Today is World Mental Health Day and whilst every day is apparently a day for something, this day actually means something or at least it does to me.
Mental illness is something that around 1 in 4 of us will go through within our lifetimes, it can strike anyone at any time and doesn’t necessarily need a ‘trigger’. I know my mental health issues arrived out of nowhere one Tuesday morning in an assembly hall when I was just beginning year 9. That would have made me about 13 years old. Wow, It baffles me to think that day was around 12 years ago.
So there I was excited to start the new year, surrounded by everyone I knew from the past 2 years, as well as some new faces. I remember it wasn’t a particularly hot day but for some reason, I was sweating, probably just hormones or something right? Puberty is a dick sometimes. Then I started to feel light-headed, nauseous and I noticed my heart rate had skyrocketed. All I began to think was, I need to get out of here, I’m going to be sick, that’ll be so embarrassing if I’m sick in front of everyone, they’ll never let me live it down.
I managed to see out the rest of the assembly, it was only around 10 minutes but to me, it felt like a solid hour or so. I exited the main hall and went straight to the bathroom and tried to vomit but nothing came up. I immediately got the front desk to call my mum to come pick me up and I spent the rest of the day lying in bed getting occasional waves of sweating, nausea, and racing heart rate. Little did I know at the time that I had just had my first day of panic attacks. Something that would dictate my life for the next 12 years.
The next day I felt sick again, I thought it must be a bug, left over from yesterday, so I stayed home. The day after that I went to school and instantly felt sick again, once again I went home. This continuous cycle would lead me to be out of school for around 4-6 months leading me to require home schooling.
Things only got worse and worse, I started to feel like I was dying and the panic caused me to be short of breath. Whenever I was left alone I would panic about not being able to breathe and whenever I was out of my house I would panic about throwing up and embarrassing myself. There was a month where I didn’t leave the house, not even once, I couldn’t even make it to the local store without freaking out.
Needless to say during this time I chucked on weight, and I mean CHUCKED it on. I would sit at home, play video games, eat comfort food and do little to no exercise (that I’ve now discovered helps dramatically) It felt weird seeing my friends, they’d talk about what had happened in school and all the fun times they were having, new friendships they were forming. Looking back it was incredibly lonely, I still get waves on loneliness but not on the scale I felt there.
Heres where I owe nearly everything that has happened since to my mum. Once I had been diagnosed with panic attacks and general anxiety disorder (GAD) as well as a fuck ton of depression, she went above and beyond the call of duty to help me recover. She would drive me to the school gates and wait with me until the panic attack had subsided. The next day it would be to go into the school and sit in the front desk waiting area. Once I was comfortable with that, it would be to go to a private room and do my work there.
My friends started to visit me and take me for walks around the school. Slowly but surely I was getting there, I remember coming home from school the first time I made it back into a classroom and breaking down into tears of happiness, finally after months and months, there was light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t manage to get myself back into school fully until the following year but I got there in the end. For those of you who would like to see the effects of mental health, check the picture.
One memory that sticks in my mind was a very cold winters night, It was due to snow and I didn’t have a coat that fitted/could take on the snow, so my mum and I drove to Ipswich to go shopping for a winter coat. Ipswich stayed open late on Thursdays so we had most of the evening. I had seen the one I wanted in GAP, it was a green parker jacket, the classic mod style. To get myself out the car, the go to the shop, try it on and buy it must have taken a few hours. My mum that day displayed such patience with me and devotion to my recovery that I cannot thank her enough.
Now I’m not fully cured, even all these years later, I still have my up days and my down days, There are still times I cancel plans at the last minute due to anxiety building up, it’s part of my life, I have to play the cards I was given, no matter if there is a flush on the table and I’m holding a pair of twos. What I do know however is that if it wasn’t for the support of my friends, family and especially my mum, I would still be stuck in that room with no future, no ambition and most of all no happiness. I’ve been travelling, gone to and graduated from university, played the bass guitar on stage, been on dates, and even co-written a song with my friend Charlie Law about the issues I’ve faced. All of these things seemed like impossibilities once upon a time and still would have been if it wasn’t for the support shown to me.
I know I was lucky in that aspect, I know many people who go through this feel like they don’t have anyone who will support them, but I urge you to reach out and speak to someone, I don’t think I could have done it alone regardless of when it happened to me. 14 or 45 years old, mental health doesn’t discriminate. With the services available nowadays there is always someone waiting to listen and eager to help. Below are a few numbers to run if you ever feel like you’re slipping down that slippery slope.
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 08444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)
A charity helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.