Message of hope
Reaching out for help was first step in fighting depression
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.”
Joe Townsend is back doing what he loves most, coaching basketball, working and planning a future that includes pursuing a career in social services.