For a long time I’ve felt like I've been living two separate lives. There's the life that everyone sees, and then there's the life that only I know about.
In the life that everyone sees, I am a friend, a son, a brother, a husband, and father. That’s how my friends and family would describe me. It’s true that these aspects are a huge part of me. But if you were to ask me to describe myself, I'd say some of those things and I wouldn't be lying, but I wouldn't be telling you the whole truth. Who I really am in the life I see, is a worrying disconnected person living with traits of borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, who experiences deep depression and fits of anger.
Someone who has never experienced depression, or doesn't really know what that means, might be surprised because there's a popular misconception that depression is a type of sadness that occurs when something goes wrong, like a break up with a girlfriend, the loss of a loved one, or a pet. Sadness is a natural human emotion. Depression is something different. Depression can occur when everything in your life is going right.
People don’t talk about depression, and often I don’t talk about it either. But we need to because it's a massive problem. We don't often see it on social media, right? We don't see it on Facebook or Twitter. We don't see it on the news, because it's not fun, it's not light. And we have a tendency, as a society to say, “so what”? Therefore, people don’t know of the severity.
Three years ago I was sitting on the edge of my bed in a country town in NSW thinking, “I’m going to end it all, I can’t live through this pain anymore. I want it to be over”. I was suicidal. But if you were to look at my life on the surface, you wouldn't have seen this. You'd have seen a man who was a great listener, who loved his parents, loved being an uncle, and enjoyed having a laugh. You might have assumed that I wasn't depressed or suicidal, and you would have been wrong.
I realised that I needed help, so I rang the suicide hotline and spoke to a lovely person. I was taken to the emergency department and upon arrival was met by two nurses who asked lots of questions, and all I could say was, “I want to die, no one cares”.
Once they calmed me down I was scheduled under the NSW Mental Health Act and was taken to the mental health unit. I was put on medication that for days made me a complete zombie.
But I survived, and that leaves me with my story, where one part of me was always afraid of the other. And I feared that people would see me for who I really was. Beneath my smile there was enormous struggle, beneath my light there was dark. And my big personality hid even bigger pain.
Some people might fear sharks. Some people might fear death. For me, for a large part of my life, I feared myself. I feared my truth, my honesty, my vulnerability. Fear forced me into a corner and it seemed there was only one way out, which I thought about every single day. I've thought about it again since, because that's the sickness. But depression isn't like chicken pox. You don't beat it once and it's gone forever. It's something I live with. It's something I live in. It's the roommate many of us can't kick out. It's the voice I can't ignore.
I became numb to it. It became normal for me. And what I feared the most wasn’t the suffering inside me. It the stigma from others; the shame, embarrassment, the disapproving looks on a friend's face, the whispers in the hallway that you're weak, and the comments that you're crazy.
That's what stops people from getting help. That's what makes us hold it in and hide it.
Ask yourself this: would you rather make your next Facebook status say you've hurt your back and can’t get out of bed, or that you're having a tough time getting out of bed every morning because you're depressed? That's stigma.
What is ironic, is that depression is one of the best documented but least discussed problems we have in the world.
The first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one.
I think the solution has to start here. It has to start with me, it has to start with you. It has to start with the ones who are hidden in the shadows. We need to speak up and shatter the silence. We need to be the ones who are brave for what we believe in. We need to build a world where we teach self-acceptance. We all know what it is to have pain in our heart, and we all know how important it is to heal. But right now depression is society's deep cut that we're content to put a Band-Aid over and pretend it's not there.
If you're going through depression, know that you're okay, that you are not weak, that it's an issue, not an identity. When you get past the fear and the ridicule, the judgment and stigma, you can see it for what it really is, and that it can be a part of life. My pain, has given me perspective, and my hurt has forced me to have hope and faith in myself and others, that it can get better, that we can change this, that we can speak out, and learn to love and accept our uniqueness.
The world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn't mean ignoring your dark, it celebrates the ability to overcome adversities, not avoid them. The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, "I'm going through hell," and they can look back at me and say, "Me too and that's okay”.
And I believe that we can all be okay, as I have been to the depths of despair and come out the other side, thanks to my family, friends, Wellways Australia and my God, who have shown me the way back. This reminds me of the verse in the bible that says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff shall comfort me”.