By Carl Muir
I will always remember Christmas 2016 for the wrong reason. It is the day, after dealing with severe depression for a few months, I had a full blown mental breakdown. My normal Christmas would entail eating, drinking and laughing with my amazing family. In 2016 I spent it largely in bed, paranoid, crying, not making a lot of sense and generally feeling like the world was going to end. I also contemplated the unthinkable, suicide.
I still managed to get out of bed to eat Christmas dinner with the family, open a few presents and hug my amazing family, but largely I felt guilty I was bringing everyone else down and escaped to the madness of my room.
It has been a long road back from the state I was in that day. As you will read at the conclusion, life is bliss these days but it has been a long road back. What I wanted to share in this story is that getting out of that state is possible. It is not only possible, but coming out the other end, amazing things will happen.
When you are in this sort of state of darkness, everyone thinks they have a solution. Yoga, mindfulness, talking about it, snapping out of it, breathing, relaxing. In reality there is no one answer. No one has the right answers, and dealing with the darkness is going to be different for everyone. But hopefully in this story there are some tools for people going through the same situation I was in.
First of all, I’d like to put what I went through in context. For people going through severe depression, you might be able to relate to a few things in this story.
The road to my meltdown was a gradual one. Ever since growing up I have always lacked a bit of self esteem and belief. Often I would not back myself to take on something new. Sometimes I would beat myself up that I was not good enough. Sometimes that led me into some dark places where I could not function.
But in 2016 I started the year in a great place. I was kicking a lot of goals with work, family and life in general. Success bred more success, I set some lofty goals, started taking more and more on, and come July everything felt like it was spinning out of control. I didn’t talk about that with anyone, I started retreating into a little cave and spent most of August and September working from a dark office at home, barely socialising with anyone. My productivity became minimal, my creative energy was gone, I kept beating myself up and telling myself everything I was doing at the start of the year was a waste of time. My sleep became really, really bad. I spent a lot of the day crying. If I was faced with a decision to be made, I got really, really anxious to the point where I thought the world was going to end if I made the wrong choice. Come November there were days I can remember driving down the main street of town balling my eyes out and not caring if anyone saw it.
I went to the doctor who prescribed me sleeping pills, and he referred me to a counsellor. We put a lot of what I was going through down to bottled up grief about my Dad passing away 2 years earlier. My father was an amazing human being and I missed not having him there at this tough time for advice.
Around the same time Dad died, I sold a very successful business. I had achieved a life goal of being mortgage free in the processs, but at the same time felt like I had lost my identity and purpose. My counsellor gave me some useful tools, including mind mapping where I wanted to be the same time next year. I started to have some hope that I was going to get through it. But I was still stressed and depressed. I had felt like I was not achieving all the things I should be achieving, got myself into a work situation I did not want to be in, and to add to matters was deciding whether or not to go through with a property deal. One side of my body was almost numb to touch, that is how much I stressed myself out. I just wanted to be the person my family looked up to and I felt like I was letting them down. I was devastated that my family and my kids see me like this, and a time of year where we should be having fun. All the holidaymakers were turning up in town having fun and here I was in a state.
Then a very bad thing happened. I started taking an antidepressant.
Antidepressants may be good for some people and get them through but they were not good for me.
I had said all along I wanted to get out of this situation by myself, with no medication (ironic given I was on sleeping pills already). But I caved in, went to the doctor and said my wife wanted me to ‘start taking something’. He dished out some Prozac, I started taking it, and then things got really crazy. This was about four days before Christmas. All the advice I was getting from people was just to stick with it, let it kick in. Well it just got worse. I started making stuff up in my head, got really paranoid, and my sleep got worse. I would go for a run and normally where I would be struggling to keep up with my running buddies, I was out the front blazing the trail, literally miles ahead. This stuff was lighting me up!
