Today is World Mental Health Day and I thought I’d share this UPDATED (10th October 2020) version of my mental health journey and where I am with everything.
Mental health shouldn’t be stigmatised or taboo but there are still people that believe that it’s something that shouldn’t be talked about or shared, I hope that by sharing my own story and experiences that I can help contribute in some way to eliminating the stigmas.
I want to try and go back as far as can and although I’ll try to make things flow in a consistent way, I’m highly likely to divert or tangent at times but I hope I’ll be able to map out my journey.
My early years were difficult, I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was a boy and I also had to deal with the complex emotional rollercoaster created by an absence of my father in my life, my grandparents sent birthday and Christmas cards but it never replaced the fatherless void he’d left when he decided that he didn’t want me to feature in his life, it wasn’t until years later (in 2017) that I made contact with him, this however turned into nothing in the end and it’s been almost two years since I’ve heard back from him.
So yeah, that was difficult – my mum dealt with so much of my sadness and anger with such patience whilst I grew up, I owe her a lot!
During my time at secondary school I was bullied constantly, day in/day out, this sadly has probably happened to lots of people and I know that it certainly affected my mental health but I didn’t understand exactly what mental health was when I was younger, I just knew I was very sad a lot of the time – so sad that at age 13 I tried to end my own life by suicide…
In year 10 I walked to the park near my house and stepped through a wire fence and headed towards the train track.
In my heart and my head I believed that there was no way out but to let that train take me away from it all.
I made my down the slope that lead to the track, I could hear the train getting closer and closer, this was it, this was how it was all going to end…
I suddenly found myself rugby tackled across the other side of the tracks by a random passer-by, the train was literally seconds away from me and he had acted so fast that he saved my life, but out of anger I ran away from him and never got his name.from my blog post, Bullying – A Tale of Survival
After leaving school I became obsessed with my weight, unhealthily so.
During my time at school I had always been overweight and because I was relentlessly bullied I used to comfort eat and binge regularly to try to help myself through it all but once I’d left the shackles of secondary school I decided that I could regain control of things now that the bullying had stopped.
I dropped about 6 stone in 2 months following a routine of obsessively restricting calories and grams of fat and walking as much as I could every single day, some days I would walk for 6-8 hours, eat something to satisfy the hunger pains and then I would purge due to feeling guilty and like I’d let myself lose control.
I’d look in the mirror and grab what I thought was fat and would tell myself how unattractive and overweight I was, even when I was underweight for my height.
People wouldn’t notice me from school and I really enjoyed that they couldn’t recognise me and those that did would tell me how great I looked which helped feed into my destructive pattern of behaviour.
Certain friends had started to notice that I wouldn’t eat around them or when I had to that I would always tell them I was full and couldn’t eat another bite, one even tried to create some kind of intervention but it just made me convinced they were jealous and that made me angry and also weirdly powerful, when in fact I was at my weakest point but after years of putting on a brave face at school, I knew just how to make it look like I was happy and in control.
But I wasn’t happy at all, I was in control, but not in a way that was benefiting my life in any way.
In 2005, I met someone who would have a massive impact on my life and my mental health – Leo.
Leo and I first started talking on Gaydar and then quickly progressing over to MSN and then one evening he decided to come to Cambridge to meet me and at this point in my life, no-one had ever made an effort to see me and I fell for him quickly.
In some way meeting Leo allowed me to let go of the control I had on myself and my constant state of dieting and self-loathing and for a while I felt like I was able to live somewhat of a normal life – I would spend time with him in Norwich, but he never wanted to come to Cambridge – it was alway on “his turf”.
He then decided that he wanted to move to Manchester and we took a trip there together so he was able to attend an interview and I fell in love with the city, a love which still lives on to this day but I’ll get on to that a bit later on.
Leo’s interview was successful and I made my own solo trips to the city for interviews so I could move with him.
I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing this because I think I knew that they would try to convince me that it was all very sudden and that maybe thinking hard about it would be sensible, so to avoid that happening I didn’t tell anyone until a couple of days before I was due to move to Manchester.
Leo was due to start his job a week before the move date so he went up to stay with a friend of his beforehand, he left most of his belongings in Norwich which also included his computer and I discovered on the evening of the night before I was due to move to Manchester that he had other profiles on other “dating” sites which stated he was single, looking for fun and had recent photos, including ones I’d taken the week before he moved, on the profile too, it also showed he logged in the day before I didn’t freak out about it, I kind of justified it in my own head and accepted it but I knew it didn’t feel right.
