“One of the biggest problems I have found with depression is that when I do start feeling a modicum of happiness again, like I’ve possibly turned the corner, I don’t trust it. Therefore I don’t embrace it. It’s easier to turn back to feeling down rather than, in my own eyes, being a failure again if the misery was to suck me back in. The false dawns are just as damaging as the dark hopeless nights of feeling like there is nothing left to live for.”
Those are the words I wrote in my counselling journal at my lowest ebb, when it felt like there was no way out. In my opinion there was no single reason for why I had become depressed. Since the breakup of my marriage at Christmas 2010, I simply failed to acknowledge the overwhelming loss I was feeling, the lack of daily contact with my son, losing my house, and the fact that at 28, I was starting again. Life carried on at pace, and I looked upon it as keeping busy. In reality, what I was doing was papering over the cracks on a day to day basis. Rather than see it as a fresh start, all I saw in the mirror was a failure. The future looked bleak and frightening.
I dealt with these feelings in a way I imagine a lot of young men do, by trying to shut them away as if they did not exist. After all real men don’t cry do they? In fact, I don’t remember shedding a single tear after my marriage ended. Instead I let it all build up inside me like a melting pot of emotions. It was unhealthy, hiding everything away.
Things were harder because, on the outside, I was so good at being the joker, having a laugh and acting the fool. I worried how people would react to me if I really opened up to how I was feeling, so I buried it further and further down. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a good life, a decent job, a busy social life, excellent friends and a supportive family. Most of all I have an amazing son. With so many people out there suffering so badly, how could I have the temerity to feel like this? You feel the guilt consuming you, I shouldn’t be feeling this, so why then am I? I’d play my part when in front of a crowd, but then entertain the demons in the confines of my own space.
The other day I heard the Eminem song “Beautiful” and four lines drew a wry smile from my lips:
‘You’re so funny man, God damn!/You should be a comedian/Unfortunately I am/I just hide behind the tears of a clown.’
I don’t doubt that a lot of us could identify with that. You sometimes feel like you must preserve that image of happiness at all costs, to admit to anything else is a supposed sign of weakness.
Eventually I entered into my next serious relationship, one that came to mean an awful lot. To me it was more real than anything I’d felt. It was during that time that I realised, deep down, something serious was happening to me. The normal feelings that came with being with someone were too much for me. I constantly thought that I wasn’t good enough, that it was doomed, also that I deserved to be unhappy as I had been a bad husband. My irrational insecurities, eventually, played a big part in the relationship failing and that’s when I hit rock bottom.
A culmination of burying two years of pain and stress forced me to this point. A descent caused by my refusal to deal with things. I was at the crossroads; contemplating suicide, I finally found the courage to open up to my dad, he dealt with things brilliantly. He encouraged me to take control again and do positive things one step at a time. I began counselling, I went to the gym, and I became fitter. I went back to work and I began planning to get a new flat.
Most importantly I started making the most of the time spent with my son. I convinced myself it was more important to enjoy moments together, rather than constantly regretting those I’d lost. All of these things were my focus. At the same time I kept on talking, whenever I needed to.
Some days I began feeling my old self again, but every time I thought I could see the finishing line something would drag me back down. A place, a memory, a bad day in the office, even something as inconsequential as a certain song on the radio (please outlaw Temper Trap!). These things could lead me back to periods of struggle. It was one step forward and twenty steps back.
It’s hard to explain in words how or why exactly, but in the end I stood outside of myself and saw what it was doing to those I cared for, and more importantly what it was doing to me. It didn’t shame me into changing, anyone who thinks this is melancholy, attention seeking or utters that ridiculous phrase “man up” are extremely naive. What developed inside me was an overwhelming desire not to be that sad person anymore; to enjoy life.
No doubt I will carry the physical and mental scars of my depression for the rest of my life. There is always the chance of relapse, but I refuse to live in fear of it. I’m not an expert just because I’ve been through it. Everyone’s journey is unique and not all are lucky enough to get the support I received. I’m writing merely to raise awareness and, hopefully, to inspire others.
Who knows what it really means to be “a man”, what I do believe, however, is that confronting your issues definitely doesn’t make you less of one.