Depression in men is real - I've lived with the black dog
Posted by
12th Sep 2014

As a male sufferer of mental illness, triber Ian shares his journey - what caused him to become depressed and what he has learned along the way. He is eager to debunk the myths surrounding men and mental illness: men are just as susceptible and it is no less 'manly', he asserts, to ask for help if you are struggling. In fact, it may be one of he bravest things you will ever do.

NO! I can’t do it. Something snaps me out of the state I’m in. I open my eyes, I’m off the road and only metres from impact. I stab the brakes and grab the steering wheel, ripping it hard to the left. Everything seems to happen in slow motion. The car starts to slide. I’m going to hit, I’m going to hit. I’ve left it too late. Physics kick in and the car starts to slide out dramatically; now I’m sideways. The car keeps rotating and then impact. It’s huge! I remember clearly the noise, the brutal deceleration and the car bouncing violently off the concrete structure.

There’s smoke and dust. I’m dazed, I hurt. But I’m alive. I look up and see a couple of cars stopping and people running over. I undo my seatbelt and get out. The door is stiff and creaks like an old rusted gate but it opens. I get out. Slowly, carefully, everything hurts. But I’m alive. The very first thing that goes through my mind is 'What were you thinking you moron? What were you thinking?!' I look to the sky and see the stars and the moon. It’s a beautiful night and I’m glad I’m alive.

How did I get to the stage of hopelessness, of desperation? How did I get to the point where I thought dying was a better option than living? For these answers we need to go back about sven months.

I am living in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Happily married with three amazing kids. Three boys aged 14, 11 & 8. To me life is pretty good. It’s not perfect, money is tight, I’m working three jobs to make ends meet. I enjoy coming home. I enjoy time with my wife and children.

It’s a Wednesday night and I get home from my full-time job at about 6pm, put my key in the front door but it wont turn. I knock a couple of times,

“Can you let me in? Something’s wrong with the lock – my key isn’t working.”

The response is cold, stone cold.

“No, I had the locks changed today. We’re finished. Look behind you, there’s two suitcases and a couple of boxes with your stuff. Please leave quietly and don’t make a scene in front of the boys.”

Now I’m by no means perfect and I wasn’t a perfect husband. In hindsight, I could see this coming, but at the time it felt like I was completely blindsided. I was completely shocked. I remember standing there for what was probably only a few seconds but felt like much longer. I turned around and sure enough, there in the darkness I could see a couple of suitcases and boxes. She was serious. This wasn’t a joke.

The way I reacted certainly didn’t do my chances of fixing things any good. I banged on the door hard, really hard. There was lots of swearing, name calling etc.

How dare she do this! Lock me out of MY house! Throw me out and stop me seeing MY kids. How dare she!

I was completely wild. I lost the plot. Yelling, swearing, name-calling, banging on the door, the windows.

Then I hear my youngest boy crying. He is a beautiful, sweet, gentle boy and he is crying, a lot. I can hear in his sobs that he is frightened, genuinely frightened by what's going on. He is also confused, asking his Mum why she wont let Daddy in and what is going on?

I can’t take it anymore. I tell the boys through the locked front door: “I love you. Daddy’s going away for a few days just like he does with work. Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. Be good for your Mum. Love you.”

Fast-forward to January 2001. I’ve accepted a promotion and a transfer to the Gold Coast with work. To this day I do not understand in my mind how I justified moving 1700km from my children. It was a selfish decision. A way for me to make a fresh start.

The ex had a new boyfriend and it hurt seeing her with him. It hurt watching him interacting with my kids. I think I ran away. It was easier to run away than stay and deal with the issues.

Depression in men makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do
If I thought running away would solve all the problems I was wrong, very very wrong.

I was still a mess mentally from the separation, struggling to deal with the property settlement, the child support etc. Sorting out bank accounts. It was a mess and I struggled to deal with each step because it was another nail in the coffin of my marriage. I was still struggling to accept it was over and that there was nothing I could do about it.

