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Mental health research is a powerful thing – my story of depression

Trigger warning – this story talks about suicide

Chris Woodley blogs about his experience of depression that lead him to writing a play about his journey that he’s now showcasing to help other people facing mental illness.

On Boxing day 2011 I felt like my world ended. I’d been working as a drama teacher living a happy life in Cambridge when my partner of six years told me our relationship was over. I spiraled very rapidly into a dark depression.

I didn’t go back to teaching for weeks and was signed off work. The separation knocked me for six. 

I kept saying I wanted to ‘opt out’ of life and I was contemplating suicide. I had an incredibly low mood, I didn’t want to talk, I wasn’t sleeping or eating. Eventually, my sister took me to see the doctor.

The doctor asked me whether I was having suicidal thoughts and I decided not to admit it. I was worried what it would mean for my career, if I told them I’d been feeling suicidal, would that mean my professional life would be in ruins as well as my social life?

Instead, I asked to go to therapy and was given Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The waiting list was so long that I decided to go private, I was lucky enough to have family to help pay for it – but I know not everyone is as fortunate. Therapy saved me, it gave me a chance to talk to someone who I didn’t owe anything to. My therapist gave me the tools to realise what I needed to do to help myself: walking, thinking less about the end of the relationship and more about how I was feeling.

Over time, I began to heal. Writing has helped me to process and understand my emotions. I wrote a play about my experiences, and this summer, I will be taking my solo show, The Soft Subject (A Love Story), to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival and raising awareness for MQ whilst doing it.

I wanted to raise awareness about MQ because I believe that research can help identify mental health issues early on in a person’s life and that’s a really powerful thing. From the age of 11 to 16 years old I was incredibly badly bullied and I think this had had an impact on my mental health. If I was identified as at risk of mental illness and given treatment back then, I think I could have built the foundations to deal with problems I encountered later on as an adult.

I also feel that it’s vital to understand what treatments are best for different individuals. Some people need therapy, some people need drugs, some people need exercise and some people need art... There is no one size fits all rule when it comes to treatment. Research could help match people up to the best treatment option for them.

My play is a love story, it took me about six months during the writing process to admit the severity of my depression after my relationship ended. Writing that was complicated. I’d felt an incredible amount of shame and fear around the topic, but it ended up being liberating to tell that truth. I’ve learnt that often the thing you are afraid to say, or are embarrassed to say, is usually the most interesting thing to hear.

The Soft Subject (A Love Story) is on at 4.25pm 3rd-28th August at Assembly Hall as part of The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Last updated: 21 August 2017

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