(Originally uploaded 17/08/2014)
With the topic of depression being everywhere right now, due to the death of world-famous comedian and actor Robin Williams, I felt compelled to share my story in the hopes of being some help to others who are suffering. I hope this to be only an early chapter in what I want to make a long success story. While success in some ways is by no means guaranteed, having any goal at all is something that I could not have even envisioned one year ago.
The life circumstances that led to the height (or depth, depending on how you view it) of my depression are largely irrelevant. The triggers that can set off or exacerbate depression can be almost anything, and are experienced by different people in equally diverse ways, but always with devastating and seemingly inescapable results. Needless to say, I had experienced several major losses, failures and seemingly insurmountable challenges in my first 30 years, which were in every area of life which one could name. It is only through treatment, support and education on the subject that I can now understand that my state of mind was not derived from these circumstances, nor were the problems themselves caused by an underlying state of mind, but a combination of both these things and the nature of the illness itself caused me to blame myself, others and even life itself for the situation in which I found myself. This may all sound foreign and contradictory to anyone who has not experienced depression, so I will try to explain by using one aspect of my life as an example; my “career”.
Growing up, I was one of those annoying people who absorb information like a sponge and seem to be ‘naturally intelligent’. I would achieve good academic results with little or no effort and would regurgitate information and trivia on any subject in which I was remotely interested, passing myself off as a fountain of (usually useless) knowledge. I will stress now that this is no longer true, and that my ability to retain and recall information has certainly dwindled over the years (probably not coincidentally since the age where I started to drink and smoke etc). However, while I was in High School, it was considered to be foregone conclusion that I would excel in education and go on to enviable heights in whatever career I chose to pursue. This naturally led to a certain level of arrogance on my part, and I became lazy and complacent. I also had underlying issues which would start to surface during my adolescence and only became exacerbated due to remaining largely ignored, undiagnosed and misinterpreted or unrecognised by myself and those around me.
My complacency would catch up to me during my first attempt at college, where I was more concerned with partying and having a good time than with my studies, believing that I would be able to coast through on the ‘natural intelligence’ which I had been told over and over that I possessed. When I began failing my courses and getting in trouble for non-attendance etc, I left and got a bottom end position working for a major high street bank. I would eventually drift from here to other bottom end positions for various large and well-known institutions, and would work hard to get noticed and move ahead, but being impatient as I was, and undervalued due to lack of qualifications and the nature of the positions themselves, it became starkly apparent that I would need to return to education if I was ever to make anything of my life. I went back to college, worked much harder (although in retrospect, still coasted by to an extent) and passed my A-Levels, and moved on to university, where my laziness and complacency would be coupled with overwhelming depression, anxiety and grief to bring my tenure to a very premature end. Unfortunately at this time I was involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, had lost my cousin who I had also been close friends with (before allowing other people and external factors to get in the way of our friendship) and was allowing the triggers of my depression to rule all aspects of my life.
I would stop and start at university over the next several years, without any real level of commitment and certainly no success, before returning to the full-time workforce, once again at the bottom level and without any sign of hope for progression. Most of my work was in customer services, which is a particularly unrewarding and unforgiving job role. Essentially, your day consists of taking a non-stop torrent of abuse from complete idiots, who have no understanding of whatever product or service they are enquiring about, and take liberties with the agents on the other side of the phone simply because they are not face to face with them and so feel that they can be abusive, insulting and condescending, despite in most cases being far less intelligent than the people who they are being condescending towards. Conversations usually center around a mistake or misunderstanding on the part of the caller, for which they try to blame the company or the specifically the agent they are speaking with because the majority of people cannot accept that they are responsible for their own errors, and therefore feel that they are being conned in some way. The sad thing is that people tend to go into customer service because they are helpful and personable, but the nature of customers and the treatment they inflict on the agents tends to eventually change that and rob these people of their sense of empathy and desire to help others. The other negative aspect of this type of role is that people only tend to be promoted on the basis of their ability to politic with management, as they tend to see someone who gets good results as being too valuable where they are, and so do not promote on the basis of quality of work. Of course it goes without saying that the people who are good at politicking and kissing up to management are not by nature the type of people who are actually good at the role, so this leads to other problems in itself. The role becomes completely contradictory, as management (who have been promoted for the wrong reasons) are far more concerned with statistics and speed than with the actual quality of customer service. This obviously starts to wear down the people who are good at the job until they no longer care and they are encouraged to forego quality in favour of reaching the statistics that are imposed by people who were useless at the role in the first place. All these aspects together make this a harmful environment for anyone who suffers from or is prone to depression, as it is a breeding ground of misery even for a well mind.
