Christopher’s Story

I sat down and wrote a long history of me, but then I deleted it because it doesn’t have to be that long or complicated.

I have PTSD, anxiety and depression. I work as a peer worker for a mental health charity in Edinburgh, Scotland and I’m a psychotherapy drop out. If you asked me what I do for a living I’ll say peer worker and then add cartoonist onto the end.

I’ve had 2 and a half breakdowns in my life, I’ve been hospitalised once for 10 days and I’ve attempted suicide. I’ve walked 1000 miles around the country with no money as an attempt to manage my mental health and I’ve been successful with it. I have been in the media as a mental health advocate and long distance walker, I’ve done public speaking, and I’ve met church moderators and policy makers and mentally ill people.

My job requires me to be mentally well and it’s a constant battle that I am used to.

I had a breakdown in 2004 and ended up in hospital where I was faced with a psychiatrist telling me I wasn’t depressed, just sad. This led to my suicide attempt and subsequently not seeking help for 8 years until my next breakdown. Anyone who claims stigma isn’t a problem needs to open their eyes. My second breakdown in 2012 was what led to my diagnosis and counselling.

When I reached a point in my counselling where we were starting to get to the real issues, about 6 months in, I left and walked around the country. To be honest, I still haven’t dealt with a lot of it, which is why I’m still in therapy. I don’t use techniques like breathing or mindfulness because I can’t switch my brain off long enough. I’m sure this would come with practice but honestly, the stage I’m at with my mental health is pretty good. I’d estimate I lose maybe 4 days per year to an anxiety or panic attack ie I can’t actually fulfil my obligations that day. I suffer from anxiety everyday and I drink a ton of coffee which doesn’t help. I’m a former smoker who still smokes occasionally when stressed. Sometimes I just need to be left alone so I’ll ignore everyone and put some headphones on or more often than not, sit at my drawing board and get lost in that world.

I wake up everyday and I don’t want to be dead so that’s a win. 5 years ago that’s exactly what I wanted and I couldn’t function at all. Through hard work on myself and a massive amount of help and support from everyone from my wife to my boss, I get to go to a job I love and use my own experiences of mental illness to try and help others live a fulfilling life. What keeps me going everyday is that fact that I am still here, I’m relatively healthy, all the things I ever wanted in life are things that I have but there are thousands of people out there who don’t have that, and have no idea how to get it. I’m not talking about people who want a million quid or fame, I’m talking about people who wake up like I did and can’t see a way forward because their illness is so overwhelming.

According to the definition of the word “recovery” as far as it’s defined from a professional perspective, I’m living it. My own way of coping with my anxiety and PTSD or depression is to walk, cycle, watch movies, play guitar and draw cartoons. I don’t really buy into the “think positive” thing because to me, it’s the same as saying “stop thinking negatively”, but I try to keep a sense of humour even in the darkest moments. If you can laugh, it’s half the battle.

The most effective thing I found in my recovery was this; I have value. I constantly question myself as to whether or not I’m any good at what I do, whether I’m getting ill again or not, whether I’m on the right path or not. A lot of the time, the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is no. My illness wants to rob me of the yes answers and the feeling of self worth that I have. It might knock me on my ass sometimes, but it won’t win. You have value too, but that voice in your head wants you to believe you don’t.

Seek out other people in a similar situation and you’ll find them in their millions. Seek out people with similar interests and you’ll find them, although apparently in the case of mental health cartoonists we number about 3 worldwide. Don’t take anyone’s advice as gospel and certainly don’t assume one thing will work. I’d never recommend 1000 mile walks to the people I work with, but it worked for me.

Sitting here writing this now, I feel hope. Hope was something that was missing from my life for many years because I didn’t know where to find it but I found it in a counselling room, in the hills and in my sketchbook.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dave says:

    The part about having to be strong because of your job hit a chord with me. I can completely relate to that. If you’re interested, here’s what I wrote on that topic a while back. https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

    Like

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