When I was 15, I battled depression. It was more of an uneven fight—a David and Goliath affair, if you will—rather than two sparring equals. I was beat. Unbelievably sad. Undone. And I definitely didn’t want to talk about it.
I was attending an all-boys school in Melbourne at the time. I remember sitting in class, welling up with emotion and, God forbid, on the brink of sobbing uncontrollably in front of everyone. I’d throw my hand up, hurriedly ask for a hall pass and rush to the bathroom. There, in one of the cubicles after checking that no one else was around, I would howl. This happened more times than I could remember.
For all intents and purposes, life was good. I was doing well in school, I had many friends, there were no problems at home and we were dominating the region in interschool tennis. (I mean, of course.) Yet every night I would sit in my room and cry. And every morning I would wake with such a deep foreboding sense of dread that I didn’t even want to open my eyes, yet alone get out of bed. I wanted to go back to sleep.
I wanted to escape the perpetual sadness.
My heart was so heavy that it was literally dragging me under; a dead weight in a sea of chaotic emotions. I was drowning. There were endless calls to my mother, but I didn’t have words to express what I was feeling. I’d open my mouth, mumble something incomprehensible and then cry.
My poor mother was working in Sydney at the time and bussed down to Melbourne on so many consecutive weekends to see me that she almost lost her job. My aunt, a doctor, sent me for a checkup to make sure that everything was in order. Physiologically, I was fine.
Then one night, while praying and pleading with God to take the pain away, I heard Him tell me to get baptised. It wasn’t a booming voice from Heaven, no bright light or blinding apparition, but a gentle whisper. Not even. It was a gentle ‘knowing’. A sense.
After I was baptised, I didn’t suddenly feel happy. It wasn’t like a 180-degree transformation. But after it happened, something was lifted. Something was washed away. My heart wasn’t weighing me down and I felt so tired after the baptism that I fell asleep on my mother’s shoulder for the rest of the church service.
Looking back now, that was my turning point.
There were still some bad days ahead, but things were on the up and, with support and a conscious effort to keep moving forward, the shackles of depression were eventually shaken off. It took eight months.
With World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the theme for this month’s issue is ‘peace of mind’. I was going to call it the ‘mental health’ issue, but I felt that it focused on the problem rather than the goal. If there’s one thing I learned from my time with depression, it’s that you have to keep on keeping on. Recognising how you feel is important, but it is unhealthy to dwell on your emotions. What you focus on, you amplify.
Male depression continues to be a huge problem globally—suicide is one of the leading causes of death for men—so the team at Esquire Singapore wanted to create an issue that not only encouraged men to talk about their feelings, but also a physical book that could help you practically if you (or your friend) are currently going through a tough time.
As you flip through the October print issue you will notice that there are certain stories (deliberately printed on non-glossy wood-free paper) that encourage you to whip out a pen, or a set of colouring pencils, and get involved.
We have a fashion spread that is begging for you to connect the dots in order to complete the ensemble; there are black-and-white product shoots scattered throughout the book for you to colour in; and then there’s the feel-good workbook filled with exercises recommended by experts to help with common mental health issues.
Yup, we’ve basically created an adult colouring book.
Willem Dafoe fronts this month’s issue as a testament to the power of perseverance. This accomplished actor has two major releases in October: Lighthouse with Robert Pattinson which deals with sanity when faced with isolation, and Motherless Brooklyn that follows a detective with Tourette’s syndrome.
Shot exclusively for Esquire Singapore, check out the cover story penned by features editor Wayne Cheong as he reports on Dafoe’s penchant for playing uncommon people. If there is one message from this issue, it’s this: common people can achieve uncommon exploits. You might feel outnumbered and overwhelmed, but remember, David killed Goliath in the end.
Enjoy the issue.