It was Sunday 5 April 1998. I’d only been home for ten minutes or so and was sat on a small secondhand sofa, under the stairs in my living room. There was a small wooden table next to the sofa with a phone on it. This is back in the days when phones were attached to the wall.
When the phone rang, the call was one that changed my life forever. My dad had lost his fight with cancer.
Just 6 weeks earlier when I got married, we didn’t even know he was sick. A few weeks later, the doctor wrote my first prescription for anti-depressants.
Part of me wants to say that my mental health challenges started when my dad died. Part of me is not sure if that is true. But, they definitely escalated.
I remember walking out of the house one day in a state of half-dress and my new bride chasing after me in the street yelling. I can’t remember why that happened, I just know I needed to escape. Problem was, what I wanted to escape from was in my own head.
Mental illness is invisible. Nobody can see it, especially when you hide your illness. That was something I was good at.
I always feared the stigma. What would people think? Would I lose my job? Would friends disown me?
My dad’s death marked the start of a darkness that followed me around for more than 10 years.
I could be in a room filled with family and friends and still feel alone. I could have great moments of fun and excitement, but fear and paranoia always followed. I could be in beautiful sunshine, but my personal black cloud was always just above me. Life felt hopeless. Worse still, continuing to live it felt pointless.
There were many times back then I would’ve welcomed death. I just wanted my pain to end.
Thank goodness I survived.
See, I’ve been free from depression medication for years now. More importantly, I also live a life free from depression.
I’m not saying I never get sad, but the depression that used to own me is gone.
You might be reading this wondering how. How did Neil beat his depression? Well, I wish there was one simple answer. There isn’t. Truth be told I think we all find a different route to happiness, but here are a few examples of things that helped me (in no particular order).
- I worked on my attitude to life. I stopped looking for external things to make me happy. Real happiness comes from within. It does not matter what stuff you have in your life or who the people around you are. Sure, these can help but you only have to look at Robin Williams to see a man who appeared to have everything, yet was still depressed. It is not about what you have or what happens in life, but the meaning you give to things. That comes from within and making a daily ritual to practice gratitude and acceptance is the key.
- I changed my intake. By intake I refer to food and drink, but also how I breathe. At my worst I became a junk food addicted, obese couch potato. Changing my diet, cutting back on processed foods, refined sugars and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta I believe to have been key in my success. I also started juicing, flooding my body with live nutrients giving my cells everything they needed to heal themselves. Oh, and I massively improved my gut health by consuming probiotics. 95% of your serotonin (the feel good hormone) in made in the gut. As result poor gut health can impact your mood. Look after your gut and your gut will look after you.
- I increased my levels of movement. I stopped being so sedentary and got my body active. If was hard at first, but the better I felt the more I moved. As humans, we are not designed to sit at desks all day. If you have a job that means you need to spend large parts of your day sat down, make sure you also build in time to be active. This could be structure exercise, or it could be playing with your kids, dancing or even regular sex. The key thing is you are designed to move and my personal experience (as well as my experience of supporting others) shows that movement is key to both your physical and mental health.
So, to summarise in 3 words the things you need to focus on are Attitude, Intake and Movement. Get your A.I.M. right and you too can hit the bullseye of leaving depression in your past.