I’ve touched on this subject before a couple of times on my original blog but as it’s something that I feel like I’m now in a position to explore a bit deeper and it is such an important subject, it felt worth bringing it up here. I’ve also had some recent experiences that have brought it again into focus.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been very insular and have kept things to myself. It’s probably partly from being an only child as you don’t have siblings to discuss anything with and partly due to parental influence as both my parents are good at keeping their emotions under wraps. When I was growing up there was always the notion that you shouldn’t show any weakness so if you were anxious or scared the best thing to do was to hide it. This isn’t a criticism of anyone, but each generation has their quirks and my parent’s generation were raised as the country came out of the war and all the difficulties that it brought along with it. The ‘stiff upper lip’ was the prescription for everything and the phrase should have been ‘keep smiling and carry on’ rather than ‘keep calm and carry on’. Emotions were kept aside as there were more pressing concerns. This was then passed down through the parents to their children and the thought of talking about how you felt was scoffed at.
As I got older, I still enjoyed spending time on my own and despite having a few good friends I would have always classed myself as being shy. One place I wasn’t shy was when I played football as despite never really reaching my full potential it was one place, I always felt comfortable and more confident the older I got. When I first started playing, I wasn’t that confident but that grew as became better and whilst I don’t think I was ever arrogant, I had confidence in what I could do and knew I was pretty good at it. As my time at school came to an end, I found something else that helped when I was in social situations as I had started drinking and it seemed like that took away some of the social awkwardness. I still struggled in social situations, but it definitely helped me talk to people and be more interactive rather than just standing on the periphery.
The problem was that this was just masking the issue and when I went to university, I don’t think I was emotionally ready or mature enough for leaving home. What a lot of people don’t know is that I really struggled for the first couple of months to settle in and wanted to give it up and go back home. There were several occasions when I had been crying on the phone to my parents as I was missing home and a few weeks in, they came up to visit as they were concerned about how things were turning out. I stuck it out but looking back in so many ways it probably wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made as I wasn’t ready for it and didn’t know how to deal with how I felt so I ended up turning to the one thing that always made any problems go away. The problems never really went away though, they were just forgotten about for a while and then came back worse each time. It was a temporary solution and just made matters worse rather than better. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to try and get help or talk to someone about how I felt, I just kept burying my head in the sand and drinking the problems away.
I hope this isn’t sounding like I had a drink problem as I don’t think I ever did as I never really drank during the week and was a classic binge drinker. When I did drink it often stretched further than a couple of drinks, but it was never something that seemed out of control. The other thing that is also worth pointing out is that my time at university wasn’t a negative experience as there were so many positives to take out of it. I made some amazing friends there, some of whom I still rely on even though we don’t see each other as much as we would like. There are also lots of people that I’m still occasionally in touch with who have had my back and have been supportive with the Foundation. The biggest thing I’ve taken from the experience is that I learnt so much about myself, not necessarily at the time but in the years that followed as I had never really failed at anything before then and have developed emotionally as a result. I don’t think I’m the finished article by any means as I still struggle with opening up to people and am still emotionally immature for my age but I’m much further on than I was then. Even if I had the opportunity to talk to someone back then I don’t think it would have made any difference as I would have struggled to get anything out as even when I had my first round of counselling many years later, I struggled to express how I was really feeling.
Trying to numb my feelings was something that continued long after I left university and it took a long time to accept that I was suffering from mental illness and see my GP. This wasn’t helped as after building up the courage to talk to my GP I was told that I should lose some weight and then I wouldn’t have a problem! Unfortunately, I had seen an unsympathetic GP who didn’t seem to see past that. I’m not saying that I didn’t need to lose some weight (which is still the case) but that wasn’t the cause of my problems as gaining weight has been one of the results of how I’ve felt as it often results in comfort eating (which in the end hasn’t really provided any comfort at all!). It took a couple of years to go back to the Doctors and fortunately the second time around I saw my usual GP who was much more helpful and arranged counselling and my treatment. The visits to the Doctor both came around as a result of talking to people about how I was feeling. At the time it was hard to bring up and was something I felt embarrassed to be talking about but that was the start of process of getting help. It felt like a weight had been lifted when I first spoke about it and that was how I also ended up writing about how I felt through my blog. It was Dan that suggested writing a blog and pointed out the Dippyman blog that was written by his friend Paul Brook as one that might help. Ever since reading it for the first time I’ve enjoyed reading Paul’s blogs and can relate to how he feels and the effects that depression have had. I’ve been fortunate enough to get Paul to write a blog for the Foundation as he’s so good at expressing how it feels to have depression.
When I tried counselling for the second time it had a more beneficial effect as I was then able to express myself better having written about how I felt through the blog and by then I had spoken to more people about it as it was no longer something that I was hiding from everyone. The process was much easier than the first time as I knew what to expect and I also had a better understanding of how I was feeling and what was having a positive or negative effect on how I felt. I never thought that I would enjoy writing as it was something that I hadn’t done since being at school and something that I never felt that skilled in, but I have really enjoyed writing the blogs and have found them a positive experience. Writing the blogs helped me open the door to talking to bring up the subject with friends which has then resulted in having a wider support network and being able to help other people who might be going through the same things.
It’s been a few years now since I last had counselling, but I still find it cathartic to speak to someone or to write a blog to let my feelings out. I find that it still has the effect of lifting the pressure that you feel under and it’s almost like a release when you let it out. If you don’t feel like writing things down in a blog, there are lots of good support groups online that are very helpful as a place to get out things that are troubling you and they can provide support and suggestions on how to get through it. Once you start talking about it you soon find that you’re not alone and that more people are struggling than you think and are supportive. It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of social media but there are some positive aspects especially the support you can get from other people who have been through a similar situation. If you want any further details regarding the online groups, then let me know.
The point that all of this comes back to is that in my experience talking and getting how you feel out is one of the most important things you can do and that you shouldn’t be scared about people judging you for it. When I tried to bottle up how I felt it didn’t work for me as it never really addressed the problems. All I did was mask how I felt and take my mind off it for a brief period but when it then reappeared it was worse, mainly due to putting off dealing with the problem in the first place. In hindsight I should have sought help much sooner, but I didn’t realise that I had a problem for a long time. As with any problem you must admit that you have one before you can do anything about it. Part of the problem was that mental illness and depression wasn’t really discussed when I first started to struggle but things have changed for the better and, even though there are still some people who don’t understand, there is much more information out there and you are not alone in feeling that way. If there was one takeaway message from this, it would to find someone you can talk to as it will help and as Bob Hoskins used to say: ‘it’s good to talk’.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, please share so that we can reach more people and spread the message further. If you have any questions or want to know anything about the Foundation, either get in touch or have a look at our website.
Onwards and upwards