It wasn’t until after New Years and I went to the doctor to make sure I could stop taking it without any side effects and he said just that ‘Oh yeah it’s probably not the right one for you, it can do the wrong things to some people.’ Really? Might have been good to know that…..
One thing I will always remember was him digging deep, looking me deep in the eye with some advice from the heart; “Carl, you WILL get through this, don’t worry what other people think, look after yourself, you have an amazing wife and family and at the moment that is all that matters.”
But then he suggested more sleeping pills, and another antidepressant to calm me down. I read the label and found out it was to treat schizophrenia, bipolar and the like and thought, is this me? Is this what life has come to?
GETTING OUT OF THE RUT
The next two months were extremely tough. I had once been a multitasker, loved cooking and could cook up a storm. Now a simple task like crumbing some fish to cook up took me three hours. I thought everything I ever achieved in the past and had worked for had disappeared. Earlier in the year I had created a fishing brand ‘The Provider’ which had huge meaning to me. As the Father and Dad of the house, I was supposed to be just that, the provider - not just financially but of love, good times and inspiration. My wife was awesome and said she was more than happy to take responsibility for our income and said I should just chill out for the year. That was awesome but it just made me feel more worthless. I thought that I was destined for a life of solitude and ordinariness. But looking back now I can see that this is where the magic started. It is only when you are in the deepest, darkest places that you confront who you are and what matters in life.
And what matters is your closest friends and family. Once I spilled my guts to my beautiful wife, my family and my close mates, they dug in and helped me get out of it. Without them I would not be here today.
I will always remember my closest circle of family and friends and what they did for me.
Here is what I have learnt in the last six months getting out of this space, and remember…. this is a very personal journey and these are just things that helped me. If you are going through the same sort of experience, take what works for you and seek as much other advice and help as you can:
TALK TO PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU
I found the worst thing you can do is bottle stuff up. It is really therapeutic to get it all out, and spill your guts out time and time again to people who will listen to you and love you. The best thing they can do is listen and re-iterate how much you mean to them, and that you will get through it. That they are there for you and will do whatever it takes to help. My wife was so patient and stuck by me. And when I called one of my best mates in tears, he dropped everything on his family holiday to come and hang out with me for a few days. Then he called me religiously every day to check up. I remember him reading the same label on the pillbox I described above saying, “mate, this is not you, this is bullshit, you need to get off this stuff, I’ll help you through it.”
If you don't have a partner, close family or best mates, choose the people closest to you that you trust. You might be surprised how much love there is out there for you.
2. TALK TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN THERE
As well as talking to people you love, and letting them know where you are at, so they can take care of you, you need to talk to people who have been in the same situation. I found it extremely therapeutic to hear what others had been through. Especially when it is people I look up to as human beings, who now do amazing things with their lives. The more I find people who have been in the same situation I realise that all of this happens for a reason. Sometimes you have to take a step back in life to take a step forward in life. The best thing about talking to others is finding tools that they used to cope.
3. EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS
I never cried more in my life, than what I did in 2016. I have sworn I will never be that person again. But what I won’t do is bottle my feelings up. When stuff is not working with people, tell them. When you are happy, have a big belly laugh. When you love someone, tell them. When you have a really good day, tell people about it. I find the more I express my feelings the happier I become.
4.WRITE STUFF DOWN
A sure fire route to depression is keeping thoughts inside your head. My counsellor gave me some really good advice to keep a journal and write everything down that comes into my head. I’ve added to that, I keep all the good stuff, and occasionally rip the pages of bad stuff out and burn them and say ...see ya later! My good stuff includes, positive statements, my list of goals and mind maps of where I want to be.
5. GET PLENTY OF NATURAL SLEEP
This should probably be point one. Sleep is so important. Try and get good natural sleep without taking sleeping pills or relying on alcohol to get you to sleep. Wine is not good for sleep. While it contains melatonin, a sleep enhancing hormone, it disrupts your REM sleep. I found while wine sent me to sleep, I’d wake up all of a sudden with my mind racing a million miles an hour at 1am or 2am in the morning. Things that helped me with my sleep included: -not using screens like Iphones in bed
-not looking at a phone screen for two hours before going to bed,
-spending a good two hours before going to bed just zoning out in front of some mindless TV or reading.
