My Health Experience: Tackling depression the best way forward
My discussion on Facebook discussing my crippling depression got a thousand views in just days
Jonathan Drennan playing rugby for Hanwell RFC earlier this year. Photograph: Stephen Brooks / Stephen Brooks Photography
My name is Jonathan Drennan, I’m 27 and a few months ago, I came out of a reinforced mental closet that I’d been crouched in for quite a while. I made a video that I posted on Facebook about my difficulties with depression. I’m still trying to work out how I had the courage to do it, but I did. In a few days it got a thousand views, and I am still trying to come to terms with how it gained such a reaction in my extended social circle.
My reasoning for doing it was quite simple. I felt that as young Irish men, we were living in a generation of perfect lives polished through the rose-tinted lens of social media, that wasn’t necessarily reflective of the lives we were leading.
I felt increasingly under pressure to be responsible and open about my experiences with the illness that ultimately began at a young age growing up in an extremely happy and loving home in Belfast.
Panic and anxiety
I live in a world of perpetual internal panic and anxiety, yet I have managed to learn to become a talented amateur actor who plays a part of someone with a relatively successful career in advertising in London, who vice-captained his rugby team last year and who enjoys an active social life.
My surface level appears to be calm and confident whereas, in reality, it can sometimes be difficult to find the motivation to put one foot in front of the other. Or the fact that I sometimes catch myself watching tubes flash past at speed on panicked mornings and feel instantly horrendous when I allow myself to wonder “what if?”.
I first realised I had a serious problem when I was captaining my rugby team last year. After months of living under a black fog I couldn’t shift, I sat in the toilet cubicle of the changing room with my head in my hands for 10 long minutes on the verge of tears, angry at myself for feeling this way and resolute in my wish to hide it. I wiped the tears off with the sleeve of my jersey and led the team out on to the pitch. Nobody knew, and that was the issue at hand.
A week later, I confided in a good friend from school who is a doctor. I had an absolute fear of showing any weakness, but told him what had been happening – my lack of sleep, appetite and vigour for life. He listened patiently and his reply was direct: “You’re ticking off every box in the depression textbook. Jonathan, you need to see someone.”
The word swirled in my head. Depression. I had images of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or a sullen teenager locked away listening to Radiohead on a loop. That wasn’t me. I was at the heart of the ignorance that I am now trying so hard to quell.
My first dealing with social media was at the end of my first year at Trinity. As early adopters of Facebook, we were guilty of projecting seemingly perfect lives to one another with status updates that extolled confidence and evenings spent in the company of our hundreds of friends.
Showing the latent reality of anxiety or nerves that affected me was out of the question, and remained so.
As the years passed, we continued to document every facet of our lives, but I never once took the opportunity to openly state what I was going through with depression.
I was writing sports articles for The Irish Times in my spare time, and enjoying everything that London had to offer. I seemed to have most things going for me. What gave me a right to feel like this?