I am in the plane from Sydney to Singapore, on my way home, a home where I suffered so much, a home where I felt desperate and hopeless, a home where I wished so many times that I would just die.
As I write this I’ve got tears running down my cheeks, but they are not tears of sadness or of desperation, they are tears of relief.
I spent ten years thinking there was no hope, ten years thinking that I could never be happy anymore, that my life was over and that all that was left was the necessity to survive.
I had to survive, otherwise my mum would die too.
My brother would survive though, he was strong enough, but I couldn’t bear putting him through all this pain.
I had to survive.
That was my fate, that was my cross to bear.
I have spent so much time feeling like a ghost, feeling like a spectator.
Things were happening to me. I was like a boat with a broken mast on the capricious sea.
Sometimes it would get quiet, but never for long.
The pain would come back, the desperation would come back, again and again.
« I can’t bear it anymore. I wish I would just die. I wish thunder could hit me while I walk outside. I wish I could just have a terrible car accident and die. »
All of these are examples of the thoughts that would come through my head again and again.
Depression is not just a thing people do to attract attention. Depression is hell. Or at least it feels like hell. And when you are deeply depressed you just see no way out.
But there is at least one, and maybe more.
Today I wanted to share my way out, hoping that it can help some people find their own, or at least feel like they are not alone.
Here is how I believe I got out.
Through love I made dying too painful
First from the start I got connected to a desire for protection for people I loved.
In the movie that started all these tears (yes remember, I’m in the plane), and by the way thanks British Airways for selecting that movie, a recovering drug addicts finds a cat and turns all his efforts of survival towards protecting that cat. It’s a true story, so I guess what I mean to say is that it doesn’t need to be people, animals will do.
Although I cared for many people, there were just two I was thinking of in terms of wanting to preserve them from my own death : my mum and my brother.
When I pictured them going through my death, the pain was stronger than the one of having to survive.
Or to be honest I wasn’t sure I would make it, but let’s say that the pain of picturing them was stronger than the pain of trying to survive.
This got me through the first ten years.
I was just trying my best (which was not much due to the very little resources I had after spending so much to just get through the day) to make my life a little less miserable here and there.
I was fortunate enough to have been granted with a reasonable sense of humour which, although it would almost always bend towards dark humour, helped me make a fair amount of friends and be reasonably good at maintaining those friendships.
I’m not sure of how they perceived me but I felt like although most of the time I was more like a ghost, I often managed to get into the fun, into the present moment, and forget all the pain for a while.
That provided me with a little relief here and there which, while I don’t think it was a determining factor, was still good to have when it would come.
As I said before, this lasted for ten years until a first event happened.
My first break-up saved me
I managed to get a few girlfriends here and there, and I ended into a four-year long relationship with a very nice lady.
While we felt a lot of love and were very nice to each other, it felt like we were both parasiting from each other, like she was my blood perfusion and I was hers.
Fortunately she was a bit stronger than me and she managed to get the courage to leave me, which probably saved my life.
Tears come up again as I write this and while a part of me feels like telling her « thank you », another part of me feels like shying away from the discomfort. Let’s keep writing and we’ll see about that one.
So as I was saying, her leaving me probably saved my life because it put me into so much pain again that I literally felt like it was enough : I can’t keep on suffering like this, and I can’t die, so I have to try and do something to get out of it.
And that started my journey on the personal development path.
The Mind is its own place
Then a second event happened, very small but that opened a new door for me.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. To be honest I didn’t want to do anything with it, I didn’t care about it as I was condemned to just survive.
But I drifted and ended up studying English.
In one of my courses, we had to read a book called « Paradise Lost » by John Milton.
Very hard to read for a non-native with all these old words, but I must say I felt deeply motived by such a title, having been living in hell for the past ten years.
In this book there was one sentence that shocked me and that has not left my mind ever since. It was pronounced by Satan in the book so not the best person to receive advice from but it gave me my first glimpse of hope. It went like this :
« The mind is its own place and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven. »
Could that be possible ? Could that be possible that I created my own Hell ? Could that be possible that if I change my mind I can make a heaven out of Hell ?
To be honest I didn’t even dream about Paradise, but « Bearable » would already feel like a miracle.
For the love of
god – women !
Then came a third event. Back then I was living in London. I was in my first year of Masters, I needed to write my dissertation and thought I might as well write it abroad.
So I moved to London and started to go out every single night.
I was trying to meet girls, so I checked stuff online and ended up on some guys’ website who were talking about all sorts of manipulation techniques to pick up girls and some other guys’ website who were talking about the importance of learning to be happier and stronger in order to be more attractive.
I learned from both and fortunately my heart was in the right place so I quickly sided more with the guys talking about inner strength and happiness.
I still felt relatively miserable and didn’t manage to sleep with a single woman in those six months but at least I had another motivation to try and be happier.
I also met a great friend there whom I heavily relied upon and who made it all a bit easier.
