Debra Allcock Tyler: Everyone suffers from inner demons

Even the most outwardly functional people can suffer from mental ill-health - empathy is absolutely vital

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

I have recently emerged from a bout of depression. No one would have known because I continued to give speeches, write columns, chair meetings and lead the Directory of Social Change. Like many with long-term mental health conditions, I have learned over time how to continue to function while coping with the condition. It just takes a lot of energy and can be exhausting.

People experience depression in different ways, of course. For me it can feel like I’m in a Salvador Dali painting: there’s a sense of melting heavily and feeling dragged down into the earth as if gravity is operating more heavily on me than it does when I am well.

I’ve had the condition for most of my life, although I wasn’t properly diagnosed until my early 30s, when I had a breakdown. I remember very little about that
period because it was very dark. But I do remember two funny moments.

For the first one, I had been in bed for several days, refusing to get out. My brother was serving abroad and heard about me being unwell. He rang, so my sister brought the phone into my room and put it to my ear. He said, without a hint of irony: "I know you’re depressed Sis, but don’t let it get you down."

The second was when I was staying at my parents because I had been signed off work and wasn’t allowed to be left alone. I was having a bath when my mother came into the bathroom with the phone, telling me that my chief executive was calling to find out how I was.

"I’m in the bath, Mummy!" I hissed. "He doesn’t know that," she hissed back and handed me the phone. I sat rigid with mortification trying very hard not to move and make any splashing noises as he enquired after my health. As you can imagine, my responses were very monosyllabic. At least he knew something wasn’t right because when I’m well I’ll always use 10 words when one would have sufficed!

I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of my condition. When I’m not well I tend not to talk about it simply because I am concentrating on getting through the days. My particular condition really only responds with medication, so when my normal techniques don’t work I go to the doctor and get the medication I need.

So why am I telling you all this? There are many people who probably perceive me as super-confident, never wobbly or unsure, yet that could not be further from the truth: I am often wobbly and unsure. I suffer from terrible anxiety and get very nervous when I give speeches, when my columns are published and when I have to go to sector events, because I’m hyper-aware of the people who really don’t like me. And I know that among my peer group I’m not the only one who feels like that.

So if any of you are feeling down, unsure, unconfident or wobbly, remember that you are not alone. Even the most apparently cocksure of us have those
moments.

And remember, too, that everybody you meet is fighting demons you cannot see. That’s why it’s so important to be kind – to yourself and to others.

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