Stories

Here are a selection of stories from contributors to our book. 

We would love to hear your stories too, please submit them here

Lewis’ Story

Lewis, 28, describes his battle with social anxiety and depression and how meeting like-minded survivors at a local group CBT session helped turn his life around.

I have always been a nervous and anxious person and have always suffered with low self-esteem and confidence. This year, I went through my first proper bout of depression. I was the ‘poster boy’ of depression; ticking off many of the symptoms.

It wasn’t until the last five years that I started to really suffer from anxiety. I have always been of a nervous disposition but, in 2014/15, those symptoms increased and I could barely go day to day without those symptoms. I was incapable of going anywhere busy as I would sweat profusely (and still do!), constantly mopping my forehead and face. I would focus all of that tension into my hands, often appearing twitchy. I would speak at a quicker rate and become easily tongue-tied. All of these symptoms would just make me more alert and appear very much on edge. At this point, everyone around me started to notice this change in me, though for some time I denied anything was wrong and that I was coping.

What triggered this? At this point in my life I was friendless and isolated, not seeing family and struggling to be around them when I did. Mounting pressure from the Job Centre was taking its toll, with added stress from my home life.

As life carried on, I remained adamant that nothing was wrong. But looking back, things were definitely not OK! I could barely stand being in a busy or crowded place and would have to leave quickly just to cope. I spent most of my time in my bedroom which I christened my ‘fortress of solitude’!

At the end of 2014, things had become too much and I went to my doctor who recommended group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness to help me relax. After coming off my Job Seeker’s Allowance I went onto an employment support scheme – a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I went into my second round of group CBT and made some brilliant new friends. We quickly established a bond and all of this helped me a great deal. Later that year I started one-to-one CBT, which really helped sort things out for me.

If I could give advice to someone in that same position I would say: “You are not alone in your struggles, there is help out there and things will get better!”

 

Top Tips:

  • Acknowledge that you’re suffering and be kind to yourself.
  • Go to your doctor and see if they can help you.
  • Tell others that you trust how you have been feeling.
  • Do some research there is a wealth of i- nformation about mental health issues online.
  • There is further help out there such CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
  • I would also recommend the helpful blog post: Letters to the Mind

*WARNING: this story mentions the topic of suicide*

Justin’s Story 

Overwhelming feelings of work-related anxiety led Justin to a complete loss of self-confidence, followed by depression and, ultimately, thoughts of taking his own life. Facing and fighting his fears is a constant battle and here he shares his self-care tips.

I’m planning to take my life. A suicide note to my wife and nine-month-year-old daughter sits on my lap. This is it; this is what it’s come down to. What a loser and waste of space I am.

This is how I found myself 12 years ago, aged 32, in 2008. It feels surreal writing it now, but thankfully I’m still here to tell the tale. So how and why did it come to this and what lessons have I learned?

Well, I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression from an early age. We have a history of mental illness in the family and it’s a constant battle. The usual sequence of events for me is that I start feeling anxious about something – nine out of 10 times it’s triggered by work – I quickly and completely lose confidence in myself and then it spirals into a deep depression.

I also suffer from what I’ve now learned is called the ‘imposter syndrome’ where I feel like a fraud who’s going to be found out at any moment. Despite 19 years’ experience in my work, I constantly live in fear that someone will call me out and say: “This guy is absolutely hopeless at his job. You are so busted!”

That overwhelming, all-consuming, debilitating fear has led me to want to take my own life on several occasions.  And what stops me? Quite simply, the love I have for my wife and my daughter.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”. I’ve realised that we all have a ‘why’ – mine’s my family – so if you can find your purpose and keep it in mind, you can live a much happier, more peaceful life.

