“There was a time when I didn’t feel this way. A time when I wasn’t suffering from depression; a time when I didn’t want to die.” This is the opening sentence to the blog from Jake Lawler, a linebacker for UNC Chapel Hill.
For his family and friends, it was a surprise to find out that Lawler had been living with depression. For Lawler, opening up about his depression in June was another step in the reality of a battle he had been living with since middle school.
Bullied in school for his appearance, being biracial and the day-to-day resurgence of negative feelings, Lawler felt he had nothing to live for.
“I was lost in the world. I didn’t know who I was or what I belonged to,” Lawler said. “I had never felt more alone in my life.”
Depression -- major depressive disorder or clinical depression -- is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how people feel, think and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating or working.
Lawler’s depression has led to thoughts of suicide.
“I remembered that I just felt like there was nothing left for me on this Earth,” Lawler said.
According to the National Institute of Health, not everyone who is depressed experiences the same symptoms, including sadness, hopelessness, irritability or fatigue. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many.
In 2015, he came to a point in his life where he didn’t want to continue to live, but thoughts of his family reminded him of what he had to live for.
“I kept thinking about my brother and my parents who love more than words can express,” Lawler said. “Taking my life would be an action that would reverberate through the very fabric of their lives. My family saved my life, and they didn’t even know it.”
From that moment, Lawler was determined to beat back the agonizing thoughts that enveloped his mind. He would focus on his education and football and whatever coping mechanism to manage his depression.
Lawler scored a scholarship to play football at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He felt happy.
“Life was good. There were even some days where I felt happy,” Lawler said. “What I didn’t realize during this time of my life was that my depression had not died. It had been sedated.”
Lawler is a talented writer, so that led to another way to cope with his depression. In 2018, he poured himself into a creative writing piece that he would finish six months later.
However, finishing his story was the end of one of his coping strategies and then he’d have to again face the reality of people who live with depression. He said that depression “is who I am.”
“I knew that keeping all this stuff bottled up was gonna lead to some final destination, which I wasn’t prepared for,” Lawler said.
He started telling people close to him about his depression, and in June, he shared his story about his journey through depression and how he navigates his feelings titled “A New Life.”
“I think that I’ve been better since then, much better, but it’s a never-ending process,” Lawler said. “I think that its something that will be a part of me for the rest of my life.”
For years, Lawler wanted to shield his parents from his depression.
“I thought that if I told them, they would have felt like they would have failed as parents,” Lawler said.
However, when he opened up to them, he realized that they wanted to help him in every way possible.
“They knew that what I was dealing with was something millions of kids across the world are dealing with,” he said. “I care about them so much. I love them so much.”
Lawler’s advice for children or students who are living with depression is simple: Talk about it with someone. Confide in people that you trust.
“Even if you don’t know the right words or terminology to describe what you’re feeling, just let somebody know,” Lawler said. “That’s something that I should have done a long time ago.”
He now uses his voice let others know that they are not alone in their battle against depression, and said for him, admitting there was a problem and letting others know there is a problem is a huge help to help him navigate his feelings.
On the field of depression, there are many different positions. Depression can be mild or severe. It can be short-lived or chronic. So, understanding the type of depression a person is experiencing helps doctors determine treatment.
September is National Suicide Prevention month, and Lawler has used the opportunity to share his story in a public service announcement.
“I’m a student, a writer, an athlete, a survivor. My name is Jake Lawler, and I live with depression and have for a long time,” he said in the announcement.
He encourages people to reach out for help from friends, family or to call the National Suicide Lifeline for help.
“The first step to solving the problem is admitting that you have won in addressing it and that’s the most important thing to do,” Lawler said. “Once you address it, you can work towards steps to help you can work towards steps to be better.”
Lawler encourages people by reminding them that they don’t have to walk the path of depression alone.
“You’re gonna have people with you, and they can lessen the load,” Lawler said.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, that National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week across the United States by dialing 800-273-8255.
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.
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