This is for anyone who has ever struggled to understand depression, be it their own or someone else’s.
My name is Fraser and this is my story.
For a long time I was depressed, but I couldn’t tell you how long because at the time I honestly didn’t know. Ironically, for an even longer time, I not only didn’t believe that depression was a real thing, but thought that people who claimed to have it were simply being self-indulgent and just needed to pick themselves up and get a little perspective. After all, if people can endure kidnapping, torture, rape, children dying and so on, what possible reason could someone who had a seemingly normal life have to be depressed about?
This former opinion I am now quite ashamed of, and not because I ended up suffering from depression myself, but because of the lack of empathy I showed for my fellow man and how ignorant I was.
This story isn’t so much about me as trying to give people an insight into depression, but my understanding of depression and my realization of a way to try and overcome it came about as a direct consequence of what happened to me, and so to really understand this, you need to understand me. To that end, I shall briefly explain how I came to be writing this.
It was May 2005. I was in the fire brigade at the time, and as a practical joke on a colleague I’d gone onto to an on-line dating website he was on to set up a fake profile and flirt with him. Juvenile I know, but if you’ve ever met a fireman, they do joke about a lot to get through the harder bits of the job. Anyway, once I was on-line, actually finding some pen-pals to while away the long nights seemed like a good idea, although I had no intention of actually meeting anyone as I’d only recently got out of a failed marriage.
Almost immediately one profile caught my eye. Firstly the lady in question called Ruth, was one of the beautiful women I’d ever seen, but more than that, she’d written just one line rather than the usual long blurb people seemed to put down for the wish list for an ideal partner. She’d written just 9 words in one intrinsically sad statement which I will never forget. “I just want someone to be nice to me”. I couldn’t believe such a beautiful looking person could have had a life that resulted in this being her sole request, so I emailed her. I didn’t expect a response, she was well out my league and I didn’t even have a profile picture, but I wanted to reach out and try and give some hope that there was someone out there for her, or in fact probably lots of people who would be nice to her and not to let whatever experiences she’d had with an ex-partner taint her views on love and romance. It’s funny, but had that thought process have registered a little better at the time then perhaps my recent life and events might have been quite different, but at the time it was just a fleeting thought, a random act of kindness for a stranger that was quickly dismissed in my mind and lost in the chain of events that followed.
To my surprise, Ruth emailed back, and over the following weeks emails turned to texts, texts turned to calls and we spent every spare minute in touch with each other. Living over 300KM apart, meeting wasn’t that practical and she was still living with her soon to be ex-husband who’d recently be charged with assault for beating her up (hence the profile request). We did eventually meet on the 14th July that year and it was without a doubt love at first site. 3 days later we planned to move in together and 17 days after we met I moved all the way to Manchester to live with Ruth and her daughters in our new house that I hadn’t even seen. I also proposed on the same day in the middle of Manchester train station, to which she said yes and less than a year later we got married on a beach in Kenya. For a long time it was magical. I never thought it was possible to be so happy and in love, and at times it was almost overwhelming. We had the occasional marital tiff as most couples do, but nothing serious. We endured a lot of hardship and struggles with kids, serious illness and finances and we always came through it stronger than we started. It seemed like a match made in heaven. Not once when she’d come home from work did I not feel my heart race, and not once did I wake up in the morning without a stupid smile on my face feeling like the luckiest man alive.
By the end of 2013 things were definitely feeling strained after Ruth losing her job and starting a new one which was a long commute away, and the situation was not helped by me having to take a job which meant working away from home. On Easter Monday of 2014 I discovered Ruth had been having an affair, and my world fell apart. I honestly didn’t think it was possible to feel so much pain. I tried for several months to make it work still, but in the July she then discovered she was pregnant as a result of the affair, wanted to keep the baby and was leaving me. I wanted to die, plain and simple. Anything had to be better than this unfathomable hurt, but suicide wasn’t a logical choice was it, so I needed to do something else. With a seemingly rational thought process at the time, I decided that I would move to Australia and start over. New start, new job, new country, new life, and all with nothing to remind me of what I’d lost and left behind. It’d be hard, but it did seem like the only sensible solution.
Fast forward exactly 6 months, and here I am, locked in a psychiatric ward after trying to take my own life. So what went wrong?