I’m living in a unit on the Gold Coast. I’m working but after work I’m lonely. I talk to my kids every single night. After I talk with them I either cry or get angry. No matter what mood I’m in, I drink. I drink and I drink and I drink. Jim Beam and Coke is my designated pain reliever and the more, the better.

But drinking doesn’t help. In fact it makes things worse. It starts becoming hard to work efficiently, safely, productively. I’m not eating much but I’m drinking more and more.

Depression in men is not helped by drinking! Drinking WILL make things worse
Now I see the downward spiral I was in, but at the time I was lost. I was wallowing in my situation. Blaming everyone, everything, the world, society, everyone and everything. Nothing was my fault. I was this poor victim in the game of life. I had done nothing wrong but was being screwed by life. It’s just not fair.

That’s how I ended up on the M1 that Saturday night. Looking for a way to end it.

Other than totalling a three-month-old Ford Falcon, spending a night in hospital and feeling like I had been run over by a bus, then had stood up and been hit by a truck, I survived with a few broken bones, a few cuts and scratches and some of the most unbelievable bruises I have ever seen. (I mean it, they were incredible! I had one on my chest that was yellow and green for a couple of months!)

On the Monday night, sitting in my unit, I decided that instead of drinking I was going to have a think about where my life was heading. I sat on the couch and remember staring into the corner of the roof to the point where two walls and the ceiling met. I just stared and thought, stared and thought. I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life where I actually thought about my mental state, my emotional state and what was driving me.

I realised that my mind was really messed up and I needed help. This revelation hit me like a sledgehammer. Out of nowhere, I knew I needed help. I knew that mentally I was a basket case.

I grabbed the white and yellow pages phone books. (Yes, they were still around in 2001 and people actually used them. If there is anyone that doesn’t know what I’m talking about, ask your parents.)

I was looking for phone counselling, emergency counselling, men's counselling. Something, anything. I was desperate. I knew I needed help and I was going to get it.

I found a men's emergency counselling number. This phone call still causes mixed emotions in me. After our brief hellos and introduction, I just exploded. It was like a dam bursting. I gushed and gushed and gushed: "It’s not fair; the world hates me; how can she do this to me..?" On and on and on.

After several minutes, all of a sudden the guy on the other end says: “Are you finished whining, whinging and complaining about how much everything sucks? If so, shu tup and let's talk seriously like a couple of men.”

I was shocked. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I rang, but it wasn’t someone telling me to shut up and stop whinging.

It was over three hours before I hung up that call. By the end, I understood how my brain was thinking and why. I was a complete control freak, just like most men – am I right, ladies? And the fact that things were happening and I could do nothing to change the outcome was rocking me to the core. My beliefs, my values, my thoughts about what made me a man were all challenged in that three-hour phone call, but at the end I felt an enormous weight had been lifted. I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I knew the sun would come up in the morning and that life would go on.

I’m going to call my counsellor 'Patrick' because I cannot remember his name despite the fact this guy changed my entire mindset and made the rest of my life so much better.

Patrick and I spoke many times after that first phone call. None were as long but several were just as intense, with Patrick challenging how I looked at a situation and why I felt the way I felt.

Depression in men can be helped by talking to someone
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I woke up on a Saturday and the thought was in my mind: 'You are going out tonight to a club or nightclub and going to meet some people and start friendships.'

At this time, I didn’t see a doctor about my mental state but wish I had. I very nearly created a permanent solution to a temporary situation. What if I had been a second later changing my mind in that car on that Saturday night? A second later and my kids would have buried me and had to live with that for the rest of their lives. A second later and I would not have met and married my best friend, my soul mate, mother of my beautiful daughter. A second later….

I was suffering from depression. Dark, deep, severe depression. I didn’t realise it. I don’t think I even knew what it was at the time. Even if I had, I would have laughed at the suggestion. I am a ridgey-didge-tough-as-nails Aussie male. I don’t have 'issues'; there is nothing that can affect me or slow me down! I am an Aussie male, 10 feet tall and bullet-proof.

Now when I hear someone talking or acting like that, I tell them one thing – bullshit!

