The following content may contain information about mental health and/or other related material which may be triggering. Reader discretion is advised.
Story Submission by Steve, Age Unknown
For over a decade I have lived with depression.
Over ten years of fighting against anger, despair and hopelessness. Through these years I realised those around me never truly understand what it really means. This is not a cry for help, or sympathy, but merely a record of what it’s like for myself to live such a life, and while depression is different for everybody who suffers from it, I wrote this to hopefully help others understand what it can be like, and to see the signs. Or for those with depression to realise you’re not alone in what you go through.
For me, I’ve found I get majorly depressed once or twice a year, almost every single year, and it can last anywhere from a week to two months. For the rest of the year I’m quite capable of living a normal life, with no suicidal thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. If you were to speak to me in those other, good, ten months of the year you’d probably laugh if I said I had depression.
But I do have depression and this is focusing on what those bad months are like, as this is the time when people are least likely to talk to anyone.
I recently spent eighteen months in paradise. On an island in the Caribbean, with girls in bikinis around every single day, and happy hour every night. Not a care in the world and nothing to do but have fun. But even there, even then, at times in public I’d feel overwhelmed, completely detached with everyone around me, who didn’t seem to be remotely feeling the same thing as I, and that was incredibly isolating. I’d constantly ask myself “How can you feel so down in a place like this? What is WRONG with you?” And I’d smile and laugh, at times the anger would crack through and I’d lash out at someone, but I always felt at fault. I always thought there was something inherently wrong with me.
For me, a downswing tends to start slowly. You might just feel off one day, or notice you’re feeling less and less motivated to socialise or work. In public you’ll still be laughing with friends because no one wants to be “that person”, but the laughs turn to chuckles as you feel more and more detached. You spend less and less time around others, eventually the smiles are completely forced.
Then comes the hopelessness. It’s a feeling of absolute failure with no beginning, and no end. It’s feeling entirely and utterly alone. It’s laying in bed next to a loving partner and genuinely asking yourself what that person could possibly see in you, because you see nothing of any value, whatsoever. It’s sabotaging anything around you, not wanting anyone to be close to you, not wanting anyone to see you for who or what you are.
Eventually you isolate yourself from the world, completely numb, and there’s no reason to go on. You’ve zero energy when you do work or socialise, which compounds the hopelessness, and you’re completely unmotivated. Some days I would wake up mid morning, and cry before going back to sleep. For weeks. I felt so detached, I saw no reason to get out of bed, and hated that about myself.
Then comes the embarrassment. You’re so ashamed. “What is WRONG with you?” What kind of grown man who’s literally wrestled crocodiles for a living lays in bed, numb to the world?
Any offer of help is rejected, as those around you can’t possibly understand what you’re going through, and as you lash out more and more the offers get less and less, till you really are alone.
Then the anxiety would kick in. At times, every now (and again even on good days) I’d find my heart racing, sweating and starting to panic if I was in a packed bar, or shopping centre. Again and again it’s like your depression is trying to isolate you from those around you, to cut off any support.
Those feelings above vary in their severity and for the most part you can push through a downswing and come back up when you or others recognise what’s happening, and make enough of a change to halt it.
This next part has been the hardest to write – I think it’s literally taken me three weeks to write it. But I think it’s important not to hide anything away about depression, especially if you want to understand the after effects. It’s important to understand that at this point for someone who’s so far gone the following can be, in their head, the best option for everyone involved.
When depression completely conquers you. When the best option is the worst option, and to someone with depression it really IS the best option. In Sydney in the space of a weekend I lost my job, my girlfriend and had to return the engagement ring bound for her before moving out of ‘our’ apartment. I spent three months living back with my parents and drunk every single day. That led me to sitting on the rocks of Sydney Harbour, two bottles of rum down and stumbling into the water, determined to swim out as far as possible, knowing I wouldn’t have the strength to get back. A three or four hundred meters into the harbour I chickened out. Returning to the shore, wet, sober and miserable.
