Malcolm’s Story

Depression – a learned way of life

My depression is a classic example of growing up as a baby boomer with parents who were very involved in World War 11 and experienced post traumatic stress and depression to varying degrees. Neither was diagnosed or treated properly.

There were different levels of tension in the home which could be directly attributed to depression. My two sisters and myself were conceived and born into this world of depression. The depression expressed itself within us physically as well as emotionally.

We suffered severe problems with allergies, for example, any dairy food as well as most pollen caused bad bouts of asthma to occur and reoccur. This environment of sickness was the genesis of my condition and probably the same for many families who had been through a similar scenario after World War 11. My father had been a fighter pilot and my mother had served as a nursing sister. Both had traumatic experiences which they carried with them to the end of the war.

 Sickness, frustration and pain open the door to depression

For me nearly everything commenced with the sicknesses I suffered as a child.  Severe asthma and dermatitis caused me to be emotionally flattened and to be serious and angry. My dermatitis, called eczema, caused considerable pain, irritation and discomfort as it covered most of my body.

As there was no real cure except for dealing with some allergies such as intolerance to dairy products, I experienced frustration, despair and depression. I can recall crying as a child in despair not knowing what to do. I was not able to come to terms with my situation or see any light at the end of the tunnel. This was magnified by the fact that my parents could not find answers themselves for many years.

Hopeful new beginnings

In 1959 we moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast. This represented a big change with a better climate and ready access to the surf, sun and sand. We all gradually improved in health but the problem of depression still pervaded my mental and emotional condition.

Struggling for recognition and acceptance?

I was always fighting my situation to gain some ascendancy in my psychological health. Continual absenteeism from school did not help my cause and only enhanced my low self esteem so that I felt I had to motivate myself more and more to succeed and gain what I considered as the necessary recognition from others.

Over time my condition slowly subsided and I was able to engage in more activities and see something of a normalisation return in the setting of goals and having a routine I could follow.

 Insecurity pervades my life

My serious outlook on life remained as did the fear of any recurrence of my health problems which manifested from time to time. Insecurity would drag me down but I trained myself to persevere against the odds to achieve scholastically and in sport. My parents could not counsel me and subsequently they were not in a position to provide any objectivity or insight.

As well as my ill health and the poor health of my two sisters who suffered with asthma there was a general environment of ill health which was further depressing. My parents provided a degree of love and care as best they could but when one of us was extremely sick the other two children were sent to members of the family or close friends in other parts of the state in order to allow my mother to direct her energies to the child most sick. This temporary isolation for three to four months did not help any one of us.

Embarrassment  and Depression

The social side of my depression found me struggling to relate to anyone from an early age. The only person I had any faith in was my mother because she showed true empathy and could give a certain level of help. I kept people at arm’s length preventing any normal levels of interaction. One has to remember also that the skin condition that I had carried for all of my early days was quite conspicuous and caused other boys to avoid me.

My mother used to put a lotion called ‘jensen violet’ on me. It was purple in colour and only highlighted the extremity of how extensive the skin condition was. As you could imagine this purple lotion made me a ready target for boys who wanted to poke fun at me. This only angered me and caused me to resist and fight back.

 Achievements bring sense of enjoyment

Moving on, my parents gave me a legacy of sporting achievement which inspired me in my teen years to succeed in athletics.

The scouting movement and the school cadet corps also provided me with outlets to enjoy. In fact this was the commencement of a rare period of enjoyment in my life with associated feelings of success and achievement.

Building self esteem 

With time I caught up with my studies and went on to university and teaching. I was successful as a decathlete, but still found it very difficult to look at the lighter side of life.  My mental templates were very much established and could not be readily changed.

Success as a decathlete and success in my studies built self esteem and I began a long journey of improving bit by bit.

My training for the decathlon took up to 14hours a week and this was physically demanding. I pushed myself hard wanting to improve in each of the ten events that ran over two days. I competed in the New South Wales and Victorian state titles to be up against better competition. As the state title holder I represented Queensland at the national titles and usually managed to place in the top three. 

Learning New Strategies

As a teacher I learned certain strategies which assisted me personally in learning to think outside the square and gain new perspectives on situations. I also learned the art of listening more and I was able to carry these skills over to life in general which was helpful for me. 

Finding the balance

 When I started teaching I also took up a Masters Degree part time over three years. At this stage I was also a church youth leader of an organization and the demands and pressures on my time were considerable. My priorities were definitely out of order. I was motivated to do those things that helped my self esteem. So my further studies, my athletics and alpine and rock climbing took precedence over my teaching and building relationships.  It took me a number of years to find the balance and begin to get satisfaction out of teaching.

I took up alpine and rock climbing after I withdrew from athletics. I did a number of trips to New Zealand spending my time climbing in the Southern Alps around Mt Cook. The level of fitness that I had achieved in athletics enabled me to succeed in climbing most of the more challenging peaks. The first trip to New Zealand was with a friend.  Our experiences together in ice climbing, rock climbing, and ski mountaineering as well as  spending nights in ice caves created a strong bond between us and a friendship that has remained constant. 

