Create those things where human protagonists relate to us, where the stakes and conflict grip us, and where the emotions move us. Craft those simple things, those glorious things, those things so often forgotten but so desperately needed.Jay Acunzo
Considering I’ve written a previous short blog detailing my experiences of public speaking and sharing my mental health ‘story’ with audiences of all different backgrounds, I thought it’d be of interest to pinpoint how exactly I’ve adapted my own idea style of storytelling. And in a way which will hopefully springboard my impact to a level I never thought possible. *Apologies if this is slightly longer than one of my usual posts*
So my journey with my mental health began around 8 years ago. At the time I was in my first year of secondary school and getting accustomed to a completely new environment was daunting and quite unsettling. While during high school I had absolutely no knowledge about mental health or what it was, probably due to the lack of conversations about it, looking back I can now recognise that I was definitely experiencing severe anxiety. The thought of walking past groups of people filled me with dread, I struggled to walk into the canteen as I feared what other people were thinking of me, not to mention towards the end I started to withdraw more from friends and spent large amounts of time in the library/IT suite to isolate myself.
Although these are all tell-tale signs of a mental health problem, nobody at school or home recognised an issue; my mum even suspected I was a victim of bullying. At the time I too had little knowledge of mental health, therefore for 5 years I learnt to live with this ‘inner turmoil.’ Us students were never engaged in serious discussions around a topic as serious as mental health. We had countless assemblies about drugs, alcohol, internet safety, physical health etc, yet not even a single word about mental wellbeing. I continue to ask myself why? The fact we didn’t discuss it once really does frustrate me!
Once I left and collected my GCSE results in the summer of 2016, I made the decision to start sixth form. Making decisions has never been a strong point of mine, therefore the options I chose in finance, stats and economics were very much last minute. Despite going into college with a sense of relief and renewed vigour beginning a new challenge, I noticed from pretty much from the start that my issues from high school were beginning to resurface. And probably getting worse than ever. Almost every day before heading into college I was going through awful panic attacks and breakdowns, completely in fear of what the day may hold or how I could possibly embarrass myself. This is turn made attending lessons and making friends very difficult.
Luckily with the support of my mum, who has experienced her own difficulties with mental health problems, I was finally given the opportunity to speak about my emotions and not have to keep them hidden. After coming to a joint decision that the best course of action would be to confide in a member of staff there, a meeting was arranged to discuss my current situation and what could be done moving forward. While stepping into that meeting I’d every hope that some sort of resolution could be found, perhaps in the form of greater support, all I felt was an immense disappointment and anger that they were not very understanding or prepared to help me through my struggles. Moving forward, I really hope places of education start to take these types of issues seriously. Better wellbeing often leads to improved results let’s not forget!
Again with the advice of my mum, I made the difficult choice to leave sixth form after three months. And on that very same day in December, visited my GP to discuss my mental health for the very first time. A huge step!
Within a matter of minutes, a diagnosis was confirmed. Social Anxiety and Depression. Now while a sense of relief that I ‘knew’ swept over, I also remember feelings of dread as though I didn’t know where to turn. What to do next. How I could make it better. Would it always be like this?
Heading into the new year of 2017, with no focus, purpose, structure or motivation to do basically anything, this is where things started to spiral out of control. And quickly. As a very ambitious and determined person, I’d always envisaged myself going down the ‘traditional path’ of high school, college, uni and then into my dream career, however it rapidly became apparent that the challenges I would face were more difficult than I ever imagined. Tasks that most would consider basic became near impossible, I wasn’t eating properly, I shut myself away in my room for long periods at a time, my interaction with others was non-existent, and most importantly, I really struggled to see that light at the end of the tunnel. A shadow of my former self, the suicidal thoughts grew darker and more frequent.
After seeing my doctor as mentioned earlier, it was a substantial wait before I was able to receive any sort of professional support. Of all the help that has followed, whether that be CBT (twice) or Counselling, unfortunately it has really not worked for me. Disappointing yes, but what I have found is other avenues have helped me more than any professional has. The massive positives for me have been reading, exercise, spending time with friends and establishing more of a daily routine. It’s about finding what works for you….
Fast forward to March 2018- where I was mindlessly scrolling through social media (as you do)- I stumbled across a link for the ‘Time to Change’ website. Intrigued by what I saw, the stories that I read, and the power of the movement, one thing that was certain was that I had to be involved. It was an absolute no-brainer!
While we live in a world where attitudes to mental health and those struggling with mental health issues are definitely improving, you could certainly argue that we still have an awful long way to go. Particularly in the instance of men, both young and old, it has historically been very difficult to talk about our emotions through the fear of judgement, potentially showing weakness, or the idea that it makes you ‘less of a man’ to show emotion or cry. The dynamic between each gender is very different.
Despite this, I got to a point where I could no longer let my mental health define me. Yes it may still impact me on a daily basis, yes times do get tough, yes I’m not ‘cured’, but I’ve recognised that through campaigning and sharing my story that I can channel something negative into an enormous positive. It may frustrate me that many men and people of all background still find it hard to talk about mental health, nevertheless, through being open myself, it has given me a huge sense of focus, purpose and empowerment, I am able be a part of a greater change across society and my words may encourage others to speak out too! Even now, after over 18 months of regular campaigning, including events, fundraising, public speaking and various interviews, my passion, hunger and desire for making a difference burns as bright as it did at the beginning. Perhaps more so. I have a lot to thank for all the like-minded people and communities I’ve met along the way!
As soon as you start a conversation with a friend, family member, colleague etc, you will be amazed to see just how much of a difference it could make. Professional support should NEVER be underestimated, but what I will say is that conversations really can change lives. If a friend, family member or colleague is struggling, it can be very easy to try and find a concrete solution, yet sometimes all they really need is someone to talk to and listen. Someone they know they can turn to in times of need. And someone who won’t judge no matter what. Language is so pivotal.
From my own experience, the first step towards recovery is acknowledging you have a problem and feeling comfortable to talk about it. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Taking the time to confide in my mum was one of the best things I ever did. Everybody is different so it’s important that you find what works to your advantage.
Coming away from today, it’d be great if you could consider these questions:
How would you feel if somebody close to you was struggling and you didn’t know? Upset? Angry? Frustrated? Shocked?
What can you do to increase conversations around mental wellbeing?
Would it be possible to text a friend/family member now to ask how they’re feeling?
Could you create a much more accepting environment at home, work etc. if you sat and listened to someone’s concerns, rather than judging them for how they feel?
Thanks for reading,