My daughter dropped me a message the other day asking me if I knew about a group called “Andy’s Man Club”. It is a network of meetings designed to help reduce the suicide rate in the under 45 year old male age group, encouraging men with mental health issues to come along to chat and be listened too. It is the sort of thing that I think would be good for me but I find it really hard to decide whether I could find the courage to go. As with many issues I decided to write about it, and to do it from the point of view of introducing myself to the group.

What follows is what I came up with.

Hi, my name is Andy which is funny because this is called Andy’s Man Club so it makes it sound like it is all about me which I feel awkward about because I know it is not. I came tonight because I need to belong to something. I have been in groups before where I have felt that I contributed something important, that I make a difference to somebody’s life and that helped me feel good about myself. I guess that’s the crux of the matter really, I don’t really like myself, I don’t feel like a good person or that I contribute to helping other people’s lives. I live but it is all rather bland and nothingness. This all came to a head a few years ago when my eldest child left home. Actually before that because her deciding to go and look at unis kicked me into realising that she was actually leaving home.

I love my daughter. I am grateful that she was good enough to go to uni. I am proud she managed to get a degree despite the hardships she went through. I am glad she likes to travel and that she now lives in Northern Ireland trying to do some good for others. I encourage her to leave. I went to visit unis with her. I drove her on her first day and picked her up on her last. I was sad both times. Sad that she was probably never come on again when I left her the first time, and sat that her uni days were over when I picked her to return briefly home.

It wasn’t until my son left for uni and the whole depression kicked off again that I realised I had to do something. It wasn’t just him going, it was the hole he left behind. We have one daughter still at home but suddenly it felt that here was so much time on my hands. I see so much of myself in my son, but he is a better version, an improved version. He doesn’t struggle in the same way I do and is all the more successful because of it. I miss him though because we have similar interests and he was someone to share things with. I knew when he was at home that I needed really more friends my own age but he, like all my kids, is the one I am most relaxed with. I don’t feel judged by my kids. I guess I am saying I feel judged by everybody else but really I am saying I judge myself. I judge myself a failure. Logically I know that can’t be true. I can’t be father to three great kids and that be true but, yeh the big but, I don’t feel successful, I don’t feel I’ve achieved anything.

I eventually found the strength to go and see my GP about my depression. We talked and I cried, cried because I felt so useless. He prescribed me some anti-depressants but wanted to know what I wanted to gain from going on them. To me at that point, I thought the answer lay in being more creative. I wanted to explore what that meant for me and develop the non-logical side. Perhaps I was looking to find my emotional core and nurture it. The pills gave me 3 days of joy before a damping field descended on me. My GP checked to see how I was getting on and I described the pills as giving me a buffer of security. I could tell I was still depressed but it didn’t feel so extreme. I never felt suicidal at that time but it seemed to me that the pills pulled me further away from that possibility.

I started writing a blog. I always felt alone and different and I hoped the blog would allow me to connect to other people and maybe find out that I was not so different or alone after all. It worked to a certain extent. I have written over 300 posts and have over a hundred followers. Basically I write what I am thinking about at least that is a starting point because through writing I dig a bit deeper and can come to a better understanding about myself. Sometimes I don’t understand things any better but writing helps me to get things out of my head, allowing me to move onto other things.

Through my writing I can to the suspicion that I was autistic and eventually went back to my GP who agreed to refer me for assessment. It took a while but I got my assessment and eventually got a confirmed diagnosis of being on the autistic spectrum. I thought the autism might be the cause of the depression but I have since come to the conclusion that whilst there is sure to be an interchange between them, that I have both autism and depression. I was 48 when I was diagnosed with depression and 49 when I achieved autistic status. It has taken me a while to admit my difficulties.

Whilst I find writing and my blog good for getting my thoughts out, I find my followers too distant to be supportive. It is lovely to see that people read my stuff, especially when I get a like but comments are few are far between. It probably comes back to judging myself but it is through comments that I feel that I have made a difference to somebody’s life. A good comment to me shows that somebody has read, understood and thought about what I have written. I don’t care if they agree with me or not, I think I just want to be heard and I want to be accepted for being me. I crave that feedback because it challenges my self-perception. Making an impact on others means I am not useless, I do have some importance to someone. I can hear my critical self though. I am only helping others to make myself feel good. I am really only being selfish.

I come here because I think I can make a difference. I think I can help you but at the same time I think you can help me. The only time that I seem to understand that I am something useful and good is when I am told that by a group of people. Various people appreciating me at the same time seems to penetrate that self-judgemental barrier I have. A single person I seem to dismiss but a group will have an affect even if only for a short time. I hope that if enough positive affirmation happens then maybe I can be less self-critical and giving time maybe move along further along the path to accepting who I am.