2019 was probably the most difficult year I’ve had to face up to yet. This is something that I’ve not really talked about up until now.
But I think it’s crucial to acknowledge that life really does just f***ing suck sometimes to hopefully help someone else in the future going through similar circumstances.
2019 should've been a bit of a 'Greatest Hits; year for me:
I was in my fourth and final year at university, grinding out 11 courses in a single year - the maximum you can do in a single year to try and complete my degree.
I reunited with friends I hadn’t seen in years, some from the halls, some from high school, some from across the other side of the world.
I went back to the UK for the first time in 5 years, my home roots, and caught up with all my extended family members and childhood friends. All of which I hadn’t seen nor had much contact with since at least 2014.
After 2 years of shitty apartment flats and some less than ideal flatmates, I took a risk and moved in with 6 totally unfamiliar people to the best flat anyone could ask for.
Having never been someone who was into sports or fitness, I finally decided to change that and consistently managed to go to the gym every second day for the entire year.
I was still offered the chance to MC events and was second-in-command of the uni’s entrepreneurial organisation.
And yet, despite all this, despite all the fantastic opportunities I had and took part in - I was more miserable than I’d ever been in my life. Why?
The toll of uni had finally hit me and trying to grind out 11 courses became way too much. I didn’t care about what I was studying anymore and became ignorant of what my grades even were. I just wanted to be done.
All my flatmates and many of my closest friends had finished university, and were out making money with their weekends completely stress-free. I fell under their peer pressure far too easily.
I began the year teaching other people about productivity and becoming their best selves whilst barely being able to pull it off myself. This felt astronomically hypocritical.
I was being asked on a near-daily basis what I was going to do post-uni and the stress of this was constantly mounting.
I couldn’t work with all my commitments and a split life location-wise between Auckland and Blenheim so money was rapidly depleting. Studylink came in at $238 a week and my rent alone was $225 with expenses. Add food in on top of this and I was already making a weekly loss.
For the first time ever, I became overly self-conscious about my receding hairline and misaligned teeth. I usually pushed both these things to the back of my head or would joke about them to friends but the reality was, I thought about it all the time and I discovered the cost to correct each was monumental (about $10k and $40k respectively).
Some other stuff I don't really want to go into detail on such a public medium just yet.
It became a serious struggle to get out of bed, and I didn’t rise until beyond midday on an often daily basis. I still felt tired during the day and couldn’t concentrate even when I wanted to and felt like I needed to study. This made me feel extremely guilty and angry with myself, yet still felt like I couldn’t do anything about it.
I also lost interest in going to activities on campus anymore. I neglected my volunteering duties for the entrepreneurial organisation I was a part of and became tens of hours behind on lectures by not attending them. I would often not respond to emails, texts, messages or calls for hours, days or even weeks both professionally and personally, simply because I didn’t want to talk to anyone and have more expectations or responsibilities placed on me. I was pushing people away.
I was genuinely at my lowest point and felt completely out of character. Worse still, as someone who’s known for being a bit of a 'joker' of my social groups, I really didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it in a serious conversation. I didn’t know who I could trust anymore and who’d be able to give me the right advice I needed. I knew that I should be talking but found it really difficult to know who to, and how to even verbalise it. I even went to a counsellor for a session, but being a university, it was a lengthy wait period and I felt like my problems would be unimportant by comparison to others.
All-in-all it sounds a bit like major depressive disorder (clinical depression). I was never professionally diagnosed however, so I will not refer to it as that for fear of spreading misinformation or diluting an already misunderstood issue.
So if it even is the case, how did I 'get over it' (a terrible phrase in this instance, and one that shouldn’t really be used) in the end? I think it mainly came down to relieving myself of a lot of responsibilities and pressure, as well as eventually talking to close ones around me.
By November, I was delighted that all my university papers were finally at an end and (by some miracle) I had passed them all. I was finished with the university organisations, I knew I was going to be working (and more importantly earning) in a matter of weeks that would reduce the financial strain, and I was excited to return home to attend a wedding and reunite with friends and family.
Not everyone has it as 'easy' to reduce their responsibilities in the same way however. Some people might be in only their second year at university where their courses play a serious part on their mental health. Others might be trying to juggle childcare, and 60 hours worth of work a week. In which case, it’s not exactly applicable (and dare I say even patronising) to say 'hey don't worry, the end is in sight!'. But that’s where I think talking about issues becomes most crucial.
I knew men’s mental health was an issue prior to 2019… but I didn’t truly understand how much of an issue it was until I finally opened up to the ones I trusted most around me. It was only then that they felt comfortable in conversing themselves about a whole breadth of struggles they faced. This ranged from the impacts of porn and erectile dysfunction, social media, being alone, being sexually abused as a child, self-harm, and some really deep relationship issues. These were people I’d known for years, and thought I knew everything about.
It was this bond that gave a me a newfound respect and admiration to my friends and they remain conversations I will always vividly remember in my head. But as much of a cliché as it sounds, talking about your mental health to people you trust (and I cannot emphasise that part enough) is the key to seeking out support and finding a way through. Go to people who are good listeners, who will be patient with you and who you’re confident won’t judge you. It can feel like a real hurdle, but even just writing what you want to say down in a private notebook or something beforehand is a great way to start.
Anyway, this is how I came to actually realise the ongoing issues of mental health and how hidden an issue it continues to be, even in 2020. I'm writing this in the hope that it starts a conversation and helps people acknowledge their own struggles. I never tried to show that I was struggling. With the benefit of hindsight, this was the worst action of all to take.
If anyone ever needs to talk (whether I know you personally or not), my contact form is in the footer of this website which you can fill-in anonymously if you'd rather. I will never share any confidential information you confide with anyone.
Here are some NZ support lines who otherwise may be of use:
1737, Need to talk? – Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor
Lifeline.org.nz (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression.org.nz – 0800 111 757 or text 4202
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO);
Youthline.co.nz – 0800 376 633, free text 234, email firstname.lastname@example.org