Ten years later, in the Caribbean I spent a good year being happy on an island, diving every day, but even in paradise that despair was with me. I realised I was taking more and more cocaine during the day, more and more valium at night, trying to cover the depression I knew was building. But as more and more friends left I found it harder and harder to hold on. I ended up drinking for days straight to build the courage, successfully, to end up sitting on my balcony in my shitty apartment with a dozen or so sleeping pills and a bottle of rum. The next 24 hours were some of the worst of my life. I couldn’t tell you if I came close to dying or not, because I had no idea where I was, or any concept of time. But was drifting in and out of consciousness, barely breathing and in a LOT of pain.
But, with one of the worst hangovers I’ve experienced, I woke up. And I spent the next two days hiding from the world as best I could, not able to face my friends and not being able to tell anyone what I had done, because I was so ashamed.
The shame may be, for me, the worst part of depression. It manifests itself is many different ways, but for me it would manifest itself in anger, by lashing out at those closest to me. The first time I tried to kill myself I left Sydney, not speaking to my family for seven years. In the Caribbean in the following weeks I quit working, cast aside best friends, broke up with my girlfriend over the phone in a fit of anger, and ended up in more than one “heated argument” with guys at 4am. You’re so far gone that you really don’t care how much you hurt others, or yourself.
But the really dangerous part of living with depression is that after any downswing, even an extreme one, eventually you come out of it and you VERY quickly lock away any feelings and experiences you just had. You salvage some relationships, leave others and move on. It’s completely defensive, and weeks after something as horrifying as trying to kill yourself people you meet would have no idea. You’re smiling and laughing like the last month or so never happened. When I read this during the better part of the year I feel like I’m reading about someone else, the change really is that drastic.
Though there is hope. You can stop that downward spiral before it becomes too much. Of course there’s therapy, which leads to medication. But medication alone isn’t enough. Nature, be it the ocean or the forest brings a calm over me. At times, if I wasn’t too far gone, I’d sit by the sea and breathe with the waves. It never fended off depression entirely, but it brings a sense of comfort, of solitude in a positive light, it would buy me time. Hard physical exercise would create a goal, and a feeling of strength, of pride. Creativity, like photography, making jewellery or writing as an outlet can give a sense of worth.
Restoring my truck, one fix at a time reaffirms that little changes make a big difference. Pushing your limits on a racetrack is the closest thing to meditation there is.
Externally? It could be something simple as a mate recognising that look, and asking you if you’re OK. Or something as stupid as waking to find your dog has somehow let herself into your bedroom during the night, which you realise when she wakes you up with her paw in your mouth. Because, well, it’s time for breakfast.
The hardest part, for yourself and others, is recognising the signs as early as possible, and then make changes in your life. They don’t have to be permanent, or even drastic, but something to stop that fall before it begins. But it’s hard to do on your own, and placing yourself in a community of people who live a healthy, active and positive life is key.
I eventually realised it wasn’t the diving, driving or working that made me happy. It was the community that came with it, the tribe. Be it a group of divers, car enthusiasts, mates, or wherever you find it, it was that community that had people you knew you could approach without shame or embarrassment.
The most difficult part of depression is feeling completely and utterly alone. If you see someone isolating themselves and pulling away, then reach out. They may not accept it, but they may acknowledge it, even if it is privately. For those who have felt this way, and made it this far, then depression may be your burden to bear, but you are not alone. The one thing no one can take away from you is hope, and it IS there, because so are you. Work on the strength to ask for help. Some people will get uncomfortable, tell you to grow up or “be a man”, but some will want to help. So learn to ask the right people. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You’re loved and you do love yourself, you really do. If it counts for anything, I’ll always be here to have a chat with. I’m sure of it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm or addiction, please reach out. Call 13 11 14 for Lifeline’s 24hr Telephone Crisis Support or contact a mental health professional. If you are looking for other mental health resources, browse our Find Help page.
If a life is in danger call 000 immediately.