The Guardian’s Secret Teacher

I was recently directed to the following piece on the Guardian’s ‘Secret Teacher’ blog and wanted to share it with you.

Secret Teacher: without antidepressants, I stop being the person I should be

After my experience with severe depression, I see colleagues struggling and worry that by labelling them as ‘stressed’ we’re overlooking – or even denying – deeper problems

tigerMonday morning and I am sitting in my doctor’s waiting room desperately hoping that I will not be recognised – this is not the time I want to hear a cheery “hello sir!” from an excited child. I stare at the surgery PowerPoint display and remind myself not to think about anything because that’s the only way I can get through this.

After an agonising wait, my name is called out. I breathe a sigh of relief as my anonymity remains intact. In the consulting room, the nurse asks the simple question, “How are you?”

“Not too good,” I admit out loud for the first time, and immediately collapse into tears. By now she has read my records and seen this is not the first time life has got on top of me. She calls for a doctor.

The doctor asks me what has been going on and the emotional floodgates open. I tell him how much I am drinking; how little sleep I am getting; how little food I am eating. I tell him that my marriage is on the rocks; that I am barely functioning at work; that I collapsed over the weekend.

The doctor nods sympathetically and says, “It sounds as if you need some help to sort yourself out. And I’m not sure you should be at work.”

With that, the bottom falls out of my world. I beg him not to sign me off but, eventually, I realise how much of an emotional wreck I have become, and protest no more. I leave the surgery with a prescription, a sick note, and a sense of complete helplessness.

“Depression” is an over-used term; people use it as a throwaway description of a feeling that something isn’t quite right; reality TV, the weather, politics are all “depressing”. I had done the same – in the past I had a sick note that read “signs of depression” and a prescription for “happy pills”. But once my world seemed a little sunnier, I stopped taking them (despite medical advice to the contrary).

This time, however, something was different. I had hit such a low with such a devastating impact on people around me that I knew I had to take it more seriously. It had taken several weeks of counselling, organised through the local authority, before I had my Road to Damascus moment that ended with me seeking medical help. This wasn’t a bad case of flu – it was far more serious.

hamsterI stayed with my parents to gain some perspective on what was happening. I spent time with my best mate, who asked the sort of awkward questions that only best mates friends can get away with. I spent a couple of weeks in a dizzy haze as my medication kicked in and, by the time it cleared, I saw the grim reality of the collateral damage my state of mind had caused.

Over the next few weeks, things went from bad to worse. The first marriage guidance appointment reduced me to tears as my wife said that, after 16 years, she was no longer sure she wanted to be married to me. Scared for her own safety and that of our children, she made enquiries at a refuge to make sure she has somewhere to go if needed. I had a full mental health assessment with the local crisis team after admitting that I had planned to end my life. I had become a safeguarding issue in respect of my own children.

Today, I am sitting in my office having had a successful section 8 monitoring visit last week. My wife and I finished the course of counselling two weeks ago and at the end, she gave me her late father’s wedding ring to replace the one I lost. We have fallen back in love. My house is full of laughter again and my children call me happy, not grumpy. I saw my sister a couple of weeks ago. She asked how I was and I was able to be honest in my answer. She told me she was glad to hear it because, for the last three years, she had known something wasn’t quite right with her baby brother. I owe it to her, to my parents, to my wife and children and to my colleagues at work to stay healthy.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. At last I can admit that, yes, I do have a mental health problem. I don’t know what it is about me but, without my daily dose of antidepressants, I stop being the man I should be. There is a chemical inbalance in my brain that needs this but I have stopped wondering why: I just accept it. I have depression and, like my asthma, it’s something I have to learn to live with.

And with the evangelistic zeal of the recently converted, I look around at those colleagues who are struggling in schools this year and worry for them. I worry about their marriages, their families, their wellbeing. When things are tough, we tend to leap to the conclusion that teachers are “stressed” and leave it at that. But all too often I see similarities between what I went through and what they are going through. I wonder whether, like me, there’s something that is being ignored, overlooked or denied.

If you feel that life is getting on top of you, stop ignoring that feeling. Don’t try and justify or rationalise it, or make excuses. Just accept that you’re struggling. Once you’ve done that, get some proper help because you won’t stop struggling until you do. I’m not battling anymore – but it’s taken four counselling sessions, six Relate sessions, a crisis mental health assessment, and many prescriptions for me to get to this point. That’s to say nothing of the support and love of friends, family and colleagues. Please don’t be the next victim: for the sake of those who you love and who love you.

To read more from the Secret Teacher please visit