YOU PUT UP YOUR GUARD AND HIDE BEHIND YOUR FACE’ After 40 years, Warwick is on cusp of beating depression
WARWICK Leek was a fit and healthy 20-something working as a civil servant when he was medically diagnosed with depression back in the 1970s. With his job and livelihood at risk if his employers found out, Warwick did not even want to tell his family and friends because of the huge stigma surrounding mental health at the time.
Having given up his job over a decade ago due to the condition, Warwick, now 65, who lives in Gwaunmiskin, Rhondda Cynon Taf, has opened up about his 40-year battle with depression and how he is on the cusp of beating it.
“I didn’t know what it was at first. I can remember the doctor saying I was suffering from it but I didn’t know what that meant. I knew it was a mental illness but that was it.
“It first started as anxiety. I got really uptight for no particular reason at all, bordering on panic attacks.
“That then developed into this blackness – depression. They are two very similar things and interlinked.” So how exactly does depression feel? “You have nothing to look forward to,” Warwick explained.
“You just feel empty and pointless. It’s a black feeling. Winston Churchill called it ‘taking the black dog for a walk’. It’s an empty, black, horrible feeling and there’s no way out of it.
“You don’t want to socialise, people would organise things and say ‘there’s a party at a certain time’ and I would say ‘yes’.
“I would be full of good intentions and was going to go, but when it came to the actual date, I just couldn’t face it. I didn’t lose friends but I did lose a lot of good times. You just don’t see the point of going on.”
Unlike today, where discourse about the condition is far more widespread, the condition in the ’70s meant he did not even want to tell his closest friends and family about it.
“I suppose I was worried by the stigma of mental illness. I couldn’t tell my employers because of how it was perceived in the ’70s.
“It’s difficult to say how it would have affected my job if my employers had known. I would have been moved on from what I was doing, presumably. I didn’t want them to know I was vulnerable. I didn’t want anybody to know at all – my friends, family.
“It was very dangerous to my health. I didn’t contemplate taking my own life, but I looked upon suicide as a way out – as an escape. I didn’t sit down and plan it but it was something that was there as a final resort.”
Warwick said he dealt with the condition through a variety of techniques, as well as being on anti-depressants for decades.
He said: “I was lucky to have a very understanding doctor. He was very, very helpful. Later on I discovered mindfulness and so now I meditate every day. I also bought myself a cross trainer. I work out on that every other day – at least three or five times a week which helps. Exercise is so important. And of course my wife, Jen, has been tremendously supportive.
“A friend of mine told me he was suffering from depression and I mentioned to him that I was coping with it too.
“He came back to me on Facebook and said, ‘I know you’re not suffering from depression as you’re so laid back.’
“I was the last person he could imagine getting depression because of how I appeared in photos, but you put up your guard and hide behind your face.”
Now Warwick is on his first week of being off anti-depressants for 25 years.
He said: “I am managing at the moment with the help of my wife, mindfulness and exercise. I am proud of myself for dealing with it. I am still in the very first steps of trying to go on without medication and everything being OK. There’s been ups and downs and it’s not been totally smooth but hopefully I will go on to not need medication in the future.”
In terms of advice for people with the condition, he said: “Get help and talk to somebody, a loved one. Hopefully there will be someone who loves them and understands. Seek medical help and have a good doctor who will sit down and talk to them.
“But the more it’s talked about, the better it is.”
Warwick spoke about his condition as he signed up to HealthWise Wales, the largest health population survey in Wales, in a bid to play his part in informing major research into health conditions.
It works by people aged 16 and over completing an online survey, and claims to be the first large-scale health research initiative in Wales to collate detailed information on the health and well-being of people of all ages and backgrounds.
Information gathered will be used to plan future health services and inform relevant research on specific conditions, their management and treatment.
He added: “I first heard about HealthWise Wales through Mental Health Wales’s newsletter and thought, the more people who understand depression, the better, so I signed up.”
Warwick wants to encourage people to sign up as he believes that although mental health provision and understanding has come a long way since he was first diagnosed, there is still a long way to go.
“HealthWise Wales is such a good idea, as the more people who share information, the better the understanding of mental health conditions and other major health issues.”
To find out more visit www. healthwisewales.gov.wales
Warwick Leek has been battling depression for 40 years
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