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This year I'll be running the Great North Run for only my second time. The charity and issue I've decided to support this year couldn't be any closer to my heart. SANE is a Mental Health Charity undertaking amazing work to support those suffering with the illness, raising awareness and helping to remove the stigma of mental health problems.
I write this as a thirty six year old man, who has twice battled periods of depression, anxiety and panic attacks in my adult life. It's taken me some time to get to the stage where I'm comfortable to sit down and share my story. It's not that I feel any sense of shame having experienced mental illness, its just that I wanted to have clarity that I am somewhat on the road to recovery. For me writing has always been something I have enjoyed a form of expression a way to make people laugh and like in this instance self therapeutic.
On sharing my story and experiences I ask not for sympathy or pity but a wish to raise awareness in the hope it may serve to help others who are struggling with mental health conditions. I feel passionate about helping others who feel alone and in despair. I am very fortunate that on both occasions mental illness has hit me, I was able to accept I had a problem, seek help and get the medication, therapy and support I needed. I am indebted that I have a fantastic family and support network who have helped immensely, but I know not everyone is as lucky as I am. Sadly suicide is still the biggest cause of death of males under the age of 40.
My most recent mental health struggles go back approximately 2 years. What started off initially as low mood over 9 months gradually developed into depression and anxiety. It was August 2018 when I first realised the monster I'd battled some sixteen years previously had returned. To go through a period of severe depression and come through it at the other end, where there is light at the end of the tunnel is quite something. It makes you stronger, you appreciate things you may have previously taken for granted.
Rightly or wrongly and without meaning to cause offence I've always likened my situation to that of an addict. Sixteen years sober, somebody will still likely refer to themselves as an alcoholic. There may be some semblance of fear that one day they may relapse. I know the last sixteen years I've lived my life with the thought that one day I might return to the darkest of places.
So how do depression and anxiety manifest themselves for me. I guess in its simpilest form its the sense of feeling an overwhelming sadness, a complete lack of enjoyment for anything in life. On both occasions I have suffered with a complete loss of focus and zero concentration. One of the most difficult things to deal with was the complete lack of energy. Alot of the time was spent doing absolutely nothing physically, yet depression causes me some of my most draining and demanding days. Its exhausting when you find yourself constantly having to battle the negative thoughts running through your mind.
I remember when I was nineteen at university, I had an assigment deadline later that week. It was something which normally might take me a couple of hours with little thought. For a good week I did my best to sit at the computer and must have managed to complete no more than a few lines. I came very close to quitting University but for the kindness and understanding of my tutor and the immense support from my family.
As a big foodie it was unbelievable to think that depression caused me to completely lose my appetite, I felt so miserable that even when my favourite curry was placed in front of me I couldn't manage more than a couple of bites. At the time of my first illness I lost over two stone in weight, it dropped off me and it wasn't healthy at all.
Another concern when I was 19 was my dependancy. On reflection I think its fair to say I came pretty close to becoming an alcoholic. That's not to say I was drinking morning, noon and night, just that a day couldn't go bye without me needing to seek comfort in a drink. Even if it was just a couple of cans in the house by myself, alcohol, became a friend. At the time you convince yourself that it was helping you out of a bad place, when in fact it only made things worse. Thankfully I was able to nip that in the bud before it caused me even more damage.
Self harm was another feature of my first period of depression. I remember one occasion where I got so wound up and upset about something so trivial that I repeatedly punched myself hard in the face. My family knew how the injury had manifest itself but to others the black eye was blamed on walking into my opponents back swing on the squash court.
Insomnia is something which effects me on the back of my depression and anxiety. Night after night I'd barely sleep, I'd not be able to switch off the negative thoughts that consumed my mind. I like to use the analogy of your mind being one of those exercise balls that a hamster runs around in, just constantly going around and around. Except mine would churn out nothing but awful thoughts 'you're a failure, you've got nothing about you, you're a rubbish friend/dad/son /brother/husband /employee, you'd be better off dead. It wasn't pleasant but as much as a tried I couldn't stop being consumed night and day, by this huge sense of failure and the thought that I had achieved nothing in life.
Thinking about it, I understand that it was quite easy to see how depression led to anxiety which then had the knock on effect of bringing on panic attacks. Most recently from September 18 to May 19 when I was at my lowest ebb I was suffering three panic attacks a day.
So my anxiety was all about not being to rationalise a set back, becoming overwhelmed with fear. For the last 4 years I've worked in a high pressure business to business sales environment. A happy and healthy me can just brush off a sales rejection or tackle a problem situation with clear focus. Most recently though I've not been able to compartmentalise set backs so even the most trivial of issue would lead to this feeling that it was the 'end of the world'. This would trigger anxiety and then boom, before you know it I'm shaking, gasping for air and feeling completely exhausted - hello panic attack.
My anxiety got to a stage where it was so bad I would find it difficult to walk down a busy street or be in social situation with many people. I remember eye contact was virtually impossible and a little thing like walking into a shop to buy a drink would leave me feeling very anxious. It's not a great situation to be in when you're livelihood is based on walking into a business and cold calling a stranger to sell them gas and electric.
September 2019 was when I realised I needed to go back to my doctors and get help for the condition that had hit me so hard as a 19 year old. I broke down sobbing whilst working, I was walking through Cullercoats speaking to businesses when my sadness finally broke me. I walked back to my car crying and sat inside for about 15 minutes, just breaking my heart. All the emotion I had bottled up over a period of time, just came flooding out. It was a relief in a way, a realisation that I was in trouble and I'd finally let the shackles off.
I can't really mention my story without touching upon suicidal thoughts. I've had them for sure, quite regularly. Thankfully I have everything in check when it comes to thinking about suicide. I couldn't bare the thought of my three beautiful little girls growing up without their Daddy. I have an incredible wife who has been amazingly supportive and know how much pain I'd cause her, my parents and family. So whilst I've been as low as a 2 out of 10, I'm definately here for the long haul.
So to conculde, what would I suggest to anybody going through similar hardship. Talk about it...... I don't find it easy, but it does help. What I've found having spoken to friends, colleagues, family, strangers, is that mental health problems are more common than you think. Exercise - this has literally been a huge saviour, I've found running is a really positive realise and helps me switch off for a little while anyway. Eat and drink well, diet has had an amazing feel good factor for me. Everything in moderation, I'm doing my best to eat healthy and limit the alcohol intake.
An obvious one, but make sure you get to see your doctor and get a diagnosis and the treatment you need. I take fluxotine for my depression and propranolol for my anxiety. In June having been off work sick for a month, I decided to resign from work. It has taken me away from the best paid job I've ever had, but I'm much happier as a result. I'm massively greatful that Helen is so supportive and understanding and I'm loving the opportunity to spend alot more time with Tabitha, Evelyn and Matilda.
Thank you for reading, drop me a message if this has helped or you need someone to talk to. I'm happy to listen and help where I can. I'd be massively grateful for any donations to SANE for my GNR effort, it will certainly help keep me motivated with my training.
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