Shafeeq, I am crying again as I write this but I will never thank you enough. Although we rarely get to talk these days you will be my brother forever.
But after a while Shafeeq had to leave and the cold and the London fog was too much for me to bear, and I decided to move to Malta.
Wait, maybe I don’t want to die so much after all
And there another event happened. I was walking around in Valetta and I saw a scaffhold leading to an old bridge made of rocks, about 30 meters higher.
It was forbidden to get in, and there was a fence but the workers had gone for lunch and nobody was watching so I went down the scaffhold and started climbing.
The higher I would climb the stronger was the wind, and at some point I was feeling the whole scaffhold trembling.
I was watching these people waving at me and watching me with binoculars, and at that moment I really felt it : if I fall I will die.
And at that very moment where I felt I could die any minute, two thoughts came to me :
- After all maybe that I don’t really want to die
- If feels good to be up here, what would happen if I filled my life with moments like these ?
I finished the climb, looked at the view, came down again and ran off with my second glimpse of hope and a very real desire to try harder to like life.
What is the bright side of my father committing suicide ?
After that I started getting really deep into self-help books, read many of them, and one gave me my third glimpse of hope.
It was a book called Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins.
(Btw if you know Tony, give him my deepest gratitude – if that means anything in English)
In this book, Tony talked about a tool called Reframing. It more or less comes down to looking at the bright side, but he puts it in such a way that it felt powerful enough for me to want to try.
All these years of depression started with one event : my father committed suicide when I was 12.
For all these years (I was 23 by the time I read Tony’s book), I had had the same view of this event : my father dying (let alone by suicide while I could have been there and refused) is the worst thing that can happen to me, and thus life is not worth living anymore.
But I was reading Tony’s book and it made so much sense intellectually that I figured I would give it a try.
What is the bright side of my father committing suicide ?
Formulating that question made me want to vomit.
It made me so angry at myself for even considering that question for a second.
I dropped the book and swore to not touch it ever again.
But that question kept poking at me from time to time.
And after a while, I thought ok, why not give it a try ? I’ve already lost everything so I’ve got nothing more to lose (which was not true but felt true at the time).
What is the bright side of losing my father ?
Well, it is the worst thing that can happen to me. Nothing can be worst. Losing my brother or mum ? Similar, not worse.
So if the worst happened to me and I am still alive, then that must mean I am invincible !
I was shocked.
Although one part of me kept telling me that was wrong and I should not believe that and the good interpretation was to think that it was only bad, I just couldn’t separate myself from the idea that thanks to my dad, I now knew that I was mentally invincible.
And if I am invincible, there is nothing that I cannot do.
I can fight for those who can’t.
I can lead the way. I can take all the risks, I am bulletproof.
And that started me on my mission to help people who suffer from depression.
So now I had even one more reason to live.
And for the first time since it all started, I felt like I was on my way out of depression.
I didn’t know if I was out already or if I was gonna be out in the near future, but it felt like it was all different now.
What if I fall back ?
What I didn’t see coming though was the fear.
Now that I felt like I was cured, the fear started crawling down on me, the fear of falling back, the fear that I was lying to myself and that I was not actually cured.
And that fear had been my main problem for the next 5 years.
I kept working harder and harder to improve, to feel stronger, to feel more at peace, to do something good with my life and to solve all of my problems, one after the other.
But the fear was always there, hiding in the dark and getting over me as soon as I would let a doubt emerge.
Women at it again
And then I met an amazing woman who has kept pushing me to grow, be more authentic, stop the bullshit, clean up my mess and show up like a man (and by that I mean without hiding my feelings behind a mask).
That woman is stronger than steel and would not bend regardless of how much I was trying to convince her that my view of the world was better, and she gave me a lot of shit for it.
So much so that one day, as I couldn’t stand it anymore and was about to leave her, I remembered the words of my coach Bob Schwenkler who told me to look up The Work of Byron Katie.
To make it extremely simple,
Byron Katie’s work is about questioning your stressful thoughts enough until you realize that they are not true and watch them disappear.
I never bothered to check it before but I did this time, and it saved my relationship.
But I didn’t stop there and I started to question all sorts of thoughts, including my biggest sticking point, my fear of falling back.
« It is possible that I fall back in depression : is it true ? »
I did the exercise many times on that one, and little by little, the « yes » started to turn into a « yes but », which in turn started to turn into a « no but » which I feel is turning into a straight « no » these days.
Am I forever out of depression ? I cannot tell you that for sure but I can tell you that I more and more believe it to be true.
And I want to end that article by saying that although I neither have the time nor the money to help everyone, I want to tell you that regardless of how depressed you are right now, it is possible to get out of it.
Don’t lose hope, fight until the end, and then keep fighting until you don’t need to.
PS : if you feel like sharing that article, I would deeply appreciate it, but please don’t send it directly to people you believe to be depressed, don’t make them feel targeted, just share it on Facebook or wherever feels right if you care, and as Bryan Reeves puts it, « let the peace fall where it may ».