It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I didn’t know if I should write this. I didn’t know if I needed to, if it would help me or anyone else. I actually thought people might think, ‘Look at him with something to say on this’ as if I maybe sought it out. I actually even doubted if I had a reason to write it, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I felt. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe that is the reason I should write this. I am me and I have experienced problems with my mental health.
I actually think I ‘get’ mental health, I understand it I reckon and feel passionately about it being ignored, mocked, a stigma. People close to me past and present, have experienced problems with their mental health. (Question — Is it problems? Is it issues? Is it mental ill health? Maybe we need to normalise the language and whilst we do accept some might get it wrong?) I’ve seen it at the extreme for some and it isn’t nice or easy to witness, feel helpless and not be sure what to do or say for the best. Going through it must be an entirely different thing I thought. I’m one who doesn’t try to judge, who would tell people to be open, who would offer support and try to show understanding, to be there.
Yet when I didn’t quite feel right, I ignored all of these things. I did none of what I would tell others to do.
About 18 months ago, some things changed for me. It wasn’t serious as such. I wouldn’t say I was depressed or suffering with any other labelled mental health condition. I just know I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like me. I had felt felt like this before. It will pass.
I was approaching the age of 29. I’d recently split up with my girlfriend. I was questioning myself in work, asking myself what I wanted to do when I was bigger. This was a usual question for me, always wondering. I’d later learn/realise I always wonder. I know I overthink things — good and bad — but I actually sometimes just want to know — want to know the answer, need to know things.
However now, with no one thing as a catalyst, things were a bit different. Of course I was sad. Felt sad, didn’t show it as much. Lost a bit of impetus and desire to do things. I’d expect that given recent events, these things happen to people all the time.
I had some things to look forward to — I was going to Australia, a suit bought for me in Australia waiting. So I threw myself into the gym. I had a goal, a commitment, something exciting to look forward to. I forgot some of how I was feeling and when it did come up, I didn’t really know how I felt. I put this down to Australia being my focus.
When I got back, even towards the end of Australia, I realised not all was ‘right’. This lasted for quite a while. Yet for a long time I told no one. I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t even know what I could do.For the next 4/5 months I would say I ‘existed’ on the inside. I went through the motions it feels like looking back. People around me probably didn’t realise, I joined in things and done things. Just those good things, the highs quickly dissipated after they finished. Until recently I hadn’t been able to look at the past year and feel any joy or remember the good things. That felt quite sad when I realised it.
What stands out most though is I actually didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what I wanted to do about anything so I did nothing. Not the ‘didn’t know because you had a difficult choice’ or lots of choices — I did not know a thing. I could not think properly. And for someone who liked to know things, this was hard. So it became a vicious circle — want to know, don’t know, why don’t I know, will I ever know, what do I even want to know, why do I need to know, who might know, when might I know, can someone just tell me so I know.
I jumped between these questions at different times, asking myself them over and over, all the while thinking (hoping) I will figure it out at some point. All the while everything was getting twisted up and entwined so one thing couldn’t be dealt with without dealing with the other and it all felt too much so I didn’t try. I never thought I would not feel like this, I didn’t see what could or would change. I couldn’t act and it all just made me feel sad.
All the while, on the outside I was relatively ‘normal’ I think. On the inside, question after question after question with no answer. Eventually, in late 2016, I thought to myself I actually need to do something. I need to try and know something myself. Having spoken to my girlfriend, and only her, about how I was feeling, I decided I needed to do something else. I could speak in bits to her, but I couldn’t listen properly. I didn’t know if I wanted advice or someone to just hear it all. I didn’t know if I would be able to speak to someone but I knew now I had to try.
I had heard of an organisation called Compass in Liverpool. I contacted them and filled in some forms to speak to someone. But then I was thinking ‘Do I need this?’, do I need to speak to them, what have I got to worry about — I’ve got a good job, no significant problems.
It took some time to hear back and in that time I had convinced myself I didn’t need it, that I could figure it out. I didn’t need to talk to someone, I couldn’t. For those who know me, the idea I couldn’t talk is laughable.
I went to my first assessment earlier this year. It wasn’t counselling or therapy. Just talking to someone. I answered some questions, and even though I was honest I doubted myself still, if I really needed it. They said I should speak to someone if I still wanted to. I agreed. I would have an appointment once a week and I would make a small financial contribution. They needed this to help with providing the service. They still do.
Yet even on my way to the appointment I was thinking of cancelling. I was thinking I don’t need this. Thankfully I didn’t. In the first appointment, it was like a dam bursting, lots spilled out. Over the next few months I went once a week, an hour of my time. And during this time I made some steps. I told someone else — two people at first. My mate in work and my boss/mate. I spoke about this with the man (I actually never quite got his job title, and though his name was Colin to those I told he was ‘the man/fella I speak to’) and I remember telling him of the relief. I was able to tell people and it didn’t feel bad. It even helped. There was a release of pressure from inside my head.
I had worried about speaking to people, despite all the things I said earlier and believe, that I would tell others to talk about it, to be there for them. I had worried because I thought they would think ‘What’s he got to worry about’ or that I couldn’t burden them because they all had greater problems than me. As much as I wouldn’t judge, I thought others might.This release of pressure was actually questions being answered — who could help me, who would know, what they might think.
In these appointments I learnt a lot. About myself. Triggers and personality traits that compound things or can help. About language. I kept catching myself not wanting to say things that seemed inappropriate — like saying I felt ‘normal’. The man, Colin, reminded me normal was fine. It was and is about what is normal to me.
Over time many of the questions in my head were answered or ordered or placed somewhere. They didn’t just exist in my head anymore. I got to say them out loud. This helped. Some still exist. But they don’t just exist inside now.
I’ve learnt some coping mechanisms and I have a better understanding of my mental health. I still have some things to do and some things I need to remind myself of. And all it took was for me to act, take one step at a time, to actually talk to someone. What I did learn and understand was I was right to act. I was on a slippy slope thinking I could keep it to myself. That Colin and the people at Compass felt I would benefit from speaking to them answered my biggest question — do I even need this? Yes, I did. And I am glad they were there.
Writing this has actually made me feel better. Add some order to what my experience was, remind me of some of the things I need to do. I stopped seeing Colin a few weeks back. My choice. We talked it through and it felt right. I know better now about what I experienced and I know more now about what I can and should do when/if it reoccurs.
This blog has also meant I have had to tell some more people. The only other person who knew before this was one of my close mates. So I have sent it to others and I have told my family. It actually feels good to. I don’t know how I would label what it was I experienced, or if I need to. But I do know for my own well being I needed to do something.
So I hope it maybe helps others understand and maybe encourages others who are experiencing something — whether it is diagnosed or not, whether you are even sure what ‘it’ is — to take a small step to getting something that helps you. Do talk to someone.
I would like to place on record my thanks to Compass; and to Colin — you are the man! And it wouldn’t be me to not get political. Mental health is criminally underfunded. And you shouldn’t have to wait for a problem to reach an extreme before you get support. It shouldn’t be something that only those who can afford it can access straight away before concerns become problems.
If you are in Liverpool you can contact Compass Liverpool here https://www.compasscounselling.org.uk/