I “used to” suffer from depression.
That simple statement is the sum of my life’s work for 5 years and I’m proud to say that for almost 3 years now, no matter how difficult times have gotten and life has tried to kick me in the teeth, the black dog has stayed quietly asleep in his kennel.
Acting now as my friend and guardian instead of the monster he used to be, and all thanks to the work I have done over those years.
For those of you who have suffered or suffer from depression, you know that it isn’t a simple task to just “stop being depressed.” It’s a journey tougher than anything you’ve ever faced and forces you to walk down that lonely valley all by yourself, often with only the darkest parts of yourself to keep you company.
Now before I go any further I have to make a quick disclaimer, I am not a psychologist. Everything I say and suggest is purely based on my own experiences and isn’t a substitute for professional help.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed I strongly suggest you seek out help. Everyone needs a helping hand at every moment of their lives and you should never hesitate to ask.
Now that I’ve said that, let’s begin…
I had just returned from a “romantic” trip to Europe full of arguments, fights, drugs used to desperately try and feel happy, oh and the occasional touristy photos!
That is when I received a message from my girlfriend at the time:
“We are over, hope we can still be friends.”
That little message was the final straw on my figurative camels back and I found my self spiralling desperately out of control. Struggling to breathe as I realised my horribly toxic relationship had failed despite my best efforts.
With my relationship over, I stumbled in a haze through the office I despised and somehow managed to drive myself home.
After a few hours of sitting in numb silence I decide to call my mom. My plan was to stay calm and put on a brave face but as soon as I heard “is everything ok?” I caved.
I have never been a crier and in the last 10 years I can count on 3 fingers the times I have cried.
Two of those involved a death of a beloved pet or family member.
When I spoke to my mom that day, something snapped and the flood gates burst open with a fury I have never seen.
I think I cried non stop for nearly an hour.
Not quiet, slow streaming sobs but howling, snotty, guttural sobs, from the depths of my shattered soul. It was like every pain and disappointment I had kept down all those years came rushing up and when I finally stopped, I felt so empty and exhausted that I slept for almost 15 hours.
To say my mom was worried was an understatement.
After a couple of days, I felt I had the strength to go to the office, but after an hour or two of sitting in my desk looking blankly at my screen, I had an amazing insight.
“I’m not supposed to be here, I have to get out of here.”
Just like that, I handed in my two weeks notice and quit.
Within the month I was back in New Zealand living at my parents place, a husk of a man. Completely clueless about who I was and what I was going to do.
It would take me a few months to realise, but I was suffering from a complete mental and physical breakdown.
Month 1: Survive
The first month of a breakdown isn’t actually the hardest in my opinion. Sure I think I had one more massive fit of guttural crying, but for the most part I was too numb to really feel too much of anything. My main goal at this point was just to survive the day and try not to think or over exert myself too much.
Month 2: Brush my teeth
After a month of spending almost all my time lying in bed, numb to the world and completely unmotivated to live my life I decided I needed to finally do something about my situation.
The only problem was I was exhausted.
Not your "I’m tired from exercise and need a break,” or “I haven’t slept well so my brain is exhausted” kind of tired. I mean I was so exhausted that the process of going from my room upstairs to the couch downstairs, would leave me so tired that all my muscles ached and I had a mild headache.
The burnout was extreme but I knew that the smallest little change could make all the difference.
I thought long and hard about how I was gonna recover from this and settled on just focusing on one or two small tasks, and being completely satisfied with that.
My personal hygiene suffered greatly during this period so I made a pact that every day I would brush my teeth “no matter what!” and make sure I got 8 hours of good quality sleep.
Though this may sound like an easy task, at the time it was huge for me.
Forcing myself to get out of bed to properly brush, floss and use mouthwash twice a day took all my will power. Add to that the steps I had to go to to ensure my sleep and you would be amazed how long it took.
My processing power was practically zero and pretty much everyone I know today still struggles to get proper sleep, so it was the perfect challenge to put on myself.
Days turned into weeks and soon these simple tasks became just that. Simple, mindless habits. It was time to take the next step…
Month 3: Sunrises are life
I don’t think there is anything more inspiring than standing on the beach, watching the sun rise over the ocean, as the crisp, salty air fills your lungs.
I always feel like I’m living my best life when I wake up for sunrise, so this was the obvious choice for my next goal. That night I set my alarm for 10 mins before sunrise and accidentally started the most powerful habit I have ever found.
I’m fortunate that my parents live 5mins walk from a gorgeous beach so the next morning I dragged myself out of bed, made a cup of tea and walked down to drink it on the beach.
Standing there on the beach watching the sunrising over the waves, I thought some of my friends may appreciate this. Taking a quick picture I sent a message to my friends saying “Day 1.” I didn’t really hear much back but I felt good and that was all that mattered at this point.
The next day a repeated the action and sent another message saying “Day 2.”
This time I got a couple messages back from friends congratulating me for doing it twice. Like that I was hooked.
For the next two weeks I would wake up every morning and take a picture and send it to more and more friends saying “ Day 3, Day 7, Day 9, Day 14!”
On day fifteen the inevitable happened, I woke up to a down pour of rain. I milled around the house feeling weird and defeated, when suddenly I got a message from a couple of friends asking where their picture was? Feeling a drive in myself for the first time in months I decided then and there that I wouldn’t break the cycle and throwing on a rain jacket I sprinted down to the beach.
As if someone was listening to my prayers, just as I got to the beach the rain eased, the clouds parted, and just for a few minutes just as the sun rose, a small rainbow appeared.
As I took this amazingly lucky photo with tears running down my face, I felt a warmth run up my entire body.
The numbness that had invaded every fibre of my mind and body was lifting and I was finally starting to regain maybe not my old self, but definitely the person I would become.
For the next few months I would continue to add little goal upon little goal. Without realising it, adding more and more goals each month until I was not just starting to achieve as much in a days before my breakdown but actually surpassing what I used to achieve. Though I wasn’t out of the woods yet, I had finally turned the slow spiral downward around and was building myself up.
To this day I look back with pride at the strength and resilience I showed in those early days of my tragedy.
The lessons I learned during that time have not only carried me through the years but helped numerous friends when they’ve faced similar crisis in their lives.
If you’ve liked what I’ve written about my experiences comment below and I will continue to going through the steps I took over the next months and where I triumphed and failed.
The greatest gift is giving a nugget of knowledge when someone needs it most.