Not only did I become thoroughly depressed, to the point of waking up and crying because I had not died in my sleep, but I was also very angry at myself, at life, and at people in general. I saw people gaining success that did not seem to deserve it, while all the good people I knew seemed to be the ones to be struggling in various ways. I started to believe that people could only gain success if they were somehow handed it or if they had taken it by trampling on anyone who did not have it in their own nature to trample down others. Social anxiety issues (which I had struggled with for years before even knowing that social anxiety was a disorder, & not just a powerful form of shyness) became greatly exacerbated and ultimately became almost debilitating.
I eventually thought that I had finally found a small company which I would help grow, and that this could be the start of a blossoming career, only to lose more people (friends and family) during my time there, and the depression returned with a mighty vengeance. I had not missed any time at work after losing one of my high school friends within days of starting with the company, except for the day of the funeral, and worked extremely hard for them, creating training documents and several other learning and performance enhancing resources. I performed a litany of tasks which were way above my pay scale and experience, benefiting myself and colleagues in my department, as well as the company as a whole. Unfortunately as the work I was doing went largely unrecognised and certainly unrewarded, my depression would worsen as I would question the benefit of working so hard, and the purpose of my very existence. When my grandmother was gravely ill, in and out of hospital and eventually passing away, I would miss more time for that and subsequently the Depression took hold again. Unfortunately the company directors had not experienced depression themselves and had no interest in even trying to understand the illness. They willfully misinterpreted my time off and temporarily diminished output as a personal slight against them & the company, and began an aggressive institutional bullying campaign which eventually led to pushing me out of my job. After all the work that I had done for them, I was understandably devastated, and would do anything rather than return to work in the same field again. I took a minimum wage job in a pub kitchen, but unfortunately would be lied to, manipulated and bullied once again. I then found a job, again working for minimum wage, working nights on reception in a hotel, where I was working at the time of writing this article.
In the period just before starting at the hotel, a friend had read some of my social media ramblings about my dissatisfaction with my career thus far, and knowing of my lifelong love of professional wrestling, loaded up a British job site and did a quick search.
For anyone who is not a wrestling fan, I will just say here that yes, professional wrestling is a predetermined form of entertainment, and not a ‘legitimate’ sport in the way that most people would think of boxing, football, martial arts etc. What most who are not fans do not understand is that wrestling is not supposed to be ‘real’, and has not even pretended to be a legitimate sport for decades. Regardless, there are people who still use “it’s fake” as a criticism, yet these same people will speak about their favourite TV shows and movies as great entertainment without the slightest hint of irony. No-one would come out of the cinema and say “I hated that film, it was just fake”. This would not be considered a valid criticism because everyone knows that movies are fake, and exist purely for entertainment. Wrestling is the same, and yet that phrase is still used as though the industry and its fans are suffering from some kind of moronic delusion. The beauty that its fans find in it, and what makes it utterly unique is that wrestling is simultaneously a violent soap-opera, an athletic pantomime, and a genuinely fun form of live theatre. It is like the circus mixed with an action movie in a bizarre but rewarding hybrid that does not exist in any other form of entertainment. The fans (except for perhaps young children) know what it is, and love it for what it is without any misconception. I had always wanted to be some part of the industry, from the time when I was a young child who still believed that it was a legitimate combat sport, and even afterwards, when I recognised and still loved it for what it truly was. At around 14 years of age, me and this friend had attended a small wrestling show and had each written reviews, as a sort of practice run for one of our aspirations, which was to become ‘pro wrestling journalists’. We of course wanted to actually perform at shows ourselves one day as well, but because we loved the wrestling business so much, we literally would have wanted to do anything that would involve us in the industry in any way. For me, that love (bordering on obsession in my case) never went away, and it always seemed that at any time when I sank into depression, when I had nothing positive in my life to speak about or get excited about, the one constant and the one thing that would spark my interest and fill me with joy was the professional wrestling business.
