My Battle With Mental Health Issues
From time to time we all get sad... But what happens when it's more than that?
Before We Get Started
This is going to be a long article. It's been incredibly hard to write. I've had to delve deep back into a frame of mind I've thankfully not had to deal with as frequently as I did in this article. This is very much my story. Make yourself a cuppa. You'll be here for a while.
Slowly but surely, the stigma around mental health issues is being broken down. Now more people than ever are opening up about their internal turmoil. I've wanted to share my own story for a while, but only just got the confidence in myself and my writing ability to share it the way I intend to.
Before I get into that, I want to share some important mental health statistics with you all. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are an estimated 615 million people suffering just from Depression or Anxiety. That's roughly one in every 12 people.
They also state that around one in four people will experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in their lifetime. In the UK alone, 70 million work days are lost per year due to mental health problems. These numbers are quite daunting, but if it can tell you anything, it is that you are not the only one suffering. There are others just like you.
This is why it's more important than ever that we talk to each other. Check in on that friend who's having a difficult time. Pop to your nan's house for a cup of tea to make sure she's okay. Offer support to employees going through a tough spot. Do your bit to help, you don't have to be an expert, you just have to be there.
Ready for the weekend...
I was a very weird child. A few people (okay, maybe more than a few) would argue I'm an equally weird adult. My imagination was like no other. I would gleefully disappear into my own little world and create stories with my toys. I was one of the brightest in my class and always strived to do the best work I could.
That desire to be the best never went away, but a lot of everything that made me who I was did. From what I can tell, the majority of it began stemming from this one week that occurred around seven years ago. During this week, something bad happened to me or my family on every single day.
Monday - My younger brother passed out at school. Fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but he's a healthy chap and nobody could figure out why it happened.
Tuesday - My mother broke the news of why she'd been going to the hospital more frequently, it was cancer. It was at this point my life seemed to shatter. I sat in my room and cried for hours. No one was happy. I was reassured it was treatable, as it was caught early, but that doesn't stop your mind from going to some dark places.
Wednesday - This began my family's ongoing dislike of Apple began. My fathers' iTunes account got hacked, and someone stole £150 from him. Apple, for some reason, couldn't see any issue with 15 £10 "monthly gifts" that all went out at the same time. Our bank eventually reimbursed us, but it goes to show how much Apple has improved their customer service and security since then, I suppose.
Thursday - On Thursday we awoke to the news that my nans' sister had passed away in the night. As you can imagine that rocked us a bit more, my nan was absolutely devastated. It really hurt me to see her so upset, it'd been years and years since I last saw her even look sad, let alone having to deal with the loss of more family.
Friday - On a slightly lighter note to round off the week, Friday brought the cherry on the cake in the form of the girl that I'd been crushing on for years decided to go out with someone I despised. At this point, I couldn't help but laugh it off. Of course, she had to go out with him of all people, I thought.
The weekend was merciful, nothing else happened. But the atmosphere in our home was deflated. Nothing felt right. Individually these events could've been dealt with and we could get on with our lives, but it all happening at once threw me down a path I didn't realise I wouldn't be able to get away from.
The Long Way Down
It took me a while to realise, but from that week on I wasn't the same. In my GSCE years, exam stress started making me feel worse, as did falling out with some close friends. But I noticed that the sadness I felt seemed to just stick around, fester in the back of my mind. It started getting a bit harder to get out of bed, the idea of revising or doing school work just wasn't on the agenda.
I started falling behind in class, my homework was rushed and last minute, the information I'd learn in class would go in one ear and out the other. I could hardly bring myself to put pen to paper unless I was explicitly required to.
I opened up to my family after a couple of years, telling them I suspected I may be depressed and explained why. Soon enough I had an appointment with the doctors, and I gave him the same explanation I gave my family. He was pretty quick to say I "definitely" wasn't suffering from depression, and instead, I was just stressed out from exams and having some relationship issues.
This didn't sit right with me, why did I feel the way I did if there wasn't anything wrong with me? The doctor said once exams were over and my friends and I sorted ourselves out, I'd be fine. You'd think he'd be right, he's studied for this all his life.
It took me and my friends a while to sort ourselves out, but that became less of an issue by the time we swept everything under the carpet. The real issue became clear, those feelings hadn't gone away. That demon, that sickness carried on rotting away in my head and I couldn't shake it.