For clarification, at this point in my life I wasn’t someone that understood or lived an open or polyamorous life, nowadays I’m very happy that I do have – but in 2005, I didn’t really know about them or understand them.
I had a boyfriend and it was a monogamous relationship.
Moving day came and I left Cambridge with my life in boxes and made my way to Manchester with Leo’s previous and now current housemate, a few hours later we arrived and I was so excited to see Leo for the first time in ages and the first thing he said to me when I saw him was “You need a haircut!” whilst throwing me a derisive look, there were no hugs, kisses or mentions of being missed, I was hurt but put on a brave face and tried to settle in to my new home – Manchester.
However, my time there wasn’t good – it wasn’t good at all.
I don’t really want to talk in detail about what happened, the relationship was extremely toxic and both mentally and physically abusive and after I returned to Cambridge it took me a long time to recover from what had happened whilst I was there.
Over time and with the support, care and company of my friend Robjn, I was able to get myself back to some kind of functioning normality.
I don’t sing his praises enough and he probably doesn’t know it but he genuinely saved my life (thank you so much if you’re reading this), however, the spectre of that experience was still around, just very well hidden.
In 2011, after having some really dark thoughts I made a decision to speak to my doctor about how I was feeling – after talking about how I felt and answering a questionnaire type form he told me that the results suggested that I was suffering from mild to severe depression and he suggested that I would benefit from being prescribed antidepressants.
After much thought, blood tests and a further appointment with my doctor I decided not to go down the route of taking antidepressants – the main reason being that I’ve never been someone who likes taking pills or tablets of any kind, and the thought of having to do so daily for the next 18 months was something I just could not do at the time.
With help and support of my mother I made some changes in my life to try to alleviate how I was feeling, looking back at it all retrospectively I can really see that the job I was in was making me very unhappy, even though I really enjoyed working with my students, the way the whole thing was ran was increasingly stressful and it all became too much and I made the decision to leave the job and return to a company I’d already worked for, but this time in a different location.
It wasn’t until late 2014 that I realised that I was at a really low point mentally, there were lots of contributing factors but after lying in bed one evening and realising that I wouldn’t mind just dying in my sleep and then having thoughts of how I would make that happen – I knew something really wasn’t ok with me and the following morning I managed to sum up enough courage to call my GP and ask for an appointment.
I decided to video diarise this time in my life so I would be able to look back at it at some point and see how I’d changed and if my medication was helping, initially my intention wasn’t to share it but I made a decision to do so to try to be open and honest about something that people don’t always talk about or share, it’s not particularly easy to watch someone going through depression but it does happen and hiding the fact would only feed into stigmas and such.
I’m happy to say that I made a real recovery from this period of depression, I worked with my GP to reduce and then come off of my medication, I got a new job which was closer to home and things were starting to feel good again.
In 2016 I ended a 7 year relationship I was in, it wasn’t until I was out of that relationship that I realised just how certain aspects of it were a constant drain on my mental health, I hadn’t been happy in that relationship for a long time and finding the strength to call it day was hard but definitely needed as I felt like I was being used as an emotional tampon and there was only so much I was willing to take.
Also in 2016 I met a incredibly lovely gentleman called Jos who made and continues to make a positive impact on my life, upon so many other things he taught me to how to believe in myself more and made me feel real genuine love for the first time in a long time – I’ve grown into a much better and happier person due to his presence in my life and I cannot thank him enough.
I’m very proud to call him my partner.
In 2017, I made a decision to face my demons and to paint over bad memories and traumatic times that I had in Manchester with new experiences, I didn’t want to live in a fear of a city that I really missed and decided to plan a trip there for an event called BearBash.
I’d been wanting to go to BearBash since 2014 but I’d always let the fear of going back hold me back from making it happen, but not this time, I bought my tickets, booked my hotel and sorted out my travel there and back – there was no stopping me this time.
Coming back from my time in Manchester, I truly felt like I’d shook of the shackles from my previous experience, I felt renewed and stronger and with a brighter outlook on things too – I wanted to be able to bring back some of that Northern spirit back with me and I created a little mantra for myself – “Be More Manchester”.
Things seemed to be pretty stable with my mental health and my life, I’d managed to get a promotion in the job I was in through hard work and dedication to what I was doing.
