Recently, I received a message on twitter from Justin Twell. Justin lives in Australia and after hearing me share about my Dad’s battle with alcohol and depression, asked me if he could share his story of severe depression on my blog. I was honored that Justin felt compelled to reach out and even more humbled that he would want to use my website as a place to share his very personal journey. Justin, thank you for your transparency and vulnerability. I pray your story impacts and helps others.
DEPRESSION: I WON … YOU WILL TOO
By: Justin Twell
Life, as we all know, throws a lot of unexpected turns at us. Some are good, some bad. This particular moment in my life was worse than bad. Depression is something that is extremely difficult to understand unless you have suffered yourself or perhaps studied intently. Fortunately though, a lot of people in this world are willing to help others understand this crippling illness, and by me writing about my terrible experience with depression, I pray that it can give just one person out there hope. That they too can overcome it and live a prosperous life.
It was 2002 and life was pretty good. My childhood was a good one, my parents always provided well for me and my younger sister and I have a lot of fond memories growing up in the North West Kent area on the outskirts of South East London, England through the 80’s and 90’s. I was rarely bullied at school and generally found it easy to make friends growing up. My parents had separated the year before in 2001 and while this was a tough time I was managing it well enough on its own.
Around March of 2002 I met my now wife (more on this later) in Piccadilly Circus, central London, one Friday night. Things got serious between us fairly quickly. She instantly hit it off with my parents, sister and my best friends and I was quickly realizing that despite not looking for a long-term relationship, it was looking like I was heading into one and I could not have been happier. Although she was born in London, she called Brisbane, Australia home after moving there with her mother as a child.
This relationship, among many things, was helping me immensely with coming to terms with my parents separating and heading to divorce. When we first met she told me she was due to visit home in Brisbane in June 2002, and so she would go visit her family and friends there when June came around, while I happily stayed back home about to get into the euphoria the country was to embroil itself in with the World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
She then returned, and things changed…
She told me she was going to return to Australia and no matter what I said I could not change her mind. I didn’t know what to do. She booked a one-way flight to return in September 2002 and there was not a damn thing I could do about it. I was truly heartbroken and all I could think of was I was about to lose someone who was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
The separation of my parents and the circumstances surrounding this still felt fresh and began to occupy my mind and take over my thoughts, along with realizing that I had no control over what was happening with my parents and losing someone I loved more than anything.
I began to lose weight and was prescribed anti-depressants. I have photos of the both of us at this time and I even began to look ill, pale and frail.
The time came to say goodbye to her at Gatwick Airport and I still remember clearly, letting her go and watching her walk through security while I collapsed to the floor in tears, shaking, wondering what was going to happen now. I was scared.
So, my parents had split and I just watched the love of my life walk out of my life and to the other side of the world. Could things get worse? Well, yes they did. Shortly after all this I lost my job too. These 3 events in my life had happened in the space of a year and I had no control of any of it.
I couldn’t stop any of these things from happening.
I felt absolutely useless, clueless, empty. I lost track of all the other things in my life I enjoyed. Drinking with friends, playing video games, reading, watching and following the NFL and all other hobbies and interests. As far as I was concerned my life had no purpose.
I took an attempt on my life sometime around the end of 2002. I was about to use a belt and hang myself in my garage with a towel over my head. I was convinced this was the best thing for me. Some will accuse me of being selfish and that’s fair now that I think about it. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing eh? However when you make a decision like that it is incredibly difficult to think of anyone else and how it may affect them, and I was no different. I just wanted to end it all and suffer no more.
In the end I couldn’t go through with it. I was standing on a box and I remember my legs just turning to jelly and I fell onto the floor in tears, shaking, screaming. Perhaps this was a call for help more than anything else? I then remember being taken by ambulance to a private mental health clinic, at least I think that was it was. I vaguely remember lying in a bed in a well furnished room with a couple of family members around me. I felt completely numb. Couldn’t speak or look at anyone. I was sitting up in this bed just staring at the end of the bed. My mum came in, sat down for maybe a minute or two, then walked out upset and confused at what happened.
I spent perhaps 2 weeks there, where I do remember seeing things in my head that was quite frankly scaring the crap out of me and I would scream at these images I was seeing in front of me. They were there when my eyes were open, and when they were closed. I felt consumed.
I was then transferred after about 2 weeks or so to a psychiatric ward at a local hospital where I spent quite some time. The exact length of time I honestly cannot remember. At this point all I had was a handful of clothes in my possession. I had my own room and the only things here for entertainment were a smokers room that had a radio inside playing music all day, and a TV room that had a Playstation 2 hooked up to the TV.
