I’m 22 years old and I was recently diagnosed with depression.
At this point you’re probably wondering: “What has a young man with his whole life ahead of him got to worry about? How can you get depressed?”
Let me explain…
Around this time last year, I was in my final year of university and my stress levels were through the roof trying to complete my degree, all while trying to hold down a part-time job, several work experience placements and a social life. Exhausting.
Although I’ve always been confident both socially and in overcoming difficult situations, inside I’m regularly confronted by a self-doubting voice that questions every decision I make.
Following personal losses within my family, I was in no mood to finish university. To avoid the grief, I threw myself into work and attended lots of football matches as a form of escapism. I saw my work and travels around the country as a way of dealing with my problems, instead of talking to someone.
For a while it seemed to work. I’m a writer and with every news story I had published, my confidence grew and my determination to get my degree helped drag me through the year.
As I entered 2013, I was desperate to sort my state of mind out ahead of what was to come, in what I saw as the most important period of my life.
However, I was stopped in my tracks when I was diagnosed with an abnormality in my heart. A bit of invincibility chipped away. I initially hid the news from my parents, until I had to tell them about a hospital appointment I had to attend. The worried looks and anxious questions was what I was trying to protect them from, but I realised it was a secret I couldn’t keep any further.
After I underwent ECG and MRI tests, thoughts of whether this would plague me for the rest of my life were prevalent and I wondered if I could lead a normal life with this condition, whatever normal might be…
With reassurances from the hospital that my health was fine, I went back to university. Naturally, the time around my finals was filled with stress and countless late nights spent in the library trying to finish assignments.
Then something happened that stopped me in my tracks. A couple of friends created a twitter account impersonating me. On the face of it, some may see it as harmless fun, but to me I couldn’t believe that people who I considered close friends would do such a thing. I felt embarrassed and worried that someone was out to get me; I ended up questioning whether I could trust anyone or if I had any true friends.
That may sound like an overreaction, but self-doubt reared its ugly head and the pieces that built up to my eventual depression diagnosis started to fit together. Nevertheless I carried on and as I said goodbye to university, I began a relationship with a girl who’d studied the same course as me. For once it felt like someone actually cared about me, as I graduated on a hot July day, the world was mine to conquer. Things were looking good, but this wave of positivity was short lived. As I began job hunting, I was soon struck down by negative thoughts. Like thousands of graduates, I was desperate to get on my own two feet and begin my own journey, start my career.
With every job rejection, my mood worsened and it led to me neglecting my girlfriend when all she’d done was offer me love and support. The worse my confidence became about my employability, the more I became cold towards her, leading to arguments about my lack of care.
I knew I loved her, I just didn’t show it when we were together and she had a point to a degree, but it wasn’t because I didn’t care.
Once our relationship came to an end, I was sorry for what had happened. I was worried about my actions, but needed some space to gather my thoughts.
Eventually I was offered a job, and I began to focus on rescuing my broken relationship but she had moved on and was seeing someone else.
At this point I knew this was a situation of my own making, and that it was to do with thoughts and issues that felt out of my control, but it still didn’t stop me from feeling confused and sick about what had happened.
I was torn between wondering whether I was better off without her, or if I’d blown one of the best things to ever happen to me. It was at this point that I realised that the past year and half had taken a serious toll on my mental health.
I recognised that enough was enough and I couldn’t cope on my own anymore. I had to seek help and I visited the doctors where I was diagnosed with depression.
I booked myself in for further counselling sessions where the nurse sat and listened to what I’ve written here. Now I’m at the start of a slow process of rebuilding my life again.
Granted, it’ll take time and I’ll still lie awake at night and over-think things in my head, but I know I’ve got plenty to live for. I’ve got an amazing family and friends who I cannot thank enough for being there when I’ve been down. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to be around, even at the best of times, but depression is a tricky thing like that.
My advice to anyone who may have experienced similar feelings to me is to talk to someone as soon as possible. Whether it’s a close friend or even charities such as CALM, help is out there.
Depression is the biggest killer amongst young men, and even though we, as men, are often reluctant to talk about our feelings, it’s important that we help each other out and be there for our friends or family if they’re experiencing similar issues.
The thing with depression is that it can sneak up on anyone. It can consume and eat you up from the inside so much so that every day became a struggle and just getting through the next 24 hours is an achievement in itself. There were countless days that I just wanted to stay in bed and not face the world outside. But I kept going, safe in the knowledge that there were people out there helping me deal with my condition.
I just hope in 12 months time I can look back and say that I managed to beat depression.
You can follow Joel on twitter: @JoelRichards91