A real turning point, for me, came in 2018 when I took the step to speak openly to my local GP, who really took the time to listen to me. I was very resistant to taking any kind of medication but the doctor made a helpful comparison, saying, “If you had a physical illness like diabetes, you wouldn’t think twice about taking insulin.” He also pointed out that half the town was taking some sort of medication. So, I decided in the end to try an anti-depressant called Citalopram (later moving on to Vortioxietine) which helped lift me out of the depression, ease my anxiety and enable me to start helping myself. Since then, I’ve explored a wide range of tools and techniques – from mindfulness, running and reading to yoga, boxing and ‘cold therapy’ (that didn’t last long!) – to help look after my mental health. Some things work, some don’t. The point is to be open to anything that might help you and to have as many weapons in your armoury as possible.

I hope this story helps you – together, we can fight this illness and show everyone just how strong we really are!

 

Top Tips:

 

  • You’re only human and you’re an amazing human. Be kind to yourself and treat (and speak to) yourself as you would to a good friend.
  • You’re so not alone. One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
  • It’s good to talk. However hard it feels and however much you just want to shut yourself away from the world, try and find someone – a partner, friend, family member, GP, professional counsellor, the Samaritans – who will listen and not judge, and share with them what you’re going through. You will feel loads better.
  • You’re not weak – quite the opposite – you’re incredibly strong to cope with what you’re going through. As the author Michael Rosen wrote, “You’re sad, not bad”. Give yourself a break and tell that inner critic who basically lies, constantly, to shut the f@&k up! I find that mindfulness, in particular, really helps me identify destructive thoughts and weakens their power over me.

 


Recommendations:

Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E Frankl (Rider, New edition; 2004)

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig (Canongate Books Main edition, 2015)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams, Dr

Danny Penman (Piatkus Books, 1st edition; 2011)

30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, Karl Pillemer Ph.D. (Avery; 2012)

The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living, Russ Harris (Robinson Publishing; 2008)

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, Rick Hanson (New Harbinger; 2009)

Affluenza, Oliver James (Vermilion; 2007)

 

If you have been affected by this story, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org

Will’s Story

In the past, when people used to talk about people with mental health problems, I would glaze over slightly whilst feeling sorry for “those people” but assume that they clearly had a lot of problems in their life which had caused them poor mental health . As I was mentally fine (or so I thought), it was not something for me to worry about personally. A logical, unemotional and slightly uncaring response you might think. Suits a lawyer I guess. Still, like most things in life, it is only when you experience something yourself that you really get to understand it and be able to truly empathise.

It started gradually, with a constant general anxiety about money and work, to not being able to sleep and poring with sweat every night and feeling deeply paranoid and barely functioning and self-obsessing with catastrophizing thoughts. Much worse than any physical pain, the unknown world of anxiety and depression means you are never sure when the nightmare is going to end. Self-doubt, dark thoughts, worthlessness and anxiety shrouded the mind. Libido and hope disappears as does self-confidence.

Fortunately, thanks to a great GP, some anti-depressants, counselling and CBT(Cognitive behaviour therapy), my church, the support of close friends and loved ones, I managed to slowly (over a period of 15 months – 2 years) became more myself.

Being a slight introvert/perfectionist and being a British man mean that the idea of talking therapy/counselling with a stranger is like being asked to run naked through a funeral. However, getting out the demons means putting things back into the right box mentally speaking and normally there are a few demons for us all.

The occasional trigger means a fear of a return of the Black Dog, but, with positive thinking, prayer, support of loved ones, exercise and mental exercise, I have managed to keep the mental ship afloat. A bit like a bad back, regular daily prevention is required, whether physical or mental.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and would much prefer a physical injury which normally takes a shorter time to heal and has a known result and outcome. Fortunately the way mental health is understood and dealt with has improved massively in recent years for adults but there is still a long way to go in terms of access to free and immediate mental health support.

What I have learnt is that anyone can suffer from mental health issues and men are particularly prone due to their inability to express or share their concerns/weaknesses with friends or people who could help. I have also understood myself better, realise that we can reprogram the way we think about ourselves and situations and recognise that many of us have self-medicated before with alcohol or other methods to mask out pain which is only a temporary solution.

They say it’s good to talk. Not always no, but I would agree, better out than in. I have learnt that joy and enjoyment is the antidote to anxiety/depression and bottling up pain and being manly about it is like putting a ticking bomb inside of yourself, not a good idea.