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Depression

Updated 15 October 2018

‘I tried to kill myself – I lost my legs but I gained a new life’

In 2013 Daryl Brown stepped in front of a train to end his life. He survived but had both legs amputated. He shares his story of survival to help break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Daryl Brown has suffered from depression since he was about 12 years old. He was bullied at school for being gay and he struggled to reconcile that part of himself with his Christian upbringing.

“I kept hoping that things would get better and that my depression would go away after I finished school, or finished university, or got a job, or made new friends, or moved to London, and that was all that kept me going – the thought that if I changed my situation on the outside then the feeling I had on the inside would also change,” Daryl, now 31, says.

That didn’t change and his mental health was in a downward spiral. Daryl was in London studying for a master’s degree in marketing. His plan was to live and work in the UK once he had completed his studies. Unfortunately he couldn’t get a work visa and then his first romantic relationship came to an end.

“I felt like a failure in every aspect of my life and I couldn't think of anything else I could try to change that might cure my depression. I was out of options and I was exhausted. I was tired of waiting for a day that might never come, when everything would be better. I felt that I would have to come back to Cape Town, jobless, and leach off my parents forever, and I just felt that everyone would be better off if I wasn't around.”

Deciding to take his life

Daryl chose to step in front of a train – he didn’t want to leave a mess or a body for his flatmates to find. He tied up all loose ends – he finished his master’s degree, deactivated his Facebook account and planned a farewell with his friends.

“I told them I was simply moving back to Cape Town,” he says. “I reasoned that my Cape Town friends and family hadn't seen me in over a year, so it would be easy for them to come to terms with my suicide. I honestly thought they would be better off, that I was just a waste of people's time and a drain on their energy.”

Five days after his 26th birthday, Daryl packed a bag with a note for his mom and headed to his nearest Tube station. He waited until he was the only person on the platform, dropped his bag and stepped in front of a train. "I opened my eyes underneath the train,” he recalls. "The pain was excruciating but my first thought was, 'Are you kidding me – it didn't work? S**t, now what?' I closed my eyes, hoping I'd pass out and not come to again. I thought, lose a lot of blood – there's still a chance I might not make it.”

Daryl spent eight weeks in hospital and a further month at a rehab centre – both his legs were amputated. 

Not reaching out for help

Why didn’t he reach out for help? Daryl didn’t want to burden his friends or family with his issues, so he kept them to himself instead.

“Everyone had their own troubles and they were dealing with it, so why couldn't I deal with my stuff? I didn't think that a therapist would be able to say something that would suddenly make everything better.”

“There’s nothing embarrassing about needing to see a psychologist or take antidepressants, if that's what it takes to keep you healthy. It has enabled me to engage in my work and relationships in a way that I couldn't before, when the depression dragged me down into a fog that separated me from everything and everyone around me.”

In addition to being in therapy and taking antidepressants to manage his depression, Daryl makes sure he eats healthily, exercises and gets enough sleep. “I also practise mindfulness, which helps me to be more present in the now and not get caught up worrying about the past or stressing about the future. Alternatives to mindfulness, depending on your faith and personal convictions, are prayer and/or meditation.”

A new life

Since his suicide attempt, Daryl says his family and friends have become much more open about their feelings. “We tell each other we love each other and that we care for each other, rather than just assuming that everyone knows how we feel about them. We also rely on each other more for emotional support and encouragement. I discovered that some of my friends had been struggling with depression themselves and had been in therapy. We'd been going through similar experiences, but never opened up about it, because we felt we had to deal with it on our own, or we felt ashamed about our depression. As if it was a sign of weakness rather than an actual sickness.”

He has also become involved with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group and Movember, which encourages men to "Be A Man of More Words" and reach out for help. Whatever they are going through, too many men suffer in silence, and it's important to know that a simple conversation can make all the difference. 

“Raising awareness of mental health issues at schools has given me a new sense of purpose and added meaning to my life," Daryl says. 

Although his disability has made life a bit more complicated – because his stumps are too short for prosthetics, he uses a wheelchair to get around – that hasn’t held him back. “At first, I was very angry at losing my legs and it did push me further into my depression. My first encounter with a psychologist, about two months after my suicide attempt, was a huge turning point for me. She saw right through my mask and for the first time, I realised that I wasn't crazy and that there was someone who could help me. That gave me the hope to get my life going again. I try not to let my disability prevent me from doing things I want to do; I have travelled to the USA on my own since losing my legs.”

Parting thoughts

If you are feeling suicidal, Daryl urges you to talk to someone. “If you don't want to discuss it with a friend or a family member, call a helpline. It's sometimes easier to talk to a stranger who isn't part of your daily life. You don't have to worry about how it may change your relationship with them. The helpline staff understand better than anyone what you are going through and are trained to help you and guide you out of the trap you're in. The Suicide Crisis Line number is 0800 567 567. You are not alone and your situation will change.” 

And if you have lost someone to suicide? “Be kind and forgiving to both yourself and the person who has died by suicide. Depression is a disease that can prevent one from thinking rationally. Your lost loved one was not weak, or cowardly, or selfish; they were sick and felt that there was no other way for them to go. Be gentle with yourself and don't blame yourself. You alone cannot save someone with a serious illness.”

  

10 October is World Mental Health Day. If you need help, contact SADAG. You can speak to a counsellor between 08:00 and 20:00 Monday to Sunday by calling 011 234 4837. For a suicidal emergency call 0800 567 567. The 24-hour contact is 0800 12 13 14. Alternatively, you can SMS 31393 and SADAG will call you back.

Image credit: Supplied