Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Attacks of Mid Level Depression are usually triggered by some sort of external event, mostly to do with my work. For many years my job as a director and part-owner of several companies has completely taken over my life.

I think about work all the time - that's what I'm paid to do. Because I'm a thinker not a doer I've surrounded myself with people who are hands-on types. My job is to provide the platform to allow them to perform. Generally speaking I arrange the finance and provide the strategic input. I keep a loose hand on the tiller. They get out there and make the money. It's a good arrangement except that it leaves me with too much time to think.

Once a month - on or around the 15th - I suffer the agonies of a sort of management menstrual cycle. That the time when we get our management accounts, showing whether we have made a profit or loss. I usually have a pretty good idea in advance what the figures will show but it's still a time of extreme tension. Not just for me. In a small company everyone in management lives or dies by these figures.

If we make a loss - in any of the seven or eight companies I'm involved in - then I will be plunged into the deepest gloom and depression for at least a month. Feelings of dread, of hopelessness, the total destruction of my self-esteem will follow. I'll suffer sleepless nights, loss of appetite and sexual drive, my concentration will be shot. There'll be panic attacks, irregular heartbeats, headaches and sometimes dizziness. I'll drink more even though I know that alcohol is a major depressant for me. Everything tastes of dust.

But no-one will know what I'm suffering. I'll become someone else. It's an act I've perfected over the years.

I am the leader and one of my primary roles is to maintain morale. I always tell the guys that it doesn't matter if we make a loss - provided we know why it has happened. When we know why it has happened we can fix it. Generally, within a week or so I'll have analysed the figures, taken a closer look at the business and implemented the necessary corrective action. I'll feel a little better at this point but the tension will still be building while we wait for next month's figures. If they don't show an improvement the gloom will deepen. Three bad month's in a row and we're all suicidal. I'll have to work really hard to keep everyone motivated.

Actually, I think my reactions are entirely appropriate for someone running his own business. In some ways it is a matter of life and death. We are, after all, talking about peoples' livelihoods here. This isn't a game.

Whether anyone in their right mind would want to subject themselves to such a regime for so long is an entirely different matter. Maybe that's why I'm selling some of the businesses. I can't handle the stress of failure the way I once did. My nerves are increasingly ragged. I'm shell-shocked and war-weary.

Then there's the other problem, the one that exacerbates the situation. When I am that depressed and stressed out I simply can't concentrate long enough to write even one cogent sentence. I can't even face the challenge required to make a simple entry in my blog. I can't write at all. And that makes me more depressed. And so it goes.

Clearly the answer is to change my job. Maybe. When we're making profits (which with the price of oil is most of the time just now) I am euphoric. The figures validate my existence. I can walk on water. I can laugh and joke with the best of them. I can write all those witty entries in my blog that make me giggle out loud. I am the head of a happy team, a truly great bunch of people. I am loved and universally admired. I am as happy as anyone can be who suffers from persistent Low Level Depression.

Except that I am continually worrying that at any time something unforeseen could happen and at any moment it could all turn to ratshit.


  1. Sorry Maxine, you've heard this one before....

    "The Minx theory of Plate Spinning"

    For years I thought I was superwoman, I could stack up those plates on their poles and spin into infinity. Work, kids, health, money, supporting a partner with his own business (who incidently has black dogs the size of shire horses), nothing phased me, my plates spun, life was good. When another plate was added I just added it to the collection and spun them faster - I was brilliant!

    After a number of devastating and life threatening situations my plates started to wobble, I ran around trying to save the best ones but in the end they all came crashing down.
    My plate collection was ruined. Life stopped for about five years but before I could start spinning again I had to make some serious changes to my life.
    I had to decide which were my most precious plates and I realised that my work/money plate was the wobbliest.

    What was I doing?
    What really made me happy?
    What was I striving for?

    Got rid of the business, took a lesser paid job, bought some cheaper plates and didn't worry when some got chips and knocks!!

