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Be good at being me

It was the start of one of the biggest battles I have ever faced, yet even then I kept quiet…

Each person has a story to tell, this could be at different stages in their lives and affected by different circumstances and situations. My story starts about 2 ½ years ago. Despite the fact that I’m now 47 the last 2 ½ years have been the most difficult, arduous, challenging and loneliest times I have ever faced. This exacerbated a feeling of being abandoned, judged and misunderstood.

As a male in 2020 talking about mental health, feelings of worthlessness and your own feelings of inadequacy isn’t great. Despite what some people say, they have no idea what goes on in your head, no idea of how lonely, how vulnerable and how desperate you feel. You hear people and organizations coming out in public support, but yet the realism is different. People would have us believe that mental health is accepted and it is the norm but reality states the very opposite.

I hear the words inclusion, mental health awareness, support and understanding, yet these are merely words. I don’t doubt the sincerity of these words, I don’t even doubt the motives and initiatives that are in place, what I do doubt is that the people who speak these words fail to understand what I feel and why I feel that way.

The clichéd sayings of “you’ll be fine”, “get some rest”,” just relax this weekend and do nothing” to the other end of the spectrum “just pull yourself together” “I understand how you feel”, these sayings in fact do more harm than good. 

Why? – because people try to reason, think and second guess. They try to make it right, want to make it right, they have genuine motives for helping but often do not understand the complexities of mental health. Goodness, even I don’t understand the way I am at times. As I don’t even know why I feel the way I do, as the person who battles with it the most, then really what chance does anyone else have?

That is the point. I don’t ask that people understand it, I don’t ask that people resolve my issues or even make it easier, all I ask is for people to be tolerant despite their own misunderstandings and misgivings. I ask for people to listen without judgement, without prejudice, without any preconceived ideas on the type of person I am. This shouldn’t result in people believing that somehow I am incapable of doing a good job or even maintaining a high level of work. It can be a case that in someone’s subconsciousness they reason that I can’t cope, they become fearful of even trying to help, in fact this says to me “we don’t need you, we don’t trust you”.

So why write about this now? The reason is simple, it is about breaking down barriers and helping people to see that all of us have a story to tell, we all have difficulties to face, we have demons we try to conquer each day. It is O.K. to say I’ve had enough! It is O.K to break down in tears and share your emotions. It is O.K. to be you!

One thing I have come to realise in my short journey is this “be good at being me” attitude. Before, I did nothing but compare myself to others, told myself I’m not good enough, told myself I was a rubbish dad, husband and friend. I became more reclusive. After all, why would I try and help when I had nothing good to offer.

So “be good at being me” is now a more positive approach to my life, the way I live it and what I am trying to accomplish. Do I still have the same feelings as above? Absolutely, however now I can see some of the good things I can and do. Instead of comparing myself with others, I now look at what I accomplish each day and tick that as a win for me.

What are the wins?

Sometimes it’s getting out of bed and coming to work; other times it’s cooking tea, or helping the kids with their homework. It could be going for a walk, talking to a friend or even just answering my phone!

I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but in truth nobody asked me to be, that was a demand I was putting on myself. Why should I measure myself by standards I cannot reach? I don’t do that to others so why expect that from myself.

I’m convinced that there are far more people out there like me, who daren’t say anything to anybody, don’t want to say anything, feel embarrassed to talk about their mental health – this is by far the loneliest and most silent place one can be.

I would like to give you a small window to look at my experience:

For a number of weeks I was feeling low. It reached the point where I considered taking my own life. My mindset completely changed, I changed from being someone who loved to help people to not wanting to even speak at all. I led a very one dimensional life; I went to work, came home and went to bed. This happened every night for a number of weeks.

Eventually my wife plucked up the courage and asked me to see a doctor, what happened next was something I would never had anticipated! You see, I grew up with a ‘real man’s’ man attitude and lived that life. So, on the journey to the doctors I couldn’t help but be sceptical about the appointment. However, when I was called into the doctor’s room I suddenly broke down crying uncontrollably! REALLY – me crying – what was going on here? I was put on sick leave for four weeks. I couldn’t even ring my manager because I was in such a state. I was sat in the car with my wife whom I am grateful for the support she gave me, there are people who don’t have this support and I felt I didn’t until this point. I will remember the doctor’s words forever: “you need some time to get clarity and focus” at least she thought I wasn’t bonkers!

That was the start of one of the biggest battles I have ever faced, yet even then I kept it quiet except from my wife. I battled on for weeks, but eventually came to the point where I considered suicide!

