For as long as I can remember I have been a thinker, a worrier. The most menial of tasks can strike me down in a stomach churning pit of nerves. That has been a constant throughout my entire life.
Depression to me was for weird people. Sad people. Lonely people. How could I ever be depressed? I am not any of those. I have a very supportive and loving family, and for as long as I can remember I have found getting along with people effortlessly easy.
Anxiety? Who on earth knows what that is. It is something that weak people suffer from. I might be a worrier and a thinker, but my resilience and will to continue mark me out from others. Anxiety is for the weak. I am strong.
I'll openly admit that was my attitude to mental health as a teenager. Growing up in the era that I did, with mental health still very much a stigma, and education on the subject none existent - I can hardly be blamed, or be alone in my thinking.
The first time I ever seriously thought that I might be suffering from depression was in late 2011. I had just gone through a break up, and studied for only 2 days a week on a foundation degree whilst all of my friends were off 'making something' of themselves at university. The spare time, lack of purpose and feeling of loneliness consumed my every waking moment.
I put my misery down to the recent break up and ignored my own internal cries for help. "You can't go to a doctor. They will laugh at you." I thought. "You're just upset because you've gone through a break up. Time will heal all."
In this case, it did. Eventually.
When I look back at that period of my life, I see a boy that had only ever known success in his life that had to come to terms with a couple a couple of giant failures. Although painfully shy as a teenager, I had a razor sharp wit and was aware that I possessed a charm that people found attractive and comforting. I had never expected rejection and hardly had the tools to deal with it when it arrived.
Self-doubt, hurt and extreme anxiety manifested into anger and spitefulness.
Eventually, I got myself a part-time job, and managed to get a place at a University for the final year of my degree. My life had purpose again, and I would place the period between September 2012 and January 2015 as one of the happiest of my life. Although not without the odd emergence of the old black dog.
The second serious period of depression began in March 2016. The job I had worked in, with genuine success, for two years was suddenly changed forever when a larger company acquired us, and the changes this brought about became overwhelming.
Once again, irrational spite, bitterness and anger acted as a mask for my deep hurt and sorrow. I became desperately unhappy. Everything about the job riled me. I could not stand the people, the culture or the new pressures.
At the end of 2016, as is often the case at the end of a year, I reflected on the events of the previous 12 months. I realised that I had done many fun things, and had not felt one bit of emotion. The deep feeling of dread had loomed over me at every waking moment. I had essentially lived a year of my life on autopilot. Even if I had not realised it at the time. The anxiety paralysed me on several occasions. Caused me to say and do things that were completely out of touch with my character.
Anybody who worked with me in these times would've seen this, and suspected something was wrong. Or thought I was an arse (which was almost certainly the case with many of my new colleagues!)
Yet to the outside world, I was fine. I laughed, smiled and continued to joke around just as I always had done. It was all a front. Being honest, I even managed to fool myself into thinking I was fine. So it hardly comes as a surprise that others didn't notice.
In early 2017, I read a book by a cricketer named Marcus Trescothick, whose international career was famously cut short by extreme cases of depression. The book inspired me to go and seek help. It was the best decision I've ever made.
I now understand my condition more than ever before. I am learning to challenge my anxiety, and have rediscovered the drive to beat it. I am allowing myself to feel positive. To smile and actually feel it. I still have tough days, and imagine I always will. But the coping mechanisms I have discovered in this short period of time are making life so much easier.
The reason I share my story is not for pity or attention. It is because the stigmas attached to mental health, especially in young men, are still so real. I am a normal person. A strong person. A reasonably intelligent person. This illness can strike anybody down, at any time. It doesn't target weak people, or weird people or a particular gender. And yet, one still feels the need to justify that.
I accept that some people will never understand and I am on terms with that, but I hope that my insight into the mind of a manic depressant helps understand the world we live in!