Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s mental health awareness week – and I wanted to write something on that topic. This is kind of difficult for me, as it’s not a topic I often speak openly about – but I live with chronic anxiety & depression.

I was first diagnosed some years ago in 2012 – and making that first trip to the doctor’s was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. There’s much less stigma about mental health conditions today than there was even fifteen years ago – but saying out loud that you’re not well is still very hard to do (made harder since that first doctor I saw wasn’t especially supportive).

Flash forwards to today – and I’m … okay… most of the time. I take medication every day – and have done for the past 3-4 years. I used to worry about that – and think that I didn’t want to be “dependent” on medication; but that’s not how it works. I take a drug called an SSRI – these aren’t (as you’ll often see in the press) “happy pills” – they’re not mood altering as such: but they fix the chemical imbalance in my brain that causes me to feel depressed and anxious. If you have a heart condition you might take a beta blocker to help fix that. These are the same.

Does that mean I’m fixed? No. And I won’t be. I still suffer from abnormally low mood sometimes – but being on the medication helps that be less often & easier to get out of. Similarly with anxiety. I still feel anxious (irrationally, infuriating, inexplicably & non-specifically anxious) – especially at night. And whilst working at home during the on-going pandemic has suited me (I’m a classic introvert – and I know I concentrate much better when I can close the door behind me in a small room); not leaving the house to go to work or to the gym has made that anxiety worse. I’m not worried about anything specifically: it’s just that sense of existential dread that you get when you’re waiting outside the headmaster’s study. Except there’s nothing wrong. And nothing is really going to happen.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the years. I’ve found things that really help fight back against the pre-feelings that I can now recognise as a sign that I’m starting to feel bad. I love to run. And there’s almost nothing better for my head than going out for a 5-6K run. No music. No partners. Just me & my head. And when I come back: my head is in a much better place. My wife tells me I am often noticeably different when I get home. The other thing that really works for me (and there are numerous medical papers on the subject showing it’s not just me) is cold water. Swimming in the sea (vitamin sea – as some with mental health issues call it), or a river or lake is a fantastic feeling. Being out in the open & the quiet. The cold pricking against your skin when you’re in the water & the glowing high when you get out are just amazing. I really miss living as close to the sea as I used to when I lived outside Fareham; and of course visiting beaches recently hasn’t been possible anyway – but when I can get out and go, I love it. It’s a real tonic.

Anyway I’ve probably written too much, and I say all of this, not so you’ll feel sorry for me (please don’t! I’m okay); but rather to remind us all that you can’t know what the inside of anyone else’s head is like. You can look completely normal on the outside (even when I was at my very worse, almost no one that knew me realised, because I put on a front of ‘being okay’ – that fooled nearly everyone); but still feel terrible inside. You can be alone on a crowded room. My advice – be kind to everyone you meet; and as actor, author & mental health advocate Wil Wheaton likes to say: “don’t be a dick”. Lastly, if you’re reading this and you do feel bad: know that it’s okay to admit it; that it’s okay to seek help & accept treatment. You’re just a bit unwell: and with the right help you can and will few better.

*hugs* to you all…

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