Returning to work… after six months in darkness

Well, hello there! Now, do I start with an apology for my absence, or do we just accept that sometimes life throws you an especially slippery banana?!

[Note: this post has little to do with photography, but everything to do with me, depression, and mental health]

If you didn’t know already, I have lived with chronic/clinical depression on and off since my late teens. I’m not ashamed of it. (Why would you be!?) I’ve never shied away from it. And I openly talk about it. However, it took many years before I decided to visited my GP, to discuss a persistent low mood and have a diagnosis. For years, I just assumed this was simply ‘who I am’. I was given a questionnaire by my GP, diagnosed with severe depression, put on standard medication and largely forgotten. That was about 8 years ago…

OK, let’s take it back a few months…

Early into the New Year of 2018, my mood began ‘to slide’, progressively and inexorably. I recognised the signs and as usual, I ‘battened down the hatches’ and prepared to wait out the low mood. But this was different. With a frighteningly rapid descent, depression took hold of me in a way I have never experience before. Something happened inside my head. My mind broke. I was locked-in with only my absolute darkest thoughts. An impenetrable emptiness. No hope. No joy. The worst memories on permanent loop. The worst experiences of my life, regurgitated and ruminated, over and over. The shock descent was terrifying. Within days, I was suicidal.

 

Damn, that is hard to read

 

Thankfully, before it was too late, a memory of Jacq and my ‘dog family’ popped into my head. That millisecond of light and warmth was enough to trigger a response. A few moments later, I called a support help line and spoke of my ‘crisis’. The positive action was enough to turn a corner. Within the week, I met with a counsellor. The following week, I met with a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with a Major Depressive Disorder and provided with new medication that actually works.

Sadly, most GPs, just throw Citilopram or another generic
well-tolerated drug at patients battling depression.

It’s the medicinal equivalent to throwing mud at the wall and hoping something sticks…

[danger signs] In the grips of this depression, I felt the need to isolate myself and cut ties feeling that “People are better off without me!” I left social media. I shut down accounts across the board. Turned my back on critical sources of income. Fighting my way out, I felt the need for change and to take control – to make positive steps.

Slowly, the days ticked by and through the support of Jacq, my friends and family, I was beginning to heal.

Then my fragile world imploded…

I don’t have children. Just two four-legged furry kids. A brother and sister flat-coat retrievers. It’s no exaggeration when I say ‘I would do literally anything to protect them.’ Anything. In February, Mara, my little girl, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma – an aggressive bone cancer in her front ‘shoulder’ joint. It was advanced and there was nothing we could do. It was utterly hopeless.

Within a month, my best friend, a boundless shaggy ball of wagging fun and energy was reduced to a curled limping shadow. We took the only action that was available and put her to sleep to save her from the excruciating pain [tears rolling down face]. She died where she loved to rest and cuddle. In the same week, my ****** was diagnosed with ******* cancer. I won’t go into detail about this. It has a much happier ending – 7-months later, all is well and another NEEP gives cancer a good kicking!


The sight and sound of Mara’s last breath ripped my world apart.
It’s a memory that will haunt me to my very own last breath.
I still cannot talk about it out loud.
Believe me when I say it’s hard enough typing out these words…
…the pain is still so raw.

Mara. Rest in peace my beautiful little girl.
Mara. Rest in peace my beautiful little girl.


So, what have I been doing?

I’ve spent the past few months simply healing – repairing mind, body, and soul. Apart from answering the odd image request, I haven’t worked at all. I unplugged from photography, almost entirely. I’ve spent the time reading, researching, and most surprisingly gardening (yes, you did read that right) which I have found extremely therapeutic. Our 17th century cottage also needs an awful lot of TLC and that means good banter with builders!

Up until August, the only photography that I’ve undertaken has been a light-hearted two-night stay on Skomer Island with my friends, Richard Peters and Drew Buckley (check out their excellent Skomer Island tours).

Then, with boundless enthusiasm, I officially returned to work, co-leading two Great Migration photo safaris with another photog chum, the outrageously talented, David Lloyd – more on that in the next post.

Why am I writing about Depression!?

 

Quite simply, it helps me

 

…maybe, it could help others.

 

As I write, I am reflecting on all that has transpired this year. The tumultuous life-ripping events. As painful as it is, writing and talking about such matters is a positive exercise of will – a will to heal and to move forward. This is also a letter of thanks and gratitude. I have family and friends that genuinely care. Between them, I was never alone.

Every day, someone would be in touch, whether it was a phone call, a text or email, or an offer to meet for lunch, or quick pint. It meant I was connected to a world beyond my home-office walls and that is essential. Now, I make the effort to go out of my way to meet with real people, in person, in the real world.

The life of a loner, is not a happy one, no matter how much you invest in it! We humans are a sociable animal… And I forgot that.

 

I am also writing this as a warning

If you have friends or family that suddenly switch off and go quiet, do not, under any circumstance accept the standard “I’m fine!” response that you’ll get. Meet them. Take them out. Ask them to their face – not online – but to their face. If you are worried, ask them out loud:

“Have you had suicidal thoughts?”
“Are you thinking the worst? Thinking of ending it all?”

However you want to phrase it. Even if sounds preposterous. Even if that person is the absolute last person on Earth that you’d think could do something so extreme. You could save their life and this is no exaggeration.


The biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide.

FACT: More men die from suicide and attempted suicide than from cancer. Even more women attempt suicide. If you haven’t seen it already, Horizon produced a documentary that aired on BBC 2, called “Stopping Male Suicide”. Please do watch it. Even if it’s not for your own benefit, but to recognise the warning signs in others. The embedded video below is a great short film explaining the effects of depression:

I had a black dog, his name was depression

Thank you for reading and for watching. I do appreciate it.

Normal photography blogs will resume momentarily…

Elliott Neep

Elliott Neep

Currently based in Oxfordshire, UK. Experienced professional freelance wildlife photographer, writer, and photographic guide with portfolios from East Africa, India, Arctic, Antarctica and British Isles.

4 thoughts on “Returning to work… after six months in darkness

  • Wednesday, 19th September 2018 at 4:33 pm
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    That was a tough read Elliot, so it must’ve been far more difficult to write. I’m full of admiration for you and having met you for a days photography at prohides I also know what a nice bloke you are. I wish you & your family all the best in the future & it’s great to hear from you. Good luck with the exhibition, I’m sure it’ll be a hit.

    Reply
    • Wednesday, 19th September 2018 at 5:20 pm
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      Hi Andy. Thank you for your message. Much appreciated. It was pretty tough! It took the whole day to write and a whole box of tissues to read over and over. Very kind of you to say so.

      Reply
  • Wednesday, 19th September 2018 at 3:36 pm
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    So much respect and all good wishes Elliott – beautifully & sensitively expressed …thank goodness for those random moments of light and warmth 💚

    Reply
    • Wednesday, 19th September 2018 at 5:19 pm
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      Thank you Maggie. Very kind and much appreciated.

      Reply

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