Trigger warning. This post talks about mental health issues and anxiety.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week – and Ash suggested that I write about my experience with Mental Health throughout my life – so, here goes.
My Mental Health
I had an awesome childhood. I’m starting with that, because a lot of people draw down on their childhood and memories from when they were younger to validate (or answer) the questions they have about their own mental health illnesses. The more people I speak to, the more I realise that I’m one of the “lucky” ones with my upbringing – loving family, caring (but annoying) siblings, stability and nothing but fun memories. A polar opposite of many, I know. I guess this helps when I talk about mental health – because up until my early 20’s, it was something that I never really knew about, nor did I have a reason to.
I got through College without any issues – I was one of those kids that didn’t really stand out, I just blended in and got on with things. I had my mates from school, and I met new mates along the way. It probably helped doing Computer Science – we’re a shy bunch at the best of times, and I’m probably one of the more “out going” types, so meeting new people was never an issue. I guess I was simply never alone long enough in my own mind to think about anything.
Then, Uni came along. I picked a Uni that was, without doubt, the furthest away from home. There was no real reason for this, other than I liked Wales (we used to holiday there a lot), and they made me an unconditional offer after meeting with them – so it was no brainer for me. I was set to spend the next 4 years nearly 300 miles away from home, with no one I knew. I’d say this was the first trigger I had that raised awareness about mental health, and just how important it could be to look after yourself.
I had spells at Uni where I simply didn’t want to be there. They weren’t depression, but they certainly were anxiety fuelled. I’d have overwhelming feelings of simply not being good enough. “I can’t do this“, “I’ll never understand it“, “This isn’t for me, I shouldn’t be here“.
I was surrounded by some very smart people, as you’d expect at Uni, and I never saw myself as one of those types. If I struggled to understand something, it would eat me up inside. Back then, I had no real fight or want to learn, I’d grown up understanding things pretty easily, so when the real hard work came along, I wanted to just throw the towel in. At one point, I did. I came home, went back to work for a few months, and started back on a slightly different course in September. In those 4 or 5 months away, I realised that I COULD do it, and started back full of beans.
There was one point again at Uni where the demons nearly got the better of me. I was ready to quit again, I think it was towards the end of my second year, and I’d struggled with some modules that I thought I’d be ok with. I spoke to my parents, and supportive as ever, my dad got on the train from Norwich at 5am one morning, arrived in Aberystwyth at like 2pm, took me for lunch, had a chat, made me realise that I can do, and popped back on the train when we’d finished eating, and was back in Norwich for midnight that same day. It’s this kind of support that I know I’m extremely lucky to have!
After that, Uni was plain sailing for me. I knew I had the support of my family, I knew I could do it. I had great friends, all of which I’m still great friends with now, 15 years on (or more, maybe. Probably more. Urrrggg!). I’d take myself off for coffees now again and read the paper my gran had sent me – or just sit and read a book (yeah, I used to read books back then, there was no Twitter to distract me). I was making time for my self, and bringing myself back down to reality every time my mind was telling me it was time to give up.
After Uni, I moved to Cardiff (not straight after, but no one needs my full biography!). I think as I was getting older (well, early 20’s), I was become more aware of my Mental Health, and how my brain was working.
I drank, a lot.
We’d be out every other night after work – we were young, and had money. After 2 years in Cardiff, I was going through another phase where I wasn’t really sure what life was doing with me. I made some life decisions that were quite extreme at the time. Looking back at it now – I’d say these were very much all fuelled by anxiety, but I simply didn’t think like that back then. I got in to Photography – and similar to taking myself away for a coffee at Uni, this was my escape.
Again, I never thought “I’m anxious, I need to find a distraction”, I guess my mind was self medicating. The picture used on this post was me when I was living in Cardiff, going through a very dark spell indeed
It wasn’t until 4 years ago (ish) that I suffered with Mental Health issues so badly that they affected my day-to-day life. I’d been in a relationship that I wasn’t overly happy in for quite a while – and was in a job that was just filling me with rage because of situations. I’ve always been a proactive person, I’ll find the best in things and people and make good of bad situations – but right now, I couldn’t do that. I simply couldn’t see past the negatives. Then everything exploded!
