Robb Sheppard

Sep 1, 2017

Telling people you're facing depression can be very tricky – but it's worth it.

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our spot on the site where we talk about things that are affecting us, you, people we know, people we don’t. We don’t offer miracle cures, just a few thoughts that will hopefully be useful to a few people. This week, we’re handing over to Robb, to talk about his own battle with depression…

It’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it. Pull your socks up.

These are all phrases which have undoubtedly been heard by every one of us at one point or another. For some it was about their hairstyle, for some their sexuality, for some their body image. It was barely ever about loosely fitting footwear. For many, it was about depression and was usually accompanied with a “Cheer up,” an “It might never happen,” or a “What have you got to be depressed about?” Strictly speaking, I’ve got a chemical imbalance in my brain to be depressed about. Thanks for asking.

‘Teenage angst’ is a misnomer. It depicts issues including depression, body image and anxiety as transitory conditions, a skin that will be shed on the day of the 20th birthday, enabling us to evolve and live happily ever after. Of course, this only happens in movies. In reality everyone struggles, everyone has doubts and everyone has regrets.

But for some, such struggles, doubts and regrets are insurmountable. Even in the previous paragraphs, depression is written about in the past tense, as if it’s something we can only properly discuss once we’re ‘better’ and observing it from a safe distance. The idea of getting better has long been misconstrued as being associated with developing age: you grow out of it or you’re no longer around for it. At an impressionable age, this idea for me was cemented (and glamorised) by the idea of the ‘Forever 27’: the list of actors, musicians and artists who never made it past that age due to tragic circumstances. Anyone who gets past that age is fine, right?

Recently, that perspective has been shaken; I was heartbroken by the death of Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden, Audioslave and solo singer. He was 52. In my teenage years, I dressed like him, sought after the same guitar as him and scoured his lyrics for relatable meaning. His passing away represented the death of a role model and I was immediately wracked with guilt: a feeling which was heightened once the news spread that he took his own life.

Geeks Vs Loneliness: coming out as depressed

The heartbreak doesn’t really need to be embellished upon. But the guilt? Song titles such as Fell On Black Days, Pretty Noose, and lyrics like “I know I’m heading for the bottom” now felt pregnant with poignancy; the guilt came from the fact that, of course, they always were. These lyrics were his drafted suicide notes, his cries for help and his communication with people who care. And what did I do? I bought the t-shirt, I sang along and I switched off when he got ‘too commercial’.

It’s intermittently well-publicised that the suicide rate amongst males is highest when closer to middle age than 27 (between 40 and 44, according to The Samaritans) so with these figures and his lyrics, why was I so shocked? It’s because I expected him to have his shit together. He was 52. If this person, with the adoration of millions, his creative freedom of expression and his wealth can’t work through his depression, then what hope do I have?

It goes without saying that Chris Cornell is one of millions. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (41) tragically died under similar circumstances to Cornell, also after life-long battles with depression. Singer-songwriter and mental health spokesperson Sinead O’ Connor more recently posted a video to her Facebook page declaring suicidal feelings, declaring that “Mental illness, it’s like drugs, it doesn’t [care] who you are, and equally what’s worse, the stigma doesn’t care who you are.”

Geeks Vs Loneliness: coming out as depressed

The difference between these cases? Sinead came out about her depression. Not ‘writing lyrics, poetry and journals’ out. Out, out.

So did I. I’m 38. No matter your age, you should come out too; it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Well, Top 10 at least.

I procrastinated for weeks about what to say and why I was saying it. I told my parents over the phone and I asked work to spread the word. For everyone else, a Facebook update seemed most appropriate just to get it out there, although prone to accusations of attention seeking and potentially doomed to provoke a stream of ‘U OK Hun?’ responses. But I needed people to know. Fuck the stigma.

Yes, this was my problem, but aside from my wonderful wife, I was dealing with it on my own. As much as I love my friends and family, why should I be someone else around them? Why should I pretend to have grown out of it? Why make excuses for my behaviour when there is a genuine excuse for the way that I’m acting? I needed to lose that weight.

Geeks Vs Loneliness: coming out as depressed

Now it’s all on the table and I wish I’d done it earlier. The people who care are there for me should I need them. The people who never cared for me steer well clear. Bonus. We joke about my depression and it gets a good laugh, but they can also read when it’s no laughing matter.

As Sinead O’Connor said, there are millions of us. We’re in your office, we’re on your bus and we live on your estate. And if we seem a little strange, well that’s because we are. We may seem like we’ve got it together, sometimes we have. Other times we’re barely clinging on. We don’t want mothering or molly-coddling, we just want you to be aware that we’ll usually sort ourselves out, but occasionally we might need a nudge.

Since I came out, others around me have too and we talk about it weekly, by text, online and in person. We keep an eye out for each other and we look for warning signs. We take the piss out of each other, hide sharp objects and give each other a hard time when we need to. Sounds nice doesn’t it? What are you waiting for?

Thanks, as always, for reading…