Feeling numb to life, Andy’s depression was a secret from those around him. But in his darkest moments, a simple connection and kind gesture from a friend saved him
Six years ago, I was diagnosed with depression. Four years ago, I decided to end my own life. Two years ago, I finally accepted it and told the world. I expected a few “oohs” and “aahs”, maybe a little sympathy, but mostly just, “Glad to hear you’re doing better.” As with most things, expectation is not reality. It was never that I was alone. It was never that people didn’t care about me. It was simply that they didn’t know what I was struggling with.
I was living a ‘middling’ existence. I was at that point of mid-life mediocrity. My career was stagnant. My friendships were fading. My life was lacklustre. Nothing brought any excitement anymore. Being diagnosed with depression gave context to what was happening, but it certainly didn’t help with any of it. Sure, the medication (sertraline) helped dull the existential dread a bit, but the depression itself left me mostly numb anyway. Seeing a therapist helped as well. It gave me a time and a place to express what little feelings remained within me.
I learned to exist. I was almost becoming comfortable with it. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sad. I just existed. However, the rock bottom I thought I’d found was not the bottom at all. There was a darker depth I hadn’t reached yet.
Then my wife left me. Suddenly everything faded to black.
My seven failures were finally complete. I had failed in my career; I was far from the successful accountant I was meant to be. I had failed as a son and as a brother; I was not a child to be proud of, nor someone to be looked up to. I had failed as a friend; too distracted by my own problems, I was distant and detached from those around me. Now I had failed as a husband and as a man; closing the circle around me. The capstone to it all was that in all these failures, I had failed as a human. I no longer felt emotions. I was numb to it all. As my humanity dwindled to nothing, I decided the only reasonable course of action was to end my life.
I convinced myself that something selfish was completely selfless; ending my life was ‘for the greater good’. The short-term pain of losing me was better than the long-term pain of living with me in this state. All the colour faded from my life, and I knew what needed to be done.
I did my research. I prepared. It was no longer a matter of ‘if’, only ‘when’. I waited. One fateful day I decided it was time. I had closed all the open loops in my life, and I was at peace with what I was about to do. I sat on my bed ready.
Then a sound. A vibration. A perturbation. My phone was in the room next door. I decided to check it. I didn’t want anything left undone.
It was a message from my best friend. It wasn’t even much of a message. Barely a line or two. No narrative. No exposition. No nuance. All I remember now is a single word. It read, “Pub?”
It was a simple reminder that I was meant to be meeting them in a few weeks or so to catch up. We live quite a distance from each other, so organising when we can actually see each other is hard. They’d been through a rough patch themselves, and I felt I’d let them down by not being there as I was too distracted by everything happening in my life. But in this moment, regardless of what had come before, or could come again, they still wanted to see me. They still wanted me here.
Some say that you’re never really best friends unless you’re a bad influence on each other. We are the worst (best) when we’re together. Everything is a competition. Everything is dialled up to 11. But we’ve never let the other down. We’ve never given up. Regardless of time, distance or anything else, we’ve always been there for one another.
I was about to give up. I was about to let them down.
And that was all it took for me to stand down. That was all it took for me to write a similar, no-nuanced message back reading “ofc.” That was all it took for life to find a way.
Show the people in your life that you care for them, and that you want them to be there. You never know what someone is going through
It took me the best part of a year or two to even tell them what happened that day. For the longest time I was so scared and so ashamed that I’d reached that point in my life that I kept it hidden away, preferring to avoid than confront it. When I finally told them, over a pint at a pub of course, they were shocked. It wasn’t that it had happened. It was that they didn’t know, and that they weren’t able to be there for me more.
I’ve learned a lot from living all this, so much so I’ve written a book on the subject!
One of the questions I am always asked is: “How can I help someone who is struggling?” It’s with a heavy heart that I always respond by saying that: “You can’t help someone until they are ready to be helped.” Until someone is ready to face what they’re struggling with, you can’t do much. What you can do is remind them you’re there. Keep being their friend. Keep inviting them to things. Keep being as close to them as you can. When that person is ready to be helped, there will come a point where they’ll turn round to look for people to help them. This is the inflection point. The pivot. Whatever you want to call it. This is the point where we can lose people.
When you are going about your daily lives and you think of someone, or a fond memory of a distant time comes to mind, share it with them. Show the people in your life that you care for them, and that you want them to be there. You never know what someone is going through until you speak and communicate properly with them. Ask. Reach out. Chat. Converse. Be present!
Don’t do it for you. Do it for them. Because you’ll never know the impact just the smallest of messages can have on a person.
Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred), says:
Andy struggled with depression for more than six years. He felt that his life was undistinguished, and these feelings of a lack of success led to a descent into despair, where he felt that he had little to go on for. A chance call at his lowest moment helped him to reconnect with his friends, and the relationship they wanted. Although it took time, he was able to reach out and recover when he was ready. Andy’s story shows that we can all help each other by being ready to both give and accept support, and talk when needed.