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Thu 27 June 2019
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Mike Stuchbery speaks out about his mental health struggles, and in doing so finds a cure in the kindness of others

Here’s a quick tale about making connections. It’s a story about how reaching out can make a significant and powerful difference – that is, at least for me.

If there’s one thing that I’ve always been candid about, it’s my struggle with anxiety and depression. That’s because to do otherwise would be utterly pointless.

Depression and anxiety has coloured every aspect of my life. I’ve lost jobs, relationships and friends as a consequence. When it descends, it’s all-consuming – even the simplest tasks become a Sisyphean ordeal.

It’s taken years to come to a point where I’m able to comfortably manage my illness. It’s taken an incredible amount of trial and error to reach that point of balance. As a consequence, most of the time I’m happy, productive, calm.

Occasionally, however, I do take a hit. One hit recently came in the form of ‘Tommy Robinson’ doorstepping my home. It wasn’t so much the man himself banging on my door, as the massive disruptions it caused, over a number of weeks.

Depression and anxiety has coloured every aspect of my life. I’ve lost jobs, relationships and friends as a consequence.

After the shock wore off, the sadness and fear crept back in. Recent events having impacted my ability to work, I began to stress about my future. A kind of hopelessness draped itself over everything, especially when I couldn’t find the words for written pieces I’d been commissioned to do. I felt useless.

The Comfort of Strangers

In passing, yesterday morning, I happened to mention on Twitter that I’d been fending off the ‘black dog’, as Winston Churchill so memorably dubbed it. I asked for my followers to post beautiful things, in an effort to cheer myself up.

The response was immediate – and astounding.

Suddenly my mentions were full of all kind of pets: cats, dogs, birds, all being incredibly silly. My Direct Messages were steadily filled with scenic views taken out windows, treasured (and adorable) grandchildren, inspirational artworks.

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Perhaps even more precious – and humbling – were the more than a thousand messages of support and love from people, many complete strangers.

Having glimpses at the lives of so many others (and their pets), knowing so many other people out there were taking an interest in my welfare, I was shaken out of my sense of hopelessness. I didn’t feel so awfully alone, isolated.

Having that shot of pure human empathy, I was able to get back into the routines and practices that help me manage my depression. In a way, I felt I owed it to the folks looking out to me to at least spend a few minutes looking after myself.  

Having that shot of pure human empathy, I was able to get back into the routines and practices that help me manage my depression.

What I’m not trying to say here is that depression and anxiety can be brushed away with a simple Twitter DM. Nor am I saying that any of us have the obligation to ‘get better’ just because people people take an interest.

What I am saying is that we must never take the power of a simple ‘checking in’ for granted. A simple act of genuine, honest connection can have incredibly healing and redemptive power.

It’s certainly got me thinking about how I interact with those I know who struggle on a daily basis.

Thank you to every one who reached out to me yesterday, and thank you for the warm, touching, funny and sometimes hilarious messages you sent.

Now, however, I know I’m not alone – and that’s an incredible gift.

Things are still challenging for me right now, and I know that I’ll have battles to fight in the months ahead. Now, however, I know I’m not alone – and that’s an incredible gift.

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