Having written this introduction a thousand times over, each time trying to make it sound less morbid, I think I finally have found a way to talk about male depression and my own experience of it. Beneath the well-curated Instagram feed and blog photos, there is a person that, just like you all, goes through the full spectrum of emotions on a daily basis. Some days, however, are a hell of a lot worse than others.
Depression is actually a subject that I have raised with close friends and so I am lucky in the respect that it is not so much of a taboo issue and I can actually talk frankly about feeling VERY down at times. I have friends who have also had depression, friends who probably have had depression and won’t talk about it, then friends who seem to be on an infinite loop of euphoric highs who wouldn’t get sad if you slapped them round the face. Me? Things can get me down and it can be a difficult, dark hole to climb out of.
My first real concept, or experience, of depression probably happened about fifteen years ago at school. I have lived more than half my life since then, but even just talking about months of verbal bullying and other kids naïvely name-calling (through no fault of their own) gives me a lump in my throat. I would dread going into school each and every morning and almost cry at the relief of having a day off sick, having those unbelievably long holidays, or one of the bullies not being in school that day. If there was an opportunity to scrap education at the age of twelve in favour of self-preservation, I would have most definitely opted for that route.
Fast-forward fifteen years and, even with less “wet look” gel in my hair and well-manicured stubble, there is still that inner feeling that I can sometimes not control. For me personally, it is almost purely a state of mind; the anticipation of bad things, bad thoughts and generally a bad day often leading to negative (or negatively-perceived) outcomes. Depression will often morph into anxiety; almost an entirely different state of a racing heart and unexplained intense fear of anything and everything. I know that plenty of people suffer from anxiety and this is a more recognised, and perhaps more widely talked about, issue. Panic attacks were often a daily, or hourly, occurrence for me; laying in bed praying that my heart wouldn’t explode and completely paralysed by fear. Ironically, it was often a fear of dying from a heart attack which then caused my heart rate to shoot up which then further exacerbated the feeling of having a heart attack…and so the cycle of terror would continue. This all stemmed from those feelings of depression and that one tiny seed of negative thought.
So, what do I do to tackle depression? Well, my wife Katie has helped MASSIVELY over the past four years with helping me to re-frame my perspective on life. It sounds like an absolute cliché or even the opening line from a self-help seminar but seeing the glass half full definitely helps. I focus on the positives in life, try to always look forward and make a point not to be negative towards others. Books like The Secret may stretch my factually-orientated mind to it’s limit with talk of the Laws of Attraction, but I do see a real benefit in just focusing on those positives each day. Apps like Headspace also give me ten minutes to turn off and focus internally on how I am feeling. No psychotherapist, just me. That time each evening is invaluable; my eyes are closed and it is just sound in my ears. Finally; exercise. In a weird sort of way I feel like putting my body under a different physical stress blocks out the mental stress and, in a less weird sort of way, the endorphins released through exercise have scientifically been proven to have a positive effect on the mind and body.
Fifteen years is a long time to be living with depression, but I am so grateful for the support network and tools that I have to keep it under control. We all have our bad days (admittedly on different scales) and having a negative “depressed” state of mind is nothing to be embarrassed about. Speak up and speak out, even if it is only to one person. Or at least find yourself some funny animal GIFs to momentarily put a smile on your face.
I have listed a few websites below that I believe are extremely useful in helping discuss the issue further. If you also know of anyone that might be suffering from depression then please do reach out to them; my twelve year-old self never had the courage to speak out and never had that one person reach out and extend their helping hand, recognising what was going through my mind. I promise you that no matter how deep and dark that hole is, if you are at the bottom of it, you can only look up.
Mental Health Foundation (www.mentalhealth.org.uk)
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably – www.thecalmzone.net)