Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

How my own struggles helped me care about those with Depression

I have never been a person who suffered from severe depression. Overall I am a pretty tough cookie and a fairly upbeat type of guy. Trying to understand depression could be a challenge. Why would a multi millionaire be depressed? Why don’t people just get on with it? These are questions you struggle with and it takes time and effort to try to understand and educate yourself about the true nature of something like depression.

The problem is that we don’t always make that easy as a society. I may not be prone to depression but there have been times in the last few years when I got an insight into it that I never want to have again. There have been times, particularly tough economic times, when my own health walked a fine line. It gave me an insight into the pressure people feel and just how little compassion, care or support there is when you need it. That made me think a lot about people who suffer from depression and mental health issues. Trying to imagine being in a place from where there seems no escape and where no one can understand.

At the height of this recession I took a hit like so many other people. The business I was involved in just kept getting slower. The pay cheques stopped. The pitches became more and more competitive and then you make the mistake of chasing any kind of work at all. After a while it became apparent to me that I had to change things. It’s not an easy thing when your wife tells you there is nothing in the fridge, the bank account is over drawn and Tesco won’t take credit. I was putting in long hours and then finally turning up €80 here and a €100 there. The health insurance went, and then the mortgage headed into arrears. The fact was we simply couldn’t survive.

I took the decision to change and focus on what I was good at. I wanted to set up a new business but it would take time and space to develop it. I started applying for jobs instead. Most never replied to me at all. Those that did thought I was too senior for the role I was applying for or not able to bring enough business with me to secure a more senior position. Eventually I decided I had no option but to try, at least, to get my own business going. However, I couldn’t let the family starve. I had paid my stamps for 15 years and decided it was time to swallow my pride and sign on. This made things worse. My intention to try avail of my entitlements to tide me over while I got things together was scuppered by absolute incompetence in Social Welfare. They tried to argue I was not entitled to anything. They decided this without even talking to me. I went in, I handed them bank statements, figures, details, anything they wanted, it was ignored. I was told it had to go to the Appeals board. It took a full year. I watched my family struggle. Avoiding doctors because you don’t have the cash. Terrified everytime you buy groceries that your card will be rejected. The bank ringing up asking when you are going to sort your mortgage arrears. The pressure was incessant. After a full year, the appeals board finally heard my case and decided I had been correct from the outset and was entitled to my payments. It was bitter sweet after all the rows and hardship it imposed.

However, I could now avail of some other helpful schemes and try building my business as I had planned over those long months. It took time. It was slow. Nobody walks in and offers you a €20k contract. Meanwhile the bank keeps ringing. I might be growing the business fast enough to put the basic food items on the table but not to shoulder all the bills that were hitting too. I went to the bank; I did what they tell you. I engaged. They didn’t want to know. They said they had no options. No offerings to help. Eventually they agreed to go interest only for 6 months. They took so long to process the paper work you end up hitting arrears again. It hung over us like a sword of Damocles for 6 months. The pressure became unbearable. Every day was about fighting. Fighting for work. Figting for an entitlement. Fighting with banks. Fighting with ourselves. After many government initiatives the bank wrote to me offering a split loan mortgage. I jumped at it only for them to withdraw the offer again. They didn’t care, they had met their targets the government had set by simply making the offer. This was soul destroying stuff and on top of it all I had a growing business that was looking ok but needed all my attention to try and develop it, attention I didn’t have.

My head felt like it was going to explode everyday. A fear hung over me from which there was no escape. Eventually one night after losing out narrowly on a good contract I sat in front of my computer. I sat there staring at the screen all night. I wondered why I was bothering. In that one moment I felt everything would be better without me. If I were gone maybe people would help. Maybe institutions would back off and give some space. Maybe someone would start to care and maybe my family would benefit. I took down a box of tablets and got ready. However, something else kicked in. That highly rational logical part of my brain that has been my lifelong friend over my emotional side. I thought who would find me? What would my wife do? living here alone? What would my kids think? How would this confuse them, hurt them? There was so much I still had to tell them, teach them and show them. I couldn’t do it. I dejectedly went to sleep. Felling somewhat trapped. I couldn’t escape, this was my cross to bear. It was only an hour or two of sleep before I awoke to the phone ringing and my good friend Ian White, had a piece of work for me. To say I could have cried on the phone that day would be an understatement. He had no idea just how much that call meant. I shook myself down and got to work. Two days later a TD called me and asked me to carry out some research. Those calls saved me.

