There is still a stigma about mental health. It is getting better but people baulk, get concerned about or simply do not understand because it has not happened to them. That is one of the reasons why I am so open about my mental health. I want my son to see that it is ok to talk about your mental health and it is a way of accepting it and getting help.
I first started to get anxiety and depression at 18 and it has been cyclical ever since. Sometimes there is an overt trigger like the breakdown of a relationship, something happening in the family or a traumatic event. But mostly there is no reason to it. It just comes along and over the space of a few days, if I do not try to cope with it, I can go from fine to the depths of despair. To be honest there have been some particularly dark times when the pain was so great that I did not think that I would make it through the other side.
There’s no ‘Quick Fix’
At the start I was obsessed with finding out what was “wrong with me” to get a diagnosis that would explain why I was different and some way to quickly fix the pain by fighting it. But that only led to more stress, anxiety, and a further feeling of alienation.
What has worked is learning to accept it as part of who I am. The way I see it is that there are certain things that I can do easily, like standing in front of a crowd with no notes talking or doing interviews and arguing points with no nervousness. Those are the good things. The yin to that yang is over thinking things, anxiety over small things, flash backs to things I have said or done or things that have been done to me and or crippling bad days where I need to shut the world out. I know that I cannot have one without the other.
Avoid Triggers and work on Prevention
I have learned to cope with it. For me that means knowing and avoiding triggers, like not drinking alcohol too often as it brings me down, saying no when I am overloaded and removing myself from situations which push me too far.
I also work on prevention. I run a lot which started out for my physical health but now it is a pillar of my mental health training. And that is how you need to look at it. It is like training for a big match only the prize is good mental health. Sometimes you need medication to help you take the first steps to recovery and that is ok. Everyone needs a hand. I also try to keep to a routine, write lists to keep my mind clear, get plenty of sleep and even now I get days where I have to cocoon away from the world. But now I don’t beat myself up about them.
Talk about your feelings
Most importantly is talking. Talk to your family and friends or a professional. You will see that you are not alone, and you are not the first person to go through this. My key lesson has been each time is hard, but you can know that you have gotten through it before.
The other person I speak to is my colleague and line manager David. I have always been open about my challenges and he has always been supportive. In my ten years at the British Retail Consortium, I have had to take time off with mental health issues and David and my other colleagues made me feel supported, valued, and welcomed me back. I cannot tell you how much of a difference that made to me and how it helped my return to work and productivity. That culture that we have in our team and wider in the Retail Consortium has made a huge difference to me getting better when the hard times have come. And that is how it should be. Corporate culture should ensure support and talking about struggles rather than fear and lack of understanding. It helps the person involved, makes it a better place to work and gets better results.
What I have done is not a blueprint for everyone, but I know what works for me. I still get bad days and always will. It took me until I was in my late 30s before I had all the tools, I needed to be able to cope and that is why I am so vocal about mental health. I want others to learn from my experience and if one person takes a positive step to talk or to ask for help because of what I write and say then I will have succeeded.
I fundraise for the Northern Ireland mental health charity Aware-ni.org so I can support their work to give people from young to old the tools they need to cope, and it gives me a very good reason for all the running! Their message is the same as mine. You are not alone and there is always someone to talk to. You can get through this.