I left the relationship, which meant leaving a rented house, and moving back in with my parents. At the same time, Ashleigh left her house and partner, and we were both very much in limbo about what we should do. We weren’t a couple at the time, but we’d been talking and knew that we were both in unhappy relationships, and had to make changes. I managed to get enough money together to rent a little flat on my own, which in hindsight might not have been the best move, given everything that was going on – being on your own isn’t a wise move when you’re feeling quite low.
My anxiety was going through the roof – and I was struggling with motivation for anything. Ash calls this my “depression stage”. I didn’t want to be around people – I was worried every time my phone went off that it was going to be bad news, or someone I didn’t want to hear from. Basically, I was living in a constant state of fear. Work suffered, badly. Eventually, I went to the doctors, with encouragement from Ashleigh.
It’s never easy to take that first step, and when I started to talk to the Doctor about everything that had happened recently, I could feel myself start to shake. I was physically fighting back the tears (which, you know, you don’t need to do, no harm in a good cry!).
I guess at this point, it was my release. I knew that I needed to talk, and to explain what had happened over the past few weeks. So I did just that.
The doctor suggested I take a couple of weeks off work – and thankfully, my boss at the time was more than supportive of this. I think he’d seen me change and was keen to see me get back on track. I hope that’s what it was, and not that he’d had enough of grumpy Mark and wanted me out of the way ;-). I was put a very mild dose of Citalopram – something I rarely talk about. Without a doubt, this helped clear the fog. I started to see things with a better perspective. It’s all too easy to look at something and instantly see the negatives, or the risks, or the “what if’s”. For me, speaking to the Doctor and taking antidepressants was the mix I needed to get myself back on track.
So that’s what I did.
I’m putting in a little shout out here to my friends. When all this happened, and I moved in to my little flat, they could clearly see that I wasn’t myself. Over the next few days, I had a delivery arrive each day, each with a note (or engraving) saying “Cheers to the future”. Some Whisky, coffee, and beer arrived at my flat, and then they all came to visit. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I may not see my real mates for months on end, but we’re always there for each other, and that’s what true friendship is all about.
Not long after, Ashleigh all but moved in to my little flat, and a few weeks after that, I got approached for a job at a place where I used to work (which, back then, I hated, but again, looking back, that was purely circumstantial). We spoke about the pros and cons of relocation, and without many cons, we took the plunge. We both quit our jobs, handed in notice on my little flat, and again, with nothing but support from our families, we started on our adventure together.
And that was that – 3 years ago we moved to Liverpool, and yes, whilst we are now back home nearer to our families, it’s for nothing other than happy reasons. We’re now married, with Gracie, and home owners. Three things that, 4 years ago, seemed totally alien concepts to me.
I guess in some ways, I’m very lucky. Yes, I went through a phase where I did need help, and I was surrounded by a good people who encouraged that and supported me throughout it. Thankfully, I haven’t needed any form of medicinal help for years now – and long may that continue – but there should be no shame or stigma associated to taking medicine for an illness!
I’m very aware of my feelings, and I know when I’m in a bad headspace. I like to think of it as self-medicating – I know what I need to do to get myself back in to a good place – for me, that’s mostly exercise, or just getting away from things for a bit (a walk, photography etc). I’m very aware when my mood changes, and I think that’s purely down to simply looking back at past experiences, relating to those feelings and understanding what my body and mind are trying to tell me (like, when my eyes play up, that’s a huge warning that I’m stressed about something, so it makes me think about what it might be, and address it). I also try and put myself forward for public speaking, like my Ted Talk – it’s a great distraction, and somewhere, even on a small scale, your words might help someone else. That’s a great feeling.
There is no shame in talking about how you feel – mentally – just as you would physically. I’ve learned this over the past few years. It’s crucial that you take time to understand what your mind is telling you – and then to act on it. Never be ashamed about seeking medical advice – your mental health is as important as your physical. Suicide rates in males is significantly higher than that of females – please, don’t add to this statistic. If you need to talk, there’s some great links below, or if you want to vent to a random (sometimes the best way), then you can DM me on twitter
Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 10pm; Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm)
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Men’s Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Young suicide prevention society.
Phone: HOPELINEUK 0800 068 4141 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 10pm, and 2pm to 10pm on weekends and bank holidays)
Rethink Mental Illness
Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
SANEline: 0300 304 7000 (daily, 4.30pm to 10.30pm)
Textcare: comfort and care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare
Peer support forum: www.sane.org.uk/supportforum
Information on child and adolescent mental health. Services for parents and professionals.
Phone: Parents’ helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)