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21 Jan 2019

“The active fight was the depression” – the hidden truth behind Kurt Jewson's selfie sensations

Today is Blue Monday – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. But for some people coping with the fallout of prostate cancer, mental health can be a year-round struggle. Viral selfie star Kurt Jewson describes how post-traumatic stress disorder followed his diagnosis with advanced prostate cancer, and why he's learnt not to fight it.

Hi. Some of you may know me.

In 2016 I took a selfie, in just my boxer shorts, showing my catheter and colostomy bag and posted it on Facebook. My aim was to raise awareness among my friends of prostate cancer.

The post went viral. Over 25 million people saw it. Gulp. Fame at last… hmmm.

As a follow up, in 2017, I did a 'look at me now' post. My hair had fallen out, due to chemotherapy, and I was just about to start radiotherapy. Life was still a constant round of medicalization.

However, all was not what it seemed. The cancer, the pressure, the needing to be 'normal' had taken its toll. I went to my GP.

I’m exhausted, I said. I often can’t get out of bed. I close the curtains. I can’t cope with anything. Why am I not dancing in the street and embracing every day? I’m here, I’m alive! I’m sort of bloody famous too! It’s what this has all been about, surely?

Depression diagnosis and counselling

Of course, this lead to a diagnosis of depression. Take these pills. What I didn’t realize about depression is that it’s: a) real; and b) hurts.

People said that I was 'fighting' cancer. I wasn’t. The cancer treatment seemed pretty passive. Sit there, take this pill, get this scan, inject you here, cut you open, etc.

The active fight was the depression. That’s a true and honest battle that I knew nothing about and had no way of coping with. Because, you see, I didn’t want to be depressed. Sounds obvious.

It’s also ridiculous. It’s all in your head. Come on, snap out of it!

I can’t, I’ve tried. Why can’t I?

I’ve no idea. You’re lazy, get up!

I don’t want to. I.. just.. it’s all ‘too much’

And on and on and on I would go.

So, I’ve taken the pills and have seen a brilliant Macmillan counsellor.

“Ahh. I zee that zee have zee depression of zee head,” she said. Sort of.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD. Yep, get that. I can rationalize that. Seems sensible. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Feeling drained and guilty

My cancer diagnosis was draining. My treatment was draining. My 15 minutes in the spotlight in just my pants was draining. PTSD morphed into regular depression. Not ‘survivor guilt’, just guilt maybe. I can’t or don’t feel the drive for 'normal' life.

So, what am I trying to say? Well, I suppose I’m trying to say that if you feel like I did then it’s OK. Don’t panic. To be honest, don’t fight it. If you fight it, you end up depressed and guilty.

Be brave. Tell someone. Or, like me, tell everyone! (Although I did keep it hidden for ages, despite everyone saying how ‘open and honest’ I was being about my cancer – more guilt!) A problem shared is a problem with a bit knocked off.

Also, I’m not going to say that once you’re through it life becomes a platter of warm pies delivered on a silver tray by a beautiful woman, with a nice pint to follow. Depression lurks. It’s your job to outrun it. Then maybe, just maybe, everything will be OK in the end.

With this in mind, keep fighting!

– Kurt