When I was 19, I started suffering from life-threatening bouts of depression, which over the next four years led to alcoholism, drug abuse, medicine-induced psychosis, near suicide attempts and multiple hospitalizations. I was going through the roughest time of my life, but I hardly told anyone about it--particularly my male friends. Whenever we'd meet up, I'd do what people with depression are famous for: force a smile and say "I'm fine".
I was gradually able to recover, however, and by the end of 2012, I was happy, and eager to try and help others who were still going through it. I thought about what I could do, and in the end decided to found the Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign, to inspire sufferers of the illness to never give up on happiness. As part of the campaign, I wrote a free memoir that gives a warts and all account of why I fell into depression, what it was like, and how I was able to recover. I bared myself as much as one could--nothing was left at home.
I knew I wanted to go through with the campaign, because I've always been committed to helping others. But I was well aware that mental health carries a stigma, and I wondered what people would think of me after they'd read about everything I'd been through.
Will they think I'm a freak because I suffered from depression?
Will they think I'm weak? A pansy?
Will they turn away from me? Not want to be my friend anymore?
I wasn't sure, so I just launched my campaign and hoped for the best.
Then something surprising happened.
Not only was everyone incredibly supportive, but they also reciprocated by sharing their own tribulations. For many people, it was as if the walls they'd been putting up for years had dropped, and they started opening up to me in a way I never thought they would.
"I suffered from depression too, mate," some said.
"I have an anxiety disorder."
"I've never had a mental illness, but I saw a therapist for a year after my parents got divorced."
"Just like you did mate, I've had my issues with substance abuse. I'm pretty clean these days, but sometimes when I feel particularly overwhelmed, I can't help but drown myself in booze."
"I can really relate to that part in your memoir where you talk about how painful it is to be cheated on. It happened to me too, mate, and it was one of the hardest experiences of my life. For weeks on end it was a struggle just to get out of bed."
It was amazing. My being so candid led to some really down to earth, genuine conversations, and I preferred them to most of the relatively superficial chats I have with my mates that often don't go beyond sex and sport.
This social norm leads many people who battle depression to suffer in silence instead of reaching out for help. However, it needs to be said that it's not "weak" or "sissy" for a person to admit that they're struggling and in need of assistance. Rather, it's the smart and sensible thing to do - as anyone who's recovered and who now lives a happy, healthy life will tell you.
And speaking more broadly, there's also another reason why it's good for us to be open about our feelings:
It leads us to develop deeper, more authentic relationships with our friends.
At the end of the day, we all have our demons. Whether they're visible on the surface or not, we all have issues that we're dealing with. And often when they're stripped back, our problems are all just different variations of one another.
I mean, how many of us are experiencing difficulties with respect to our health? Or our relationships? Or our finances? Or parenthood? Or our career?
Without a doubt, a lot more than admit to it.
So from now on, I encourage you to be a little more open. Next time you're sitting down with a mate, if the opportunity presents itself, then be a little more forthcoming about the things that are troubling you.
Just like I was, you might be surprised at what happens next.
If you enjoyed reading this post, I encourage you to download a FREE copy of my memoir here. Recounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression, I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise they are not alone - that there are other people out there who have gone through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery - so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories - particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Multiple-bestselling author Nick Bleszynski has described it as "beautifully written, powerful, heartfelt, insightful and inspiring ... a testament to hope."