It’s Men’s Mental Health Week and I thought it might be time for me to weigh in with my experiences with mental health issues and my learnings thus far. I will start off by saying that this is just my opinion, mainly built around ‘bro’ science and my own personal struggles and coping mechanisms. I go by lessons learned in all aspects of my life, I am not a researcher or anything like that. It happens to me, I go through it and manage it as best I can and if I make it out the other side I have learnings! That’s how it works for me so I’ll do my best to get it on paper.
I walked in to the doctors on the morning of November the 11th, Remembrance day which is ironic being ex Army, for what was a fairly routine appointment. 2hrs later I walked out and my whole world had changed forever. At the end of 2019 I had a heart attack before the weigh ins for Eternal DS 1. I was released from hospital the next day and the Dr’s had said they could find nothing wrong with my heart and I was made an outpatient for follow up tests. Fortunately I made it to the show and I’m glad I did as it was a cracker!!! Anyway I was just headed to the Doc to get my results of those follow ups. It was the good news that tipped me over the edge, I had a perfectly healthy heart in fact it was in such good condition it was surprising I had found myself hospitalised. I scratched my head in confusion and then the doc asked me a simple question “ Are you stressed out at all?”. I expected to answer that question with a hard ‘No’ but what happened instead was a breakdown! I began to cry, I hadn’t cried (outside of funerals and The Green Mile) for 15 years. Then all these memories began flowing from my mind and out of my mouth, I hadn’t told anyone these things ever. I certainly hadn’t ever thought about telling them to a relative stranger. My 15 minute consult was stretching almost well in to the 3rd hour and I was still dripping like a tap. The Doc was unreal, she had been a serving Black Hawk pilot for 20+ years so kinda knew a lot of where I was coming from. “You might have PTSD” was her assessment after listening to my dribble for hours.
I was immediately in denial, no not me, I’m good, nothing happened to me at war etc….. She then explained that anything can be a traumatic event, if Cam drops his beer that’s a traumatic event for him! Everyone is different and we all suffer things in different ways. She recommended me to seek therapy and I was open to that but being mid COVID most therapists were solidly booked until the new year. She kept seeing me once a week at the surgery until I could get in to therapy. I had walked in to her office that day without a care in the world, thinking I had it all under control and life was good. To be perfectly honest I left a mess, confused, sad, angry and with what seemed like a permanent black cloud sitting right. I held it together to the car then broke down again, crying in the car would become a regular in my life for the foreseeable future. I managed to get home without crashing.
It was at home where the trouble started, I told my wife what had happened and she was amazingly supportive. She thought it explained a lot as I had been an emotionless robot for the most part of our relationship, she said she would help me through it and we would get there. The problem with mental health is it’s all consuming when it’s bad, I used to think it was weakness as most men my age do. When it had me it really had me, I used to have bad days but had developed a rule that I could sulk or feel sorry for myself for that day but on waking up the next day it was gone, move on and get back to happy, positive me. I couldn’t do that anymore, I would wake up each day with the dark cloud, feeling pessimistic and finding zero joy. Weird, as I have an amazing family, beautiful children and a job I love, what’s to be sad about. I could find zero joy in anything it was all miserable and I couldn’t stop crying. I was ashamed of myself, a weak man who was a burden to all around me and I started to think everyone around me would be better off without me.
One night I was laying in bed and I couldn’t sleep, the misery, self pity and self hate was peaking and I wanted to end it. Get away from everyone who’s life I could worsen. I was about to climb out of bed and who knows what would have happened next. Just as I was about to get up my daughters image flashed as clear as day into my mind. I stopped, I later found out that children who have had a parent commit suicide have a 20% higher chance of becoming a victim of suicide themselves (From a reliable Dr source but no I haven’t researched to fact check, it’s helps me remember I couldn’t pass that legacy on to my kids!), I woke the missus up and she reassured me that I was wanted and needed and I lived to fight another day. For the ensuing weeks and months I remained in this horrible parallel universe of feeling ‘OK’ one minute and being almost convinced I shouldn’t be here the next. Luckily I have a really close group of people around me, my family of course ( I didn’t tell my parents as due to COVID they were stuck on the other side of the world and I didn’t want to worry them unduly) and my gym community and my pals. Everyone was brilliant and I leaned on a couple of people hard over the time post that consult with the doc.
