"TALK. I didn't and it was nearly the death of me."

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we hear Fergus' powerful story on the importance of speaking up about how you are really feeling.

Fergus Crawley

I didn’t even believe in depression until it began to affect me physically, and all of a sudden it became overwhelmingly real. 

I’m Fergus Crawley, I’m 25 years old, and I’m from Edinburgh. 

In the past few years, I have been passionate about raising funds and awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, and have raised just shy of £100k for Movember, alongside growing a VERY questionable moustache along the way… (although, my ability to solve crime has massively increased in doing so…) 

In 2018, I was living and working in London, I was sat in a coffee shop near my flat, I opened my laptop to be hit with what I can only describe as white noise and a moment of serious, anxious stress. At this point I realised I had been here before, and was slipping back into a state of depression for the second time – but this time was different, as I had learnt some lessons from the mistakes that I had made previously, and decided to take action to give myself a sense of purpose again. Here began my journey with Movember, with fundraising, with sharing my story publicly, and with extreme endurance challenges… 

Fergus getting outside

Let’s rewind quickly so that this all makes sense… 

I grew up in Edinburgh, and joined Durham University in October 2014, full of ambition, expectation, hope, and promise. I was a very sociable, outgoing and confident young man at this point, and has just started competing at a high level in powerlifting. However, I quickly found myself in halls of residence where I was surrounded by lovely people, don’t get me wrong, but I became quickly aware that we weren’t particularly like-minded, or to be genuine friends, as it were… Moreover, competing in an individual sport, I was missing the sense of community that a lot of students found in their sports teams, and I didn’t feel like I really belonged on the course that I was studying… I was unlucky in some ways, but ultimately I was dealt a hand I didn’t anticipate, and the error I made, was simply accepting this for what it was, rather than doing anything about it. 

Fergus powerlifting

To cut a long story short, I felt hard done by, trapped, lost, out of place, and felt completely isolated from the moment I started university. 

This got progressively worse for the next 18 months, and I continued to keep how I was feeling to myself out of fear of judgement, or letting down people’s expectations of me, or even worse, mine of myself… 

In spring of 2016, my depression started to affect me physically: unable to sleep, unable to eat, painfully ashamed of myself, and getting floored by weights I should be able to do with my eyes closed at the gym in training – my depression became very real. 

I felt guilty, because I was lucky enough to have a loving family, a roof over my head, a stable upbringing, and yet I felt like THIS!? This shame started to spiral out of control, and my memory becomes a bit blurry in honesty. 

In early May of 2016, I felt so trapped, so alone, and so ashamed of how I was feeling, that I attempted suicide. 

I came around, feeling even more trapped and ashamed than before, but less than 48 hours afterwards, I got a message from a friend which has since changed my life: ‘I’m getting a puppy from this litter next week, you in?’  

I don’t think he was serious when he asked me, but nonetheless, the answer was the most definite yes I have ever given. 

Fergus with his dogs

A week later, I had Odie (or the Pigdog as he is better known), a 14 week-old French Bulldog puppy by my side. This gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of responsibility, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. 

What happened next was amazing, I started speaking to people again, out on the street walking the Pig, and it wasn’t anything deep or meaningful – I was just speaking to people again, and it brought a smile to my face. 

Then, I started saying things out loud to Odie on our walks that I had never even confronted in my own head before, which slowly but surely empowered me to come to terms with the reality of the situation I had been in, and allowed me to reclaim my sense of purpose, and my sense of self. 

I told my family about what had happened at the end of 2016, and since then have not been afraid or ashamed of the fact that no matter who we are, we all have mental health to manage, and it’s very important that we do exactly that. 

To clarify – my suggestion is not to buy a dog, but it is to acknowledge and begin the conversations on mental health that I avoided until it was almost too late. Odie was the catalyst for me to speak out, but the lesson to be had is exactly that: speak out. 

Fergus talking on his podcast

So, when 2018 rolled around, and I was sat in that coffee shop starting to lose control of my mental health a little, I didn’t make the same mistakes I had done in the past, and I tackled it head on, opened up the conversation on how I was feeling, and took action to better manage my mind. 

So, what mistakes did I make? 

  1. SUFFERED IN SILENCE.
  2. THOUGHT I WAS ALONE.
  3. SHUT MYSELF OFF FROM THOSE WILLING TO SUPPORT ME.
  4. WORE A MASK.
  5. SAW VULNERABILITY AS A WEAKNESS, NOT STRENGTH. 

I won’t dwell on these too much as I see them as somewhat self-explanatory, but the key point is this: help was out there, but I chose not to access it. 

I chose not to access it because of number 5, where I mistakenly saw vulnerability as a weakness rather than as a strength, whereas now I know the sheer value of vulnerability, and the positive impact it can have on our lives in working through with others. 

Since my suicide attempt, I have completed a number of endurance challenges/records to raise awareness on exactly this – by balancing feats of strength, willpower, an unbreakable mind, with a campaign focused on mental health. I consider myself as a strong person, and without wanting to blow my own trumpet at all, I now have a CV to back it up, yet I am not afraid to tell you that I suffered from depression (and likely will suffer from again), that I attempted suicide, that some days I feel lost, alone, foolish, scared or without purpose. 

Fergus out in the Highlands

Having experienced what I have, here are some simple points that I now live my life by for you to consider:  

I am always open and honest in conversations with others, and with myself. 

I am constantly refining my self-awareness and focusing as much as I can on the things that fulfil me. 

I set goals, I pursue my ambitions, and I am not afraid to fail. 

I acknowledge that sometimes I will suffer, and that’s okay, because I know I can be honest with those around me and take comfort in the fact that with their support – this too, shall pass. 

I focus on building habits, and learn what has a positive impact on my life, and what has a negative impact on it – and ruthlessly pursue executing the positive. 

I don’t want to seem in any way reductive, or as if our mental health is a challenge easily solved, but the way I see it, it’s not something we can solve, but rather it’s something we can better understand as a society, as individuals, and as a community, so that we can support one another when we need help! Here is a simple process that you can follow if you ever feel concerned about someone’s mental health: 

Assess for risk or harm 

Listen non-judgmentally 

Give reassurance and info 

Encourage appropriate professional/medical help 

Encourage self-help and other support strategies 

This is simply a guideline that you can use to support those around you, and potentially have a positive impact on their life – not an opportunity to miss! 

Our mental health is a part of who we are, and we are all complex individuals with our own goals, ambitions, personalities, quirks, and desires. Be proud of who you are, and let me make these mistakes for you, so you don’t have to – be open, be honest, and fly the flag for having conversations on our mental health without stigma, without shame. 

I have a simple mantra that I live by now, and has been the focus of all my charity campaigns: be a man of more words, as talking saves lives. 

You can follow along with Fergus over on his Instagram - @FergusCrawley

Remember to look after yourself and think about your own mental health and emotional wellbeing.

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Young Scot supports young people to share their own voices, views and opinions and works with partner organisations and professionals who are experts in different topics. The views expressed in this blog are those of the young people, organisations and/or individuals who have taken part in the blog, not necessarily the views of Young Scot.