Today is the BIG BLURTATHON which has been organised by the Blurt Foundation and this year it’s all about the power of your story. In keeping with that theme, here is mine…
For those of you that don’t, my name is Stuart and I’m a 43-year-old father to 5-year-old triplets. I’ve been married for over 13 years and my wonderful wife has the patience of a saint. We live in a small village where life is good. There is a recurring cloud that keeps overshadowing some of this as I suffer from depression. I was officially diagnosed just over 6 years ago but that wasn’t the start of it. I had been to see the doctor about how I was feeling a couple of years prior to that but was told that if I went and lost some weight then I’d probably feel better! Strangely that didn’t do the trick but after that it took me a while to work up the courage to go back again. When I think back I believe that it originally started when I was at university, but it wasn’t something I was aware of and I was at the point in my life where it was easy enough to self-medicate with a few pints.
When I was diagnosed it was almost a relief as then I could start trying to treat it. The first time I had counselling wasn’t all that successful, but I think that was mainly because I struggled to express how I felt and, in all honesty, I don’t think I was ready to talk about it with a stranger, even if they were a qualified one. After that and further discussions with my GP (who was a vast improvement on the first one) I started taking medication to help which has been successful so far. The best way I can describe the medication is that it has taken out the extremes so that when I get low I don’t seem to go as low as I used to, and I don’t feel like I’m going to burst into tears just because there is a puppy on TV! That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with crying and it’s something I still do but at least I don’t feel like I’m going to do it all the time. There’s nothing wrong with me expressing their feelings and we don’t always have to ‘man up’. Times have changed, and men have changed but there is still a perception in some that they shouldn’t show any weakness by crying as then they won’t be a ‘real man’. My answer to that would be that you must have strength in order to let people see that vulnerability in you. It takes courage and inner strength to be able to let people see behind your wall and see what is really going on. I don’t think that my illness has made me weak or that I am any less of a man as I’ve had the strength to get to this point and have been able to be honest with myself and others about how I am feeling and what it is like to suffer from depression.
One of the things that has really helped started following a suggestion from one of my friends. He was one of the first people I spoke to about it and he understood as he had been struggling with his own mental health for many years. He pointed me in the direction of some good resources such as the Blurt Foundation and the Dippyman blog (written by the awesome Paul Brook) and he also suggested writing my own blog (which you can find here) or journal as it would help with expressing how I felt and getting it out from inside my head. That was one of the best things anyone has ever sad to me as it helped me open up about how I was feeling, and I found it much easier to express what was going on in my head by putting It on paper. In turn that helped when I tried counselling for the second time as I was much more expressive about how I felt and what was happening which made the whole process much more productive. Talking about how I feel and writing about it have been a great help as part of my self-care and recovery process. It’s almost like you are dumping out what is in your head so that you can have a look at what is going on in there and then just put back the important bits. It’s almost like removing all the background noise so you can hear the music.
There are still ups and downs even though I take the tablets as I doesn’t mean that you don’t feel anything. Unfortunately, one of the downs saw my best friend take his life following a long battle with depression and anxiety. From the outside you would have never known as he was one of the happiest, friendliest and upbeat people that you could ever wish to meet but beneath the happy exterior he was in constant battle with his own head and after many years of fighting it he couldn’t fight it anymore and took what must have seemed to be the only option. I was going through a rough period before I heard the news and the news hit me hard. I don’t think I’ve ever really got over what happened to Dan and I’m not sure that I ever will but like a lot of things that have happened along the way, it has made me more determined to try and break the stigma that surrounds our mental health and to try and help as many people as I can know that they’re not alone. One of the things depression does is make you want to isolate yourself at a time when you would be much better off surrounding yourself with your friends. Talking about it cannot be underestimated as a way of getting through it as it helps you release the pressure you put on yourself as well as helping you find solutions when you can see the wood for the trees.
Following Dan’s passing, I made a promise to him to do all I could to raise awareness and to try and stop anyone else taking their life. I marked the anniversary by starting a year of physical challenges which saw me cycle from Leeds to Hill, take on Tough Mudder, Total Warrior and other obstacle course races, swim 5k, row the distance of the English Channel, taking on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and it was topped off with a 100-mile cycle ride. The aim of all that was to help raise awareness and get people talking as well as trying to raise some money to support the Blurt Foundation and Mind. It was a successful year but despite all we had raised it still didn’t seem like I had done enough so, with the help of some lovely people, set up the Dan Rhodes Foundation. The charity was set up to help raise awareness and promote how being active and healthy could improve your mental wellbeing.
Since the start of the Foundation we’ve continued to try and raise awareness and some money for the Blurt Foundation and York Mind along the way and will continue to do so in the future. There are some big ideas for events so watch this space! I’d also like to thank Jayne Hardy for all the support she has given me since I first contacted her after Dan’s death. She’s been an inspiration and has two books published that could help with your self-care.
The final thought that I want to leave you with is that you are not alone. If you are struggling, why not try talking to one of your friends or there are lots of good resources online if you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know. If you’re not struggling, the chances are that one of your friends will be so why not reach out to them and see if they need to talk. Don’t forget to check on those friends you think are the strongest as no one is immune to mental illness. It can strike anyone at any time and there doesn’t have to be an obvious event to trigger it. We can all help by looking after each other and by trying to spread a bit more love in the world rather than being judgemental all the time. It’s easy to judge someone but you don’t know what is going on in their life.
If you want to find out more about the Dan Rhodes Foundation, have a look at our website as there are lots of blogs and links to resources that might help. You could also follow us on social media and the links are also on the website.
Your story is important so don’t hide it away. Onwards and upwards