I'd be lying if I said that my two years in Sixth Form weren't some of my favourite school years, but mentally it was a very different story. I managed to get through GSCEs with respectable grades, but I was determined to rectify my shortcomings at A-Level. I couldn't wait. Free periods to revise in, teachers treating you like adults for a change, fewer people. It was all rather cosy.
Except this is the opposite of what happened. I botched another relationship. I procrastinated myself into failure. Again. I used anything and everything in my power to avoid doing work. The work is what's stressing you out, it'd tell me. You're a clever guy, you can do it another time!
So I carried on doing other things, even if they were things I enjoyed doing and did help me elsewhere. I had a small YouTube channel, the content was alright, never had that many subscribers, but I loved it so much. Though I got bullied so aggressively for it that I gave up.
I had a brilliant idea for a novel come to me. I worked on that in private. Couldn't be bullied if no one knew about it. When things got difficult I'd often drift into the world of this book I'd envisioned. Going over the story, playing out scenarios, refining the characters. It became part pipe-dream, part safe-haven from all the other nasty thoughts in my head.
I had my heart set on going to university. Ideally, to Gloucester to study business and IT management. All of the universities I applied to came back with offers. In a moment of what appeared to be madness, I declined all of them on deadline day. This ended up being the most sensible decision I could've made, especially since I then went on to completely bottle my final A-Level exams.
Why bother going to university when I was feeling so shit? I'd be away from everything I knew, racking up debt, tackling even harder work in a field that I probably wouldn't have wanted to work in by the end of the course four years down the line.
I'd let myself down and ended up with no clear direction in my life.
Say Hello To My New Friend
During this time, I sort of gave up fighting against what was going on in my head and just let it take over. It had got to the point where I was at a constant low, real happiness was a thing of the past, but I could switch that charm on on a dime when I needed a good sale at work. Instead, I just let it do its thing.
No one had to worry, no one seemed to. No one really cares when they say "how're you doing?" when you bump into them, do they? They're not ready for an "actually, I'm not alright at all." So, I didn't bother anyone, me and the thing got on with it.
From that point on I decided to work until I could figure out what I was doing with myself. If you've read my one of my previous articles, you'll know that one job didn't get off to a great start. I was gone within eight months.
I moved to a big electrical chain pretty much straight away and found myself much more at home there. It was still in retail, so I was still dealing with people (some not so great) on a daily basis, but it felt more fulfilling than being stuck behind a counter for your entire shift.
In the summer of 2016, the managers at my workplace moved me into the computing department. This is where I'd wanted to work when I joined. After taking a couple of weeks to adjust to how much more there was to sell in computing, I started smashing targets left, right and centre.
Even when I had a bad sale, I remained "unparalleled when it came to customer service." More customers left with what they wanted and they were happier, because of me. I am a very proud person, and I like beating targets and striving to outdo myself. I wore my achievements like badges of honour. Look at me, I'm great.
I don't know why, but after a while I found myself struggling. I wasn't hitting the numbers. No one was. I tried to get the department back on track, as I was one of the best salesmen. I took all the pressure from our superiors and tried to turn everything around singlehandedly.
Sometimes I'd get a bad sale, or I realised I forgot to mention something. "Nevermind," I'd tell myself. "Make sure you do better with the next one."
But I kept saying that. Sometimes I'd do it two consecutive sales, or three, or five. Then I started to really drag behind. This isn't how I wanted things to go. Why were the people so rude? Are these next people not going to want anything too? Why couldn't I breathe? Why was everything so loud?
Depression, meet anxiety.
It settled in all too quickly. I was freaking out three or four times a shift. I'd do everything in my power to avoid serving people. I'd ask whoever was running the shop floor for more side jobs, like putting stock out or cleaning shelves. Anything. Each person that approached asking for help felt like they had a knife to my throat as well, I was terrified of talking to them. I'd bottle sale after sale after sale and it made things infinitely worse.
I had started faking illness to so I didn't have to go to work. The panic before some shifts was unbearable. Then I was left by myself. With all those unhealthy thoughts swirling around in my head and nothing stop them.
Around this time, I'd started dating someone. We used to go to the same school, even trained in the same football academy but we never really got to know each other.
Now some of the people I know will already know who I am talking about. She's going to remain nameless, please do not harass her. She's aware of what I'm writing.
