It’s late May 2009, and I’m walking out of my local after a few drinks with the ‘lads’. As always, the nights been a laugh, drinks, banter, and we’re planning the up and coming annual lads holiday.
I left the pub smiling and laughing, and walking home only took a few minutes, but when I got home and into bed it all changed. I broke down into tears. This was becoming a recurring event, and these tears weren’t just sobs, they were uncontrollable at times. I struggled to catch my breath, and even though I kept telling myself to stop I just couldn’t. I covered my head with my pillow though, so my mum or brother couldn’t hear.
2 months before, I lost my dad to suicide. A suicide that was a complete shock to us all. If you would’ve told me a year before that my dad, a man who seemed to have ‘everything’ on paper, a man with big plans for his future would end his life I would’ve laughed at you. But now this was my reality, and I was struggling to deal with it. I spent every moment alone begging for him to come back, questioning why he would do it and losing sight of a future without him even though I’d just turned 19.
But even though I was struggling, and even though I wanted to feel better, I told myself that I had to deal with this alone. I knew that I couldn’t show anyone I was struggling, and my trusted mask helped me do just that.
My trusted mask helped me…
- Walk into work with a smile on my face even though I spent the whole Car journey there crying.
- Joke and laugh with my friends whilst I beat myself up inside.
- Respond “I’m fine” to the question “how are you” even though I was suffering.
- Show others that I was listening when really all I could think about were the thoughts racing through my mind.
- Come across as strong, someone who was dealing with his Dad’s death well, even though inside I felt weak.
This trusted mask that I wore helped cover up what I thought was weakness. It helped cover up emotions I didn’t want people to see and instead it allowed me to seem like I was coping. This mask was something I made sure I put on, every single time I left my bedroom.
But this mask was something my dad wore too until hiding behind it became too painful for him.
This mask was worn by the 5,821 people who took their own life in the U.K. last year.
This mask was worn by the likes of robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade, the DJ Avicii and Anthony Bourdain.
This mask IS still being worn by so many of us.
And this mask needs to be taken off.
Depression simply has no face. No matter how we perceive someone through how they act or what they say, we never truly know what they’re going through.
To all of us, my dad was happy. My dad was outgoing, successful, loved and was excited for his future. But his mind told a different story.
Whenever you meet someone, remove all preconceived judgements of who they are and their levels of happiness.
Whenever you see someone on social media, look through the highlight reel and fake smiles.
Whenever you think someone is ok, ask twice.
Because you never know how someone is truly feeling.
We need to talk more openly about mental health, about depression and not be afraid of vulnerability. Talking won’t solve the complete mental health crisis we have on our hands, but it will show others that they can talk too. It’s always amazing to see the amount of people who open up to me after I’ve released a video, wrote a blog post like this or delivered a speech. My vulnerability allows others to be vulnerable too. And that’s exactly why we need more people to share openly.
Take off that mask.
You don’t need to suffer in silence anymore.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve realised since burying my head in my pillow crying myself to sleep, it’s that dealing with emotional pain is hard, but pretending that you’re not dealing with emotional pain is harder.