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Gay man on learning to live with depression: watch for ‘the signs and triggers’

Craig Mack attempted suicide at 16, 24 and 36: ‘The advice that I would give to anyone is to talk about it. Don’t go through it alone’

Gay man on learning to live with depression: watch for ‘the signs and triggers’
Ben Peers
Craig Mack

In a childhood littered with painful memories, Craig Mack remembers one of the worst: the time that he phoned his mother when he was 15 to wish her a happy birthday.

‘Who is this?’ she responded.

‘Craig,’ he replied.

She said that she didn’t know anyone by that name.

Shortly afterwards, aged 16, he attempted suicide for the first time.

Craig has battled depression and mental health issues since he was young. He had a troubled childhood.

Craig’s mom raised him pretty much single-handedly in the town of Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.

‘She dated a few men and women while I was a kid but there was no stable other parent,’ he tells me over Skype.

Drugs and drug users were commonplace in the house. There were police raids. He saw someone overdose on heroin and die when he was 11.

‘While most kids chores are to do the dishes, I would roll joints because the people in the house were too high, or I’d bag up cocaine,’ he told recently.

‘I thought it was completely normal for a seven-year-old to be mixing heroin with a spoon.’

‘I was broken’

Craig says he was a withdrawn and quiet child.

‘A friend of mine says my way of rebelling was like Saffy in Ab Fab. I became nerdy to do well at school,’ he tells me.

Aged 15, he moved in with an uncle and didn’t return home. He began to attend one of the best private school in Melbourne. However, rather than flourishing, inside he was a mess.

‘I was broken,’ he says now. ‘No self-worth at all. I didn’t fit in particularly to my new world. I went to one of the top, really expensive, private schools in Melbourne.

‘I didn’t relate to any of the students that were around me or that lifestyle. So it was all of those factors that played a role in me feeling, “I shouldn’t really be here. I’m not wanted by anyone. I don’t fit in”.’

‘Faggot’ bullying

Around the same time, Craig acknowledged that he was gay. Although he didn’t feel particularly tortured by the fact (‘My mother has two gay brothers and my dad has a gay brother – it runs in the family,’ he laughs), it did heighten his sense of not fitting in.

He found himself bullied, both as a ‘faggot’ and because of his background and quiet demeanor: ‘it made me an easy target.’ It was around this time that he called his mom and she said she didn’t know him.

Following his first suicide attempt at 16, a more serious attempt took place when he was 24. There was a third attempt at 36.

‘The attempt at 24 was the most serious of them all. But it also probably had the best outcome because it got me the therapy and help I needed at the time.

‘It just seemed to be the only way out’

‘That was the time that I really planned it; dying felt like the only thing that would stop the pain. It just seemed to be the only way out. I think at 16 and 36, they were more desperation and loneliness and cries for help rather than wanting it to be the end.’

Craig was diagnosed with clinical depression. He says he has had problems building his own relationships in the past, but despite his childhood experiences, has not thrown himself into drug or alcohol addiction, in the way some gay men do.

‘As a child … I had a perspective on what drugs can do and how they can destroy a life, so when I started going out and getting into things, and being exposed to that, it wasn’t my first time.

‘I’ve used drugs and have no issues with them. But I’ve seen them pull apart many friends. I know where my limits are.’

Instead, Craig says that therapy and talking about his problems have helped enormously. He’s now a successful 40-year-old social media strategist, based in Sydney. He’s recently become an ambassador for mental health charity R U OK?

‘My dirty little secret’

Talking publicly for the first time about the challenges he faced when growing up, and his on-going experiences with depression, have offered an unexpected sense of relief.

‘Even earlier this year, it’s not something I thought I would ever talk about publicly. I had no idea how I was going to react to talking about it. It’s definitely been freeing and refreshing.

‘I’ve always listened to people’s coming out stories, and the relief that they felt from that because they’re not hiding a secret. I never had to go through that so I never understood it, but I do now.

‘It sort of feels like this is my coming out, my dirty little secret that I’ve hidden my entire life because no-one has known the whole story up until now.

‘And now that it’s out there, and I’ve seen a hugely positive reaction to it, it feels freeing and refreshing. I feel I can actually do something with it now.’

‘It’s just the depression talking, and it will pass’

Craig says everyone will react to depression in different ways, but for him, accepting it and trying not to constantly fight against it has paid dividends.

‘The more I fight it and try to deny it the worse it gets. A lot of it is around accepting it, and learning the signs and triggers.

‘Sometimes I can feel a little black hole coming. It will be little thoughts that pop into my head, or the way that I see things changes slightly.

‘That’s when I know to either step in and cut it off, or prepare to ride into the black hole. [But] when I’m really depressed and inside that black hole, I’m conscious that my perception of the world, and the horrible person that I see in the mirror, isn’t real.

‘It’s just the depression talking, and it will pass, like it does every time.’

‘Talk to someone and tell them what’s going on’

‘The biggest piece of advice that I would give to anyone, if I could go back in time and give this advice to myself, is to talk about it. Don’t go through it alone.

‘You do feel alone and the only thing you want to do is curl up in a dark corner and hide away from the world, but then no-one knows, so talk about it.

‘For me, I feel like I’m a burden and I don’t want to put my problems on to anybody else but your friends and family are there to help you and support you – just talk to someone and tell them what’s going on.

‘Don’t go through it alone because you don’t need to.’

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