March 2015 - Walking late at night with no purpose or destination, not even the heightened sense of danger I normally feel whilst walking after dark was with me. My current state of mind had encapsulated me and pushed my personality so far inside that my body feels more like an empty vehicle, carrying my busy head. Struggling to deliver one single positive thought, I asked myself “Do I need to seek professional help?!". If by circumstance or by choice, I do not know, but I felt completely alone. Pacing like a caged animal. I was not at that point in my life yet where I understood this angry creature under my skin. No matter how far I walked the taunted animal in me never tired and the good company of counsellors and mindfulness were not yet known to me.
As I was grappling with what feels like a frightening decision to make the busy head slips away. It focuses on the familiar feeling of climbing steps, approaching a diving board, my heart pounding, my breath controlled and steady, that primal feeling of fight or flight kicking in. Just like a professional diver, the choice I’m about to make holds great importance because without guidance, direction and discipline you're not diving, you're just falling! There I was, staring down into those dark waters on the cusp of that pride swallowing decision - Do I choose to let myself keep falling blindly into depression or do I take a controlled dive in, face my troubles and start to truly deal with what’s troubling me?!
I understand now that each decision I have to make will take me to the same place, into that reflective space where all my fear and worry are waiting to envelope me, ready to play broken records and make me sift through boxes of traumatic memories one picture at a time. What I don’t realise yet is how much counselling will help guide me through this swarm of shame and organise this mess that has saturated my mind. There’s something that every diver knows - its if you don’t hit that water correctly, you might as well be falling into concrete. That night I went home and told my wife I was ready to speak to someone and in that moment, with that decision, my path towards connection began.
December 2016 – Me and another builder were digging (what seemed like) a series of pointless holes in the ground at a building site in Blackheath and I could only think that what we were doing was just an effort to look busy in front of the owners. The sun was trying to come out but sadly the grey clouds were still hanging over us. I hadn’t spoken in a while, just the odd nod and gesture to satisfy the social rules amongst men in work boots before 8am. I had recently invested some time into counselling. I wasn’t feeling depressed but wasn't coping very well either. My brother-in-law had been taken into hospital and my family were preparing for the worst. I knew this situation wasn’t about me, but my mind kept over thinking “what will happen if we lose him”? I wish I could have just switched off because what was going on right now was much greater than my problems and I was fearful that my mental health appeared like some shameful cry for attention. Just then, as I was away somewhere ‘complaining to the fairies’ showing an expression that I can only imagine made me appear ‘lost’, my friend brought me back to earth. “What’s up mate? You’re very quiet”. I could have easily shrugged his question off with a ‘I’m just tired’, but there was a sincerity in Simon's voice that put a foot in my doorway. Not knowing where this would take me, I found myself taking a risk and opening up about my worries and suddenly the platform beneath me started to shake a little. He listened intently to my current situation and how I’d been trying to find my role in it all. He told me of the loss he and his other half had been through. We discussed the helplessness of not being able to put it all back together again, the impact it has on the children and how much they need to know so that they can understand the grief that will be around them. My eldest was only 4 and I couldn't help but wonder how those next few months may one day define how he sees life, death and loss. After that conversation I remember feeling lifted. It didn’t change my situation at all- only how I felt about it. It taught me how important it is to have someone outside of the trauma to talk to and that a connection can be found even in the most unlikely of places.
August 2018 - A friend and I met for our monthly meet up in a pub at Victoria Station, a meet that usually consists of one of us expressing our worry over work, relationships etc. I was telling him of how caught up I’d been feeling lately and the many things I do each day to try and keep my self in check; exercise, diet, meditation and much more. He sympathetically interjected and asked “have you ever thought about taking antidepressants”? My mind wandered to thinking- all my daily practices of healthy living will help an anxious mind, but I might be burning down a house to bake a loaf of bread. Maybe I'd been trying to solve the problem from the body up. As I let that idea sink in, my friend suddenly started apologising for being too forward. “It’s none of my business” he said. I reassured him. “It’s ok, you're a close friend now. You're allowed to talk like that”. The conversation, my openness and my reactions to his responses made me realise just how far I’d come! Before then I'd have reacted quite badly to that suggestion, but right in that moment I genuinely appreciated having someone out side of my family to challenge me, especially with honest and trustworthy counsel.
The decision to take medication for anxiety didn’t seem so frightening or shameful and how I arrived at that moment can only be attributed to the people I had surrounded myself with. My network, if you put them all in the same place, might closer resemble the waiting room in the film Beetlejuice. All from different walks of life, each with their own kinks, quirks, stories and beliefs, some looking like a person you might cross the street to avoid, while others would look quite at home in a Vegan Pret-A-Manger. One happens to be a mental health first aider: we call each other when work is making us feel anxious. Another helps me edit my blog. With another group we go to gigs and chew the fat off politics and philosophy. Whether it be counsellor or creed, I have built a network to satisfy each part of my character, and I, in some way, contribute to their lives. Now whenever an area of my life is missing something, I connect with someone who is all about making that better. We check in with each other, not all the time, but enough to know we are in each other's thoughts. Sometimes we dive in and the rest of the time it's all just for laughs. They tell me their stories of what they’ve overcome or the people they have helped and listened to and I feel honoured to be the trusted person they think of to tell. The point of the network is not to just have mates, but to form relationships, friendships, where you understand each other's mental state. The type of person who asks ‘how are you’ Then five minutes later when you're alone asks again, “how are you”? There is great value in having friends that need you and you need them in return. You can be a mate or an acquaintance to anyone, but to have someone who understands what is troubling you and cares enough to help you is something else. Relationships where you challenge each other to be better and never get bored of hearing what the other one has to say and as your relationship grows it no longer feels selfish to talk about your issues. Having people outside of your family to off load to means your focus will be on your loved ones when you return to them. There’s no burden but a simple exchange that might change someone’s whole day for the better. “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light” - (but you don’t have to travel alone).