From there on life has certainly not been plain sailing. I am still far from out of the woods financially but there is no doubt that I am making good progress and things are a lot better now. Finally, I am starting to think of the future and build. It’s a long road but I have learned more about business and making a success of it than anything I had learned before. When you are going through hell, keep going. You come out stronger and more knowledgeable on the other side.

I am still learning to make room for others and what they are going through. Those times were bad for me but I was lucky that I could think in a logical way. Some people are robbed of that, it becomes impossible to see something differently and raise their spirits. That’s not a weakness it’s just as much of an illness as anything that lands you in a hospital bed. I have come to understand that people can’t ‘just get over stuff’ or ‘think positive’. We all need to remain aware of that.

When times are hard you find out who your friends really are. You should never forget them. I put a quote on my desk from the film Rocky Balboa that says ‘It’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward that counts’

Be kind to your mind.

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12 thoughts on “How my own struggles helped me care about those with Depression

  1. danmanlfc on said:

    Johnny,

    That was such a passionate post. My heart goes out to you and yours.

    I’ve had those moments too over the past few years. Dealing with the banks, not knowing when the next project would come along.
    I’ve had to deal with 8 operations over the past 6 years, each with 2-3 months off work. As I was self employed, I got little help during these times.

    I’ve had my last op last week, so I’m in the middle of this again.

    The suicidal thoughts have been there many times. “Wouldn’t everyone be better off with out me.”
    The thought of not seeing my kids grow up and what damage this would do to them is what has alway got me through.

    Stay strong.

    Danny.

  2. ronandharrington on said:

    Thank you for your bravery. I read this at 7.00 am after a night out in La Paz. I am in a great space but it is an emphatic reminder of what people can go through.

    Keep living your truth.

    Ronan

  3. Pingback: World Mental Health Day Blog Party, October 10, 2014 | World Mental Health Day

  4. That was beautiful. Thank for your openness.

  5. Wow. Kudos to you for hanging on through the hard times. I know how it is to live with depression making everything even worse. High fives to us for being survivors!

  6. padraigmckeon on said:

    Jonny,

    That was and is courage – real courage. You deserve every break you get and they will come.

    Padraig

  7. Seamus Dooley on said:

    Johnny, Respect owed for fine article and Newstalk interview on subject all too often either whispered or ignored. congratulations.

  8. Jonny, I think we all have those experiences. IMHO once you have experienced economic difficulties for real and unemployment etc, the feeling never leaves you. The one benefit you have (and hopefully I have) is that we are aware of it. That alone means you may never fall fully into it, but its no guarantee. It should however serve you well once you are aware of it and take note of whatever activity you need to get through the crisis.

    I have been called the minister for lost causes on many occasions. The main reason for that is, I will fight the state for using its might to come down on people, and particularly when its not fair. What keeps me going though is the thanks I get from the people I am defending. Usually after a few pints they will tell you the depths of depression that was over them, and they are blissfully unaware of the condition. They do not know it even exists. The chaos I have seen in families and children when parents are clearly depressed is quite shocking and I can also tell you the states response is not very helpful at all.

    This just serves to further depress people, and its almost impossible to get the state to changes its ways. Exchequer neutral programmes could very much help people to live on the dole, rather than just exist, but still the state causes people to lose dignity and self esteem by vilifying unemployed and poor people in general.

    For the record I cannot get Labour to adapt the system to make it more humane, so its not just FF or FG.

    Anyway you have my number if you ever need to chat. I won,t ask you or judge you about whether you are having a bout, so you can call me and I will call you back, and we can shite talk about any old bullshit that comes up.

    Fair play to you for writing this.

  9. Johnny, talent will always prevail. You political analyses are highly regarded and respected. Keep moving forward.

  10. This is an outstanding article by Johnny Fallon, it pinpoints the brutality of the stress suffered daily by hard working self-employed and struggling entrepreneurs in what has become, in part, an utterly thoughtless Irish society. An absolute must read.

  11. Seamus McTague on said:

    Well done! That piece of writing deserves a larger audience. Could you have it published as an article in the newspapers and could you contact the sound and vision media as well? It is too valuable not to be fully aired. Who knows how many lives it might save?

  12. jonny33 on said:

    There is a great infographic on this link about the effects of Depression on a person. Its well worth a look

    http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/effects-on-body

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