On Mental Health and Other Irritations: Three Years Later

Mental health

This post talks frankly about issues relating to mental health. If you are sensitive, please proceed with extreme caution.

“I want a new, better life for myself. Getting there will not be easy. There will be some difficult times ahead. But I am going to get there. It may take years, but I am going to get there, because I believe that, fundamentally, I am not this thing I appear to have turned into. I wasn’t always like this. I know that deep down, past the layers of neurosis and the fog of negativity, there is a good, loving, happy person. I want to be that person again, not just for my sake, but also for the sake of the people around me. I don’t want to traumatise my beautiful, wonderful friends and family anymore by making them worry that I might kill myself.”

When I originally wrote those words, sometime in early March of 2014, things were about as bad as they could possibly get. I remember standing on the platform at Hammersmith tube station one morning and making a concerted effort to stay in the middle. If I was any closer to the edge, I honestly couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t try and step in front of an oncoming train.

I was signed off of work and living with my parents. My mum would bring me diazepam three times a day, once in the morning, another dose at lunchtime and then one more just before bed. Even under the sickly-sweet chemical blanket of the drug, I still felt like a mess. I would burst into tears at regular intervals. Feeling as if I couldn’t cope was an hourly occurrence. Even the instructions on the back of ready meals were too much to handle.

The simple act of physical existence had become agony and I was desperately unhappy. I had no idea if I would ever experience anything approaching ‘normal’ ever again. To me, it was a place that seemed about as reachable as Saturn.

But, somehow, I did reach it. And as I sit here typing this, that is the place I find myself at right now.

My recovery over the last three years was the closest I have ever come to experiencing a miracle, but it was a miracle that came about thanks to two things: a) a decision on my part to find ways to get better, and b) the extraordinary love and support of the people around me. To this day, I still wonder how I would have fared if I hadn’t had the latter.

Life, so they say, is what you make it. This is the sort of trite sentiment that is entirely worthy of a punch in the face, but it also happens to be true. The very first step on a very long journey came from deciding that I wanted a new experience for myself, one that moved away from depression and anxiety.

That decision, that I wanted to get “better”, was pivotal for me, and it’s where everything started in terms of my recovery. After six years of being at war with my mental health, I realised that nothing and no-one was coming to save me from myself. There was no “magic bullet” that would fix everything. The people around me could contribute to my mental stability but ultimately, I was the one with the most responsibility for it. At first, this realisation seemed like a very daunting prospect. In the long-run, it helped me to empower myself me in ways I couldn’t have envisaged at the time. Again (please bear with the broken record), I couldn’t have done it without the people close to me.

I started with the basics, and cut out all the physical things that I knew wouldn’t help, like shitty food and alcohol, while getting more of the things that I knew would, like gentle exercise (long walks were hugely therapeutic), and eating right, drinking shitloads of water and getting plenty of rest. I started to invest in things that I knew would bring me more joy; playing video games, watching episodes of South Park – laughing out loud felt like a joyful act of resistance against my symptoms – and reading books. I was fortunate enough to find a great therapist and I also started getting acupuncture to deal with the more physical aspects of what I was going through.

I dropped all resistance. If anyone offered to help in any way, I would let them, and I made sure I spent time with people who I knew I would benefit from being around – joyful individuals who would bring much-needed distraction into my life, whether it was going for a walk together or coming to a gig with me. These were people who didn’t see me as depressed or anxious, just as James.

That last bit is very important, as a big part of how I got better had to do with how I saw myself. If I identified so strongly with being a depressive, I reasoned, the condition would always have some sort of hold over me. I wanted to loosen that hold as much as possible, so I made some tweaks – I stopped seeing myself as someone with depression, and instead as someone who just experienced the symptoms. I changed the language I used every day and stopped referring to myself as ‘damaged goods’ or ‘broken’. It was no longer about what I thought I “am”, but more about what I felt. And what I felt could always change.

If I felt depressed or anxious, I would give myself permission to experience those sensations in the moment without negative judgement or labelling. I felt like medication wasn’t working for me, so, after a discussion with my family, I made an informed decision to look into ways in which I could decrease my dependence on it. I did some research and, through trial and error, eventually managed to come off of antidepressants completely (I would stress that I am not an expert on medication by any means and in no way believe a person should decrease their dependence on it without first discussing it with mental health professionals and loved ones).

Needless to say, none of the above was easy. There was a lot of heavy lifting involved. My efforts sometimes met with mixed results and frustration, and I needed several reminders to go easy on myself. Some major life events tested my patience (my reaction to a painful break-up later that year almost brought about a relapse) and there were several occasions where I would take one step forward only to take two steps back. But, be it through sheer bloody-mindedness or thanks to the support of loved ones, I kept trudging forward.

In the present day, things are much improved. Some days are better than others, of course, and making the effort to maintain myself is a daily discipline. All of it, though, is worth it. The symptoms hold so much less sway over me than they did three years ago. I will never stop feeling grateful for this.

Life is tough and we are all of us fighting our own battles. I’m so grateful that I found the help and support I needed to help me with my recovery. I know I was one of the lucky ones, and I also know that there a lot of people out there who aren’t as unfortunate and who are fighting much bigger battles. If you’re reading this and feel like you’re in a similar place to the one I was in three years ago, please know that you’re not alone. There are support networks online and I’d recommend the mental health charity Mind as a good place to start.

I will always be thankful that my beautiful, wonderful friends and family were there for me when I needed them. Love and patience brought me back from the worst place I’d ever known, and in turn inspired me to keep moving forward. As I do so, I truly believe that very little in life is hopeless. I’m making the decision to keep living a new, better life for myself every day.

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