The rocky road of relationships

My inability to relate to other people on deeper and more meaningful levels meant that I found it awkward to develop a relationship with women. While other guys were doing the social circuit I threw myself into athletics and gained a number of state titles and records as a decathlete. I was also a weightlifter. This all earned recognition and respect from others and therefore improved my self esteem.

I met Christine at a church youth night and her bubbling effervescence was instantly attractive to me. She was simply fun to be around and there were no ‘serious vibes’ with her. Christine was genuinely light hearted without any serious mood swings or preoccupations with herself or her family. Her parents fortunately had not suffered the involvement in World War 11.

The development of our relationship was rocky as our backgrounds were so different. Our individual philosophy was also different in that Christine only wanted to move ahead in our relationship. I had thwarted previous relationships with women because I did not want to get involved and I was simply not prepared for responsibility and commitment. With her pressure I would only draw back and do more of my own thing.

My mind set was conditioned to self first. I had to personally discover the reality of love. I needed to know the love of a creator God and the love necessary to a prosperous relationship. There were no role models for me in this regard and if there had been I would probably have ignored them.

Learning new relationship skills

In all of this pride was taking centre stage and prevented me from dropping my defences and being open minded. Eventually I succumbed to the obvious and the inevitable. Christine was definitely the right woman for me and we got married in May of 1979. Our first year of marriage was quieter because we were not involved in church activities. Once we re-engaged ourselves with church work the pressure started to build again and tension was much more manifestly present in my life.

Our level of commitment to church things was absolute, and we expended a lot of time and energy with home group activities, youth work and on my part providing climbing and bush walking excursions. Most of Sunday was devoted to church. Not a lot of time was left for building a relationship.

In our relating I would tend to react to things rather than respond. My listening skills needed further development as well as my patience.

My darkest days

In 1981 my wife and I moved to Mackay where we worked fulltime in church and community activity. The demands of this work emotionally drained me and when we moved again, this time to Emerald, I found the intense nature of the work very stressful for myself.  So much so that I had a nervous breakdown.

As a result of this we moved back to Brisbane where we were around family and I could get the necessary care from doctors and specialists. The next ten years were dark times of severe depression.  I moved along one day at a time and life was very limited.

There was so little I could do.  Tranquility and peace were the safe havens that I sought but eluded me.  Seeing doctors and getting scripts for medication were part and parcel of my situation.  Some of the counsel from the doctors assisted me so long as I was prepared to be open and listen.

The long road journey to recovery

Through all this Christine supported me and loved me. She constantly shared words of encouragement with me and relevant literature to facilitate the road to restoration.  In 1984 I went back to work in a more clerical job in the Department of Education.  I needed occupational therapy and this certainly helped. In the 1990s my recovery was more pronounced and I could finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

Stilling the emotions

Having depression adversely affects one’s emotions and mind. It is easy to become emotionally tired and withdrawn. Your mental processes and general clarity of thought can become sluggish and there is not the capacity to problem solve and think through things. These were things I had to deal with continually.

 Objectivity and proper evaluation were almost impossible at times. Your world revolves around yourself and consciously or unconsciously you become self centred. Because of these cycles of depression I would have to take prolonged periods of sick leave.  During this time I practiced the art of calming myself and stilling my emotions. With emotions that are stilled the mind can then be calmed.

Conserving Energy

‘Three steps forward and two steps back’ was my motto to build hope and somehow move ahead. A big revelation to me lay in the fact that there are so many people suffering with depression and these are only the people who are clinically diagnosed. Anxiety, other sicknesses, alcoholism, drug addiction, major traumas, chronic fatigue, nervous breakdowns, burn outs are all causes of depression that I have observed around me.

Even now I still work within parameters. I need to conserve emotional energy and check my progress. Sometimes I need to pull back and in this regard Christine provides the objectivity to identify aspects of my general progress that could become problematic for me.  I have had to learn gratitude for what I have and a new appreciation of others.

Christine’s involvement in ‘life coaching’ has been a marvellous journey for her in acquiring many new skills and techniques that have transformed her life.  Everything that she has assimilated is being used more and more to assist others. I have been a key beneficiary of this because so much of it has helped me. I was fortunate to observe in Christine the changes that were taking place in her life that were so real. She became more light hearted and playful.

This helped me tremendously in becoming more light hearted myself. Her problem solving skills and communication skills took on a new dimension.  I was able to utilize these things myself also.  I gained a new outlook on so many things.  I am able to take a better perspective on issues and I have learned to use my intuition more readily and accurately.  

As Christine has shared with me the principles and practices embedded in life coaching, especially Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Repatterning, this has provided for me more holistic approaches to life and presented me with options for moving out of depression.

Change of Direction
I retired from teaching last year and I now find immense fulfilment in coaching athletics, researching and writing local history books, fossicking, working out at the gym and camping and hiking. Being in the outdoors gives me great pleasure and peace.  Imbibing the stillness of the rain forest and the sounds of the waterfalls, cascades and tumbling creeks and rivers is therapeutic and a tonic to my soul.  Enjoying landscapes and seascapes also provides for me soothing enrichment.  Being around peaceful places is something I can readily draw on and I can share the experience with others. Being grateful for what I have and giving something of my experiences to others also improves my well being.


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