It was an ordinary day, like any other that had come before. I’d struggled along, unaware that each ordinary day was one where I’d slipped just that little bit further. Not realising there was a weight pushing me down the tiniest bit more.
Every extra hour I’d spend in bed in the morning. Each additional day I’d go without showering. More days that would pass where I refused to leave the house. It had become a pattern, and I was completely blind to it.
But on June 19th of this year, the normal day ended in a very bleak place. I would say it came out of nowhere, but in retrospect, every sign was there from the beginning. I’d let my mental health collapse.
It was that night, after watching Birdman, where I had to admit to myself that if I didn’t have a family, I would’ve killed myself. Hell, I even sat with the thought of suicide all night. I’m lucky that the reminder of my daughter asleep in the other room spared me an awful decision that night. But I had to face the facts:
Family couldn’t save me forever.
Suicide in men has been described as a “silent epidemic.” It has a disturbingly high incidence and is a major contributor to men’s mortality. In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 and 44. Among men of all ages in Canada, suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in 2007.
The above quote is from an article in the BC Medical Journal in 2011. It’s an excellent insight into leading theories behind the ‘silent epidemic’ and one I encourage you to read.
When I say that I’m lucky, I absolutely believe it. I have many securities that men in similar situations aren’t fortunate to have. Financial stability, family, and a community of trusted friends, just to name a few.
If you have all of those things, how did you get to this place?
The answer isn’t an easy one. Depression is a sly, subtle bastard. It hooks in quietly and is content to whisper for months and years. There have been rare occasions where I’ve been able to feel it settling in, where I have enough self-awareness to understand the feelings I’m having. It’s rare to happen that way.
It begins with something small and ends with you thinking tomorrow really isn’t worth waiting out. And it can happen slow or terrifyingly fast. That loss of perspective is almost indescribable and is deeply horrifying. I still can’t explain to you how I couldn’t see value in the life I was living. Even with everything being absolutely wonderful from the outside. I’m embarrassed to have taken it all for granted.
But, I can promise you this; it wasn’t taken for granted. I simply didn’t see my value in the equation.
That night I had a long talk with my wife. I told her everything I’d kept inside, the awful shit that swirled around in my brain day and night. I confessed the anxieties, my fear of going outside, the lack of desire to be a person anymore. It was scary, for both of us. She knew, of course. She’d been living with my depression as much as I had. I don’t think she understood how far down I’d spiralled emotionally. I hide well. If I had a superpower, that would be it.
The conversation came around to preservation. To stop the free fall and find some solutions. That support from my wife, unyielding and strong, kept me from the precipice. And three days later I was in a soft sofa overlooking Vancouver’s rainy harbour, talking to a professional about what led me to this place.
Life turned around at such a rate that it surprised me, and in a way that I am proud of. In a way that gives me strength even now. Because, yes, the support I had was invaluable in saving my life, but I did the work to get me out of that pit. I clawed my way out and demanded better.
I saved myself.
1) Seek Help – There are many ways you can do this. There are hundreds of options out there. It is the most obvious of answers to those suffering from depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. The problem is, we believe that because we have dealt with it our whole life, we are in control of it.
The reality is, mental health is taken less seriously than any physical injury. If you had a broken hand, you would go to a doctor to get it fixed. You wouldn’t shrug your shoulders and carry on. “Well, this is just who I am now.”
It’s not always easy to find the right help, either, but the struggle is worth it. I promise you. I know it seems like all you’re getting is common sense suggestions, and that you’re doing all the work while they’re getting paid for it. But here’s the truth:
You are responsible for the hard work.
It took my counsellor to point out the obvious because I’d lost that perspective. And there was an actual shift that occurred in my clouded brain. Like I could see again. That was the beginning.
2) Demand Order – I’ve been a professional writer for five years. I’m a freelancer, I create my own hours, my own work space and I’m ultimately responsible for my deadlines. Guess what?
Depression and chaos aren’t good partners. For me, it was a huge contributor to the spiral. A week would pass and I’d done so little work that it would trigger a collection of thoughts that carried over to the next week, compounding how awful I already felt.
Worthless. Lazy. Unhelpful. Irresponsible. Shameful.
Depression eventually devoured my ability to create, think clearly and be productive. I went from writing a few hours a week to a few hours a month.
In that time I had a conversation with a colleague and he said he’d started living by a daily schedule. He showed me his template, a really smart and easy to create day planner with Google Calendar. I thought little of it at the time, but when I was taking control of my life again, the idea resurfaced.
So I created one for myself.
It revolutionised my life. I went from writing a script a month to a script a week, sometimes even two a week. That built confidence, excitement and a growing motivation. I could look back at the end of the week and see everything I’d accomplished. Of course I missed personal deadlines here and there, but I could be proud of everything I’d managed to create.
I do a full calendar every month, and will continue to plan out my life with a more defined, ordered future. (Confession: that 7:30AM running thing has fallen off in recent months. Time to get back to it.)
3) Inner Dialogue – This was the hardest for me, and is still a struggle every single day. The first two points are excellent weapons to battle negative self talk.When that voice starts whispering about how lazy you are, or how useless you are, you have a reference point to fight that notion. You can strengthen the positive voice.
“No, I’m not lazy! I may have only written one script last week, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the zero I wrote before!”
To take that power back is an incredible tool to staying motivated and strong. Whenever I struggle with that negativity, I actively refute it with reassurances that I’m doing just fine. Doing this, even a little bit, every day, will make the next fight that much easier.
I can openly admit that I know I will struggle with depression in the future. My ability to accept that fact will help me beat it the next time it rolls around. For the first time in my life, I have the tools to combat a health issue that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember.
The article above talks about some key factors that they believe leads to men, in particular, killing themselves at such a significant rate in my age group. And many of those factors applied to me, but the main one being a refusal to acknowledge the need for help. To deal with it quietly until it’s too late.
I understand. It’s easier to pretend and carry on. To let depression suck you in so deep that you can’t see the exit anymore. And when that happens, you’re only left with one option. And to everyone in your life that loves you, to the contribution you make to the world, it is not the one you should take.
I am many factors to many equations. I am a father. A husband. A brother. A son. A writer. I can see how my role plays out in all of these and I know that my life is important. That my existence does have meaning, even in the times I lose sight of that.
And even if you can’t see it, you are a part of not just one equation, but many.
Sometimes it takes one impossible phone call to change your life. And your life can change. How do I know?
Because mine did.
If you’re in crisis, please visit the BC Crisis Centre.