-Most importantly, setting an alarm for say 7am the next day, and not looking at the time until it went off.
-Not stressing if I woke up that it was 2am in the morning. If I found myself thinking negative thoughts in bed, I would get up, read a short story ‘til I felt sleepy, then go back to bed.
I also spent a lot of time doing one thing I really love, swimming in the surf. That helped tucker me out, and the salt on my skin would help send me to sleep that night.
This is a really hard one, as when you have severe depression it feels like your body is telling you to slow down. At the same time your anxiety is telling you to keep going. But I do think the worst thing you can do is hide away from the world. Sure, go have a lie down for a few hours if you need it. But don’t hide away from the world and don’t beat yourself up. Keep going, keep doing something. Go for a walk, bust out some laps in the swimming pool, do something. You will be amazed at how it will change your outlook on life.
7. KEEP POSITIVE & BE AWARE OF YOUR THOUGHTS
The cycle of depression largely comes, I think, from a lack of self belief and a cycle of negative thoughts. Breaking that cycle is tough. But you need to look for the positive in everything. Out of the darkness you will find the light. A lot of the time you will not be aware you are beating yourself up. My counsellor made me write down on a piece of paper “Am I Aware of My Thoughts” and pin it on my wall. It is good advice.
8. WRITE YOUR “I AM LIST”
When I was in my deep dark place my extremely positive wife forced me to start writing a list of positive statements about who I was and also who I wanted to be. Always start it with I am. Nothing is impossible despite what you tell yourself. I never thought I would look at this list and say yeah I am most of those. But I am!
9. SET SOME GOALS
One of my counselling sessions was the day before the first day of summer 1 Dec 2016. Normally summer is my favourite time of year, and I was inconsolable that I was going to spend it depressed. My counsellor had some good advice. “This summer might be tough, but you will get through it. What matters is you write down where you want to be going into next summer. Twelve months from today, where do you want to be? Write it down.” I wrote down a mind map of where I wanted to be, and I am glad to say I am ticking most of those things off. I can’t wait for 1 Dec 2017 to roll around. This summer is going to be awesome!
10. DO WHAT MATTERS
Before you do something, ask yourself, is this what matters? If there is something you’d rather be doing, do it. That doesn’t mean you stop doing stuff that needs to be done like doing the dishes, cleaning the cupboards out, taking the kids to sport. Or ticking things off to get to your goals. Sometimes that is what matters. Have all the things you value in life written down somewhere and use them as a basis to decide what it is you should be doing each day. Do what matters.
I am going to let you in on a little secret here. MONEY DOES NOT MATTER. Sure you need money to put a roof over your head, but you do not need to own that roof. Sure you need money for adventures, so make sure you have them, don't keep it stored up. You cannot take money to the grave. Enjoy the money you have earnt. Don't let money consume you. It is not what matters. Don't be fiscally irresponsible and get into a bad situation with your financial situation, but don't let money guide your decisions in life. At the height of my paranoia I thought I had let my family down and lost everything financially. I was way off the mark in my thoughts, but even if it was true, it would not have mattered. What matters is the amazing people around me.
11.MUSIC IS HEALING
I have always loved music. I love a good bass line. I love music that touches your soul with good lyrics. One thing I realised in the dark place I was in, I had not been listening to music for ages. In the old days when I was guiding fishing trips daily, I would have music blasting all day. I started listening to music again and found huge inspiration in it. Funnily enough it seems guys like Mumford and Sons, Tiki, Greg Johnson, The Wild Reeds and Bernard Fanning have all been in a similar place at some stage. I love listening to songs about how people have dug themselves out of the darkness. Songs about hope and the promise of what lies ahead. Here are a few of them:
12. GIVE YOURSELF A PAT ON THE BACK EACH DAY
This one goes hand in hand with a positive outlook. Think back at the end of each day and congratulate yourself on something you’ve done, even if it is putting one step in front of the other. Don’t let any negative thoughts come into your head.