We'd started talking and going on a couple of dates and hanging out together. It was nice. I hadn't done this for a while. She was great. I could give you the whole cliché "she was so smart, funny, pretty" drivel, but I won't. She was/is a more interesting person than that. She wasn't like anyone I'd met. We've since agreed that personality-wise, we matched quite well.
I'd managed to find comfort in talking about my problems with her, and she with me. At the time I felt like I'd created this connection unlike any other I had with my friends or family.
Although, despite having found someone who liked me for the depressed mess that I was, I felt like being that way was doing her a disservice. I wanted to be better. She had instilled this desire in me to want to finally conquer my demons so I could live a better life.
If you want to know how she did it, I honestly couldn't tell you. She isn't sure either. It remains a mystery to us both. Though regardless, I will always be thankful for it. After one panic attack too many, I had enough. It was getting ridiculous.
I'd called in sick to work, but I also called the doctors. Teary-eyed and blubbing down the phone, admittedly, but they got me an appointment within an hour. I then rang my mother. I told her what I was doing, and she came home to take me. She waited outside as I went in for my appointment.
I can't remember how long I was speaking to this doctor for, but it felt like an eternity. It wasn't easy, but I recapped everything in this article and more. She was a great listener, asked me questions to get a better understanding of where my head was at.
Once I'd finished, it was amazing how much it felt like a great weight had been lifted off of me. She prescribed me with some tablets, sertraline. These would gradually fix the chemical imbalances in my brain. With the side effects, things got worse before they got better. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and I lost an awful lot of weight.
My parents would take me to work, where I would almost always cry in the car before going in. Once I'd spoken to him, my manager allowed me to work in the warehouse instead. A couple of scary moments aside, it massively benefitted me. I didn't have to talk to anyone more than I needed to, and if someone approached me, I could offload them onto a sales colleague.
I'd started opening up to people about my troubles, and it was truly amazing to see all these friends and family members rally around me and support me. Unfortunately, during this time, me and my then-girlfriend split. We had our own stuff to deal with and trying to maintain a relationship amongst that, work and her uni degree, it just wasn't going to work.
I made a series of mistakes following that. I cared for her very much, but it got to the point of an unhealthy obsession. Despite making progress with my mental health, I still had these unsavoury thoughts in my head. It was either her or I was going to end up with nothing.
I can see now how she distanced herself to save me heartache, but I was an idiot and didn't see it like that. I was taking all the responsibility on myself again, trying to be some knight in shining armour. I kept pushing and pushing to be this great thing when what was really happening was I was going backwards. I started manipulating and coercing my friends into helping me win back this girl. I treated them, and my family, horribly.
It's a real testament to their characters that they forgave me so willingly because when I realised how I'd been, I struggled to forgive myself.
I stuck to seeing my doctor and a therapist regularly, I wasn't ready for group classes but kept on taking the medication. It was hard to move forward, but I pushed on.
I had realised I slowly became a shell of a person, how I was as a child was gone. Instead, I was cynical, pessimistic, angry and developed an incredibly dark sense of humour to cope. I didn't feel feelings like people do. I struggled with feeling any kind of positive emotion, either for other people or for them to me.
I've since managed to make amends with my ex. We had no bad feelings towards each other and I guess we're friends now. Not talk all the time, hang out on the weekend friends, but we definitely aren't on bad terms. It's more than I deserve, in my opinion, but I am thankful for it.
The medication has been gone for nearly a year. I'll be honest, I stopped taking it by accident. I broke my wrist early last year and was taking painkillers for that, I went on holiday and ran out. I forgot to get another prescription but I realised I felt alright, so since then I've been seeing how things go.
I still have bad days, don't get me wrong, but they're not consistent, and go as quickly as they come. I've regained all the weight I've lost. Most importantly, I feel and can feel, happy. I could never thank the people around me enough.
I rediscovered my passion for writing, I'm enjoying it massively and feel like this is what I want to do with my time. I've now worked on two movies as an extra, which my friends are almost certainly sick of hearing about, but I'm not going to stop celebrating any time soon. Especially if I keep seeing myself on the cinema screen.
I'm still a long way off where I want to be in life, but now I believe can get there. I've got my mojo back, and I am only interested in looking up.
If you've managed to get all the way through this, first of all, well done. Have a sticker. Second of all, please share this with your family and friends, especially if you think or know they're having mental health issues. Show them they're not alone and that things do get better. The more we talk about ourselves, the more the stigma around mental health will break.