    Not selfish, just selfcare!

    So endeth the lesson!

  2. I feel on reading the post and Minx's comment that Minx went the healthy way.
    My way was not, it was the scared way. Reading your post, Pundy, makes my blood run cold. I could not live like that.
    I took a job that I can do, I am paid a salary at the end of each month because I work for someone else. I could never never face what you do, it would be my worst dread, that monthly tension and terror of what might be if the sums don't add up.
    I have been in the same job for nearly 22 years, out of this fear. During that time, I have done a lot of different editorial jobs. The one I found most stressful, and which I reacted to very similarly to the way you describe in your post, Pundy, was being "news and views editor".
    For this job, you had to fill 9 pages a week with ediorials on the latest scientific research. Half of these could be on Nature papers, but you only got 2 weeks to get them after the papers were accepted for publication becuase you had to get them in the same issue of the journal. The other half had to be about other science, either published in other journals or reported at meetings, but as close as possible to the publication date or meeting date.
    You had to get about 8 articles a week in the 9 pages, on every scientific topic, get world class authors, and from a range of countries (not just US/UK, too easy).

    Well was that stressful? I did it for a few years and my head was covered in lumps at the end of it. I twitched constantly, I had all these little tics runing down my face from my eyes, and my eyebrows were jumping up and down like nobody's business.

    I was living in sheer terror of the blank page, I could not sleep or relax for an instant worrying about whether prof x or dr y would deliver. I could not build up a backlog as everything had to be topical.

    Nightmare city!

  3. Fear is the root of all depressing ills!

  4. Beg to differ, Minx. It's anger, unacknowledged and unexpressed. Often denied. But depressed people are angry people in denial.

  5. Go deeper jta and you'll find fear at the core of all negative emotions. Anger is just one of the many symptoms.
    Fear of loss of contol over our lives is the key point, and fear is what makes the heart palpitate, and brings on the suffocating panic attacks.
    Fear also keeps anger on a leash so perpetuating the infernal cycle.
    Fear is also what stops us from facing the brutal reality of the root cause of the depression. Find that and there is a chance - if you can look fear in the face, that is.

  6. You may be right, Minx. It's difficult to talk sensibly about the alligator brain, but maybe we're really talking about the same thing. Maybe fear and anger are one inseparable force, which gets directed in or out, at intervals, each person with their own mix. Think of the last time one of your kids stayed out way too late. You feel both and that's all you feel.

    It's Thanatos, that's what it is. The Knowledge. Fear? Damn right, but anger, too.

    It's not going away. Looking it in the eye is our only hope, and maybe our greatest peril. Looking it in the eye leads to more Knowledge, and where do you suppose that leads?

    In the end, it's like a friend of mine said while he was dying slowly of liver disease, hoisting his glass. "We're all strolling merrily down Cemetery Road, Son. I just want to turn some cartwheels on the way."

  7. "Anger is a protective device. It is quite enough for you to experience your anger. Nothing more need be done with it. Underneath anger is always fear and underneath fear is always longing.
    You fear humiliation. You fear to be wrong. You fear that if your knowing is brought into your human experience it will disolve. You fear to trust the truth. You fear to love in an imperfect world."
    - Emmanuels Book

    We should all be doing cartwheels, take away the fear of death and we could.

  8. just stopping by to see how the dogs are

    hmmm . . . . .

  9. I'm with Minx all the way on the plate-spinning. Except my analogy is juggling ...

    Maybe we should all run away and join a circus ...

  10. I'd join the circus all right. But what if it was badly managed and went bust.

    I'd lie awake all night worrying about it.

    No. That's not what I'd do. I'd borrow a shed load of money and start my own circus. That way I could do my own high wire act - without a safety net.

    Well, it would save on the overheads, wouldn't it?

  11. There you go. Always wanted to do that...

  12. Anonymous4:58 am

    Your are Nice. And so is your site! Maybe you need some more pictures. Will return in the near future.