July 18, 2012

Graham, a Time to Change bloggerQuite often, men find themselves reluctant to talk about their problems because they see it as a sign of weakness. I understand, because I've been there myself - but in reality it is just a stigma.

Although the true extent of my mental health issues only became apparent earlier this year, the signs have been there for a while.

For years I have isolated myself in my bedroom, curtains closed, ignoring the outside world and all the problems that came with it. I also found myself getting paranoid that people were talking about me, deliberately ignoring me or laughing at me. This led to me having several unnecessary confrontations with people.

Towards the end of last year, I met a girl who I was enjoying a close friendship with. We were texting each other constantly but when there was a break in texts I started to get paranoid that I had done something wrong and accused her of ignoring/hating me. The worst part was, a few hours after the argument, I was unable to properly remember what had happened. From then on, I was racked with crippling guilt and would apologise profusely until she forgave me. When these incidents became more frequent, it became clear that something was wrong.

One morning the realisation finally sunk in

One morning the realisation finally sunk in. After spending the night at a friend’s house, I woke up in unfamiliar surroundings which immediately made me uncomfortable. I lay in bed for a while, worrying about things that had happened during the week before and what could potentially happen in the coming the week. I had rehearsed every possible scenario in my head before focusing on the one that would potentially hurt me the most and then expecting that to happen.

All of a sudden I sat bolt upright and thought “I’m not myself – who am I?” like I had become a stranger. I settled back down and tried to reassure myself that I had nothing to worry about. I remember thinking; I’m Graham, I’m 27 years old, I have a good job, a successful part-time business venture, a loving family and great friends – but I’m not happy, why am I not happy?

 I felt truly ashamed of myself – here I am, a 27 year old bloke, having to take pills just to make me feel normal

I went to see my doctor. After a few appointments, I was prescribed anti-depressants to stabilise my mood. I felt truly ashamed of myself – here I am, a 27 year old bloke, having to take pills just to make me feel normal. I felt like I had let everyone down.

To begin with I suffered in silence with only my close family knowing the truth. Exhausted from sleepless nights and shackled by the stigma surrounding mental health, I felt weak and embarrassed to call myself a man.

When I told a friend that I was on anti-depressants, he replied with “what are you depressed about?” in a rather curt manner.

In this time, I told a handful of friends but there was an incident which stopped me in my tracks. When I told a friend that I was on anti-depressants, he replied with “what are you depressed about?” in a rather curt manner. This made me realise there is a distinct lack of understanding when it comes to mental health issues and made me apprehensive to open up to anyone else.

During this time, I lost one of my best friends to chronic rejection of the lungs and initially I found this difficult to deal with. Then a couple of days later, I came across the message he had sent me when I told him about my troubles, three words stood out – “don’t give up”.

I opened up about my troubles and tried to help other people as much as I could

From that day forward I decided to take inspiration from my friend’s passing. I opened up about my troubles and tried to help other people as much as I could. The first thing I did was contact my closest friends to inform them. Surprisingly I discovered that I had been blissfully unaware that quite a few of my friends who had been suffering from mental health problems. This provided me with a bit of extra support that I needed to fight back rather than hide away.

Later that week I made my Time to Change pledge and published this on Facebook and Twitter. The support I received was unbelievable it made me realise that I am strong enough to fight my demons.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of good days and some really bad days

Since then, I’ve had a lot of good days and some really bad days. I still have the occasional sleepless night but not like before. I have rid myself of excess stress and repaired some of the friendships that I have damaged along the way. Seeing a therapist once a week has helped. It has made me learn more about who I am and why I have been feeling the way I do. It’s good to be able to unload for an hour and more often than not I leave with a clear mind.

I learned the true value of my family. Their love is worth more to me than any amount of money. I have also discovered who my true friends are and cannot thank them enough for sticking by me during the hard times. There is still a long way to go for me but talking, and especially writing, about my experiences has made all this a lot easier. Sometimes I just need a kind word or a hug to give me a lift. A text or a short phone call can make all the difference.

Recognising that you need help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness

Recognising that you need help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness. It makes you no less of a man in doing so. No matter how lonely you get or how hard life can be, someone will always listen to your problems. Just remember, you’re not alone.

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