Aussie on the Road with depression
While Aussie on the Road started out as an outlet with which to share my travel experiences, it’s grown a bit beyond that in recent years as I’ve also used the site to share stories from my ongoing battle with depression.
People often wonder why I share so much of what can be an intensely personal struggle in such a public forum. I do this for two reasons:
First and foremost, I have never thought of my depression as something I ought to be ashamed of or secretive about. I did not come by my depression because I made bad life choices – it’s as much a part of me as a person being short-sighted or having a genetic illness. I don’t think it makes me brave to share my story because talking about something that is such a huge part of my life seems natural. Depression has, in many ways, defined who I am – I’m not going to pretend it’s not there.
Secondly, I share my story because if doing so in any way helps other people come to grips with their own struggle, it is worth the relatively small amount of time it took me to write and share the story. Every time a person emails or comments thanking me for sharing my story or asking for advice, I feel like I’ve made a positive difference in the world.
I’m not an expert on dealing with the black dog and I’ll never claim to be, but if my own struggles can in any way help a person to better deal with their own demons or encourage them to seek the help they need – I’ll go to bed a slightly happier man.
Talking About Depression
In recent weeks and months, a number of high profile suicides have brought depression into the public eye in a way I don’t think it’s ever been before.
The tragic passing of Robin Williams and the more recent death of G.R.L’s Simone Battle have given people the slap in the face that they perhaps needed. Depression is not the illness of losers or sad cases with nothing to live for – it can strike the richest and most successful of us.
In some ways, that’s a frightening thought. If somebody who had the life, the fans, the fame, and the wealth of Robin Williams can find it all too much to bear – how is an ordinary person like myself supposed to survive?
Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. Major depressive disorder affects sufferers differently and so to do our circumstances differ greatly as well. Some of us are lucky enough to hit our lows while in a safe place surrounded by friends and family, for example, while others find themselves left to fend off the black dog alone.
I don’t ever want to know how that must feel.
R U OK?
Today (September 11th) is R U OK Day in Australia. This charity encourages people to do something so simple that it seems criminal that we haven’t been doing it all along.
It asks us to ask those around us “Are you okay?”
It might not seem like a lot, but to a sufferer of depression, being asked that question by somebody who is willing to hear the answer – however ugly it may be – can literally be a life-saver.
It’s all too easy for us to paste on a smile and tell the lie we’ve become so adept at telling. Of course we’re okay. We’re normal people, aren’t we? What could possibly be wrong?
A person without depression might not understand just how infuriating the condition can be. We can have it all and still find ourselves struggling to get out of bed. We can be surrounded by friends or loved ones, and feel so alone that it’s all we can do to make it out of the room before we burst into tears. Depression doesn’t just defy logic, it spits in its face.
Ideally, every day of the year would be R U OK Day. We’d all take a moment from our own thoughts and concerns to ask those around us if they’re okay.
And if they smiled and said yes?
We’d ask them again, just to be sure.
My R U OK Moment
It was early 2012 and I’d recently taken the relatively huge step of sharing my story about depression via this site. The post got a massive amount of traffic and a lot of comments, emails, Tweets, and texts of encouragement.
All of that positive feedback should have made me feel like I was cared for, but for whatever reason, it didn’t have that effect on me. I appreciated it and acknowledged it for what it was, but it didn’t make my bedroom feel any less lonely or the world outside any less daunting.
At the time I was working in a wonderfully positive environment, lived with great friends, and had recently had my credit card debt paid off. I had no logical reason to be depressed.
But I was.
I’d taken so many sick days at work that I’d had to attend a meeting to address the issue. I was spending every last cent I had trying to buy the thing that would make me happy. That I didn’t know what it was didn’t stop me, and so I began to go back into debt almost as soon as I’d been liberated from it.
Despite knowing that I had friends who wanted to spend time with me, I’d blow them off because the idea of having to put on the happy face and tell jokes exhausted me.
I was at something of an all-time low, to put it lightly.
It was a simple thing that amended my freefall and got me slowly on the road to being a happier person again.
Somebody (well, two people) took the time to invite me out for dinner and ask me, straight to my face, “Are you okay?”
That might not sound like much, but thinking about it as I write, it brings tears of gratitude to my eyes all over again.
For a moment after they asked me, I thought about telling them that familiar lie: “Yeah, I’m fine”.
Instead, I cried and I let them hug me.
We were standing at the crowded Opera Bar with dozens of people going on about their lives unmoved by what was weighing on me, but at that moment two people made my struggle theirs – and it made a world of difference.
Once I finished crying, we settled in for a perfectly ordinary dinner. We ate, we talked about our lives, and I went home knowing some things that, deep down, I’d known all along. That I was loved, that people cared, and that I didn’t have to do it all alone.
It was a simple gesture, ultimately; but it was one that made a world of difference to me when I didn’t think anything could.
The weirdest part? The two people who asked and who I told were not my closest friends, nor were they family.
I don’t want to give the idea that they were the first people to ask, though.
Friends and family have asked many times, but I’ve always lied.
For me, it will never be easy to discuss my depression with my family or my oldest friends, simply because they’ve known the “part” I’ve played for so long now that it feels wrong to be any other way with them.
Ask “R U OK?”
So, if you’re thinking that you don’t know the person well enough to ask, don’t be afraid.
Ultimately, you’re only asking them “Are you okay?”
The absolute worst thing they can do is say “Yes” and go about their day.
Sometimes our depression makes us feel like a burden to those around us or that we need to suffer in silence, and sometimes I find myself answering ‘Yes’ to that question even when I’m anything but.
Today and in the future, I hope you take the time to ask those around you, “Are you okay?”
And if you find yourself asked, I hope you find the strength to take the plunge and answer truthfully.
Nobody has to do this alone.
Thank you to Nick and Jemma for reminding me of that on that hot summer evening in 2012.
Thank you to my many friends around the world for being there in person, by text, by email, or by Facebook.
And thanks, most of all, to my wonderful family who never let a day pass without letting me know that I matter more than I allow myself to believe.
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