That went a bit crazy. I thought I was writing a blog for my friends, and maybe a few friends of friends they would add in. It would just be a fortnightly thing, a bit of release, a bit of explanation, to a handful of people. When I gave it to the NZ Farming page to share, I thought it might gather 100 likes, 20 comments. It might, at best, reach 300 people. It was worth it, I figured, because I might be able to help two or three people at those sorts of numbers. But the sheer level of response makes me feel a slightly more expeditious second blog was required.
3600 people reacted to that post. It was shared over 700 times, and by the time Stuff, the Herald and The Project picked it up would have reached nearly half a million people in total. Insane. I was playing with matches, and lit a wildfire. It really hit a nerve. Seeing my pictures on TV nearly made me physically ill, but I had Mark Sainsbury talking openly about suicide during prime time. Suddenly I’m a pseudo-ambassador for rural mental health. I never expected, never dreamed, it would become so big, so fast. I’m just a really ordinary guy. I never expected to be national f*cking news. The power of social media, harnessed for good. I never actually dreamed the problem was so big, so widespread. So common. How can something this common still be so taboo in modern society? Aren’t we meant to be a more accepting bunch these days?
Writing that first post, and probably even more so the reaction to it, has helped tremendously. I feel lighter – it’s taken a lot of weight off my mind. I’m not so bogged down. The offers of help, in many forms, from so many people, across the country and even around the world – it was extremely humbling. And when my pride is what got me into this jam, being humbled like that, on such a scale, was probably what I needed. But the most touching were the messages. Strangers, writing to tell me that after reading this, they were going to talk to someone. And the ones who just quietly tagged their mates in the comments, with a gentle, “I think you should read this.” What an experience, to have caused that. I barely slept that night, sitting on the couch in tears at what the post had become.
The hardest question I got, once from an aunty and once from a stranger, was, “How do we help? Tell us how.” And that really stopped me in my tracks. Here I was, telling you all I was reaching out and asking for help. But what did that mean? What was I actually asking for? Could I put that into specific words, in a way that could be understood by someone wanting to help, but with no personal experience of depression? What was it I needed?
I thought on that, carefully. And what I needed most was simply the freedom to be having a bad time. I’m exhausted from trying to appear positive. The keeping up appearances, maintaining the façade – it’s draining. It saps us of all our energy, energy we don’t have to spare, energy we need to be putting toward healing ourselves. I think, when having to put it into words like this, that’s why such a great proportion of people going through depression withdraw from those around them.
Beyond that, what I needed, what people with depression need, is understanding. Acceptance. To know we won’t be judged, or pressured. We need you to realise that we’re going to be irrational now and then. That socialising is often too hard – we can barely deal with ourselves let alone other people. Having to sit and smile all the way through dinner is impossible. We’re living minute to minute, holding our breath, trying not to blink in case we burst into tears in front of everyone. We need you just to be there when it falls apart, when we fall apart, so we know there’s somewhere we can go, someone we can talk to. Someone we don’t have to pretend that everything is fine with.
The stupid thing is, I had all of that. It was sitting there, waiting. My family, my friends, they would have given me that at any moment, if I’d just asked them. If I’d just let them know.
I do stress though, this is only my answer. Depression affects everyone differently, and other people may have different needs from those around them to get through. So I’m going to throw this question open – it’s better 100 people try to answer it than just me. What do you need? How can people help? Let’s help those that want to help us, understand how to do so.