“I was a typical country boy that felt like I could get through anything”

Would you go to the doctor if you had a broken arm? Would you go if you were suffering from chest pain, or even the flu? The answer is probably yes, you would. So why don’t we go to the doctor straight away (or even at all) if we are suffering from a mental illness?

I was guilty of this. I didn’t prioritise my mental health for weeks, months and years, and I suffered. I was your typical country boy that felt like I could get through anything on my own. In my mind, I was tough and I was invincible, but in the end I realised that I wasn’t and I needed some serious help.
After a difficult conversation with my parents, I decided to visit one of the local doctors to discuss the issues I was facing. I was suffering from the cliché mental illness rollercoaster. One second I was at the top of the ride and then I was hitting that slope at full speed and feeling like there was no getting back to the top. I wanted to do something to keep my thoughts and feelings more level, and that’s when I started taking antidepressant medication.

After regular visits to the doctor and changes to my medication and doses, I was gradually getting back on top. I was starting to work myself into a better head space, I was enjoying spending time with my friends and doing the activities I loved, but most of all I was happy with the person I was getting back to.
When I felt like I was starting to make some progress, I would have triggers that would send me back to square one. Failed relationships, sporting injuries and a car accident with six friends that left me in an ambulance with a broken elbow and fractured skull. But none of them compared to the tragic death of my aunty and cousin in the Black Saturday bushfires of February, 2009. This was an extremely difficult time for both myself and my family and I found it tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My main coping mechanism was consuming alcohol four to five nights a week until 3am and then getting up the next morning at 7am for work. At the time I was only working 14 hours a week as a ward clerk at a hospital, and almost all my money went towards alcohol to feed my habit. My whole life I had struggled with body image issues, and during this time it got considerably worse as I gained a lot of weight due to alcohol and poor food choices.
It eventually got to the stage where my life revolved around drinking as much alcohol as possible and thoughts on how I could take my own life to end the pain I was going through. So many thoughts were going through my head; “I’m worthless”, “I’m a burden on my family and friends”, “I’m a failure”, the list goes on and on. I can vividly remember the moment I thought it would end, It was a Thursday night and all of the boys were getting together for dinner at the pub. I went down to the pub to enjoy the company of my mates, a large pizza and a couple of quiet beers one last time as I had planned to drive my car as fast as I could into the biggest tree I could find.

After dinner, there was high fives, cuddles and smiles, but none of my mates had an idea on what I was thinking, or what I was about to do. I drove my car out the road, picked my spot and put the pedal to the floor and edged my Ford XR6 turbo towards 210km/h. I was in a terrible headspace, I wasn’t thinking straight and the only thing that stopped me right before the tree was the thought of my parents, my brother and my friends. Living in Benalla, a small northeast Victorian town, I had seen the awful affect that suicide had on the town in the past. I knew my situation would have been no different. I pulled the car over to the side of the road, sat there for three hours and cried uncontrollably until I knew my parents were in bed. I didn’t want them to know how low I was, how difficult my life was and what I had just considered doing. It wasn’t until years later in 2017 that I told my parents about how bad I got and what I had been going through. The look on my parents face and sound in their voice still breaks my heart to this day.

I owe a huge amount to where I am today to my parents, but the turning point for my mental health and life transformation was a conversation with my Mum. If it wasn’t for her I can honestly say I don’t know if I would be here today. We joined a weight loss program together, I started to eat healthier and I cut out every drop of alcohol out of my diet. I was exercising once a day, sometimes twice and I saw the scales slowly decrease from 130kg. I was doing cardio classes, weight work and boot camp sessions and realised that exercise and a healthy diet was my form of antidepressant. In 2013 I came off my antidepressants, and I have not required medication in my life since.

I don’t tell my story for sympathy or for pats on the back, but for other everyday people to realise that if they are struggling they can also get through their challenges. I still have my difficult days, but I now have better coping mechanisms to get back on top, and stay on top.

Surrounding myself with positive, motivating and inspiring people to help remove the stigma attached to mental illness is extremely important. I met Jake and quickly knew that we valued similar things in our life and wanted to change the way that the community is educated around mental health. I knew I could continue to make a difference to the mental health of others by engaging with Outside the Locker Room.

If you or someone you know is struggling, I urge you to make the difficult decision I did. Speak to someone. At the start it is hard, but every time you have that open, honest and genuine conversation with someone you trust, it gets easier. As difficult as it feels at the start, it does get better and there is always someone right by your side willing to help. Check in on a loved one today and let them know how much you love them.

Written by Michael Donahue
If you or someone close to you is struggling please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Or reach out to us on here and our Welfare Team can help.