Scrolling down memory lane, Kristjan Novitski (39) says that the first signs of depression began when he was in primary school. At the time, mood disorders were not widely talked about, and Kristjan had no idea that it was depression that was making itself known.

In hindsight, he can wisely admit that for quite a long time, life felt difficult and complicated, but there was also a strong conviction in his head that it was probably nothing special and that everyone felt that way. The realisation that life didn’t have to be so hard didn’t dawn until some twenty years after leaving primary school. 

An overwhelming battle

Research shows that depression in men often goes undiagnosed and/or untreated. One of the reasons for this is that the symptoms of depression are often seen as a sign of weakness in men, which is why men are afraid to tell anyone about their moods and difficulties. 

Secondly, although depression is a common problem that affects many people at some point in their lives, it is often overlooked. As Kristjan says, he didn’t think he was depressed if he was in a bad mood or felt difficult. 

“I didn’t think I was special in any way because of my stubbornness. It seemed like a normal part of human nature and I thought everyone was similar and just wore some kind of mask and came out of their cocoon from time to time,” says Kristjan. 

The most difficult period in Kristjan’s life came in early 2008, when his first child was born with a severe congenital disease. “We knew about the disease before the baby was born, but as often happens, the situation was much more complicated than we could have imagined and our lives changed overnight,” recalls Kristjan. 

According to him, everything changed – he changed, his husband changed, … “The child was in the intensive care unit of Tallinn Children’s Hospital for over a hundred days. This meant we spent nights apart from him, being let in the door at 12 every day without knowing exactly what had happened in the meantime and whether everything was okay. And every night at seven o’clock we had to leave the hospital,” Kristjan describes the harsh experience.

He recalls that his struggles had to be fought day after day in an environment where there was a lot of suffering and sometimes grief. Fortunately, he came out of the hospital a winner and in medical terms, the child is a minor miracle – he survived and is now physically healthy and a very active and good boy.

However, Kristjan admits that the experience left a strong imprint on his own soul, which in some ways still needs to be dealt with. In addition, he realised that he could not continue in his former job and that there was no escape from taking time off. However, 2008-2009 was a period of deep economic crisis and there was no new job immediately available.

The painful journey to the joy of life

“In a situation that was already very tense, I had to somehow rebuild myself. In hindsight, of course, it was a much-needed boost that helped me grow and develop from an employee mentality to an entrepreneur mentality. Of course, the end result was very positive, but the process itself was very, very difficult,” says Kristjan.  

Kristjan also saw a psychologist for a while and was prescribed antidepressants, but they were of no help at the time. “I didn’t get along with the psychiatrist at the time and it seemed more and more that we were treating the symptoms but not getting to the root cause,” says Kristjan. 

But now he knows that in difficult situations, where you just need to get by, people have incredible strength. At the same time, at some point, everything can accumulate and something somewhere gives in 

Soon, in 2010, life took Kristjan and his family away from Estonia for a while. In a foreign environment, far away from his loved ones and in a rather difficult economic situation, the stress culminated. 

“I realised more and more that I was somehow out of my centre, that everything was terribly difficult and the joy of living was quite gone. One morning, on a walk, I had a sudden realisation that I couldn’t go on like this. Antidepressants didn’t seem like a good long-term solution and I realised very strongly that I had to start working on finding my own thoughts and balance,” Kristjan recalls.  

He says the journey was very painful. “Almost every day I thought about whether there was any point in all of this, that maybe today was the day to give up, take the child to nursery and on the way back, for example, jump in front of a train. But my baby saved me. I thought how strong he must have been to have come through such an illness, such a hardship. The image of him waiting alone in the nursery in the evening, with no one to catch up with him, flashed before my eyes.”

Kristjan was off in a very deep hole, and he won’t deny that the dark thoughts were very strong, but somehow, at the end of each day, he came to an agreement with himself that okay, I’ll give myself another chance for one more day, maybe things will get better tomorrow. 