I then got to do a photoshoot for BearHotel!
I felt like things were really going well.
That was until something triggered me massively.
In May of 2018 we’d met someone through one of the apps and met for the first time at a local event in Cambridge and we got on really well, at the time I remember thinking and commenting on just how similar he sounded to the ex I had when I lived in Manchester, but thought nothing more of it.
Later in July he came to stay with us and this was when something happened that I couldn’t see coming, it turns out that prolonged exposure to something that reminds you of a really traumatic period of your life can REALLY effect you.
During the time he was here I became very closed off and cold, I felt like my whole body was in fight or flight mode, just how I’d always felt when I was going through that time of my life, but at the time I wasn’t aware that this was the reason and after reaching a point when I couldn’t take much more, I chose to hide in my room away from it all.
I ended up making our guest feel unwelcome which was never my intention, I also felt shame and embarrassment that it had happened which then in turn held me back from apologising and explaining things to him straight away which can’t have been nice for him to have to deal with either.
It wasn’t until after these events that I was able to talk openly with my partner about these triggers and how best to deal with them and he really took the time to help me through a really rough patch that had hit me out of the blue.
I started a new job in November 2018 and when 2019 rolled around I had a noticeable decrease in my mental health for the first few months of the year due to a few things that really made me doubt myself, but I overcame those demons (with help, love and support) – 2019 turned out pretty well.
2020 started pretty well, with my partner and I welcoming in the new year with good friends, good alcohol and video games – it was pretty awesome and the following day we were joined by more friends and went to Thetford Forest together, work was going pretty well and I applied for a promotion which I got and everything seemed quite rosey.
March rolled around and COVID cases started to rise in the UK to the point where we were all told to work from home, adapting to this new way of working was different at first, but it meant that we were all safe and still being able to earn money to survive these weird times, yes it was stressful at times but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with and worked through.
Then in April, my stepfather passed away from cancer, a close family friend passed away from cancer shortly after this and a family member attempted to take his own life – all of these really sad events in quick succession hit me hard and I was knocked into a really heavy depression, these events seemed to pull lots of my triggers and opened a lot of old wounds.
Being aware of the way I was feeling I decided to make contact with my GP and was signed off of work for a couple of months, to begin with I found myself finding comfort in TV shows I’d already seen, and consuming foods that weren’t the best things to eat but my eating habits of old started to creep in and my weight started to creep up, this was also twinned with ongoing toothache which I wasn’t able to get looked at due to dentists all being unable to see or treat people.
After my time away from work I returned back to work on a phased return, gradually increasing the number of shifts and length of those shifts over the course of a month, some of those days were harder than others, some of those days were days when I suffered from panic attacks and some of those days I was able to get through the shift without running out of energy – over time I found myself being more able to cope with and deal with the things I was doing before I was signed off.
I’d also managed to get some counselling sessions through the employee assistance service that my work offers, these only really started to touch the surface of the things I’d been going through and were limited to 6 sessions, my GP had already referred me to getting support but warned me that the waiting list was fairly long and could take months, so these interim sessions helped stabilise me somewhat.
I also took a month off of social media as I definitely felt like it was becoming a detriment to my mental health and I’ve since returned but on my terms, no notifications and a healthy dose of mutes, blocks and unfollows, I was getting angry at the people flouting the laws around COVID-19 and just being irresponsible trash humans and was obsessing over it somewhat, now I’m not going to waste my energy on those kind of people who decide to be selfish, I recorded a mini rant on my Instagram stories the other day and it felt good to say a few things that needed saying, I’ve shared it below.
I feel like I’m definitely turning the corner and can feel my depression lifting somewhat – the support that I’ve had from my partner throughout this incredibly hard time has been exemplary, I think I would’ve fallen faster and harder and might still be in the darkness without his love and care during this time, I’m truly grateful ❤️
I felt the love and support from my mum and brother too, I feel like the loss of others has brought us closer together and that’s been a really positive outcome from all of the horrible things that have happened.
I also had a really strong support system through my work, my managers were very supportive and kind to me throughout.
So to date I’m back working, I’m starting to take back on the responsibilities at work and my creative outputs are starting to ramp up again which really helps me feel more positive about things, I’m aware that I can still have bad days but as of today, I can say I’m in a good place and I hope this continues.
As always, I try to use the platforms I have to empower and support others and will always try to help people that are going through a hard time, just know that you’re not alone.
Thank you for reading!
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