During this time I thought it best to go and speak to someone with regards to what was going on, and I went to see my GP in NZ. She took some scores on a questionnaire and gave me some medication. When I asked her what the results of the test were, she told me that I had acute unipolar depression. This, for me, was a serious kick in the teeth at the time. I couldn’t believe that I, a burly 6′ 4” rugby playing, beer drinking, manly man (as I saw it) was going to be painted with the depression diagnosis. I did what most people do, and tried to ‘keep busy’. I began training in the gym 10-14 times per week, stopped drinking alcohol, and went to see a counsellor once per week. All this helped a little, for the time I was doing it, but then anxiety would begin again as soon as the activity was over (if it went away at all). I struggled through the next few months with little sleep, all the while working a full time job and trying to ‘keep it together’ and ‘man up’. With anxiety taking over my day to day life, insomnia ravaging my sleep, and panic attacks keeping me on edge, it was only a matter of time before I started to get pretty down. More than I was before. I began to think….
‘What if, my life, was going to be like this forever? What if all I have to look forward to is a few minutes of normality before anxiety comes back again? Did I want to be part of life if this is all that there was? If I was a dog suffering like I was, would I continue to let it suffer? No. I wouldn’t.’
Now, this thought, scared the absolute shit out of me. In fact, it was my worst fear.
John Kirwin, the ex All Black winger, rugby coach and mental health stalwart in New Zealand, released a book about his troubles with mental health (‘All Blacks Don’t Cry’), and in that book he described his greatest fear – that he was going to kill someone else. My greatest fear was that I was going to kill myself. So whenever this thought arose, I hit the panic button. That made me freak out even more. It put me into a tail spin. ‘How could I even have this thought?’, ‘I shouldn’t be having this thought!’, ‘If I’m thinking this then I might be actually thinking about doing it’, ‘Am I going to do it?’. I didn’t have the answer at that time. All I knew is that I didn’t want to feel the way I did, but I knew I didn’t want to take my own life, I just wanted the suffering to end.
So what changed? Firstly, my parents sent me a cheque to buy a flight home to see them for a few weeks as they were worried about my state of health. After some hesitation, I came home and spent my first few days up the walls with jet lag. Then something happened, I managed to get my first unbroken, non sleeping tablet 4-6 hours sleep in about 12 months. Anxiety took a break, the negative thinking lifted and I got some clarity for about 2 weeks. Brilliant – that is, until, I decided to go back to New Zealand. Panic attacks, anxiety, and negative thinking all made an unwelcomed return – just in time for my flight. Well, thank you guys. Seriously good timing. :-). Back to Auckland I went, and much like before, I fell back into the anxiety driven life I had before I left. The only solace and peace I got was when I began to look at transport costs to move all my possessions home from NZ. I couldn’t ignore that sign either. So, after much thinking, I decided to move home.
Secondly, while in NZ, I began to complete a thing I had been reading about in various chapters of books and journals – mindfulness. I began with a guided meditation called a body scan, which runs through various different body parts over a 30-45 minute period. This, for me, was a bit of a stretch. Meditation? Seriously? Isn’t that something that hippies do? How am I meant to think about nothing?! Anyway, I lay down to do the first guided meditation and began listening, concentrating on my body and how it felt, then all of a sudden, bam, I was asleep. No meds, no alcohol. I knew then that I was onto something right there and then. So, it was then I began to practice, only at night time to help me sleep, then later, in other ways at other times during the day. (I’ll come back to mindfulness again later).
Six weeks later I packed my bags for the last time in New Zealand. I had spent almost 6 years there in total. Five really enjoyable years in Hawke’s Bay with some really close friends, and one not so enjoyable year in Auckland with my best mate, Dean. I don’t suppose I can finish off this chapter of my life without mentioning a few people that got me through that year in Auckland. I’m lucky to have three sets of parents in my life. I have my parents in Ireland, my parents / friends in Hawke’s Bay, Raymond and Kirsty Van Rijk, and my parents originally in Hawke’s Bay, then in Auckland when I was there, Jenny and Tam Mc Donald. I will eternally be grateful for these people in my life, especially during those hard long winter nights in Auckland when I didn’t really feel I had anyone other than my mate Dean to talk to about what was going on. A simple text or phone call can really make the difference to someone’s life. Asking the question ‘Hey, how are you going today?’ and actually waiting for an honest response, is not time wasted in my opinion. Too often we pass each other by without really speaking to one another about the things that matter. I believe that if we actually spoke openly and honestly about how we are truly feeling rather than the usual ‘Oh I’m grand’ then life would be a lot easier for everyone, not just for those that suffer with mental health challenges. Speaking of which, I’m off to ring someone whom I know needs to chat, maybe you could do the same.
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