An Example of Life
I’m not sure what was worse; how I thought others would see me if they knew about my mental health or how I really thought about myself.
Try to remember a time when you’ve been scared, I mean really scared. Maybe confronted by a group, or wild animal, in trouble with a family member or spouse. Try to think about it clearly; maybe you’ll get a feeling of nervousness, of ‘butterflies in the tummy’, as you recall the moment. We all know that feeling; we’ve all been scared at times in our life.
Now imagine feeling that exact same feeling the moment you wake up in the morning and it doesn’t go. Now if you were in a scary situation, you could identify the source of the fear… the big wild dog for example. But when there is nothing going on, you’ve just woke up, it’s a sunny day, everything is fine… yet you still feel terrified, that was a daily process for me for years.
You may have heard of fight or flight? When you can’t identify the source of your fear, fight isn’t even an option. This meant I was often in a state of fear and with that comes paranoia, anger, pushing people away before they figure out I’m actually really weak and take advantage…
I have had bouts of depression and anxiety since I was a teenager, although I can’t remember exactly when it all began. The first time I thought about suicide was when I was 16. It makes me laugh when people say ‘you do it for attention’, I stood on the bank of the Thames alone in the freezing night at 16 years old and told myself I had to deal with it on my own as it’s not fair to put it on other people.
This is the first time I have ever spoken of that moment.
It all came to a head in 2016, bad timing as DWP had started a new system called Universal Credit and it had absolutely no process for dealing with mentally ill people. This meant that even though I was signed off work by the Dr, they kept putting pressure on me which was making my illness worse. To exacerbate that, the NHS had no provision for therapy for me, I just had to wait.
During the first 6 months of 2016, I handed custody of my son over to his mum, lost almost 5 stone in weight (I forced myself not to eat to punish myself for failing at everything), and attempted suicide twice.
It’s all a bit dark innit. I know, I wish I had a better story to tell, but it’s how my life was.
I managed to start feeling a bit better. I can’t tell you exactly what happened first, but it involved meditation, reading the 8 fold path of suffering from Buddhism, and reflecting on what the thoughts were going through my mind. People had always told me that “you beat yourself up too much” and that resonated because at that time, I felt a failure. What had I failed? At being the person I am supposed to be. Who decided the rules about who I should be? …well… I did…
“So forgive yourself and create some new rules.”
I remember crying with joy for a straight 10 minutes when I reached this conclusion.
This moment was the start of a whole new life for me; although I knew I was still in a dark place, I knew the direction of the light at least. I remember trying to explain it like I was in a maze and I was listening to others trying to find a way out, but I just couldn’t think my way out of it. Since then I realised the way out started with not thinking about it at all.
I was stuck in the house, really not going out at all at this point. I was told therapy was coming, but it was months away so I need to distract myself somehow. At first, this involved smoking a lot of weed, I won’t say it didn’t help, but it wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to help me go forward.
That’s when I came across an author on Twitter (Twitter was my only contact with anyone), Oli Anderson. He was spouting some stuff, but it was different somehow, it really got me thinking. So I brought his book Personal Revolutions and slowly I have been really listening to what he has to say and try the techniques he suggests. I have no idea if it would work for anyone else, although I suspect it would. I remember looking at it like a puzzle. I got issues; other people have issues, what have they done about it? Lots of people have tried lots of things and they all work differently for different people, much like a diet or fitness regime. Different styles/methods suit individuals based on what they want to work on and what they are capable of doing. This makes me prefer to talk about mental fitness rather than mental health; it’s just better terminology.
When all I could do was lie on the sofa and breathe, I found a meditation video on you tube that only required me to only focus on my breathing. My sleep cycle was all over the place. I knew getting to a set routine would be a beneficial step, so I just slept when I was tired and woke up whenever, until I got to the stage where I had move right through the clock and was now tired at around 12am and then waking up around 6am. Once I had found that sweet spot, I made sure I would not sleep in the day, and stick to those times. Didn’t work out perfect first time, nothing does, but eventually I got it.
The few days I was going through this cycle, I was also using the internet to my best advantage. Sometimes that was just socialising on Twitter to take my mind of things, other times I’d try and educate myself about stuff I was interested in and thought might help me solve this stupid puzzle.
The next step was using the little bit of willpower the breathing techniques had begun to give me. I tried all sorts, tai chi, yoga; just standard gym stretches… it made me feel good when I did it. Eventually it made me feel good enough to go out for a walk.
That’s how my real recovery began. I am me after years of hiding myself. I accept that I think about things differently, that I have to be more careful, that I have to take care of myself… that I’m just another example of life and nothing more, and definitely nothing less.