In his story, Nick tells Pressures and Perspectives of his experience with depression. Touching on his experience of loss, concussion and its links with mental health, Nick’s story is one of courage, struggle and ultimately, acceptance.
Throughout his story, Nick uses the term ‘black dog’ to refer to his depression.
Depression as a black dog is a phrase that originated from Roman poet Horace and has been used by many public figures since, including Winston Churchill, to iterate the lurking, shadowy nature that the illness takes on.
It seems only fitting to precede Nick’s story with an appropriate quote from Horace that we feel resonates with the story you’re about to read:
“It is courage, courage, courage, that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely and present a brave front to adversity.” Horace
I’m 30 years old. An age I never thought I’d see. An age my black dog told me was impossible.
The 10th of March 2019. Today. I am alive. And so is my black dog.
It’s taken me the better part of a decade, but I understand now – my black dog will never leave. He’ll be back, and that’s ok.
Without it I wouldn’t be who I am, nor would I have achieved what I’ve achieved. I also wouldn’t have told my wife my deepest struggles on our first date, if it weren’t for him.
Luke died when I was 19. I don’t think this was the root cause, but it was certainly the catalyst. The beginning of everything.
My brother and I met Luke skateboarding outside The Playhouse a few years before his death. I was younger, so naturally tried to be like the older boys and impress.
It’s fair to say at 19 I had no idea how to cope with his death. My brother rang me, and I distinctly remember laughing down the phone in disbelief, but sadly someone I’d looked up to was no more.
At the time, I was in Birmingham halfway through my second year of university and was in the midst of exams, and I stayed there, answering questions, watching the clock while his funeral happened in Leeds.
In the months after I felt different, but I chalked it up to grief, as I think anyone would.
It was only in my final year of university, some two years later, that I realised I shouldn’t have been feeling like I did anymore. Finally, I started to see it for what it really was. A looming, silent figure, shadowing me at every turn: my black dog.
In hindsight it should have been obvious. At the time I was watching episodes of Frasier over and over, drinking myself to sleep, sleeping on the sofa in my bedroom for about 18 hours a day because I couldn't bring myself to move the short distance to my bed.
After longer than it should have taken, I went to talk to the doctor, and was immediately offered medication and sent on my way.
I never collected the medication as I didn’t want to rely on an external drug. I wanted to get better by myself, but I was young – a student – we all lived like that right?
Between Luke’s death and graduation, I’d sustained five concussions. I was told around that point that for each concussion received, the likelihood of further concussions grows exponentially due to increased susceptibility.
Those keen on contact sports may be unsurprised by the following conclusion: concussions cause mental health issues. And therein lies the dual edge sword.
It’s theorised that those with a history of concussions are more likely to suffer from depression, but those with a history of mental health issues are more likely to suffer long-term effects of concussion.
When I moved back to Leeds I let this reality take over for a period.
I acted on the basis that nothing long-term mattered and no decisions would impact me in the future – simply because I’d concluded that I wouldn’t be around to witness them anyway.
I hurt people I love, I let people leave my life I shouldn’t have, and I live with that every day.
I think subconsciously I was trying to ruin everything just so it would be easier to give up and die.
Adding to this, over the years my depression has evolved. It used to manifest itself as a numbness, an inability to experience emotion. The worst things I’ve done have been driven by that, by a desire, a need, to feel – anything.
And throughout the years, the easiest emotion to feel was pain. I’ve self-harmed. I’ve self-medicated. I’ve broken down at work and hid away to compose myself.
My illness wants me alone. It wants my mind and feeds me negative thoughts.
Before writing this I looked through my old notebooks that have been collected throughout the years. Flipping through pages I found a scribble in a corner: “I drink to remember, I drink to forget”.
One day I will make the decision to never drink again, but if you look in the mirror and occasionally hate the person you believe you are, having a drink brings temporary relief. I’m not saying alcohol is inherently bad and I’m not blaming it for any of this, but in the wrong situation the past floods back, the tears start flowing, and so does the drink.
I still struggle, but I’ve learned to accept me for me, warts and all.
Nowadays I tell people my story willingly. And that’s what happened on my aforementioned first date with my wife.
We met online, we went to a pub quiz (which we’ve done almost every week for five years now) and I bared my soul. Lucy saw the me that was underneath – the me that was trying – the me that was almost lost.
I have never told my family as I feared they’d blame themselves. They needn’t, but I understand why they would.
When I was sitting out on that metaphorical ledge they saved me, they saved me night after night without knowing a moment of it.
My story, in the hope of showing people there is optimism in the face of depression, will likely make my family feel guilty, and likely upset them that I chose never to speak about it.
But I’m still here.
Because of the people that never gave up on me, I’ve made it to 30.
With continued effort and some fortune, hopefully I’ll see 40, 50, and maybe even 60.
Apart from the fact I’ll have good days and bad days, there’s no telling what the future holds.
A friend once told me a lot can change over the years, and everyone is trying to find little moments of pleasure and peace along the way.
These moments can be hard to find, but I hope to see many more. And when my black dog comes again, I’ll sit with him, show him the beauty in the world, and maybe he’ll find his moment.
And if not, I’m strong enough to keep walking forwards with him in tow.