It was a roller coaster, I developed some difficulty with sleeping and people entering my room at night. In my younger years in the forces I had some bad experiences with attacks whilst sleeping. One night my poor daughter came through the door with a red night light (Red light is very commonly used as a filter on torches in the Army) I don’t remember this my wife retold it, I sprung out of bed and grabbed her. I woke to both my wife and my daughter screaming and hysterical, terrified. This broke me, I could have potentially done harm to one of the people I would never knowingly hurt, ever. Sending me back in to a tailspin mentally as it made me think I was even more of a liability to the people around me. This happened again a few weeks later this time with the wife, she came to bed later and when she came in I freaked out again, I don’t remember doing it but came too with her screaming at me from behind the en suite door. I never was physical but was very aggressive, I have zero recollection of this and just came through coated in sweat and confused. The solutions we came up with at home were for me to sleep locked in the spare room for the foreseeable future. A good solution as I knew my family were safe but I found the worst in it. I’m a prisoner in my own home, sleeping locked in the spare room, negativity, negativity, negativity. Old me would have found the positives but I just couldn’t find any. I reached what I hope is my lowest ebb shortly thereafter, my wife was working late, the kids were in bed and I was left with my own thoughts. I quickly got on to the negative thought cycle and before I knew it I was walking circles of my kitchen bench with the biggest knife I could find wondering whether to use it or not. I was calm and I had talked myself to 2 options:
- If I carry on down this path of misery It will end up one way, why be miserable for all that time just put an end to it.
- Stop being miserable, choose to find positives and live life, embrace it and treasure it.
To me it was that simple, fuck off the face of the earth or grab life by the balls and sort myself out. Obviously, I sit here writing this so I made the right choice. I put the knife away, sat down on the couch and cried which was not unusual those days. By the time my wife got home I was in fine form, I sat her down and told her what I had been up to while she was out she was obviously shocked but she said I was noticeably different and we left it at that.
Since then I’ve been very good, once you hit rock bottom everywhere above it is a nice spot. What I have learned from working through all this, what has worked for me in dealing with it is what I will try to explain here. First and foremost I feel like I have to choose how to view life, I have to worry about what I can control. I made a choice marching around my kitchen bench to choose life. It’s a cliché and I think I first heard it being said in the movie Trainspotting but for me it makes perfect sense. My happiness and how I decide to live life is essentially a choice. Literally, everything I’m confronted with on the daily it is my choice how I deal with it. I try to find the positives or if it’s something out of my control I try to not even stress about it. Trust me, I know it sounds simple but it really is a choice, granted it is not an easy choice and I literally had to reach the bottom of the barrel to make it.
The second thing that has been a saviour has been talking about it, I have very open dialogue within my circle and am not afraid to speak up when I’m having a bad day and encourage those around me to do the same. I spend time now asking others how they are doing, not briefly as a pleasantry but a serious question with my full attention attached. It’s amazing how many people have opened up to me as a result too. A problem shared is a problem halved is another saying that is very appropriate, I try to regularly engage those around me in sub surface conversations. It really is good to talk and I personally think mental health afflicts men so badly as we are so reluctant to talk on how we are feeling as it is perceived by many as a weakness. I believe it’s a strength, Tyson Fury is the baddest man on the planet, the heavyweight champion of the world and he is very outspoken about his mental health and is as hugely inspirational character.
The third step I have taken is to seek regular appointments with a professional. It is actually nice to sit with someone who is completely impartial and just get some shit out of your head. I have begun to figure a lot of things out about myself as a result of these chats and I definitely have a better understanding of mental health as a result.
If you are struggling then tell someone, you’d be surprised to know how many people out there are also hiding there struggles. During my time coping with this I was surprised with the amount of close friends I spoke to who were dealing with similar issues or had similar thoughts to me. What has hit home is I am not alone and there is always someone willing to lend you an ear if you have the courage to ask. I have tried to put myself in peoples shoes if they are rude, stand offish, miserable or distant wheras in the past I may have thought ‘Miserable Fucker’ I now try and tell myself that I don’t know what they are dealing with and try cut everyone a bit more slack.
I will leave you with this famous Winston Churchill quote
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”