"The biggest lie I was constantly telling the world was 'I’m happy'."
Days of awareness, no matter the cause may seem frivolous and ineffective but I believe there is power that lies in a person who decides to tell their story. World Mental Health day is one such day of awareness that impacts your life in some way, whether you know it or not, and should be taken seriously.
According to the World Health Organisation, “if we don’t act urgently, by 2030 depression will be the leading illness globally.” As someone who has depression, I suppose I have a vested interest in spreading awareness of mental health conditions but the truth is, statistically speaking, either you or a great number of your friends or family will be affected by it at some point.
I talk about mental health a lot and the reason I do it is because no one will admit to actually having it. People talk about alcoholism, people talk about being gay, people talk about politics and religion but no one will ever talk about having a mental illness.
The taboo on it is immense. The implication that someone has a legitimate mental illness is often seen as dismissive or derogatory; as if their humanity is suddenly void.
I went to see a therapist a couple of years ago because I needed help. The reason why I talk about mental illness so openly because of this stigma associated with it. I don’t want anyone to feel how I felt, when I was broken and alone.
I suffered in silence. I locked myself away from my family and my friends to be alone. People assume depression is just sadness, it’s not. It’s hard for me to describe depression but from personal experience it’s the absence of emotion. I’m not sad, or heartbroken. I don’t feel upset, or misguided. I feel empty. There’s absolutely nothing. And that’s what hurts the most.
I felt guilty all the time for feeling nothing. I woke up and I felt nothing, I went about my day and I felt nothing. I went to bed and I still felt nothing.
The death of actor Robin Williams really put things into perspective for me. I get asked why there are famous people and rich people who don’t seem sad but are very depressed. The ones who seem like they have it all and have what seems to be a perfect life. It really put into perspective what depression really is. It’s not necessarily forever being sad or upset. It’s just literal emptiness. There is no joy, no excitement. It’s the absence of emotions; you notice when everyone around you is enjoying life and having a good time.
And I think that’s why extremely depressed people are often times suicidal. It’s not because they’re sad about their life. Sadness is generally temporary. It’s because they are so empty and have felt that way for so long, that there’s nothing to look forward to. No hope in this life. People are driven by futuristic ideas. We can’t wait to graduate from university, and then start a new career, then marriage, children, etc. If you feel no positivity or excitement or joy for any milestones in life, there’s really not a single reason I can think of that would explain someone still wanting to live life. Nothing can fill their voids. So that’s where their minds float to and I understand that.
The biggest lie I was constantly telling the world was “I’m happy”.
From the outside looking in, I had an amazing group of friends, an extremely supportive family; I had a wonderful job with even more wonderful co-workers and in the last 10 years I have gotten to see and do some amazing things.
However, I was depressed almost all the time. I thought about the pros and cons of my existence a lot, and whether or not I want to continue that existence. I hadn’t been really suicidal in a long time, but I often thought about how much easier it could be if I didn’t have to deal with it all.
And on the outside, I was this bubbly, fairly charismatic guy. I couldn’t talk to females so I was pretty much on my own, but it’s a part of who I am. If I wasn’t working, I was out on adventures, and I was usually the life and party of my little festive group. They know my name at the places I eat and where I buy my drinks. In all intents and purposes, I had it made but then I go home and lie in my bed I would think, “would this person miss me if I hung myself?”.
Sometimes I felt like I don’t matter at all. My friends were busy with their own lives and there’s me with my own set of problems. There are things I wanted to pour out to someone, but it sometimes feels like there isn’t anyone who’d be willing or free enough to take the time to listen.
From time to time, I cracked a smile so fake and so real it fools myself sometimes, I didn’t think anyone suspected how bad it was getting. I had a feeling that I’d be a burden to my friends if I told them what’s on my mind. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, I smiled, I joked and I laughed because I didn’t want the pressure of people worrying about me because that would make the problem worse.
So, I kept living, smiling, and being me, yet I hated living but there is so much I wanted from life.
I remember there was this great quote from the film Lost in Translation (2003) that goes “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” I know depression will always be a part of me and it’s something I can’t change, I learn to accept it as part of myself and I try not to let it stop me from getting what I want, and try not to let it stop me from being happy.
Nowadays, I learn to take better care of my mental health. I exercise and I eat more healthily and more importantly, I’m not afraid to call for help and talk more about my feelings. Yes, I still have to deal with some lingering mental health problems, but after hitting rock bottom, I took a hard look at myself, figured out what I wanted. I said, “I’m not going to let depression take what I want away from me”. I wanted to be someone I could be proud of, be a positive example to other people, I want to have a family someday, I want to get a great career, and help my parents financially, I wanted to become the friend my friends deserved, the son my parents deserved, I wanted to be patient, I wanted to do as well as I know I can at my job. I wanted all these things and more.
For this, I fight every day, and some days I’ll lose, but I’ll always keep fighting, because breathing for another day, having another chance to live the life you want, that to me is worth fighting for.
Note: To those who need it I like to remind you that seeking therapy does not make you weak. If you have something physically wrong with you, you’ll go and see a doctor. The same applies to your mental well-being. Remember that asking for help and knowing you need it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. If you need someone to talk I suggest looking for more information starting with the NHS and with BACP.