GP Taylor - My battle with depression

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Samuel Atkins/REX_Shutterstock (4271851bb)''Vicar turned best-selling author Graham Taylor (aka GP Taylor) of Cloughton, nr Scarborough, N Yorkshire.''Various
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Samuel Atkins/REX_Shutterstock (4271851bb)''Vicar turned best-selling author Graham Taylor (aka GP Taylor) of Cloughton, nr Scarborough, N Yorkshire.''Various
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Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Mind was founded in 1962 and now employs 17 staff and has 60 volunteers on its books.

When GP Taylor experiences what he calls the ‘dark days of the black dog’ he has a mantra. At those times when he struggles to see a purpose in life, he tells himself simply, ‘all will be well’. Maybe not the next day or even the one after, but eventually.

The Scarborough author this week broke his silence over his own battle with depression and an attempted suicide attempt in order to highlight the plight of the Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale branch of Mind. The charity provides support for almost 1,000 people, but faces closure due to lack of funding.

Mental health has never been the most glamorous of causes. Those who suffer from depression and who are diagnosed bipolar are often reluctant to talk about it for fear of forever being defined by the condition. Taylor knows those feelings of chronic insecurity only too well.

It was in his previous life as a policeman that he was first diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after being beaten up by a gang of men outside a pub in Pickering. The incident, which eventually caused him to leave the force, left him suffering from terrifying panic attacks.

“I was quite badly injured, but I kept working. It was only two days later when I went to take a witness statement that I suddenly broke down. The witness happened to be a nurse and she immediately knew what was wrong and asked if I had been offered any treatment or any counselling.”

Taylor says that in the macho police world of the early 1990s, it wasn’t done to admit a chink in the armour. However, behind his uniform, his life quickly began to unravel.

“I’d seen a lot of horrific things during my 11 years in the force. All police officers do. I’d seen countless road crashes, I’d been called to dozens of suicides, I’d been shot at. When the attack happened it was a catalyst for all the stress that had built up to erupt, but there was nowhere for it to go.

“I had panic attacks, my wife would wake up in the middle of the night and find me naked, sweating and cowering behind the sofa. Once I even tried to jump out of the window. It just got worse and worse and I didn’t know where to turn or what to do.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t even watch cop shows on TV and even the sight of a police uniform could set off a panic attack. I just wanted to shut myself off from everything and everyone.”

Taylor says he did visit his GP, who offered a course of anti-depressants, but he refused, fearing he might become dependent on drugs. Dogged by nightmares, Taylor instead sought a new life in the church. It was while serving as the vicar of Cloughton that he also began to write, but he was still unable to shake the debilitating depression which followed him like a shadow. In fact at the time he should have been celebrating signing a book deal worth millions of pounds, he was living a lie.

“Even at the peak of my writing career, when I topped the bestseller charts with Shadowmancer, it did nothing for me,” he says, aware that his experiences will strike a chord with many others who are crippled by anxiety while appearing to have the world at their feet. “I was so ashamed about the fact I suffered from depression, that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. My wife knew, but that was it.

“Keeping up that lie was exhausting. Depression puts an incredible strain on every personal relationship you have. I used to go to sleep and pray that I would never wake up, then one day I decided that I’d had enough.”

That was 2007 , the same year the first book in his successful Mariah Mundi trilogy was published.

“I got into my daughter’s car and drove to Ravenscar. My intention was to jump off the cliff and end it all. The only reason I didn’t was because I couldn’t find anywhere to leave the car keys. I was looking around trying to find somewhere safe when I was discovered by one of my parishioners. They asked me what I was doing and suddenly it all poured out.”

That day on the cliffs above Ravenscar was Taylor’s lowest ebb, but it was also the turning point in his battle with depression. In the weeks that followed he began a course of cognitive behavioural therapy and instead of spending his days trying to run away from his depression, he gradually learnt to accept it.

He still has bad days, but he also knows now the importance of grasping onto even the smallest moments of joy. Sometimes that means watching an old sitcom - laughter he says is a form of free Prozac. Other times he gains solace from watching the waves crash along Scarborough seafront or escaping out to the moors.

“I grew up on a large council estate with little money, so I grew used to finding pleasure on the cheap. Outside my back door was a disused railway line that led towards the moors. I followed it whenever I could. The countryside became a place of daydreams and thoughts of what might be and it still is.

“I try to make sure I go for regular long walks, I surround myself with positive people, I make sure I eat well and I avoid excessive alcohol. For me, depression is cyclical and seasonal. The first few months of the year tend to be worst, so when it is nice winter’s day I try to make sure that I get outside as the sunshine really does help.”

While Taylor may have both learned to cope and park the guilt and shame which depression so often brings, he still needs help. Through Mind he is now linked with a volunteer who keeps in regular contact to check how he is doing.

“Having someone who is outside the situation makes an incredible difference,” he says. “It means I don’t have to put on a brave face or worry about how they will react if I’m not having a good day. That’s why it’s important that services like this continue to receive funding. They are a lifeline to so many people.”

Taylor is not the first high profile name to talk openly about mental illness. Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Rory Bremner have all tried to raise awareness of the issue by going public with their own personal experiences, but as a society we still have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with those who suffer from conditions like depression.

“Do I think we have got better at talking about it? If I’m honest, the answer would probably have to be no,” says Taylor. “I’ve spoken to so many people, who have told me they suffer from panic attacks or depression, but almost universally when the conversation comes to an end, they say, ‘Graham, please don’t tell anyone, I don’t want anyone to know’.

“I know exactly how they feel, because it is exactly how I felt, but no one should feel ashamed by illness. It was why I decided to speak out. I want people to know that it’s ok to have depression and that there is a way through it.”

And again he repeats his mantra, “All will be well,” he says. “All will be well.”

• People can donate to the appeal online via SWR Mind’s website www.swrmind.org.uk via Just Giving www.justgiving.com/swrmind.