13. ASK YOURSELF WHAT IT IS YOU ARE PROCRASTINATING ON
When I was trying my hardest and digging really deep each day to get out of the hole I was in, I googled ‘How do you get out of a rut’. Good old Mr Google displayed a website ‘Out of the Rut - Life Coaching’ I clicked through and found a lady called Jane Butler, a life coach who I emailed. I laid out my story and where I thought I had got myself into the situation. That was therapeutic in itself. Jane forced me to confront the one thing that in reality was holding me back, and that was procrastinating on buying the boat I needed to achieve all the things I set out to do at the start of 2016. I made a list of all my options. I did some soul searching. And then I made an offer on the perfect boat, built by another special lady. Thank you Leanne.
I also took up a new sport I had always procrastinated taking up - surfing. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to learn to surf, but always put it off or told myself I would be no good at it. I went to Anderson surfboards in Whangamata in Easter 2017 and bought a second hand longboard. A good mate of mine went on the first few missions with me giving me a few pointers. I got pummelled most of the time but stuck with it. Finally one day at the south end of Pauanui beach, all on my own on a Monday morning, with a little groundswell and no wind, it all clicked. As I stood up for the first time and rode the wave in, I let out a big yaaaahooooyeeehaaaa - if anyone was listening they must have thought I was crazy. No - once upon a time I was! Surfing rocks. It is never too late to do something you love.
14. BE GRATEFUL
If something good happens in your life, be grateful for it. Don’t take anything for granted. A very cool ritual my wife Belinda started is for our family to go around the dinner table at night and tell everyone three things we are grateful for and the best thing that happened that day. Another good mate, Louise, keeps a gratitude diary beside her bed with the things she is grateful for and adds to that with what she is looking forward to the next day.
15. HAVE FUN
We are here on this planet to have fun. Fun breeds more fun. Do everything with a smile on your face and you will be amazed at how the world smiles back at you. When I was in my dark place I visualised myself having a smile on my face and laughing. Six months later I am having the most fun I have had in my life.
16. THE WORLD IS GOING TO CARRY ON WITHOUT YOU
In the deepest darkest places I was in, I would look at all the amazing things people were doing and think, why is this not happening to me? The reality is, amazing things will only happen to you if you make them happen. I had a big discussion with my wife while I was down about suicide. She was really upset that it would even cross my mind. I promised her that I would never go down this route, but I will have to admit there were times when that idea was thrown around in my head as an easy way out for everyone. How dumb of me! I felt I was a burden to everyone. One thing she said will always stick with me; “Carl you don’t want to be that person, looking down from above at all the cool stuff we are doing, thinking, “I wish I was there doing that.” She was so right. I think of all the cool stuff I am doing at the moment, all the moments I am enjoying with my amazing friends, amazing family on this amazing earth and realise that life is for living. I am so glad I am here.
17. EMBRACE YOUR SPIRITUALITY
Now what I am about to say, you might not expect from someone who spends most of his time fishing, diving and drinking beers with his mates. But embracing spirituality is important. A lot of people find religion as a way out of the darkness. I can see why. Getting yourself out of depression forces you to question everything in life, why you are here, and what matters. I came from a Catholic school upbringing and was surrounded by religion growing up. Over the years I have formed my own beliefs, and believe there is a realm out there most of us cannot put words around. I’m not going to start other than to quote a great man and say you have to have faith, of some sort. I found talking to people with wisdom and gifts in this area very helpful. I have friends who have religious beliefs I talked to, I talked to pastors, and also I used the services of an extremely gifted lady, Glenda Paekau, a spiritual healer. I got myself really down not being able to talk to my late father, but realise now, through talking to Glenda that he is there right by my side all the time and I can talk to him any time I like and he will guide me. That is very powerful stuff. She also told me two very powerful things that I am going to share with you. FOCUS ON THE GOOD IN YOUR LIFE and…...YOU DESERVE THE VERY BEST IN LIFE. That applies to each and every one of us.
18. KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND HAVE PATIENCE
This was not my first time with depression. As a teenager I had got quite down at times. At university right near the end of my degree I convinced myself I was no good and would never finish. I ended up with Honours…..I’d also had a meltdown at one stage in my earlier career. My Dad once gave me some good advice as he helped talk me out of depression, that going through the tough times in life you learn what your limits are. When everything feels like it is going to collapse, take a deep breath and relax. Try not to do everything in one day. Sometimes good things take time. This latest episode was caused largely because I forgot that advice this time around. As human beings we like being active, we take on as much as we can. Now, if I feel a touch of anxiety that I should be doing X or Y, I ask myself whether it matters. Often the things that cause me anxiety can wait until another day. Know your limits. I am conscious now that I could slip back into that state at any time. One of the reasons for writing this is to remind me about the journey this time around.
As my man Greg says, first you save yourself, then you save the world.
19. HAVE COMPASSION
I learnt a valuable lesson out of all of this. Don’t always assume people have their lives sussed. Even the people that look like they have life dialled in, have issues. Like I did. I look back at how I treated some situations in the past and realised I did not fully think through what people might be thinking or feeling. I have used this whole experience to reconnect with people who I wrongly might have fell out with or held a grudge against. All of the stuff is stupid and will end up eating you. So, ask yourself the question, what do you need to do to put things right with the world? I now look at my relationships with EVERYONE in a new light.
20. LIFE REWARDS ACTION!
Wrote these three words down in January from a Dr Phil book I borrowed from my Ma in Law. Three very wise words. Have faith that when the time is right you've got the power within to have everything you ever want in life, but nothing replaces hard work, focus and getting stuck in. Don't procrastinate. Don't settle for second best. Dont beat yourself up. Dont rest on your laurels. Don't assume people or the world owes you anything. Don't make excuses for why stuff isn't working in your life. Don't let fear stop you from doing something that matters. Work out what you want in life, what is important, what calms your soul and go out and get it. If you don't know what that is, talk to people that can help. Try something that rings your bells and you will soon work out whether that is what your life purpose is. Do it well. Do it right and get the detail right. Life rewards action.
MY LIFE NOW
I can only describe my life now as awesome. I have a beautiful, amazing wife, and two children who mean the world to me. I live in a beautiful town. I have a successful business combining all the things I love in life. I AM A PROVIDER!
I have the best Mum in the world, two awesome sisters, extended family, and nephews and nieces I look forward to spending more quality time with. I have a great circle of close mates and an awesome community of friends around me. I sleep well and when I wake up, I am extremely productive. I feel like I have the power to help others. I know my limits and try to take a chill pill. I don’t take any drugs, antidepressants or sleeping pills any more. For that I am extremely grateful. I find myself wanting to help others and the world I live in. I live on a planet that has been given to us to explore and enjoy, and I have so many adventures I want to tick off before I leave it. I hope that is not going to be for some time.
It feels good to have written all of this down, to put it on paper. In the deep dark places I went to, one thing that kept my hope going is that my story might be put to good use one day. It is going to be a good reality check for me to reread once in awhile. If you are reading this for advice, stay strong, keep positive, kick that darkness to touch because good things are just around the corner. I hope you find something here that helps. God bless.
Now, it is time to enjoy some Coromandel Goodness…...
PS: I am really, really fortunate to be in the place I am now. I would really like it, if you have been through the same situation, if you could drop a comment below with any tips you might have. Hopefully this might become a good resource for people in the future.
If you want to follow what happens next in Carl's life jump on: