Ricky, Feb 2021.
It was roughly 17 years ago when I had my first encounter with depression and anxiety, and I did relatively well at hiding it from those around me.
Or at least I thought I did.
I noticed that the things which normally brought me joy, no longer seemed to hold my interest like they once did. My usual demeanour was substituted for an anxious, tired, less than enthusiastic shadow of who I was only 6 months earlier. What had come over me? Burnout? Surely not, I was only 20 after all.
From the outside, I looked like I was doing well. I had a great career in music ahead of me, a loving partner, good friends, a nice car, and a family that loved me much more than I loved myself. I would shrug off comments from those closest to me of “you look tired” and “are you ok?” because I didn’t want to open up out of fear that I would show weakness.
Weakness to me at that point in my life was not an option, at least in my own mind.
As time wore on, and the feeling of an overbearing weight kept looming over me, things started to slowly fall apart. First of all, it was the relationship with my first love, then my job and then some friendships. I started to distance myself from those who loved me because I thought that I was not worthy of their time, or emotions. I didn’t want to be a burden.
Fast forward 6 years.
I was living overseas, and finally in a space that I was relatively happy with, although I wasn’t necessarily happy with myself. I was still secretly trying to keep the black cloud off of my back by burying myself in my work and numbing my senses with alcohol. Once again, things from an outsider’s perspective probably looked fine. My music career was going well, I was living in central London with someone who loved me, and the future was looking bright (or was it?). Nothing could stop me (or could it?), I was focussed (was I?), travelling and having a great time (at least I was trying to).
What was causing this black cloud to stick around? I thought I had shaken off the cobwebs of depression a couple of years before. Obviously not.
Amongst these old familiar feelings, were new, physical feelings that I had never felt before. I was absolutely exhausted, losing weight, pale, full of stomach cramps and weaker than a cup of tea made from one tea bag and a pint of milk. Surely depression alone can’t make me feel like this.
I once again tried to ignore how I felt, and this is where everything came to a grinding halt.
It was Christmas Eve and I was in Estonia with my partner and some friends when all of a sudden, I started to black out in the middle of a snow covered, cobbled street. As my legs started to buckle, and I started to fall backwards, I asked my partner for help. The first time
I had asked anyone for help in a long time…
As she held my hands and tried to stop me from going unconscious, I said to her that I thought I was dying (I genuinely thought I was). Luckily, something kept me propped up, maybe adrenaline or fear of the unknown, I’m not sure.
I managed to claw my way back to the Hotel with the help of my friends and rest up until I was strong enough to carry on with the rest of our trip back across Lithuania, Latvia then home to London. Once back home, I immediately made several appointments with doctors so I could find out what was happening to me.
I finally got the verdict. Ulcerative Colitis. Ulcerative Colitis is a lifelong, chronic disease.
So, I had a name for what was causing me so much physical pain and torment, and initially I thought it wasn’t a big deal. That is until I found out exactly what having a lifelong disease actually entails. (I’m going to save you readers from too many harrowing stories here, but if
you want to find out more, visit the site below.) https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ulcerative-colitis
I found myself isolating once again, pushing people away that loved me in fear of making them upset and I didn’t want to unnecessarily worry those around me. I tried the exact same tactics that I had used when I was 20 with depression, because this was the only way I felt that I could deal with my new fate.
To make things worse, coupled with the disease was crippling anxiety, the very thing I was trying to get over years before.
I would sit in my room and read online what the worst-case scenario for myself could be, what other people had suffered from during their battle with UC and read stories about how this disease has ruined many relationships.
All this did of course was make things in my own mind worse, and I was getting to a point of being catatonic. I would stay in bed all day, crippled with anxiety and too scared to open my eyes because I didn’t want to face the world. Anxiety and depression had their ugly sharp
hooks sunk deep into me and I didn’t think I would ever be “normal” again.
How was I going to carry on, and actually make anything of myself now that I had this disease, along with the depression and heightened anxiety?
To be honest it wasn’t easy, but it all started by putting my ego aside and talking to someone who wasn’t biased, or too close to me. I went and spoke to my GP about what I was going through on a daily basis and reluctantly spilled the beans about the fact that I didn’t think I could cope much longer. I was at my wits end.
Reaching out to someone was the hardest thing to do, but it was the best thing I ever did.
Luckily, the NHS (National Health Service) provided free counselling for people who require it in the UK, so I got given a round of 6 therapy sessions. I was totally surprised by the fact that the person who I was talking to was roughly the same age as I was, and fully understood my situation themselves. It felt like some kind of revelation that I had this crutch to lean on and all I had to do was ask for it.
It wasn’t easy opening up about my thoughts or letting a stranger into my inner self by any means, but I could not be more grateful for the support I received, and how it still helps me today. There was no magic bullet that’s for sure. Each and every day I had to practice
cognitive behavioural therapy (which I still do at times) and learn to address my feelings rather than keep them tucked away.
Fast forward to the current day.
As of right now, I am 37 years of age. I live a very full life, have a loving partner, a successful business, own my home, and am surrounded by family and friends who love me now, just like they always have.
I owe a lot to the people around me who listened (when I finally got the courage to open up) continue to listen, and to the services that are at hand which help people like you and I get back on track to living our best lives.
I have finally regained my demeanour and sense of self, my anxiety is under control, and I know now that the secret to maintaining my happiness is by talking to those around me and reaching out for help when I feel that I need it.
With so many amazing support platforms at the touch of our fingertips, it’s easier now more so than ever to help yourself right from the comfort of your home. Don’t be afraid to ask or look for help. Your 20-year-old self might very well thank you for it.