My parents guessed something was wrong a parents intuition I guess, or likely by the change in my demeanour and the fact I did not interact or reply to any messages they sent, I opened up to them and explained how I did not want to burden them with my issues and figured I would get through it. But it was not as simple as telling them, I went to see them, when walking up the drive, I broke down crying and would not enter the house, could not enter the house, I don’t know why, I had never lived here, had no emotional attachment to the place, my dad was unable to get me into the home, my mom then intervened and managed after some coaxing to get me in the house, I remember sitting down in the chair, feeling tired and exhausted, before another word was spoken I was asleep in the chair, they just left me until I woke up.

They were not happy, only because I had not told them sooner. That was a mistake I should have told them from the outset, they needed to know.

I remained on sick leave for eight weeks before feeling able to attempt the return to work. Despite having some time off, I still struggled. I remember this one time I was asked to deliver training and every fibre of my body was screaming out go home; don’t do this, frustration, anger, and a desperation for my life to end, so I did not have to do this anymore. The same afternoon during a short break, I looked out the window and felt the overwhelming urge to jump. Then the group returned and I allowed my training partner to take over as I walked out.  I came back into the room and became involved with the session again as though nothing was wrong. It was the last place I wanted to be, but deep down I knew I had to fight back.  

The battle was and is still there. Some days it is worse than others, but as each day has gone by, I feel better.

As I start walking up the stairs I trip and stumble. When I pick myself up and look down, I notice I have not fallen to the bottom of the stairs, instead I have fallen one or two steps. It is much easier for me to start from that point than from the beginning when in reality that is not the case.

I decided to accept some help.  I’m not really sure at what point this was, nor what exactly made me do it, but after a number of weeks of being back at work I began receiving counselling.  At first this made me really angry and I did not engage properly – I felt it was intrusive, impersonal, quoting books by so called leaders in the field, and in all fairness it’s the first time I had ever had this so it was unfamiliar, I did not trust the person, incredibly scared that the information would be passed back to my employer and somehow I would lose my job and reputation. However I tried another counsellor and this made a difference. Why was it so different this time? Maybe I had now had experience of what these sessions were like, maybe I was feeling a bit better mentally, maybe my outlook had changed, I’m not certain I can say for sure, except that it was different and a better different.

I am no expert on anybody’s mental health other than mine. I cannot and will not advocate what anybody should or should not do when it comes to treatment,medication or alternatives. But what I would say is this; don’t suffer in silence, don’t keep quiet, don’t hide how you truly feel. If you can just find one person – whether that’s a colleague, friend, family member or other avenue – then take it. It can and will make a positive difference.

People or organisations don’t understand mental health and I don’t think they ever will. The only way we can help people understand mental health is by showing them what we are capable of accomplishing with it, we can show people how we feel empowered by this dreadful disease. We can show that our ambitions, our strengths, and our vulnerability are to be embraced and harnessed in the correct way. 

Today there is much said about diversity and equality, yet somehow it still remains as far away for some as it ever was. I still feel apprehensive about talking to certain people, when I complete my application forms I do not share this information – what would people think? What would people say? How would they act? Would it cost me a chance of getting the job? The fact I can’t honestly answer these questions tells me that much is yet to be achieved within equality and diversity. I believe innovation is needed to help people who feel this way, to break the mould, to look at different avenues which can be pursued to help include everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, this has not stopped me from applying for a job and it never will, but the process should be easier, more empathetic, more realistic, to help us overcome feelings that we battle with on a daily basis. The same feelings that others simply cannot and do not understand.

How will things pan out in the future?  I honestly have no idea, but one day hopefully we might share some anecdotes and give an update on how things have been, what they are and what aspirations we have for the future.

I’ll finish by sharing some of the coping mechanisms I use in the hope that one or more of them may prove useful to you;

  1. Maintaining a balanced and stable daily routine
  2. Staying physically active
  3. Trying to get enough sleep
  4. Taking some time to relax each day
  5. Have a balanced diet
  6. Limit my alcohol intake
  7. Avoiding isolation, spend time with those I know are my true friends whom I trust
  8. Listen to some upbeat music
  9. Think and note down the good things in my life
  10. Keep any messages, texts etc from friends who have expressed concern and offered support, I tend to go back and read these when I feel my mood dipping
  11. Let go of bad feelings towards others/situations and experiences
  12. Counting numbers
  13. Going for a walk and getting some fresh air.

Please stay safe and well, and thank you for reading.