I had never shared in public the fact that I suffer from depression until the recent 'Boys Do Cry' campaign here on the Huffington Post caught me at a moment that inspired me to tell the people that briefly saw that tweet that I have a mental illness. It felt empowering to the point where I'm writing this blog to share my story on how depression has affected me as man, dad and business owner.
I'm a typical British man - I don't go to the doctors unless I really have to. We don't want to waste their time with our problems a they have more worthwhile people to see - right? I went with a list of seven things neatly written down and I can remember it quite vividly. I sat and reeled off details of the crunching noise my knees make, sought assurances on a shooting pain I've always had in my head... and just as the doc was nodding out I said "at night I've been researching the best way to kill myself on Google and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it".
I looked at my visibly shocked GP and in the couple of seconds silence that followed I was overwhelmed with self doubt and uncertainty. Should I really be saying this? Is this where they take my kids away and put me into a secure hospital for my own good? Am I really depressed? Surely Darren Ratcliffe isn't really suicidal? Why am I wasting anyone's time? I don't really remember most of the rest of the conversation other than I told him that the thoughts had gone from being every now and then to the point of actively researching the best way of doing it for me.
At first I refused the offer of anti-depressants from him but he insisted for my own sake to go home and take them straight away. I took them home, read the instructions half a dozen times and then flushed them down the toilet. I felt like they were for weak people and I wasn't prepared to admit in any way that I had a weakness - that was one admission too far for me to make.
Why men don't talk about mental health issues is often attributed to affronts on their masculinity and until I started to write this, I thought that this wasn't the case with me - but when I look at how I've made efforts to cope, I am 100% in that category.
I needed desperately to find a way of coping
The first thing was going to the pub and getting drunk at the weekend. Really drunk. Too drunk in fact. It was fantastic - I had a great laugh (most of which I don't remember) and for a while it gave me a good distraction and something to look forwards to each week. What's better than a good old lads night out on the ale down the local boozer? I wouldn't say I ever had a dependency on alcohol, but I did drink too much for a period of time and even now have the odd blip - but that makes me no different to most of my friends.
I'd never had a tattoo before and all of a sudden I find myself face down in a tattoo studio having the wings of my guardian angel on my back and the words Faith, Courage and Serenity worked into them. I've gone on without an air of regret to have a sleeve done too, each symbol from Ganesh to an anchor as different icons of strength and reflection.
I became an Ambassador for a Charity called Forever Manchester - it's really close to my heart and they fight for values that I really believe in. Of all the ways to help raise money and awareness I found myself in one year tackling obstacle races every month some as long as 20 miles long. There's nothing better to take your mind away from depression than being plunged into a vat of ice (see photo above) jumping through fire!!
None of these things are regrets in any way shape or form - my tattoos, Forever Manchester, obstacle racing (I'm aiming to do a 40 mile one next year) are things I love in my life and I've made some great friends along the way. For me, depression triggers a series of really isolating feelings, and whilst we can debate if my way of coping is right or not, it's included lots of other people.
From my experience with depression and how I've handled it, are there any regrets?
I should have taken the medication I was given - I do believe that it would have made things a lot easier and I'm reminded of that when I have my tough days. My main regret is not talking about it to people and telling them how I felt. Until I wrote this article, only a small group of people know that I had struggles, but many of those won't know about the suicidal thoughts or how long I've had depression.
After deciding to write this blog post I've told a few people about how I feel and some of my friends have opened up about their experience with anxiety, depression and 'inner demons'. I have been genuinely shocked in some cases that these 'normal' and 'resilient' people feel the same way as I do too.
Does depression make you less of a 'man' or weaker person?
Those underlying fears of being told that you're being soft, need to pull yourself together or that you're just making a drama out of things are a huge barrier to overcome - but I'm glad that I've started to change that and feel a better person for it. It doesn't mean that even now I feel 100% confident in speaking out, I do still have insecurities about it.
I'm single and a dad to two kids that I adopted with my ex-partner and they are too young to fully understand depression - but talking to my son and friends knows what stress and anxiety are - he's only nine. Just like grown-ups, our kids are under a considerable amount of pressure too and it's important for them to know that sometimes people don't feel great and that is perfectly fine and there's nothing wrong with it and by talking about it you can help manage it. I think it makes me a very mindful parent - there's no way I can't be a better dad for it.
I've worked for myself for ten years now, and watching people like Alan Sugar, Donald Trump (no comment) and Dragons Den thrusts these ultra Alpha Males there as people we supposedly need to be like or we're failures in business.
But come on - Alan Sugar unable to get out the back of his Roller because he can't face what the day might throw at him? Peter Jones waking up in bed in the middle of the night drenched in sweat so bad it's like someone has thrown a bucket of water over him? Doesn't sound likely does it?
None of my customers or my staff know this story (until they have read up to this point). I've been worried about any of them finding out and judging me as being unable to cope, unable to make sound decisions, or that I'm any less capable at my job. Nothing could be further from the truth - I'm fortunate to be able to say that Digitl, my business is doing really well and growing.
There will be lots of other people I've met when out networking that when asked "how are you" they respond that they're "great" when really they aren't coping and can't speak out through fear of the stigma that is attached to it. I hope this article will help them know other people share that pain.
What I'd say to anyone reading this article is that as somebody who has depression I don't want any pity and I don't really want any sympathy or special treatment. I've been dealing with this for years and some days I win and other days I don't... I think depressed people are capable of putting up with a hell of a lot more than those that don't!
As for how depression has affected my masculinity, come on my hobby involves getting electrocuted and jumping through fire!
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
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