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Mental health can break you or it can be a time when you are rebuilt

By April 28, 2018 No Comments

Here is an extract from an article I recently wrote for a University magazine;

It’s all about perspectives.  If you are going through a difficult time in your life it probably feels like a foreign concept that this could actually be a new beginning for you.

My name is Tom and I have Bi-Polar and also have a diagnosis of Depression and Psychosis.

Having suffered a number of episodes, I now look back and think that these events needed to happen in order for me to become the person I am today.  Without my mental illness I am fairly confident that I would not be living a life that is as full of contentment as mine now is.

Let me take you back to 2010, I was broke, depressed and in the early stages of a psychotic episode. I was frightened and didn’t think anyone would ever understand what was going on in my head or that anyone would ever be able to help me.

In addition to this I was struggling with intrusive thoughts – if you don’t know what these are then I will briefly explain.  An intrusive thought is a thought that is unwelcome and involuntary and this can also be an image or an idea.  The thoughts I was experiencing made me believe I was a paedophile.

Even if I had known there was help out there, I would not have sought it as I firmly believed I would be locked away due to the nature of my thoughts.  It was a truly horrendous time and no-one knew what was going on in my head.  If mental illness mirrored physical illness then I would have been on a life support machine in hospital but with mental illness it’s not like that.

In the end the only option I felt I had was suicide.  I had decided I would jump from a bridge that goes over the M1 close to my home in Aston, Sheffield.  I wrote my note whilst on the bridge and prepared to jump.  Luck would have it that day because a lady walking a dog stopped to talk to me moments before I was about to jump.  She certainly saved my life or saved me from a life-changing injury caused by jumping and surviving.

Eventually, after more weeks of this living hell, help was forced upon me via the Crisis Team in Rotherham.  They started me on an anti-depressant called Citalopram and an anti-psychotic called Olanzapine.  Initially nothing happened but over time the fog lifted somewhat and I began to piece things back together.

The crisis team were amazing and they came to visit me every day for a number of months, they would describe things that mirrored what was going on for me, this reassurance that it was normal for people with this illness to do/feel/think such things made me feel so much better.

To put it simply – talking saves lives and that is the cornerstone of www.graydays.co.uk.  I set up this facility to try and give people a place where they can talk in confidence.  It’s not suitable for people in crisis as I was, but it’s aimed at catching problems in the early stages before crisis sets in.   If you feel you’re are heading into crisis see your GP, if it’s urgent call your local crisis team or ring 999.

If I had tried to get help sooner than I did I would have nipped my issues in the bud and hopefully wouldn’t have struggled so much.  This is a common theme in my autobiography King of The World which was written to break down some barriers relating to mental health.

My unhappiness became more apparent in sixth form; I’m not sure why this was but I probably had unrealistic expectations about myself and felt that I needed to be a certain person in order to be happy.  These were to have a lucrative job, have a certain girlfriend, be interesting, wear expensive clothes, drive a nice car, have money and generally be well thought of.  I never questioned these needs; from then onwards my life was geared towards attaining my goals.

If I had paused to consider where these ideals came from and whether they would ultimately make me happy, things may have been different but I never actually thought about happiness.  They don’t really teach that at school, but it’s such an important question – what can you do to be happy?

School teaches you many things but it doesn’t teach fulfilment, purpose, gratitude, contentment or peace within oneself.  But really that’s all that matters.  There’s no point leaving school with all these qualifications and a university place and then heading out into the real world totally underprepared and finding you do not know what to do to be happy.  You can write an essay and you can pass an exam but you can’t find that place in yourself that feels good.

But when you leave school or university and realise that life is not what they sold you then you can go one of two ways, you live in denial, try to manage and adapt coping strategies. Examples include drinking, taking drugs, gambling or even over working.  Or you take option two and talk to someone and come up with a plan or some goals about how you are going to be happy within yourself.

Option two was forced on me but with all my heart I am so thankful that it was.  Over the years I have looked within and asked, “what do I want from life?  What can I do to make myself happy?  What is happiness?”

I’m obviously not happy all of the time and I do have bad days but I’m sure they are fewer in numbers compared to how it would have been had I not talked about what was going on in my head.  Now literally everything that is going off in my head is shared with someone on this planet.  Talking for me is like the addictions I mentioned earlier that people in denial use, I’ve just got to talk – even if it’s to the mirror!

I have been a volunteer with the Samaritans for three years now which is so worthwhile and has taught me a lot. Recently, in the early morning, I recognised the beginning of a small crisis, and I desperately needed to talk so I rang them.  I contacted them three times in total over a few months as I knew that, without this contact, I would not move forward. This could have led to being unable to work and, possibly, a full blown episode that would need treatment.

The message I would like to give is “TALK”.  Sadly, problems don’t go away and eventually the weight of all these worries catches up with you and you can’t carry them anymore.  Take a few of those worries away by sharing them with someone you can trust.  It might just change your life.