Dear Mr Powell,
You may not remember me, but about 26 years ago you probably saved my life.
Back then I was a bespectacled, awkward 14-year-old. Whilst most of my peers were sneaking crafty cigarettes behind the bike sheds, playing sports and chasing girls, I was what you might call a “quiet one”.
Back then was when depression was finally starting to impact on my life in a meaningful, destructive way.
I didn’t mix well with others, preferring to spend most of my free time on my own. Brooding about nothing in particular, and getting frustrated with myself for not fitting in.
Most people would probably put this down to a “difficult” teenage phase; all those hormones flying around, hair starting to grow in strange places, and beginning to see girls as some sort of strange, unsolvable mystery instead of people. It’s no wonder I was feeling a bit strange!
Unfortunately for me, it was a bit more nefarious than just a simple loss of innocence.
Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, I was part of a generation of kids that weren’t given much in the way of emotional support or development.
Our parents were a stoic bunch; they didn’t have time for silly things like emotions or feelings. If you had a problem, you were just expected get on with it. If you couldn’t get on with then there was obviously something wrong with you and you became the subject of gossip and ridicule.
Couple this with a large dose of “small town mentality”, and having a mental health issue was not only frowned upon, but was actively discouraged.
So there I was, suffering from depression without actually knowing what depression really was. Afraid to talk to my friends for fear that they’d laugh at me, and terrified to talk to my parents because I didn’t want to disappoint them or make them ashamed of me.
Suffering in silence seemed to be my only option. But then one day something strange happened.
I’ll never forget it - I was sitting at the front of your biology class, finding it hard to concentrate because I was trying to keep all the dark thoughts at bay. When the bell finally rang, I was relieved that I could go to break and find somewhere that I could be alone.
But you asked me if I was OK.
I remember being taken aback by your question. No one ever asked me if I was OK.
I could see what was obvious concern on your face, and all of a sudden I was overcome with emotion. It was like a wall inside me broke and everything came flooding out.
I thought you’d judge me or look at me like I was crazy. But you didn’t. All you did was listen.
And over the rest of the year you carried on listening. You never judged me, never laughed at me. You helped me realise that what I was going through wasn’t my fault. You gave me advice and encouragement. And most importantly the emotional support I didn’t have anywhere else. You also did a good job of teaching me some science as well!
Since then my life has had many ups and downs. I’ve travelled the world, had many adventures and even gotten married.
All through it, I’ve continued to battle with depression and anxiety with varying degrees of success.
But without you I wouldn’t even know what it is I’m fighting.
I’m sure I would of figured it out eventually. But your openness and compassion gave me a crucial head start. Without it I may not be here typing this letter to you now.
So, Mr Powell, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I’ve never forgotten what you did for me all those years ago. I may not be a world class biologist, but I’d like to think I’m a decent human being thanks, in no small part, to you.
I only hope that life has treated you as well as you deserve,