‘I sat up for weeks on end googling ‘how to be happy.’ I was looking for happiness in every single place except from within.’: Traumatic brain injury survivor overcomes battle with depression after break-up

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Read part one of Ryan’s story here

“Shortly after my traumatic brain injury, I met an incredible young lady. She was living a life that was the complete opposite of mine, and this was exactly what I needed. She introduced me to world travel and before you know it, we were traveling all over the globe together on fantastic holidays. This was a very fast-paced relationship, but I was all in. I desperately needed to break away from the norm I was so used to, so I quickly ditched my past life and focused solely on moving forward with her. We soon moved out and rented a flat for a year or so, then went off to buy our first home. For a young 21-year-old at the time, this for me was unbelievable.

We went on to live this perceived ‘perfect’ life for over 6 years together. The life in which society had brainwashed us into believing we needed in order to be ‘happy, successful, and perfect!’ But this perfect life wasn’t so perfect at all. It felt forced sometimes. We had the home, we had matching cars, we went on multiple holidays each year, and we even had the gigantic TV attached to the wall. But this life felt like more of a trap. Growing up I was taught that being ‘successful’ in life meant owning your own home, and if you had a sporty car to go with it, then you were absolutely crushing it!

Young man smiling with the Roman Coliseum in the back
Courtesy of Ryan Nurse

I was so fed up with working in my one and only unfulfilled day job. I had been there since I was a young teenager. I needed a change, but these mortgage payments weren’t going to allow it. My partner loved her job, and I didn’t like mine. I was done with laying under cars covered in grease and stinking of old engine oil. So one afternoon, we decided to sit down and come up with a plan for my life. We calculated our monthly mortgage payments and determined I would be around 40 years old when the mortgage would be paid off. Then, I could apply for a job at the golf course next to our house. I was going to learn to become a greenkeeper in my 40s. Is this my dream job, you may be asking? No, it’s not.

I had only started playing golf since moving in. I wasn’t great at golf. I just enjoyed spending time with a friend of ours on those summer days. But because of this, we both decided I’d be a greenkeeper in the future. Only another 20 years of misery in a job I didn’t enjoy. Surely it would soon fly by. I was knackered. As a 25-year-old young man, I was actually looking forward to retirement. In 2018, we decided to re-mortgage, build an extension on the back of the house, and also go on 5 trips away. When we arrived home from our last trip to Florida at the end of November, my partner of over six and a half years said to me, ‘We should stop spending as much time with each other.’ WHAT!? I was confused. Upset. Gutted.

How could we spend less time with each other? We live together. We do everything together. Before you know it, we were sleeping in separate rooms and only really saw each other in the mornings on the landing. She insisted we lived together and made it amicable. After telling me multiple times we might sort it out, I was left extremely puzzled. I knew deep down something wasn’t quite right, but I was convincing myself everything would be okay. However, the less time we spent together, the further we drifted away from each other. My gut was SCREAMING something isn’t right, but my heart was saying it will all be okay. I could feel myself mentally spiraling downhill over the next few months after spending Christmas and my birthday alone.

selfie of man wearing a navy t-shirt with the sunlight reflected on his face
Courtesy of Ryan Nurse

But I built up the courage to go on our pre-booked backpacking trip to Cape Town on my first ever solo trip alone in March 2019. But only a few days before leaving, I actually bumped into the person who said she wanted to ‘be single,’ in a restaurant with another guy. As much as this shattered my heart into a million pieces, it was also this HUGE sense of liberation. It confirmed all those thoughts bouncing around my mind, and I later went on to realize we can’t control other people’s thoughts, opinions, words, or actions. We can only control the meaning and the response we give to them.

I went to Cape Town and felt like a completely new man. However, coming back to an empty home was when depression really started to kick in. I ended up suffering through many months of mental misery, where I became so desperate I turned to drinking and drugs. Things got so bad, I sat up for weeks on end googling ‘how to be happy.’ I was looking for happiness, which I believed at the time was external. I was looking at every single place other than from within. Without even realizing it, my whole identity was that relationship. So when the relationship came to an end, I almost did too. I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, or where I was heading.

Young man wearing a blue long sleeve shirt and shorts holding a Corona beer
Courtesy of Ryan Nurse

At the time, I absolutely hated my own company. I ended up taking myself to the doctors, and they were so quick to push the prescription across the desk to say, ‘You are depressed.’ I decided not to take the prescription as I believed I hadn’t yet exhausted all avenues, even though I felt as if I was at rock bottom at the time. Several weeks later, I ended up lying my way out of my CBT sessions because it was actually making me feel worse. At the moment, I’d be lying if I said death wasn’t a desired destination for me. I sat there contemplating suicide, but one single thought managed to completely transform my life. ‘Could I live with the thought of dying with regrets?’ I looked back on my life and saw all the obstacles I’d already overcome.

At this point in time, I woke up every morning and screamed, ‘F–K YOU!’ but soon replaced it with ‘Thank you.’ Because every morning we all open two gifts, and that is our eyes. Which is why they call this moment the present. By practicing this daily gratitude, I started attracting positive things into my life. Just know what you focus on expands. So rather than counting my problems, I started counting my blessings. I realized the nightmare I was going through was actually a dream for somebody else. Back then, I said going to work was like going to hell. I had to check in at hell every single day to pay for my membership in prison. And that prison is what we call home.

I later went on to realize the only ever prison we are in is the one we have created in our own minds. After all this materialistic crap was stripped away from me, I realized the shackles of society had kept me trapped in this ‘perfect’ life for a lot longer than I wanted. Because it gets to a point in your life where the things you own end up owning you. There was no way I could have ever considered changing jobs for as long as I had a mortgage and car payments to keep up with. And don’t even get me started on the cost of the holidays. We are currently living in a world where we are taught we MUST buy stuff we don’t even need to impress people we don’t even like!

Young man wearing a navy suit at a public outdoor event
Courtesy of Ryan Nurse

If you’re not happy in any area of your life, then do not let another year go by without addressing the issue and starting to create and implement an exit strategy or transition for the future. Nothing in life should be forced. If you have to force anything, then it isn’t meant to be. It’s going to be hard, but your future-self will definitely thank you. You can either live easy now and hard later. Or hard now, and easy later. The choice is yours. As soon as you realize the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, is the exact moment your actions will overcome your anxieties.

Please believe me when I say true happiness doesn’t come from anything, anyone, or anywhere else but from you. Because true happiness is homemade, and it comes from within. Don’t ever let someone else try and change who you are to become what they need. The more time you waste trying to be what others want you to be, the more you will lose yourself. The moment you become comfortable in your own skin and enjoy spending time alone is the moment you become unstoppable. Because you will never feel the need to rely on anyone or anything ever again.


Young man laughing out loud while giving a speech
Courtesy of Ryan Nurse

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ryan Nurse from Buckinghamshire, UK. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.

Read more from Ryan:

‘The specialists told my parents, ‘Switch his life support machine off.’ What my dad did saved my life.’: Assault victim shares ‘miracle’ recovery from traumatic brain injury

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‘It’s like a virus,’ the counselor says. ‘It wants to keep living inside you.’ Nobody should have to experience it.’: Young woman details severe depression, ‘Show yourself some compassion’

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