14-20 June 2021 is Men’s Health Week. I’m inspired to finally share my story publicly. I’m grateful that the stigma surrounding mental health is diminishing with pace. It’s now more openly discussed and better understood than during my periods of anxiety and depression. I hope by sharing this story it adds to the acceptance that it is ok to not be feeling 100%.
By most measures I had a privileged childhood, growing up in the lush farming countryside of Essex, approximately one hour from London. Unfortunately, my parents separated when I was very young, and my father return back my birthplace – Sydney, Australia.
With only the occasional phone call and letters exchanged, it was very different to the connected world we have today. I believe this was likely the genesis of my struggles with mental illness. When I was 12 years old my mother received a phone call in the early hours of the morning. I remember thinking at the time it was very strange. Unfortunately my family had delivered some bad news. My mother had to wake-up my brother and I and tell us that our father had died by suicide. He was 45 years old.
Being so young, and geographically separated, it was difficult to process and relate to what had just happened. Only a couple years earlier we had travelled to Australia on a family holiday. During the trip my brother and I attended our fathers second wedding. Perhaps it was shock, but either way, I appeared to be less affected than my younger brother.
As you’d expect, my appetite for school diminished. I took many days of absence, and was allowed to leave the school whenever I needed. Luckily we only lived 500m from the school, so this was very convenient for dealing with the trauma.
I’m unsure exactly when but at around 19 years old I started feeling different. I was having difficulty processing my thoughts and found myself becoming very anxious in public environments. I found myself having panic attacks in nightclubs and would suddenly leave to go home. On occasions my parents had to come and collect me at early hours of the morning.
Being unaware of what mental illness was, I started studying my symptoms. I found online forum posts about a herbal medicine that could be bought over the counter. I starting taking these tablets without any medical advise, and after a few weeks my body started having a reaction. At that point I had to confess to my parents how I was feeling and that I needed help. My body had started developing essential tremor (ET). My arms were constantly shaking as if I was cold, and it was damn annoying.
I went to my GP who was understanding and prescribed antidepressants, or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as they were more commonly referred to then. I started on a low dose and doubled it a few weeks later. A couple of months passed I was starting to feel the effects. My mind was racing less and the day-to-day life of work was easier to handle. I had the feeling of ‘numbness’ which is very hard to describe. It basically blanks out any thoughts of good or bad. It’s an extremely stoic experience.
After completing my electrical apprenticeship, I was ready to do some travelling. In December 2008 I started a 3.5 month trip through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. This was an opportunity to distract my mind with many experiences I’ll never forget. Following SE Asia I headed to Australia. I travelled the East Coast and made lots of friends along the way. At some point through my trip I was feeling much better and I weened myself off the medication. I attribute my recovery to that trip.
I did have one minor relapse in 2012. A panic attack triggered by a complex relationship at the time. I went to a local GP and received a prescription, but after some days reflecting, I realised I was strong enough not to need the medication.
I haven’t had any relapse episodes or medication since. However, I do actively focus on my mental health and wellbeing by following some principles.
- Awareness – I avoid situations which I feel may adversely impact me.
- Climate – After struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) whilst living in dreary UK. I know I need warmth and sunlight to feel my best.
- Movement – I at least try to walk outside each day. Not only is the exercise beneficial, I find it also stimulates my mind which is naturally curious to my surroundings. I top this up with regular yoga classes.
I encourage others to seek help as soon as they feel comfortable. There are many resources available, and some tailored towards mens mental health. I aim to increase awareness of men’s mental health issues through sharing my story and advocate for these worthy organisations.