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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

It ain't weak to speak...

Over the years, I've done a fair amount of media work with beyondblue. Work that came about from a considerably confronting aired interview about my story with Channel 10's The Project.

Since doing that, I find myself having a number of detailed conversations about the topic with a range of different people. In fact, it was only late last week that I was talking to someone working at another agency about it all - all but reassuring me we still have so far to go to in breaking down the stigma associated with mental health. 

It was this same stigma that prompted me to write an opinion piece for mUmBrella just over a year ago - particularly focused on how rife it is within our very own industry.

I figure it has as much relevance today as it did for then so here I go...

This piece originally appeared on mUmBrella on August 13, 2014.

After the tragic news of Robin Williams’ death after a struggle with depression Oli Shawyer shares the story of his own battle with the black dog, and how talking about it helped him beat it.

The news of Robin Williams rocked me to my core yesterday. I didn’t know the man personally but there is something so profoundly tragic about a comedian, someone whose job it is to make us laugh every day, suffering so intensely.

To be fair, it’s a testament to how fucked up depression really is – that it can somewhat delude a man beloved by so many people, into deciding that he is better off dead.

By now, you would know that Robin Williams has committed suicide. And whilst I could never do him the service justified, I’m not actually here to talk about him. I’m here to talk about depression and anxiety within our industry. Ultimately an industry in which success is based very much on the opinion of external audiences, incredible time pressures, almost unbearable workloads, and predominately extroverted social beings that have substantial reputations to uphold. An industry where we individually work so hard to constantly please so many others, whilst all at the same time forgetting about ourselves as we take constant hits to our confidence, our ability, our character. It’s incredibly difficult not to take it personally.

So where is this going…

I’ve been working in the industry for almost seven years and I was first diagnosed with severe depression and extremely severe anxiety approximately four years ago. It’s fair to say I was quite a mess and in desperate need for help.

I used to sit on the train in to work crying as I stared out the window – trying to convince myself that everything was going to be ok – that I could get through the day. I used to look at everyone else through my sunglasses and wish I was them. They smiled. They laughed. They didn’t smile. They didn’t laugh. I didn’t care – I just figured they were better off than I was. I’d sit in work meetings and my mind would panic incessantly.

To try and cope with the moment, I used to dig my fingers into my legs, my arms, my body – inciting enough pain to distract myself and avoid bursting into tears in front of everyone.

This would happen every single day for weeks at a time.

I felt as low as I think I could ever go. I just wanted to disappear. I didn’t know how to stop my mind from racing. I no longer had any control over my thoughts and I had somehow developed an ability to take a truly trivial topic, and in the same draw of breath, allow it to transform into a monster of self-destruction. From “Am I prepared for this meeting” to “these people in the meeting don’t like me” to “I don’t like me”.

I refused to tell anyone what was going on, and in fact hid from everyone to avoid having to do so. I made a solid effort of destroying a number of personal and professional relationships and I’d done a pretty decent job of pretty much throwing away my future in advertising. It was also at this time that I literally ‘ran away’ from my new role at an established advertising agency, to check myself into the nearest GP.

From there I was immediately referred to a psychologist and have since worked every day at beating every aspect of this debilitating illness.

For so long I thought I was alone. I thought that I could handle this all by myself. It took me far too long to actively seek help because I was stubborn. I was naïve and I was so scared of what people would say. And that is exactly why I write today – to tell you, to remind you, to somewhat assure you.

You are never alone. You don’t need to handle this by yourself. You don’t have to wait until it’s too late to get help. And most importantly – no one is ever going to judge you.

Whilst everyone is different, having an ear to talk to is one of the most effective ways to work through this.

Whilst there are a number of other incredible tools which I used through organisations such as Beyondblue, nothing worked better for me than educating myself, learning about it and talking to people about it. And I hope to continue doing so.

If you think you have any of the symptoms of depression or anxiety, don’t keep it to yourself. Just as importantly, if one of your co-workers or friends may be struggling, let them know you’re there. Surely we all can’t be that busy that we can’t stop, drop everything and genuinely ask how they are doing.

Embrace depression and anxiety and own it. Because the moment you do, is the moment you start learning how to deal with it, and the moment things get just a little bit easier.

After all, “you’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

RIP Robin Williams.


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