is one of the crucial foundations for staying well. Alastair now spends a lot of time campaigning to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness:
“Of all the things I do, it’s probably the one that makes the least money, but it gives me the most satisfaction.”
While Alastair’s political career divides opinion and he wasn’t always happy doing the work, he was happy that he did the job itself; a driving sense of purpose was important to him.
Greg Montgomery enjoyed a football career in the NFL. But the pressure and demands of professional sports took its toll; doctors later told him that the stress and concussions from the game may have been responsible for the onset of bipolar disorder.
For Greg, the highs were high – we’re talking wild drug-fuelled parties and dropping $50,000 in a single shopping spree!
But the lows were equally extreme; sudden, frightening and intense. Combine bipolar, a stressful career and the effects of trying different treatments, and for a time things were, in Greg’s words “chaos – a year from hell.”
Greg has reassessed his direction in life, found the help and support he needs and is now committed to fulfilling work that helps others.
Greg’s lesson: Avoid self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, even if you feel like they’re helping:
“[alcohol and drugs] work until they don’t”.
Overvaluing the external things in life and finding pleasure or solace in them will not satisfy us, instead Greg has learnt to
“look within in order to find a peace of mind and happiness. It’s always there for us if we stay present.”
The Rules For Dealing With Depression Apply To Everyone
What works for Cliff, Alastair and Greg are equally valid for you too, and they all go into more detail in ‘Back From The Brink’ as to the other factors which help them cope with and recover from an episode of depression or bipolar and managing the illness. They are:
• Access to Experts
• Revitalising Work
Find out how to seek or cultivate these essential components in Back From The Brink.
Graeme Cowan’s book Back From The Brink brings you true stories from well-known and everyday people, and practical help for overcoming depression and bipolar disorder.
Touching, moving and often surprising, the stories in Back From The Brink are living proof that you too can overcome depression, using the tools and resources provided in the book.
Cowan survived the worst depression his psychiatrist had ever treated.