Danny Baker was worried about what people would think when he made it public that he suffered from depression, what he discovered was that everyone is fighting their own battles.
When I was 19, I started suffering from life-threatening bouts of depression, which over the next four years led to alcoholism, drug abuse, medicine-induced psychosis, near suicide attempts and multiple hospitalizations. I was going through the roughest time of my life, but I hardly told anyone about it—particularly my male friends. Whenever we’d meet up, I’d do what people with depression are famous for: force a smile and say “I’m fine”.
I was gradually able to recover, however, and by the end of 2012, I was happy, and eager to try and help others who were still going through it. I thought about what I could do, and in the end decided to found the Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign, to inspire sufferers of the illness to never give up on happiness. As part of the campaign, I wrote a free e-book that gives a warts and all account of why I fell into depression, what it was like, and how I was able to recover. I bared myself as much as one could—nothing was left at home.
What the f*ck are people going to think?
I knew I wanted to go through with the campaign, because I’ve always been committed to helping others. But I was well aware that mental health carries a stigma, and I wondered what people would think of me after they’d read about everything I’d been through.
Will they think I’m a freak because I suffered from depression?
Will they think I’m weak? A pansy?
Will they turn away from me? Not want to be my friend anymore?
I wasn’t sure, so I just launched my campaign and hoped for the best.
Then something surprising happened.
Not only was everyone incredibly supportive, but they also reciprocated by sharing their own tribulations.
And not just women. Men, too.
For many blokes, it was as if the walls they’d been putting up for years had dropped, and they started opening up to me in a way I never thought they would.
“I suffered from depression too, mate,” some said.
“I have an anxiety disorder.”
“I’ve never had a mental illness, but I saw a therapist for a year after my parents got divorced.”
“Just like you did mate, I’ve had my issues with substance abuse. I’m pretty clean these days, but sometimes when I feel particularly overwhelmed, I can’t help but drown myself in booze.”
“I can really relate to that part in your memoir where you talk about how painful it is to be cheated on. It happened to me too, mate, and it was one of the hardest experiences of my life. For weeks on end it was a struggle just to get out of bed.”
It was amazing. My being so candid led to some really down to earth, genuine conversations, and I preferred them to most of the relatively superficial chats I have with my mates that often don’t go beyond sex and sport.
But aren’t men supposed to be “tough”? Isn’t it “sissy” for men to talk about their feelings?
I recently wrote about these social norms of manliness in my post titled Attention All Fellas: Time to Soften The F*ck Up, and made the point that it leads many men who battle depression to suffer in silence instead of reaching out for help. I argued why it’s not “weak” or “sissy” for a man to admit that he’s struggling, and explained how being prisoner of this rigid, closed-minded ideology in such a case is detrimental to one’s health. But speaking more broadly, there’s also another reason why it’s good for us to be open about our feelings:
It leads us to develop deeper, more authentic relationships with our friends.
At the end of the day, we all have our demons. Whether they’re visible on the surface or not, we all have issues that we’re dealing with. And often when they’re stripped back, our problems are all just different variations of one another.
I mean, how many of us are experiencing difficulties with respect to our health? Or our relationships? Or our finances? Or parenthood? Or our career?
Without a doubt, a lot more than admit to it.
So from now on, I encourage you to be a little more open. Next time you’re sitting down with a mate, if the opportunity presents itself, then be a little more forthcoming about the things that are troubling you.
Just like I was, you might be surprised at what happens next.