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Trigger warning: this article involves experiences with a mental health condition. It may be difficult reading this story, especially if you have experienced a mental health condition yourself or supported a friend or family member. If you are feeling impacted, please contact the Beyond Blue support service, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Headspace, or your local GP for support.
Childhoods are supposed to be joyful times, where we are experiencing the wonders of the world, forming ideas about who we are and who we want to be, all from the safety and security of a loving home. For Jeremy Suggett, it was a confusing time that left him lost as to who he was and his future direction. 'I always thought I grew up in a pretty standard sort of household. I am one of four kids. My mum was a busy primary school teacher, and my dad ran his own business. We lived in a good area in Sydney, and I was an active sporty kid; I loved cricket and soccer,' Jeremy reminisces.
But as Jeremy grew older, he realised that all wasn't as it seemed. 'The relationship between my parents was very toxic, and it was like walking on eggshells every day. It was intense. Dad wasn't what you would consider physically violent, but he was aggressive verbally and slammed things when angry. He was abusive, especially to mum; it was horrible what she went through. We just waited for the next outburst from dad.'
As Jeremy got older, people started to compare him to his dad, something that struck a nerve in him, 'I struggled being compared to my dad. I didn't want to be anything like him. Probably one of my mum's biggest regrets is when she snapped at me one day when I was about 12 and said, 'You're just like your father'. She didn't mean it, but that stuck with her for a long time, maybe 20 years or more.'
When Jeremy's father was in a fury, he tried to appease his father and talk him around sometimes to his detriment. 'He would go into these rages, and my role was to pacify him. It's not a good thing when you're a kid in that position. I went through the worst of it, compared to my siblings. A few years ago, my sister acknowledged that. It was nice to feel validated, but it was awful and still affects me today.'
The coach was right. The loss of interest in his once-loved sport was the beginning of mental health struggles for Jeremy. 'I went from focused and driven, excited to start the day to struggling to get up in the morning. When you lose interest in something you usually enjoy, it is a classic sign of depression. I was exhausted, sleeping all the time. For around eight months, every little step in the process of getting up for the day seemed hard. I was broken.'
Even though Jeremy has lost his identity in many ways, he knew himself well enough to seek help. 'I knew that this wasn't me. Everything is planned out when you're in school, so my greatest fear was that this was just how you felt once you became an adult. I thought I can't live like this for the next 40 or 50 years. Even though I was only 18 years old, I decided to see my GP.'
With the help of his GP, they deciphered Jeremy's symptoms through a series of self-help videos. When he was finally diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Jeremy felt relieved. 'I remember standing up and hugging him. It was nice to know that it wasn't in my head.'
The diagnosis wasn't a complete surprise, not only the circumstances of his childhood but also a history of depression in the family, 'I grew up in a house where my mum had suffered depression all her life. It was part of my family; we just didn't talk about it. The environment I grew up in didn't help. I have since found out I have what's called complex childhood trauma.'
Once diagnosed, Jeremy did something many young men would refuse to do. He told his friends what he was going through. 'It's extremely hard, I won't play it down, but you need good people and support around you. To manage your mental health, you need people around you that understand what you're going through. Look at the top athletes or individuals in their field. When they succeed, the first thing they do is they thank their team. These people know that they can't be successful without a strong supportive team around them. So that's even more imperative for us to have when we are unwell, mentally or physically.'
Once he had opened up to his peers, he began the journey of managing his diagnosis, getting back into exercise. 'I didn't go back to competitive sport; I played with my mates. I made sure I was outside, moving, getting some endorphins and most of all having some fun.'