Author: Nathan Williams
Edited in 2021
“Hello everyone, I wish I could be there tonight to be among you all, you who want to know more, you who want to share and especially the men who are there, being brave.
“Come over to mine tonight and we’ll talk it out”…
…That’s what I said to my friend Alex after one of his deep depressive episodes. He disappeared for a week without a word. When he came back I wanted to really understand and help him. I thought all he needed was a good reflective session with a friend and time to find some solutions to all of his problems - or at the very least, a few ways forward to make the first step.
After 4 hours and a few bottles of wine, we started arguing, he started treating it as a joke and I was annoyed that he mocked my help. I didn’t understand back then, but luckily he forgave me, we brushed it under the rug and carried on our friendship, which was by all accounts - was a truly fantastic one with many happy memories with many adventures! He was a brilliant actor, I made films, he acted in them. On occasion we would both act in the same play and after rehearsal we would go to the local pub “The Lichfield Vaults” or “The Barrels” depending on our mood - Alex’s usual was a pint of ale and a whiskey chaser… which soon became my go-to combination.
In 2015 I had just got a promotion, my relationship with my girlfriend was starting to fall apart and my family was in the middle of a feud that was extremely vicious. I’ve always been the diplomatic one, I try to be kind and I try my best to put myself in other people’s shoes. Like my failed rescue attempt with Alex, I could not stop my family falling apart; I couldn’t find the right words to save my relationship and my work load increased almost daily. To make my family happy I had to pick a side and forsake other family members, my girlfriend wanted me to give up on a major part of who I was because she wasn’t willing to change - it felt like the entire world was bullying me to move and all I wanted to do was be still.
Alex was the only person who noticed the change in me and encouraged me to go to the doctors. I had started to have random anxiety attacks in public, I broke out in tears queuing for coffee in Starbucks, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and I was gaining weight. The doctor put me on anti-depressants and Alex, for a time, was my only comfort. My girlfriend was no comfort; she had suffered from depression and anorexia as a teenager and consequently, never took mine seriously. It almost felt like the very notion I was depressed was an insult to her. At first, I struggled to take ownership of my reality - I hadn’t struggled to eat and been forced to like she had. Like Alex, I hadn’t booked out a hotel room with the intention of killing myself (that’s where he went during his depressive episode by the way). How could I complain? My depression wasn’t half as bad as all that, I felt like a fraud.
After a few months the medication really kicked in, I felt more balanced yet numb; my weight came down because I was exercising. One night I had a seizure - a possible side effect of the meds I was on. I was worried it could happen at any time so I had to come clean - with everyone. I told work and they were actually really great, more supportive and understanding than I could possibly imagine. The first thing my mother did was hug me and for the first time in a long time, my family listened to what I had to say.
One night, writing in my journal I realized that I was in mourning. I was mourning for the death of who I used to be. That version of me was a real go-getter, he embraced life with such energy - he was the master of his own destiny. But then the real epiphany came, that “go-getter” also lead me to this point. He was partly to blame for where I am now. So then I thought what if that old version of me hadn’t got everything figured out? Suddenly my opinion of depression flipped - I wasn’t cursed, I was given a superpower.
What if, with this new view of the world, I could build a version of me that wasn’t going to break down like the last one did? Suddenly I saw myself as a vintage car: I need a new engine and sturdier tires- but I wanna keep the original dash board and leather seats. I thought about what I wanted to keep and what I needed to fix. Slowly, I began to build myself up. It wasn’t easy and to say I had my setbacks is an understatement, I’ve spent many a night drinking myself to oblivion and neglected my health. But 3 years on I am no longer on anti-depressants and as much as I can, I cut negativity and negative people out of my life.
In 2017, Alex killed himself. At the time, I consoled myself that he wanted to do it, it was his choice. I’m not sure if I believe that anymore. Like myself, Alex didn’t hate life, he loved it, he had so much empathy and he cared for his friends and family. The weight of all that love became too heavy for him. He wanted to build communities and make people’s lives better - he just didn’t know how. In the wake of his passing, a trust was set up in his name “The Alex Evans Fund” - it helps young people who want to start something creative, be it a play, a film, acting lessons, music lessons - you name it. His older brother moved back home and set up “Powerhouse Studios” - an acting company he is trying to build what Alex couldn’t. Art was made in his name, songs have been written and performed - his legacy after his death is tragically the very thing he was searching for in life. I know Alex would have wanted to be around to see all of this goodness and be a part of his community.
Alex was truly brilliant.
For anyone hearing these words who are struggling with depression, do not lose hope. It is scary, but taking a chance on yourself could be all you need. When I saw my depression as a superpower, I took a gamble, I planted a seed in my head and I allowed it to grow. When you have depression you focus on how you can’t move forward - but sometimes a sidestep is better. So - think sideways, always, especially when you feel at your lowest. Some days I wish I could stay in bed, but so does everyone else. Most days, I still mourn for that old version of me, I long for him to come back in the same way I long for Alex to come back. The difference is that while I am alive, I have a chance to build something better. However, I will never be able to sit with my old friend and laugh at our jokes - our adventures have sadly come to an end.
I’m not sure what anyone will take from this story. Maybe I just want to praise the man he was and say goodbye to the man I was. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you for listening.”
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