You shouldn’t be reading this right now because I should have died in 2015. After what felt like months of meticulous planning I had resigned myself to ending my life with the freshly oiled .45 caliber pistol I was holding in my hands. I can still smell the cleaning oil, and feel the weight of the dense metal in my hands.
I wanted to kill myself
After such a long time of feeling nothing but numbing chronic pain, suicide seemed like the only viable option I had to end pain, stop the self loathing, stop everything which had gripped me. However, a chance phone call from a friend ultimately saved my life that day.
I would have otherwise considered myself to be a very fortunate individual with much to be grateful for. I was a military veteran of almost 10 years and by my early 30s after countless challenges and struggles I had built a successful real estate practice. I had incredible opportunities working with fantastic celebrity and pro athlete clients, I was an award winning author, well traveled, I had even been recognized for my philanthropy work by The City of Toronto and regularly featured on National news. I don’t say any of this to impress, but to express why I “shouldn’t have been depressed”.
You shouldn't be depressed, what do you have to be depressed about?
On paper, I achieved all of the goals I had set for myself. I had my downtown corner office with a view, dressed in tailored suits everyday, attended fancy parties, galas and fundraisers. I should have been very happy, this is the lifestyle I wanted but the cold truth is that depression just doesn’t work that way. Depression is frighteningly common within the entrepreneurship community with some counts as high as 72% having reported their own mental health concerns, compared to a mere 7% of the general public.
After what felt like slamming head first into rock bottom I had been compelled to seek professional help and treatment resulting in a combined prescription of pharmaceuticals and therapy. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me, or why I felt nothing but internalized resentment, self contempt and a complete lack of emotion or meaningful connection to anything or anyone. Why was this inner monologue of venomous hateful thoughts playing on repeat in my head? It wouldn’t be until sometime later which I would have been diagnosed with having a major depressive disorder. This was to be my personal shame for the next several years.
I was ashamed to be struggling with this mental illness, so I isolated myself
With significant effort and practice I became an expert at concealing what I had been struggling with deep inside. I was able to put on a grand illusion of feeling happy all while having no feelings at all. Numbness was the best I could hope for while listening to a constantly looping self defeating monologue. Out of a perceived necessity I became professionally adept at burying what little emotions or feelings which happened to surface. It was an exhausting ordeal but one necessary in order to protect and fortify the shame of my mental illness which I was hiding deep within and fighting, struggling to manage by myself.
Nobody had a clue, I should have won an academy award for my acting
Being an INTJ personality, naturally I wanted to build a system, a fix to put something into place to help me move forward and be better able to brace myself for the next inevitable occurrence.
Over time, as a recovery strategy recommended to me I kept a daily gratitude journal, this has ended up being a valuable tools I had to keep me grounded. An early goal of mine was to gradually make the switch from medication to meditation as i found the side effects of the various meds nearly unbearable, and to make whatever lifestyle changes were necessary.
My practice of daily gratitude and having an emergency plan were crucial to my future ongoing success
I began researching and studying different meditation techniques and philosophies. Additionally with help I also created an Emergency Action Plan which included steps for me to follow in a particular order to help myself from sliding too close towards suicidal ideation and action steps to take the next time around.
This combination of strategies worked well to smooth out the ups and downs which followed I was better able to keep myself centered and in a stable orbit.
These days, in times of a possible relapse I try to remember my Emergency Action Plan as I have written out in the back of my journal to myself for such an occasion of irrational thought. It is nothing elaborate, simply some notes for me to take a pause, and reflect on everything that I am feeling in the moment and plan a course of action to better understand and resolve the issues in order to safely move forward without taking any drastic actions.
It is in this conflicted state and in the face of such overwhelmingly strong emotions I am almost certain to misinterpret the situation. Taking a pause and following my plan helps me to re-frame the situation and what it is that I am feeling acting as grounding rod of sorts. After this, and much introspection on the events, and meditation on where I am in my life now, who I have become as a man, I determined for myself a path forward.
Depression and mental illness is still hugely taboo
While mental illness and depression is still treated as a hugely taboo topic I now believe that it can and should be discussed without shame, that's why I'm sharing my story here today. The School of Life released an excellent video to this end. The hope being that the more we can connect with others, the less in danger we will be.
Where do I go from here? Struggle breeds strength
While I would have never wished this life threatening situation on myself I am now able to see this instead as an opportunity. As I look back I see how far I have come after being so low with the full knowledge that statistically this likely won't be my last battle. But in the here and now it's time for me to carry on with the next chapter in my life.
I believe that most instances in and of themselves are neither good nor bad, but instead it is how we interpret and react towards the situation that makes it so.
I am not a victim of circumstance, I alone hold the power of action and reaction in this situation and I am not going to permit myself to slide back into the depths of my dark depression yet again nor am I going to resign myself to shrink in spirit or in character in reaction to others or to steep in self pity.
"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." - Epictetus
Suffice it to say I'll give it hell trying to do so. Instead, I am going to use my recent experience as a catalyst to try and do more good for others who may be in a similar situation. To affect more change and to start these conversations, helping others move past their struggles and find support. This near fatal event has lead me to reconstruct and live my life by design. To clearly identify what matters most to me and what living a good life is all about to me.
3 out of every 4 suicides are men
It’s time to have an open and honest conversation about mental health. The cold facts are that 1 in 10 men will experience a major depression at one point in their lives and 3 out of every 4 suicides are men. Most men say we’d be there for our friends if they need our help yet paradoxical most men also say that they feel uncomfortable asking friends for help.
I myself had been wrestling with the thought of publishing this open letter entailing my personal challenges with my depression for many months. This has to change. When I needed emergency surgery I had no hesitation sharing photos with my cute nurses and discussing my condition publicly, but when it came to issues of my mental health I buried it deep inside.
To this end, in what may have been my greatest breakthrough I am both relieved and grateful to be sharing my story openly today and I am proud to partner with The Movember Foundation to raise awareness for men’s mental health and suicide prevention.
Today I am in a very good place. I can’t tell you what the rest of my life has in store for me, or what I’m going to find around the next corner. Situations, and status will change, that's a given. But I do know this probably won’t be my last round in the ring with depression.
Statistically if you’ve had two bouts of depression you are 80% more likely to have another relapse in the future. But I can tell you if there is a next time, I am better prepared and I won’t go it alone again. On of my mentors said “Everybody has a story, you can use yours to get sympathy or you can use it to inspire, the choice is yours.”
I choose the latter.
Where to get immediate help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service