For the month of November, we are raising awareness of Men’s Mental Health through the Movember Foundation. We also had the idea to have male mental health bloggers guest post every Monday (hence the ManCandy). For this ManCandy Monday, we can’t thank Peter enough for sharing his story with us. <3
Anxiety and Depression – My Story:
When I was growing up throughout my time at school and college, if you had asked me about mental health, mental illness or even depression, I would’ve been unlikely to tell you what they meant, whether to me or anyone else. Mental illness wasn’t discussed at my school; we didn’t have classes delivered on how to look after ourselves mentally (although we had plenty of regular ones dedicated to our physical health) and no-one ever talked about it in assemblies for us either. We had speakers come and talk to us about doing as well as we could in our exams and how we should make sure to join some clubs and do activities outside of our studies; but at no point did anyone ever come in and talk about our mental health and what we can do to manage it.
This might explain why it took me such a long time, until I was 24, to get an official diagnosis of anxiety and depression. Had I not done what I am about to talk about either, I have no doubts I’d still be living without a diagnosis. I would still be at home, on my own with no prospects and feeling depressed every day, rather than feeling like I actually have a purpose as I do now.
How did I get to this point? It’s a long and hard journey in all honesty. I like to pinpoint the moment that I actually became aware (properly aware) of my mental health, as when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was the second time my dad had been diagnosed and being as he was still under the 5 year remission period, the outlook was very bleak. He was given just 6 months to live back in 2013 and my life turned upside down.
I had never been particularly happy or indeed ‘normal’ at school. The reason I highlight the complete lack of talk about mental illness at my school, is because I know now that what I went through at school wasn’t normal and doesn’t deserve to be the norm for students. I look back and remember feeling overwhelming anxiety nights before I had to go to school, feeling sick to my stomach and wondering why I had felt so low before I had to go. Most students don’t like school, but I realise now my feelings were deeper than this. I dreaded school and felt like a failure when I was there. I was isolated at school, as I never went out with my friends outside of classes and so didn’t feel like my social skills ever developed properly.
My dad passing away put my need to look after my mental health right at the forefront. Obviously I was extremely worried about losing my dad and never being able to see him again, but my depression completely spiraled to the point that I could barely face going outside. No matter all this though, I put a brave face on things and never really spoke too much about things. I had counselling for grief through my university, but the sessions were few and far between and I often sat there not sure what to say.
Until a few years ago, when I actually started to make a conscious effort to meet people and socialise more outside of my studies at university, I didn’t challenge my anxiety at all. I spent days feeling sick to my stomach, worrying over the little things I’d said to people and about what people thought of me and often I would go whole days barely eating. I struggled academically as I was trying to make new friends as well, until a friend of mine reached out to me and got me to attend 1 to 1 sessions about how to improve my work. This friend also got me to look at what the university did in terms of mental health services and support, which benefited me hugely in the long run.
As I started to treat my mental health better, I saw slight but significant improvements in my physical health as well, which got me to get an official diagnosis from the doctors. It was a strange and scary prospect going to the doctors purely for a mental illness, as I’d previously never discussed them to a doctor (although they knew I’d had counselling at university) and felt like a fraud for wasting their time with my problems. But I pushed through and luckily got a doctor who listened to me and understood mental illness fairly well. He diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder and recommended me for an IAPT (improving access to psychological treatments) appointment, who then recommended me for high-intensity CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
A subsequent appointment I got had me diagnosed with depression as well, which got me started on fluoxetine. This was a slightly strange feeling at first, as I had never been on medication before for a mental illness and experienced some strange side-effects which took around a month to clear up (mostly fatigue and tiredness but some involved strange reoccurring dreams as well).
Where I Am Now:
Having faced up to getting an official diagnosis for my mental illness and really pushed myself to tackle my issues properly and not hide away from them, I decided to begin volunteering with a mental health charity (Time to Change) as a Young Champion. Time to Change’s work is all about challenging and tackling the stigmatisation people like myself feel around mental illness whether through poor services, lack of knowledge or lack of research.
Since I’ve been with Time to Change, I have been very lucky to find a group of people who properly understand me and others with anxiety, while also giving me opportunities that I never would have thought I could do. I have shared my story with audiences at schools and conferences, met amazing writers and bloggers who talk about their experiences, started up my own blog and started campaigning locally with a charity too around mental health and mental illness.
Volunteering was something I always shied away from since I feared meeting new people and putting myself in new situations, however I now look at it as essential for my improved mood and for helping me get to where I am today. I now have a group of people who I can talk too when I’m feeling low or anxious, I have techniques to help with my low self-esteem and anxious thoughts which I’ve learned from CBT, and I am finding benefits from using my own experiences to share with others and meet like-minded people.
I cannot stress enough how important understanding mental health and mental illness properly is. Without education and proper care, we are leaving people on their own with mental illnesses, undiagnosed and unsure of what’s wrong with them. What’s more, when we stigmatise mental illness as scary or violent, we add even further misery onto people already too scared to get help they deserve.
We need mental illness to be taught properly on the curriculum and for it to be given equal footing in society as physical illness. Your brain is perhaps the most important part of your entire body and it is shameful how little is taught about it to children growing up. We expect so much of kids through exams and testing but never consider the emotional impact of this or their mental well-being in general. Hopefully with the work of campaigns like Time to Change, we can get better support for children in schools to understand what mental health and mental illness is. I for one would have benefited hugely from it and am very lucky to have gotten support now. This support won’t be possible for everyone though and we shouldn’t let people slip through the cracks with mental illness.
We’d love for you to go check out Peter’s blog. He is an amazing advocate for mental illness, health, well-being, etc. We are honored he took the time to write up this guest post for us!