Anyway, back to the story at hand. Upon searching the job site, my friend found two positions, one which I would have been grossly underqualified for, but the other was a volunteer position as a writer for a website based in Glasgow, Scotland. I wrote to them to enquire about the position and they requested a sample article, which I wrote and submitted. They quickly accepted and the article went up on the site. I received login details to submit more articles and began to regularly write and put up my articles on the site. I also began attending shows around the country, using my somewhat limited resources (with more than just a little help from my mum, admittedly) to build a portfolio of articles, reviews and photos. I also began expanding my network of contacts within the industry, including many wrestlers, trainers, promoters and companies. I reached out to several people for interviews and information which I could use to form the basis of more articles, and although not everyone who agreed to interviews would reply to the list of questions, there were some who did and the information they gave was interesting and valuable. This was really uplifting and encouraging, and gave me the confidence to seek even more interviews and build my contacts list even further. Within only a couple of months, I had recieved praise from several performers & promoters, some of whom had been seen on TV around the world, which built my confidence even more and would spur me on to aspire to even greater projects and loftier heights. I was even contacted by a second website (this one based in the USA) who wanted me to write for them, and I began to contribute further articles to their site also. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I was setting myself goals and had things that I could look forward to. I am planning to eventually expand my writing into other areas, and hope to write on several topics and possibly even self-publish a series of eBooks or other similar projects.
Having this kind of focus and having goals, things to look forward to and any kind of purpose has been so beneficial to me that I find it hard to express. I do not feel as much of a failure, even though at the moment I am still in the very early stages of building this into anything more than just a hobby. It has made me more determined to get out and do things that I enjoy, with the mindset that not only will I enjoy the shows, but that I can then do something constructive off the back of them by building up a portfolio of reviews, contacts, photos and interviews. It has made me build upon the work I did in my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions to combat my depression and social anxiety, and as a result I have built up a network of contacts that I could not have even dreamed of having just six months ago, and I have spoken to people who I never would have entertained the idea of approaching.
This is by no means the story of some kind of miracle cure, and I still struggle with my depression and social anxiety on an almost daily basis, but I am getting better all the time, and hopefully having this level of focus and drive will stave off any relapse for at least the forseeable future. I am fulfilling some dreams, albeit on a minor scale, and I hope that this can be somewhat inspiring or provide some hope to others. For me, it is the male orientated soap-opera in spandex that is pro wrestling, but any interest or hobby can provide you with a way to focus your energy on something positive. It doesn’t even need to be in the form of writing or journalism, but even in that kind of area, there is so much scope and room for other forms of turning any hobby into a constructive outlet, such as creating your own social media page, your own blog or website, or something more creative such as making T-Shirts or painting portraits of celebrities, sports figures or characters from your chosen field, which you could later sell online. These are just a few ideas, but the scope for your creativity is boundless and you can take any skill you have, combine it with something that you love and can turn it into a constructive hobby which will can give you a sense of purpose that you may feel is lacking at the moment. Search for any jobs or volunteer positions within the industry you always dreamed of being in when you were young, and you never know, it could turn into something great. Even if it doesn’t, at least you can say that you have tried, which is something that most people will never be able to say.
Even if this is only of interest to a couple of people, and only actually helpful to one, I would still be ecstatic. I hate the thought of anyone else feeling as low as I did myself, and I would love to be able to be of some help in any way to help someone get out of that darkness. Remember that hope is never completely lost and that you can make something good out of very little, or even nothing. The first few articles I wrote were purely from the information in my own head, and it was only later that I started spending money on attending shows and doing reviews. I had given up hope of ever achieving anything, but now, even on the small scale that I have, I feel that I have achieved something that I always wanted. My friend who searched the job site and found the volunteer position has done me such a massive service that I cannot begin to thank him for it, and it may sound silly that such a small action, taken from half way across the globe at the time, can have impacted my life so positively. He would argue that it is me that has done the work itself, and that does give me a lot of pride, but without the nudge he gave me, I would probably still be looking at my future as a complete waste of time and energy, devoid of hope and reason. It is because of this that I wanted to put this out there, in the hope that it would give someone else that nudge in the right direction, and I hope that whoever this reaches will feel the benefit and turn a corner. Even the smallest glimmer of hope when you are at the bottom is something that can make so much difference. You are not alone, and your value may yet to be recognised or realised, but you do have the power to make it happen, even if you do not believe it right now.