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You feel weak admitting you have a problem that you don’t know how to solve and asking for assistance makes you feel like less of a man. Turns out it’s the exact opposite.


 

It’s kind of funny to think that I’m writing a piece on my battles with depression, anxiety and mental health after the last few weeks I’ve had.
                Truth be told I regretted putting myself forward to write this piece: I am mentally and physically exhausted, but then I remember it was during these same feelings that I experienced my own breakthroughs just over a year ago. Those moments when I wanted to hide away, retreat to the shadows and roll up in a ball ended up being the moments I did the exact opposite.

2017 was a dreadful year, yet somehow it started off so well. My band had begun recording our debut album; our shows were going from strength to strength; I felt confident with myself on and off the stage; hooked up with a girlfriend; home life was brilliant; and even the day-job became bearable. I was pretty damn content. Then April hit.

It was a Monday morning, my day off work, and upon waking I began to scroll social media, as we all do. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary – you know, people posting pictures of their cats and all that – until a post from friends’ girlfriend caught my eye.
                Well, it did more than catch my eye. I thought it was a joke.
                “RIP”. Really? No. Fucking. Way.
                So, I dropped her message, and the reply I received sent my phone hurtling across the room. Tears began to stream from my puffy eyes and my hands started to shake. My friend was dead.
                I didn’t need to ask how. Instantly, I knew he’d taken his own life.
                Unfortunately, against all odds, my day somehow only got worse. That evening there was a small gathering of friends at a local pub. Misery loves company, right? As a group of friends, we were there for each other. Somehow spirits were slightly elevated over the short time we spent drinking pints of Coors Light.
                My Girlfriend is so supportive, I remember thinking as I gave her a piggyback to the car. Things are going to be ok. But they weren’t. Right as I parked up by her flat, she burst into tears and an almost uncontrollable sobbing followed shortly after. Naturally, given the day’s circumstances, I presumed the death of a young man was the cause. I was wrong. Big time.
                My supportive girlfriend confessed to sleeping with another man behind my back. The day I found out my friend had died my girlfriend revealed she’d cheated on me. Numb. From that point on my life slowly started to crumble.

God knows how I did it, but I stayed with that girlfriend for a few more months. The last thing I wanted to do was lose anything else after my friend passed. Turns out that wouldn’t be the wisest decision I’ve ever made. Secretly, or not, I started to resent her.
                Our relationship became a mess; my head became a mess. The rest of my life wasn’t holding up very well either. Frequently I would get chest pains just on my left side, I’d lost control of my finances, the band was about to lose its drummer and in October my father informed me that he and my mother would be moving to a remote village in mid-Wales. A week after receiving my father’s news I finally ended my relationship. God was it brutal.
                I found myself suddenly with no band, no girlfriend, no money, a shit dead-end job, and my family were moving away. I felt so alone. Hopeless. And to top it all off I missed out on seeing Metallica – but I digress.

One day I was so bad that work sent me home, and that one day off soon became a three day stretch. I began to suffer with headaches, panic attacks and massive amounts of anxiety. I felt so hopeless, for a while I couldn’t see a way out or a brighter future. It’s a cliché, but it genuinely felt like there was always a black cloud over head. Something had to change.

Initially I stayed in bed on my days off work, occasionally making time to cry into my pillow with maybe a trip to the drive-thru McDonalds. I truly wanted to hide away, never be seen again and slip away from life.
                It was at this point I began to change, and those people around me on a regular basis started to notice my mental decline. A conversation with my best friend in his parents’ garage, where I assured him, I would sort my head out, really pushed me to act. So, where the hell did I start?

Looking back, I don’t know why I joined the gym. Maybe it was familiarity. I’d been before and knew training was something I enjoyed, could be successful at and also release some of the negative energy I’d been struggling to deal with. There wasn’t a thought process behind the decision, I just went for it. Around this time, I also sought out counselling, and making that call was the most emotional experience I think I’ve ever been through.

You feel weak admitting you have a problem that you don’t know how to solve and asking for assistance makes you feel like less of a man. Turns out it’s the exact opposite.
                Before making the phone call to seek help I was an absolute wreck. It hurt so bad realising I didn’t know how to fix my own problems, but as soon as I hung up the call, I felt free and stronger.
                Another cliché, but I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel weak about asking for help either, in fact I felt strong that I had the balls to admit my issues and do something about it. From November 2017 my life really started to change.

I didn’t know what to expect from counselling.
                Were they going to laugh at my problems? Have me sectioned? Would I even open up to a stranger? It’s a little scary, I won’t lie – but as for that first session? Imagine having an emotional dump, the biggest dump ever, and then times it by at least ten.
                That initial session turned out to be a revelation, it wasn’t scary or horrible and thankfully I didn’t get sectioned. In fact, I felt like even more weight was lifted from my shoulders. As the sessions progressed, I actually began to look forward to them. I wanted to get better and honestly, I enjoyed the experience of learning how my emotions, mind and perceptions of life are interlinked.
                I knew I was serious about getting better when the weather turned for the worse.
                Snow and ice had caused most of our roads to come to a standstill, and my counsellor was based on top of a hill in a quiet little village – was I really going to drive there on a day like that? Hell yeah, I was!
                My counsellor told me that I was the only person that day to not cancel and make my appointment. The roads were horrible, I could feel the lightness of the steering wheel as I drove and even saw other road-users stuck. But I was going to get there regardless of what weather came my way, because I was determined to not let myself be carried away by the same darkness that took my friend.
                My last session was the end of January 2018, and by that point I’d lost a considerable amount of weight, enrolled on an adult education diploma, and more importantly I began to feel good about life again. Turns out there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Reality is, the work had only just begun.
                It’s not like you finish up your sessions and you’re fixed for life. Sadly not. However, what you do have are the tools to deal with such emotions. And what’s more, I find that talking about the issues I have encountered doesn’t cause people to look at me sideways. In fact, they often relate or at the very least understand.

The loss of my friend taught me something very critical about suicide.
                That is, the moment you take your life you also take away all possibility of life getting any better. I remember thinking that whilst in my bedroom early November 2017, that was the thought that made me pick up the phone, get in the gym, enrol on a course and take care of myself. I don’t blame my friend for doing what he did; in fact, I totally understand it. However, it is the finality of his decision that woke me up, more than anything else.

As I said at the beginning, I really didn’t want to write this. In fact, I was very close to coming up with an excuse not to. The past couple of weeks have been rough over here, but they could’ve been a lot worse had I not learned the lessons I learnt well over a year ago.

Funnily enough I’m glad I wrote this; feeling better already.

 

Daniel Hipkiss, 28, is a fitness professional based in Stourbridge, UK. When he’s not in the gym helping people you'll find him in the gym training. Most Likely whilst listening to Spotify’s "Hot Country" playlist.

You can find his fitness blog ‘here’, and can email him about fitness on Keepgoingfitonline@gmail.com

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If you’ve been affected by any of the conditions detailed in this story, please visit the Samaritans website, or visit your doctor.