In 1867; a certain Isaac Newton, still trying to dodge falling apples, was working on the 3rd law of motion – ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ I’d like to discuss how this law worked for me, by giving me as much energy and inspiration to fight a disease that took so much from me.
But first, it’s only fair that I shed a little context on my life leading up to my depression diagnosis. When I was 10, I endured a life changing battle – one that I’m so proud to say I’ve won, but in no sense unscathed. My life up until November 2004 was, in search for a better word, easy. I had excelled athletically; with the physical strength of a boy that lived life to play football (soccer in your language) and run up mountains (Something that I did once to the despair of my dad, whose screams became all too distant to notice).
Then, on the first week of November I was ill. I writhed around in agony on the sofa for the better part of a week, having been diagnosed with gastroenteritis (a viral stomach bug) by a trainee doctor. Unfortunately, he made his diagnosis majorly wrong. As I lay there twisting in pain, my appendix was ready to rupture and change my life.
The next conversation I had with a medical professional went like this:
My eyes closed, not to awaken again for another week. Unbeknownst to me, I had suffered peritonitis due to 2 litres of poison ripping through my body like a pinball shooting around a machine, smashing into healthy organs and cascading around me. My body couldn’t cope and shut down every organ (barring my heart and brain) whilst I lay there in a coma; able to hear fragments of my parents conversations and prayers but without the consciousness and physical ability to respond.
The following year was nowhere near as hard for me as it should have been, due to the most incredible family and friends. I will value their unequivocal love and support forever. From the moment I woke, the life I once knew was history and I had been shunted onto a new path.
This new life required me to learn how to speak and swallow again. I had so much muscle damage that it took me another week to build enough strength to turn my head and raise my arm. Over the years, through physiotherapy, I’ve reached a stage where I can walk again and participate in life without many obvious impediments.
Like attrition, life chipped away at my resolve. At the age of 17; these small stones of not being able to play sports to the ability I once could, embarrassment of my situation, and the added pressure of fulfilling a life I felt fortunate to live, had carved a hole in me. It had worn me down and knocked me into a deep dark pool with no ladders. It had knocked me into depression. Being a naive kid that had never suffered from any signs of poor mental health, I did what too many people in my situation do.
I convinced myself that it’s just a phase and woke up every day, opened the wardrobe and grabbed another disguised face of happiness to wear. It wasn’t until late 2015 that I forced myself to visit the doctor, and received an official diagnosis. Sometimes in life, moments come along and you think ‘That’s changed everything’ these moments may include: Hearing the unimaginable beauty of Daft Punk for the first time. The first taste of Ben & Jerry’s that leaves you contemplating the meaning of Ice Cream.
For me, the diagnosis was one of them. I turned to Newton and realized that if this depression had been dragging me down for 4 years, then there’s at least 4 years of energy that I’m going to use to not only beat this illness but to completely obliterate it.
The first and arguably the most profound benefit of being diagnosed, was that it separated me from my illness. Up until that point, I thought my mood was as intrinsic to me as the birth scar on my neck, or my inability to perform tongue twisters.
Discovering that depression was an alien illness that had not only invaded me; but was making itself at home in my head, sipping a cup of tea whilst flicking through Netflix documentaries, gave me something to fight. It’s hard to fight a battle when you think you’re the enemy. Recognizing that depression wasn’t a fabric of my life, but more of dirty piece of cloth that had attached itself to me, I decided to reconnect to a former depression-free version of myself.
In a sort of premature mid-life crises, I began immersing myself with things that I had based my life around as a child. I started cycling again, surrounded myself with books from ranging from Fiction to Historical Fantasies, Memoirs to Classics, all in an attempt to rediscover what made me happy. I believe this to be such a vital aspect of maintaining a happy lifestyle. For one that is so simple, it’s often overlooked.
For any True Detective fans out there “Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at” – Rust Cohle Matthew McConaughey’s nihilistic and detached character delivered many pertinent life lessons in True Detective, but this one grabbed my attention to most. Life is short, and if you can only master one thing in life, make sure it’s something you truly believe in.
Use the resources around you to help others, and yourself in the process. I’m fortunate to be studying Marketing Communications & Advertising at Sheffield Hallam University – located in England. Sheffield is a great place, full of students and brimming with people that want to work collaboratively to end this mental health crisis. The depression I suffered with, gave me the inspiration to use my marketing modules to help break down the stigma attached to mental illness.
I, along with a team of students, have been working with a local mental health charity to redesign takeaway boxes, which incidentally are as familiar to students as krill is to whales. The new boxes (With different stick faces, catchphrases and colors on them) are designed to surprise and amuse students, encouraging them to share pictures online and using marketing to build awareness for the great work that Mind are doing in Sheffield.
Secondly, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the University ‘Social Enterprise’ team, to raise funds for a new concept. The concept (Cafe Branches) would be a local cafe that employed mental health practitioners to sit with and aid customers that wanted an informal chat about their health. In a similar-to-Uber style app, customers could choose their guide and see what debates and lectures were taking place.
I became my own biggest fan. Imagine that battling depression is like a boxing match. It’s been a hard fight and you’ve taken some fair blows, you’re tiring and struggling to keep your breath after 8 hard rounds of sparring. The bell rings and you go back to your corner, sit on the stool and wait for the sweat to be wiped away from your brow. In jumps the trainer, but instead of Paulie (Rocky Balboa reference), it’s actually you, re-energising and demanding that you believe in yourself.
‘It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep on going etc etc’. Big yourself up every day, be biased, be encouraging. It doesn’t matter how trivial it is. Sometimes I give myself a pat on the back when I choose the perfect song to listen to, or even when I add a new word to my vocabulary. Constant self appraisal is the perfect antidote to the self-loathing and self-ridicule I used to partake in when I was at my deepest points, and I attribute it to my sanguine (Giving myself a pat on the back for that one) attitude now.
So back to Newton; if his law states that for everything in life, there’s an equal and opposite force, then I believe depression brings with it the tools to defeat it. Depression can rob you of the happiness you once thought was your default setting, so go back to the very things that brought you that happiness. Depression spreads false rumors and doubts in your head, so do the opposite and big yourself up as much as Kanye does (Just maybe not as publicly).