Recovery started with a question
‘Why do you think you need to be here?’
It was Jake’s first session with a psychologist. And this question would be the first of many he'd confront from this armchair over the coming two and a half years.
While it was hard to answer, Jake realised that for the first time in his 22 years, he wanted to find the answers.
“I knew that I was essentially broken,” he says.
“My attitude was, crack me open and pour me out onto the table. Let’s figure this thing out.”
Read video transcript
Self-loathing in teenage years
Jake, 18, was asking himself a similar/an almost identical question.
‘Why am I here?’
But it applied to his place in the world, not a therapy session.
And for years, he struggled to find an answer. Since early teens he’d been dealing with a growing sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.
“It feels like everything I did, I didn’t deserve,” Jake says. “Everything that I accomplished and received, was a crime. I hadn’t done anything to be worthy of receiving it.”
“If I failed, it’s because I was useless and had nothing to offer.”
Whereas if he found success in something, there was no sense of achievement or fulfilment - only a sense that he had accomplished what he expected of himself; as if he had brushed his teeth or drank a glass of water.
Sometimes, the good times were actually good and Jake could be the life of a party. But his low times were becoming especially low.
“I felt guilty, I hated myself. And if I had to put up with this for another 50 years, I wasn’t interested.”
A few months after his 18th birthday, Jake tried to take his own life.
Waking up the next morning, the thing that struck him the hardest was how uneventful the whole situation (night before?) felt.
"It was just normal behaviour because I’d been thinking about it for five or six years straight, either once a day or once every couple of days.”
“The reflection of that not being normal behaviour didn’t come until four years later.”
Not dwelling on a diagnosis
A month after his first session with the psychologist, Jake was diagnosed with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder.
For some, a diagnosis can lead to a place of validation, a satisfaction in having a name for their experience and feelings. Others might reject a diagnosis as being merely an unwelcome label.
But Jake had known for a long time that the issues he’d been experiencing needed addressing. So he didn't dwell too long on the process of naming them. He wanted to work on ways to manage them.
“That’s why I was there, sitting in that armchair and telling someone I didn’t know that I didn’t really want to be alive anymore,” he says.
“I came because I didn’t want to die.”
Therapy: profound sadness, profound growth
Jake's willingness to engage in therapy didn't mean it was easy. In fact, those weekly sessions for two and a half years were some of the hardest times of his life.
“It made for an enormous amount of learning; understanding; perhaps most importantly to my situation, forgiving,” he says.
“But it also made for a lot of heartbreaking realisations. It made for a lot of profound sadness. There were a lot of conversations we had that left me emotionally and sometimes physically numb for days.”
“But it was in these conversations that the most growth, the most healing, occurred.”
Jake and his psychologist worked on ways to reframe his thinking.
“I learned how to identify what emotions I was feeling the thoughts associated with that emotion, and vice versa. I learned how to identify behavioural patterns I had developed to cope, or was falling into, and how to break their cycle.”
It’s a process he’s still working on today. It’s a process he will always be working on.
Jake knows that his depression isn’t a problem to be solved.
"Depression isn't something to cure, it's something to manage,” he says.
“Some days it is less manageable than others, but I'm under no illusions that it will ever be something I don't have to deal with."
I'm worth recovering for
From a place of self-loathing and hopelessness, Jake came to many realisations. About therapy, he came to understand that the pain, the hardship, the exhaustion after sessions: they're worth it.
Because he's worth it.
“The fundamental change in my perception of mental health had to be, ‘This is not wasted on me. I am worth doing this for. I am worthy of wanting to live,’ he says.
“That was the absolute bedrock. Everything else grew forth from that attitude.”
And now that he accepts that he’s worthy of help, Jake wants to ensure others feel the same.
Sharing his story is Jake’s way of offering hope to others who may suffering like he was, in silence.
When it comes to society's views around anxiety, depression and suicide, he wants empathy and compassion to become the norm.
Jake has a tattoo of two numbers on his left forearm – 51/49.
“It’s my pin number,” he jokes.
“No, it’s actually a principle. Always give more than you receive. Always give at least 51 per cent.”