Living with depression: I always wondered why I couldn’t ‘get’ life
Neil Kelders kept his depression secret for 21 years, until a chance conversation with his sister-in law prompted him to get help
Neil Kelders: “If I could give any advice I would say that the most important thing to do is talk – I know it took me over 21 years, but trust me, talk.” Photograph: City Headshots Dublin
Up to 300,000 people experience depression in Ireland – and it’s most common in women, affecting one in four compared to one in 10 men. However, this disparity could have more to do with the fact that men are less likely to seek help for the condition than women.
Neil Kelders is 39 years old. He has been suffering with depression since he was a teenager, but didn’t recognise the signs at the time and it took 21 years for him to seek help.
“It’s hard to pinpoint when depression and anxiety starts because you are not sure what’s wrong with you,” he says. “I remember writing [the word] suicide in my science book, when I was 14 or 15. And I remember not feeling good in primary school, but obviously not realising what I was experiencing, just thinking I was feeling sorry for myself and having ‘silly’ thoughts.
“It’s an accumulation of moments throughout life which trigger depression and anxiety. And we bury them, so they build, until you realise something is not right, then you hide this side of you and again, carry on. I hid it well for over 21 years until I released my blog (neilkelders.com) and people were shocked to learn I struggled. Family and friends, never knew my battle to get through the day, in order to do it all again the next – a neverending story.”
The Dublin man says he struggled for more than two decades and regularly thought about taking his own life. “I always wondered why I couldn’t ‘get’ life,” he says. “I tried to help myself, I read books, looked at videos but I couldn’t shake it [the depression] – this really outgoing, up-for-a-laugh, sporty guy was in fact really struggling with no way out, except one.
“I spoke to a counsellor once who opened my eyes to the fact that not everybody thinks about suicide – for me it was the norm, every day, several times a day, I thought about it, wanted it. I needed this current situation to end, I was exhausted, I just wanted to sleep and be at peace forever.”
Kelders, who is now a well-being and fitness mentor at www.ripmovement.com, had great difficulty seeing any future for himself and by his own admission couldn’t fulfil his potential or move on in life. But thankfully a chance conversation with his sister-in-law alerted the family to his situation.
‘I gave up hope’
“I came to the conclusion that this was just how my life was meant to be,” he says. “I gave up hope of change, of ever being able to move on. Everyone else seemed to be able to get on but I was at sea, slowly drowning with nowhere to go.
“I didn’t seek help, as there was no point, life just wasn’t for me, I had tried everything, but it was time to go. Then one morning I told my sister-in-law – to say she was shocked is an understatement. But for some unknown reason I talked, explained as best I could and told my story. My brother came home from work but I was anxious as I didn’t want him to know – family want the best for us but sometimes take on the role of director and physically show you the way. I didn’t need or want that. But my brother came in to the house, didn’t say a word and hugged me. Right at that moment I felt something new – I felt safe and realised that maybe things could get better.”
After revealing his pain to his family, Kelders went to Pieta House where he was assigned to a counsellor. And, he says, finding the right person to help you battle this condition is vital.
“If one counsellor doesn’t work for you, find another – you will find the one who clicks with you,” he advises. “Give it time, find the right person and the benefits can be life-changing.
“The second counsellor I was assigned was key to my road to recovery. She seemed to get me, knew where I needed to start and how to work with me. I put a plan in place – wanted to be productive every day. This may simply have been washing clothes and emptying the dishwasher as my main tasks of the day – but once completed I would physically tick them off my wall chart. Once ticked off, I had won the day.
“Exercise was very important as although I have a fitness business, I failed to exercise. I motivated all around me, but I failed miserably myself. Doing anything from five to 30 minutes of exercise will do you the world of good. I had to retrain myself to exercise – starting off with walking around my house in my gym gear, to walking around the estate in my gym gear to trying a run. I failed and had to start again but I kept it going until I created a habit.”
Although hugely improved, Kelders says he still experiences bouts of depression but has learned how to cope with it.
“I still go through low periods, but it doesn’t bother me as much as I have learned how to manage it,” he says. “I stopped trying to investigate the triggers so intensely. I know when I am going through it and I manage it – you can’t control it or things outside of yourself but you can manage how you respond to it.
“My family were great, not pushy, just making me aware they were there and checking in on me with a text or a call now and again. So if I could give any advice I would say that the most important thing to do is talk – I know it took me over 21 years, but trust me, talk – not once, but over and over again every time it hits you – make someone aware of what you are going through.
“Also accept that you have it and most importantly have fun – every day do something fun for you – even if it’s something as simple as having a coffee on your own in the morning. It is important, life is for living. I realised my depression and anxiety were also telling me that something was not right in my life. I had to find out what. I did, I changed it and now I am stronger for it.”
“A recent Red C Poll conducted by See Change [an Irish organisation focused on ending mental health stigma] showed that 82 per cent of people in Ireland recognise depression as a mental-health difficulty, making it the most identified mental-health issue. It is one of the most common mental-health difficulties and can affect anyone at any age. With the right supports and information, it’s very treatable.”