Well firstly, I didn’t leave my problems behind, I just left my situation. My problems came with me, as they always do. I don’t know exactly when it all became too much and it wasn’t until I started to have counselling after my attempted suicide that I began to understand what the process even looked like. I didn’t understand why I felt how I did or why I was so unbelievably sad and unhappy, but given what I did know, I knew the situation wasn’t sustainable. Feeling how I did simply wasn’t a viable long term solution, there wasn’t anything I could envisage that would ever change it, so the only logical choice was to end my life.
This is one of the first things that people need to understand about depression. Suicide can seem to someone who is suffering from depression not like an act of desperation, an impulse or a whim, but like a perfectly logical, considered and sensible plan to end their pain the only way they can think of.
The idea may seem strange and the result horrific, but the process of reaching this decision can itself be no different to considering a new job or a house move. You weigh up the pros and cons, balance the books, and select the logical choice. Unfortunately, the facts and figures a depressed person is trying to make sense of are skewed, but you can only work with the data you have and without the equivalent of a mental accountant to point out the flaws in your sums, it’s difficult to spot the anomalies on your own.
My choice to end my life was sensible and logical at the time and without alternatives. To me, that was how it felt, but what was so awful in my life that this was all that was left? What had I lost, what had changed to drive me to such an extreme and very final solution to resolve my problems? The answer thankfully for me, didn’t quite come too late.
I lost hope. 3 simple words, which until you really think about their meaning may not sound that profound, but losing hope is I think one of the hardest things anyone can endure and what drives a lot of people to depression or suicide. I never consciously thought about hope, never studied it or focused on it, so I didn’t actually realise when it had gone, I just knew I felt different.
If you think about hope, and you think about your life, how many times do you hope? Every life event I can think of started with hope. I hope I get this job, I hope she says yes, I hope it’s a good day at work, I hope the weather is nice on holiday, I hope it’s a boy, I hope he’s healthy, I hope you get better, I hope I win, I hope, I hope, I hope.
Hope is our inherent optimism, that what we want might or will happen. When it doesn’t work out, hope is still there as we hope bad things don’t happen again or hope things get better. You may never have consciously thought about the importance hope plays in your life, but I urge you to try and realise just how integral it is to your everyday life and for your future. Now for a moment try to imagine not to have any. At all. No hope you’ll ever feel better, no hope that your future holds any joy, no hope you’ll ever be loved. To lose hope is to lose everything. It’s a dark, frightening and lonely place to find yourself in, and I now understand completely why people to choose to end their lives when they feel like this.
They’re not being selfish or trying to hurt the people close to them that they may leave behind. If you’ve ever lost someone to depression, you may well feel anger or resentment on some level towards that person, but they weren’t trying to hurt you, of that I am sure. It wasn’t your fault that you couldn’t stop them, any more than it was their fault that they did it. They were ill, and the illness stripped away their ability to rationalize their situation properly and to find something to be hopeful for.
If you’re reading this and feeling extremely sad or emotional in everyday life yourself, you may have already been diagnosed with depression, or even be suffering from it and not realise it, so think about hope. What do hope the future holds for you, and how do you hope things will turn out? If you can find hope, you will find a way back and you’ll find a way to start to build your life back. It won’t be instant, it may not be easy, but hoping you’ll make it is a great place to start.
If you can’t find any hope, if you realise it’s gone, please get some help now. Don’t wait, go and talk to someone. A professional, your GP, your boss, a friend, a colleague, anyone. It’s amazing just how much people have the ability to surprise you by being there for you if you give them a chance. I hardly knew my bosses at work, and the 3 of them were there for me in ways I couldn’t ever have imagined. Truth be told they were as much a part of me pulling through as any of the counselling or professional help I received. It’s very difficult to live without hope, in fact it may be impossible, but just because you’ve lost it doesn’t mean that you can’t get it back. You do however need to recognize that it’s gone in order to go and find it again, and seeing a psychotherapist or counsellor is a good beginning.
I’m not a psychiatrist or doctor, I’m just a regular guy, that’s had a fairly regular life, and I don’t profess to have a cure for anything or to hold all the answers to life’s deep and meaningful questions. I am however fairly confident that based on the laws of probability, I can’t be and won’t be the only person to try and take my own life because of losing hope. If this article helps even one single person come to terms with their own issues, to seek help, or to understand the problems of a friend or a loved one then it’s been worth it.
Remember, there is always hope. It’s just that sometimes you may need a little help to find it. For me, I hope to one day find someone who loves me as much as I love them. I hope to make a life for myself in Australia. I hope to meet new friends. I hope to change people’s lives for the better. I hope to see my friends and family again back in the UK. I hope to travel and experience e new things. I hope for joy, I hope for a long life. I hope.