Battles With The Darkness: Ben G

13 June 2017 Katherine Smyrk

Battles With The Darkness: Ben G

Photograph by Jacob Pedersen

"I’m a vendor for The Big Issue, and I’m a guitarist. I’ve always been a musician; my whole life is about music. I did relatively well in Britain, I was a good musician, well respected.

After I’d come to Australia, I woke up one morning and, totally unexpectedly, my arm wouldn’t move. There was no reason for it.

I could no longer do the thing I loved, which was play music. That put me into not just a physical decline, but a mental health decline. I just couldn’t see any way ahead, because I know nothing other than music. I do have a masters degree but never having applied the trade of that, and being in my fifties, it was a pretty depressing time. And it went on for years.

The surgeons and doctors, everyone, were focused on why I was paralysed, and no-one ever gave any thought to the mental health side. Nobody even seemed to cotton on to that. You know, he’s lost his income, he’s lost the ability to do what he loves, that didn’t seem to register with anyone. And I didn’t speak up about it, I was just grateful that anyone was trying to solve the issue of my arm. But the mental decline was really bad.

I went into a very severe depression, couldn’t talk to anybody about it, couldn’t talk to my immediate family about it. I’m one of those people that is very aware of the fact that others have got their own problems, and I don’t want to add to their problems, I’d rather try and deal with my own without anybody else.

Depression is not something that just sits inside you and makes you feel a particular way: it manifests itself in everything that you do. You lose control. You lose control of your finances. You lose control of your personal hygiene. You lose control of so much, and it’s very difficult to get it all back again.

I’m now where I have got it back again, but it’s taken me something like, I would say, 30 to 40 consultations with my psychologist before I even started to find a way forward.

There are a lot of people out there who are depressed who don’t realise they’re depressed. It’s not so much talking about “mental health issues”, it’s about talking about how you feel. Then other people may see other things that maybe you failed to see in yourself.

I think men are pretty bad at coming forward like that. It’s that attitude of “I’m supposed to be the breadwinner, leading things” and it’s looked upon as a sign of weakness. But I think it’s in the process of changing.

It is a very difficult subject, especially when the resources don’t exist for dealing with it properly. I think everybody acknowledges that there are not enough resources for mental health issues. In every other area of healthcare there are these programs for avoidance – “here’s how to make yourself healthy” – but when it comes to mental health issues it’s crisis intervention. It should never reach that stage.

I finished my psychology sessions a few months back. It’s at the stage where he said, “If you need me, call me.” But I haven’t actually needed him.

I don’t want to sound glib or anything, but The Big Issue has played a major part in that. I’d gone so long in a state of depression, I had sort of lost my self-esteem and self-worth, because I couldn’t do anything. And even though I was standing on a bridge and selling a magazine, there’s an interaction there with the general public, which was always, for me, good. People talking to me, me talking to them.

And through that, somebody paid anonymously for me to go for six months to a radical form of physiotherapy. And after that my physiotherapists themselves wanted to do it pro bono. They worked on me for a couple of years until they got this arm moving again. I mean it’s not perfect, it’s not great, but the arm moves, the fingers move, I can play guitar again!

I still take antidepressants, but I’m far brighter and more focused on getting on with things than I ever was. I’m not out of the woods yet, but it’s a step in the right direction… It’s a giant leap actually."

If you need help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This article first appeared in Ed#538 of The Big Issue.