Can Hard Work Can Beat Depression?
by Jonathan Riley
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I have had two episodes of depression, the most serious lasting from June, 2018 to September, 2020. I did not get out of bed or leave the house during these particular episodes. To be precise, it was two years and three months when I decided to start moving again. For most of my life, I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety. Sometimes I still do. Sometimes there is a voice that asks me, “Why don’t you end it? Why don’t you kill yourself? Why are you being a chicken shit?” Does depression feel like going through the motions? I’m existing but not feeling; I’m moving, but in emptiness. Rather than loving, I feel loneliness, or like I’m in a fog; I can neither see help nor happiness.
Some of my problems come from my failings, and realizing that took some soul-searching and the ability to look within, which can be painful. My depression is also due to circumstances beyond my control. A weakness I have to come to terms with is not just managing depression but managing my ability or inability at times to be productive; it is through productivity and a purpose that we can define meaning and make life fulfilling.
As a child and then as a young adult in high school, I was often placed with kids with special needs, mental disabilities, or severe behavioral disorders. Because of this and the failure to be diagnosed, the school system ignored me. When I finally got my diagnosis, I was told that if I were a middle-class child as opposed to a working-class kid, they most likely would have gotten me diagnosed when I was seven years old. An early diagnosis is essential to help people with dyslexia or other hidden disabilities like autism, ADHD, and similar conditions. On a more personal note, my father can read a newspaper, but he has never written; the same applies to my mother, except she can do more basic writing. They simply did not have the ability to teach a young child to write and read.
I did not enter mainstream education until I was 15 and I could not read until I was 16 years old. Luckily when I joined the school, the special needs adviser was studying hidden disabilities like dyslexia. The improvement in my educational prospects helped me recover from depression because it gave me hope for the future. At 14, I could not see myself having a future, but having goals and something to work for helped me recover. Because with a future, we have hope, and with hope, there will be life.
Also, because I didn’t start traditional school classes until later in adolescence, I never learned to communicate or hold conversations with people until I was much older. Surprisingly though, I was very articulate in my command of the language because I learned how to speak by watching Trevor McDonald, a British TV presenter in the 2000s, and other news channels. This very specific format of speaking is where I learned what it meant to articulate and communicate. I have a lot to be thankful for, my younger self being so interested in the news and wanting information. If it weren’t for that, my only job prospect would have been mopping floors if I was lucky.
My depression story started even earlier, when I was 12 years old. I was having depressive and suicidal thoughts at a very young age. Before that, this came from a combination of social isolation. I did not have friends or social circles outside of school. I was never able to perform my lessons or develop any bonds with children, partly due to my inability to relate to other children and partly due to my lack of success in class or organized sports. It was this combination of not having any friendships and not having any kind of academic or extracurricular success that built up my depression to the point that I felt like I could no longer keep going. I was dreading my life after high school because I thought that if no one would listen to me now, what would life be like after high school when my parents died? When I was alone? I had no other social contact, no other friendship, and no other love. All I had was my mum and my dad.
I contemplated suicide because I could not read, I could not write, and I could not spell. I could not see any prosperous romantic options. Why would a woman be interested in a man with no education, skills, or future? I spent my first year at high school with the 16-year-old boys following me home every day, calling out to me, “why don’t you count to 20? Can you count to 20?” They’d call me “retard” nearly every day when I was walking home from school. It was like this for an entire school year.
I remember getting my parent’s kitchen knife and thinking harmful thoughts. I even thought about committing violence. I felt at the time this could be a solution because if the person who was making my first year of high school a nightmare went away, there would no longer be a problem and if I made them scared the way I was scared, they would back off. I knew violence was wrong, and I didn’t want to become the very thing I hated by committing violence, but it was actually my father who saved me from making a life-changing mistake.
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I went to a high school where we were given blazers with a side pocket, and one day I tried to smuggle a hammer into school so I could bash one of my bully’s heads. Luckily, my father noticed that morning and took the hammer away from me. I learned from this incident that life is worth living, that my life is not worth ruining by committing acts of violence, and that other people’s lives and my own life are precious. Also, how we spend our time and the choices we make help define who we are for better or worse. We can either be broken by hard times or overcome and persevere every day. When combating depression, we can either be better or do better; instead, we can choose not to give in to despair and our own demons.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, the bullying only lasted a year. What I regret most from that time, and still do to this day, was that I never got to be around children my age. I never got to have a high school crush or take a young woman to prom. I never had those emotional firsts in high school. Now that I’m an adult, I look at my childhood and I say innocence and joy were lost. I never got to have a best friend, first girlfriend, or close friend groups at a time when kids, at the most innocent, just want to be friends for the sake of friendship.
It wasn’t until later, I started to find a way forward. I’d just graduated university and was still depressed. My hair was touching the bottom of my spine on my back, and my fingernails and toenails were long because I did not do any real self-grooming during this time. I am genuinely thankful that my parents were looking after me.
I was trying to start my adult life, but I still didn’t feel like I could talk to other people outside my very small social group and family consisting of my aunts, grandmother, and parents. I was reading lots of books to try and find a method to beat depression: I read “Seven Strategies for Wealth & Happiness: Power Ideas by America’s Foremost Business Philosopher, Jim Rohn,” who stated that, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” What I took from Jim Rohn’s inspirational talks was that no one will come and tell me that I am a winner or I will be happy. What this gave me was a wake-up call that I might not be happy today, I might not be happy tomorrow, but by pursuing a goal, it gives me something to do, something to hope for, and therefore something to live for. Once I started living and trying to build a future for myself I was able to begin my road to recovery.
The major change to my mental health was injecting self-discipline into my life. The first job I got in late 2020 was working as a door-to-door salesman. This gave me a new outlook because I was forced to learn how to communicate with people. Every day I had to knock on 120 doors and talk with 120 people. They were a combination of standoffish or suspicious due to me being a salesperson. This helped me overcome my depression and anxiety because every door I knocked on demanded of me confidence and courage. It allowed me to re-find my confidence and develop the social skills required to succeed in life outside of this job. Without social skills and without understanding people, we can have no key relationships. I would say to live and overcome depression, you need the skills to handle a date or to interact with work colleagues. You won’t have any personal or professional success if you don’t. In life, you get no points for being a bystander; we must interact even if it’s painful. The door-to-door sales position forced me to interact with people, which gave me the confidence to live my life and make changes.
After this experience, I regained my motivation for life. Before, I was 23 years old with no future and no prospects. Now, things are quite different. If you’re reading this and you are suffering from similar problems or pain, I would like to tell you that now, being 25 years old in 2022, these dark memories are fading into the past. As my life has improved through the power of personal development, I would like to say I have never thought of harming others again since the incident with the hammer. I tell you that time can heal wounds, but that the choices we make today can start to change your life right now. Don’t just think of where you are today but where you can be tomorrow and the day after; in no time, a year will pass, and one year will turn into two years into five years into ten years, with each choice that we make creating a better tomorrow for all of us if we start making better choices today.
Those of us with depression all experience it with slight variation, and we deal with this in our own ways. My solution is to find a purpose and set goals that give life meaning for me. You will have your own gifts, and your own solutions. What I hope to give you from this article is possible solutions, and it is my wish that you find your own way out of darkness and into the light and that we all cherish the true gift that is life. Again I hope you find your gifts and that, with those gifts, you can start to cherish your life and find your own love and happiness.
If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.