Mes­sage of hope

Reach­ing out for help was first step in fight­ing de­pres­sion

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIE COLLINS

From the depths of de­spair, 23-year old Joe Townsend has emerged with a mes­sage of hope for oth­ers.

At one point he didn’t leave his room for a year. Anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion had him bat­tling thoughts of tak­ing his own life.

“I was in a very dark place. For a long time it was just me and these ter­ri­ble thoughts and I never, ever want to go back to that place again.”

Townsend isn’t afraid to talk about his anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.

“I’m 100 per cent open about talk­ing about this be­cause if my story can help just one per­son, then it’s good. If you know some­one who is deal­ing with de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety, check on him or her to make sure they are OK. Tell them you care about or love them — that could be the dif­fer­ence-maker be­tween life and death.”

From the time he was born, Townsend said he never ex­pe­ri­enced what it was like to be on the lighter side of things.

“That is un­til I com­pletely turned my life around fol­low­ing high school grad­u­a­tion, but it wasn’t to last.”

When he grad­u­ated from Me­mo­rial High School in Syd­ney Mines, Townsend weighed in at 365 pounds.

He de­cided to wait a year be­fore go­ing to univer­sity and put all of his ef­forts into eat­ing healthy, get­ting fit and los­ing weight.

That was in 2013. He was at­tend­ing univer­sity, was down to 220 pounds and do­ing what he loved most — coach­ing bas­ket­ball.

But life took a nasty turn when Townsend got hurt dur­ing a bas­ket­ball prac­tice.

“It was a harm­less pickup game. I ended up tak­ing a hit the wrong way, spun around and the pres­sure hurt my spine. I was in phys­io­ther­apy for months and was told I couldn’t play bas­ket­ball or lift heavy weights any­more.”

He gained back all the weight he’d lost, and more.

“I didn’t coach any­more, I didn’t go to school — I’d hit rock bot­tom. The anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion con­trolled me com­pletely. I had mul­ti­ple thoughts of sui­cide.”

He said there was a point where his mother Rose was scared to leave the house be­cause she didn’t want him to be alone.

“She lived in fear of what she might come home to.”

Friends and fam­ily stopped

invit­ing him out be­cause they knew he wanted to go, but just couldn’t man­age.

“I got caught up in think­ing I was a bur­den to ev­ery­one and it would be bet­ter if I wasn’t around; that thought ran con­stantly through my head for a year or more. I felt like there was no hope and I was go­ing to die, I just wasn’t sure when.”

For Townsend, a lot of his anx­i­ety came from fear of what peo­ple might think when they saw him for the first time af­ter putting on so much weight.

“I was scared of them see­ing how far down­hill I went with anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, the weight gain, so I stayed away from ev­ery­body. You get thoughts in your head and that’s all you think about. It gets to a point where whether or not they are true, you be­lieve them.”

A ma­jor turn­ing point came when he watched his univer­sity class grad­u­ate.

“I was sup­posed to be there. But in­stead, I was trapped in this maze of de­struc­tion that made me feel like I was let­ting ev­ery­one down and miss­ing out.”

Townsend got to the point where he grew tired of think­ing ev­ery­one was ashamed of what he had be­come.

“I wanted my fam­ily and friends to be proud of me again. I reached out to my doc­tor with the help of my fam­ily and friends who re­ally stepped up and, for­tu­nately for me, things started to change. When some­thing like this hap­pens, you find out very quickly who re­ally is there for you.”

Af­ter a deep con­ver­sa­tion with his cousin (who is fight­ing his own bat­tle to get fit) Townsend was in­spired to start train­ing and work hard to get healthy.

“Now he is one of the guys I go to the gym with ev­ery day.”

Since late Au­gust Townsend has lost close to 100 pounds.

“I re­ally need this for my­self. And I feel like I need to do this for ev­ery­body else who was there for me. I feel like I did a com­plete 180 in a hal­fyear. I had a lot of peo­ple help me, but there re­ally were days where I thought that was it for me. To­day I see a bright fu­ture ahead, one where I hope to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Townsend plans to ap­ply to the Nova Sco­tia Com­mu­nity Col­lege and be back in the class­room in Septem­ber.

He is coach­ing Me­mo­rial High School’s ju­nior var­sity bas­ket­ball team and is do­ing what he can to eat healthy.

“You can’t get too far ahead of your­self be­cause that’s how things start to go wrong. It’s bet­ter to stay pos­i­tive, and take it one day at a time

“My fu­ture plan is to work in some area of so­cial ser­vices, to help peo­ple in any way I can and make our com­mu­nity bet­ter.”

JULIE COLLINS/CAPE BRETON POST

Joe Townsend is back do­ing what he loves most, coach­ing bas­ket­ball, work­ing and plan­ning a fu­ture that in­cludes pur­su­ing a ca­reer in so­cial ser­vices.

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