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FIRST PERSON: How my holiday nightmare saved my life

Throughout my younger years, I struggled with depression. 

Unfortunately, I’m almost certain that sentence has been used for many similar stories to the one that I am about to tell.

There are numerous reasons that I could attribute to my bleak outlook on life. My mother was abusive and neglectful, I was raised in poverty and squalor and I had been something of a social misfit. Again, it seems that almost everybody who is depressed has to offer some form of justification for their feelings. Would I have been depressed if I’d been raised in an affluent household, with a loving mother and a broad social network? I might have been. It’s impossible to know.

Depression is not something that needs to be justified or explained to people. It’s not a disease you can catch from a sneeze and cure with a few pills. It’s far more complex than that, and unfortunately, is rarely taken seriously among men.

From the age of 10, I’d begun to suffer from mental health problems. I heard voices in my head, would self-harm and began to become manipulative and violent. I even began to blackmail people, which sounds absurd for somebody so young, but at the time it gave me a strange feeling of power. The voices in my head compelled me to take revenge on people for perceived slights. I suppose this is how many of us react when we feel victimised and refuse to accept it.

At the age of 13, I did something pretty terrible. I cannot go into much detail, but I was quickly put into therapy. I saw a psychiatrist for three years, and it did help a lot. Perhaps it was easier for me because I was forced to see one. I would have never sought one out myself. 

After I left therapy at 16, I was optimistic about my future, and became more confident. My self-esteem was higher, and I began to enjoy life for what felt like the first time. Unfortunately, this is not the end of my story. Something pretty terrible happened to a close friend of mine. Again, I cannot go into details about this, but it threw me into a terrible depression once more. The timing was terrible: the day after I’d heard the news, I was to fly to Morocco for a holiday with my family. I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t possibly explain this to my parents. So I put on a brave face and went on the holiday regardless. I never told my family anything about my life, I never had and I thought I never could. 

During my time in Morocco, I distanced myself from my family and spent every night drinking myself into oblivion and getting into trouble. I was too young to drink, but being fairly tall, I could usually get away with it. One night, I stumbled back to my room and decided, out of the blue, to take my own life. I’d considered suicide many times in the past, but I’d always worried that it would upset my dad. I’d resolved that if I was ever to actually go through with it, I’d try to make it look like an accident.

Thanks to a mixture of luck and fate (if you believe in such things), it didn’t happen and I went to bed. I went out again that night, and went to a club where I met a nice Geordie girl. I got talking to her and quickly we became close. I didn’t bear my heart to her about my suicide attempt, I just talked to her. Over the course of that holiday, we became very close and had something of a holiday romance. Ultimately, it turned out to be the best holiday I’d ever had and have ever had since.

Without realising it, she changed my life for the better. I also realised that suicide is a long term solution to a temporary problem. I’ll always be grateful to her just for being there, but the truth is, I didn’t need her or anybody else to feel like life was worth living, none of us do. We just need to know that we deserve to live, we have a right to happiness, and it is all in our own hands. 

Has life been rosy ever since that night? Of course not. I’ve wrestled with feelings of depression and nihilism since then, and I imagine I will do in the future, but each year is better than the last, because I decide it will be. My fate is in my hands, and I will not succumb to feelings of depression or apathy. I am stronger now, but part of that strength comes from realising that strength is not simply an absence of weakness, it is not a blind fanaticism to succeed.

Strength is asking for help, strength is talking to people when you are feeling low, strength is helping others around you.

Strength is having the wisdom to know that you will not always be at your best, and learning to cope with that in a safe and constructive manner, so that when you emerge from the other side of that dark tunnel of depression that seems to go on forever, you will be a better person for it and you can turn around and guide others through that tunnel as well.

JC Axe

Photo by Antonio Cinotti, license here

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