No matter how big and tough you think you are, depression can hit you. It is not a sign of weakness or not being a man. It’s the roll of the dice. It doesn’t matter what socio-economic class you come from or your nationality. It’s just the luck of the draw. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, or what level of education you have. Depression can affect you. Depression doesn’t care who, what, why, where, how.

Depression in men is not a sign of weakness
But what I desperately want you to remember from today, what I want you to take away, is that depression can be treated. It can be managed extremely well and enable you to lead a happy, healthy and productive life.

Don’t try to be a hero! If you are struggling with something – take action. Speak to family, to a friend, to your doctor. Someone, anyone you feel comfortable with. Get referred to a doctor, counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. I don’t care who you talk to, who you see. Just do something, see someone, take control, take action.

Each and every one of us has the opportunity and ability to lead wonderfully fulfilling lives. Don’t let pride or ignorance rob you of the chance to enjoy everything life has in store for you.

Take action, get help. Wake up, take a deep breath and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air on the first day of the rest of your life.

From listening to my story, HOPE is the emotion I would like you to hang on to.

Depression and anxiety are common and treatable conditions
Support is available and it’s important to seek support early – the sooner the better.

With the right treatment, most people recover.

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety so that you can monitor your feelings and behaviours, and also look out for those around you.

If you think you may be depressed or have an anxiety condition, or you know someone who might, talk about it and seek help from a GP or other mental health professional.

A common misconception is that people with depression or anxiety can just ‘snap out of it’, or that depression and anxiety indicate a weakness of character.

Depression and anxiety are illnesses, not weaknesses, and people shouldn’t feel ashamed to speak up and seek help early.

Everyone will experience depression and anxiety in a slightly different way. This also means that everyone’s recovery will follow a slightly different path.

There are many treatment options available so finding the best treatment option or combination of treatments is important.

It takes time to make a full recovery, so keep persisting. Resilience is important for everyone. Bouncing back from life’s disappointments is an extremely important life skill to have.

It is important for people who have experienced a mental health condition to know their personal stressors and triggers, and have ways to deal with them. However, if you haven’t experienced a mental health condition, it is still important to take care of your mental health so you can deal with life’s ups and downs.

Stress is common in daily life. Exposure to prolonged stress can start to affect your mental and physical health. Stress in our lives isn’t going to stop, so we need to find ways to manage it.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating healthily, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and avoiding harmful levels of alcohol and other drugs.

Participate in activities with family members and close friends, and accept social invitations, as keeping connected with people helps increase levels of well-being, confidence and opportunities.

Looking after yourself is important but if you notice a family member, friend or work colleague doesn’t seem like themselves, seems upset or withdrawn or isn’t attending social events – simply ask them if they are OK.

Sometimes the most difficult thing is just working out how to start a conversation. It’s important to choose a time when you’re both free to talk and a place where you both feel comfortable, keep relaxed body language and keep up the eye contact to let them know you’re listening, and use open-ended questions to open up the conversation.

The major message I need to leave with you with is that we need to start thinking about – and having conversations about – mental health.

Look after yourself and keep an eye on your family and friends! If there’s someone you haven’t seen for a while, for example someone who used to attend social or work events and isn’t at the moment, get on the phone and see how they are doing.

In conclusion...
Depression in men is real
We are not Superman. We are not invincible. Sometimes life gets the better of us.
If you aren’t feeling yourself talk about it with someone.
If things persist, see your doctor.

If you are like me and enjoy reading here’s a couple of books that may help:
I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression
Depression Fallout: The Impact of Depression on Couples and What You Can Do to Preserve the Bond

Whoa there – don’t leave yet!
Did you get value from my story? Did it help you to understand why you are feeling how you are or maybe you know someone who would benefit from reading this, someone you care about?

Help get the word out by leaving a comment below or sharing on Facebook/Twitter/Google+. I read and respond to every comment and do a little happy dance every time I see someone sharing a post.

So, go ahead. Leave a comment and let me know your experience and then share and like and enjoy my virtual high five or hug!

Thanks and see you next time


You can send Ian your comments via Twitter @QLDMH and read more on his website.

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