There was perhaps a dozen people staying here at any given time. Some of these people also suffered from various forms of depression, drug abuse, psychosis you name it. I would not be allowed to leave the ward for a while as I was not only considered a danger to myself but potentially others. I was assigned a psychiatrist I saw frequently, every other day at first, and was put on strong medication to help combat this form of depression I had. So strong in fact that I would sleep sometimes for 15 or more hours a day.
I was told what form of depression I had, some kind of serious depressive syndrome that I cannot remember the name of.
My very best friends would visit when they could, and even some of their parents I got along with would just show up. They’d bring things like magazines and books to read and movies to watch. My parents would also visit when they could. At this point my mum and sister lived in Cambridge and my dad visited when he could. They also called the ward often to talk to me.
Without these people visiting me, talking to me, making me laugh and just being there when I needed them I may not be sitting here today, so thank you, you know who you are.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘time heals all wounds’? Well to a degree, it healed mine along with the medication and therapy I was receiving. I would eventually be let out of the ward and allowed to go for walks down to the high street. This hospital was basically my home for quite some time as you could probably imagine, and believe it or not the food wasn’t that bad!
I was eventually released and allowed to go home to my dad. I of course was still taking strong medication and was still visiting my psychiatrist every week. My dad would then move to Liverpool to be closer to his partner so I moved in with one of my best friends at his parents house. It was during this time my memory is quite hazy.
I ended up back in hospital due to taking a heavy overdose of my medication if my memory is correct. I do however remember after another hospital stint, I was released and put into temporary accommodation with only a handful of clothes. I would end up sharing this accommodation with four other people who I’m sure were involved in drugs somehow, and I shared a grubby kitchen and bathroom with these people.
I lived in this room with only a handful of clothes, an old bed and small TV as company. I wasn’t really eating properly and avoided any kind of contact with the people in this accommodation. I still had appointments with my psychiatrist and went to workshops that helped people in my position get back into the workforce. On weekends I would go visit my sister and mum in Cambridge over several months.
I then made the decision to move to Cambridge to be closer to my mum and sister towards the end of 2004. There wasn’t much keeping me in my current surrounds so why not? It was time to start again and see if I could get some sort of life back, and I did. Me, my mum and my sister rented a 3 bedroom house and I found an entry level office job. I still remember the interview and getting the phone call 2 hours after I left to say I got the job. I punched the air in delight and perhaps this was the turning point i needed to get my life back.
I got back into video games again, purchasing a Playstation 2 and began to get back into watching the NFL again. I even dated again after meeting someone where I worked and we dated for almost 2 years. If you ever get to read this somehow I hope you are well, healthy and happy.
So with time, professional help including medication and the decision to move away from home, I got my life back. I was close to family, had a job and a girlfriend and began enjoying my hobbies again. Life seemed to have a purpose again. I made promises to people I hold to this very day, that I will never let myself be consumed the way I was ever again. But this is not the end of the story.
I left my entry level office job for a job at a video games company. One day I was checking my emails on my lunch break and received a notification from Facebook that my ex-girlfriend who moved to Australia sent me a message. We lost contact for approximately 5 years and now I’m getting a message from her completely out of nowhere! We were in contact again, talking on the phone for hours at a time as the weeks and months passed. I would then go visit her.
The rest as they say, is history. I sit here on a warm summers night in Brisbane, Australia after 8 years of marriage with 2 young boys aged 5 and 3. You could say my life is well and truly back. I am mentally and physically stronger than I’ve ever been. I’ve been in my current job for nearly 3 years and I am also thoroughly enjoying my time writing about the NFL and College football for http://insidethepylon.com in my spare time which I have been doing now since May 2016.
I do want to take this opportunity to thank everyone I work with in my day job and everyone at Inside The Pylon. I’ve never met any of you face-to-face but I consider you all friends, thank you.
Thank you to Jason Romano for allowing me to share this story with you. And of course the biggest thank you of all goes to my family, my wife and my 2 children, who without I would not be the man I am today.
Never be afraid to seek help if you are currently suffering from depression or any mental illness. You may be surprised how many people will be right there with you. Have belief and faith that everything will work out and trust me it will. You may think life does not have a purpose for you, and trust me I know what that feeling is like, but there is so much more to life than whatever you think life is. There is something, someone, out there that will make us happy and give our life purpose. You just have to believe you will find it. Think positive, don’t give up and embrace the help that is available to you.
Yes I was mentally and emotionally crippled and very nearly beaten in this life. But I sit here tonight and hope if only one person reads this who is or has suffered from depression, and it gives them the belief that they too can live the life they want and deserve, then this will all be worth it.