Why do I want to share my story?
Seeing my niece start ‘Write for a Difference’ has been inspiring and I couldn’t be more proud of her for the work she’s doing here. Even though the stigma of speaking about mental health is slowly breaking down in society, it’s such a complex topic with every case being individual. When it comes to depression & anxiety, the things that work for one person might not work for another. The more information out there for people to learn from, the better. After years of keeping this private, I’ve decided to share my experience with poor mental health and explore how it can affect your relationships, friendships, everyday life, and different techniques that benefit me.
For as long as I can remember I have suffered with severe social anxiety, which later developed into depression as there is a strong collation between the two of them. I’m not going to discuss my childhood or the reasons why I may suffer from these conditions. I’m going to focus on how it affected me in my everyday life as an adult and my experience confronting it.
Simply taking part in daily life can trigger my anxiety and start an anxiety attack. Hanging out with friends, going on night outs, meeting people for the first time, having important tasks to do at work – all these things became difficult. A few years ago, I convinced myself that my old bedroom in my Mum’s house was my ‘safe place’ and I got stuck in the following cycle:
- Make plans
- Get ready to go
- Suffer severe anxiety attacks before I leave or as I was en route to where I was going
- Cancel plans and make up excuses as to why I can’t go
- Be filled with regret and shame for cancelling
My way of coping with the thoughts inside my head was to stay in my ‘safe place’ and this had a highly negative impact on every single aspect of my life. I wasn’t speaking about how I felt to anyone as I believed that people would think I’m pathetic or crazy if I told them. This way of thinking lead me to completely breaking down and being put on various medications. I realised how unhealthy this way of coping was but I was unsure on how I could change it. I spoke to my girlfriend at the time about how I was having suicidal thoughts and tried to start communicating ALL of the negative emotions I’d been keeping in. This was a lot of pressure to put on one person. Depression can be self-absorbing and when you’re suffering, your way of thinking becomes clouded and you can’t see that your actions are harming others. You only notice that you are feeling somewhat better. I learnt the hard way, and these are the most significant things that lead to me completely breaking down before my road to recovery:
- Making a ‘safe place’ causing anxiety attacks whenever I had to leave
- Not being open with anyone and keeping the full weight on my shoulders until breaking point
- Passing that full weight on to my partner without any consideration
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to speak to your partner or your parent/guardian or your best friend about your mental health, but it’s harmful to put that pressure only on one person. This pressure creates a co-dependency. I moved from having a safe place to having a safe person and this became extremely toxic. You should begin being open to some degree with your close circle; your family, your friends, your manager – just make people aware that are you are struggling and you will be surprised how comforting and supportive they will be and this takes a HUGE amount of pressure off of you and allows you begin to actively battling your anxiety/depression. However, don’t make the mistake of putting everything on one person.
Every case is individual. There is not a right or a wrong, however I do believe there are fundamental issues affecting mental health in the NHS. Many people have a positive experience with the NHS, however, my experience going down the NHS route was negative.
I had an emergency appointment at my doctors due to having a complete mental breakdown and within 5 minutes of being in their office I was put on Citalopram and Diazepam for my depression and anxiety, Zopiclone for my sleep and signed off work. The time off of work was completely necessary, but the series of medications they had me on did not make any sense to me. I found that anti-depressants did not have any real benefit to me and there is a lot of research to suggest they may not be helpful to everyone.
Side effects of citalopram include:
- Memory loss and concentration problems
- Low sex drive
- Fast heart rate and feeling shaky
- No appetite and changes in weight
- Nausea, headaches drowsiness
Side effects of zopiclone include:
- Bitter taste in your mouth killing any appetite
- Weight loss
- Fast, irregular or pounding heart rate
I experienced all of these symptoms. I was being treated with sleeping tablets and at the same time the anti-depressants were giving me insomnia. I was treated for anxiety with tablets that increase your heart rate and agitation, which in turn caused more anxiety. I didn’t see any positive changes at all. In addition to this, I struggled to have food on these tablets and I was 6ft2 and only weighing 145lbs. Mental health is completely individual and there needs to be alternatives and more information given to patients.
For me, the approach from the doctor when medication is not working appeared to be the following:
- Increase the dose
- Switch medication
- More time off work
I felt like the illness began to define me as a person and became completely reliant on this pill yet I still wasn’t feeling any better. For me personally, it turned almost completely placebo, so I went against the doctor’s instructions and cut the medication cold turkey after 3 months.
I was more effective in battling mental health through lifestyle changes. In my case, I believe that doctors should have used these medications as last resort and instead push for complete lifestyle changes. Regular exercise and good nutrition has been life changing. It’s been over a year now since I had the mental breakdown. I’m now almost completely comfortable with who I am as a person, I’m completely rid of my social anxiety and I gained over 50 lbs. I am in the best shape I have ever been and the way I done this was by breaking ALL co-dependencies in my life and taking myself out of my comfort zone. I set myself goals:
- Pass my driving test
- Start learning a musical instrument
- Do some travelling
- Meet new people
- Start working out and living a healthy lifestyle
The main thing that has helped me has been going to the gym. It wasn’t just about getting myself into good shape but it gave me goals to work towards and forced me to face my fear of going into a gym alone. I took the confidence and drive that it gave me and applied it to everything else in my life. Exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to improve mental health – Have a look at ‘Out of the Blue’ by Bill O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon’s studies compare results of those using medication and those using only exercise, and the difference in the number of recurring anxiety attacks and depressive states between those using medication to those using only exercise is huge.
I began to find myself again. I learnt to have fun and broke out of the rut I was stuck in. If you’d asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be now I would have said either dead, or still stuck in the same rut I had been in for the previous 2 years.
Going to the gym had a knock on effect in every aspect of my life: I was sleeping better, my moods were better, I was eating cleaner and feeling healthier, I felt less stressed, my sex drive was higher.. and this was all without any medication at all. I was just looking after myself properly. Looking at myself now and looking at myself a year ago is like looking at a little boy and a man. By removing myself from my comfort zones which were causing my so much problems – I’ve grown up so much, I’m booming in confidence and I can safely say that all my social anxiety I suffered with is gone. Something awoke in me. I went travelling, I passed my driving test, I’ve started to learn guitar, I’ve started being A LOT more social with friends and going on first dates with people I’ve never met before. There is genuinely nothing I don’t think I can achieve now and I feel so proud of myself that I’m able to say that now. A year ago I would have said the opposite. I’m not perfect by any means, I still have my bad days as everyone does – that’s part of being human – but I’m continuing to grow and learn from my mistakes instead of settling for the rut I was in, and I’m living proof that things do get better & medication isn’t essential in recovery.
Thank you to everybody for taking time to read this. I hope I have given a useful insight into my own experience, providing a different perspective to normal and that there are some people out there that can relate to this. For anybody that is going through a tough time – my messages are always open.
This post was submitted and written by Paul Young.