You can help yourself first and foremost

Kristjan says that people are extremely different by nature, situations are very complex and different, and therefore it can be very, very difficult for an outsider to help. And it is often difficult for the person to accept help. This means, however, that friends and loved ones may be able to give you a little guidance, a little nudge in the right direction, but the person who can really help you in this “bad place” is still you.

“The world started to change for me when I got to the point where I started doing two simple things. First, I started asking myself questions. For example, why do I feel the way I feel today, or why did I behave the way I did. Or why it matters to me that somebody did this or said that. In those moments, my thinking started to change,” Kristjan says.

Another important moment, he says, was when he took responsibility for everything that happened in his life. “The solutions to my life cannot be brought to me by the actions of other people or, for example, by government decisions. I am myself, 100 percent responsible for the fact that I am in a bad situation. And I am the only person who can literally pull myself out of the s***,” Kristjan is resilient.

He recognises that from the moment of asking questions and taking responsibility, change also began to occur. He gradually began to sense his moods – when it was bad, when it was good – and realised that moods are very closely linked to what is happening physically in the body. This gave the opportunity to make simple but targeted changes. 

Simple conceptions revealed the light at the end of the tunnel

Kristjan understood the simple truth that exercise is good for the physical body, of course, but it also affects the mind, and everything is interconnected. “I started eating healthier and exercising regularly. At some point, I noticed that, in addition to a better and more confident mood, the headaches that had been plaguing me for almost a decade were reduced.”

Kristjan explains that at the beginning, they kept an eye on very simple things. For example, to drink enough fluids during the day and to get some exercise. These simple truths have now evolved into a very clear choice of what, when and how much to eat, and Kristjan has become a vegetarian. He starts each day with a steady 10 to 15 minutes of gymnastic exercises. Going for a bike ride or a run in the woods in the evening is a nice bonus. And, of course, you need to get enough sleep.

“If the body is well taken care of, the spirit is in a different place than it would be if I neglected my body,” Kristjan knows. “The spiritual side of a human being is actually like a well-inflated balloon, where anything that touches it can cause it to burst unexpectedly. This means, however, that we have to treat our souls as gently as a balloon full of air. The soul must be held like a silk glove and not played with carelessly,” he stresses. 

Kristjan points out that, in difficult times, it also helps him when he looks back on the day before going to bed at night and finds three moments that made him very happy. These can be small things, such as a moment in nature that he noticed, a hug from his child or a kind word from someone. This way, you can end the day with a positive emotion, rather than thinking about the everyday or feeling unpleasant.

When someone is in a difficult place

Kristjan says that most of the time, people are quite alone in their stubbornness. Even if there are those who are willing and able to help and support, we don’t really know much about mental health first aid, which means that most of the time we don’t know how to help.

He admits that even he, who has been through the journey of depression, cannot really help others.

“It’s as if I’ve dealt with this issue in depth, I’ve dealt with it myself, but when I see people struggling from the sidelines, it’s still difficult to understand what kind of help is needed, what I can offer and what the person in trouble can accept from me.”

What he can suggest, however, is that if you notice someone is in a bad way, try to get them out of their usual environment for a while. For example, invite the person for a walk, to do something together, to the sauna… It might work. It can give you a sense, in very difficult moments, that you are still going to be there for someone, and that there is something quite nice about life.

Kristjan says it’s definitely worth paying attention if someone calls you or tries to contact you for no reason. This could indicate that they are actually looking for help from you, but don’t know how or don’t dare ask you directly. “If you seize the moment and can do something, even invite the worrier to lunch, for a walk, wherever, you can help someone through a very difficult time without even knowing it,” says Kristjan. 

“When you are in a ‘difficult place’ and you have very dark thoughts, but you have agreed something with someone, it can be a driving force, a hope for a better future. When you have something to look forward to, you’re generally much more positive.” Kristjan shares some valuable thoughts.

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