February 13, 2017

As a man, admitting to having a mental illness is still seen as a 'weakness'. The stigma still remains. This week, a post I made on Twitter regarding anxiety (#anxietyepidemic), received a lot of feedback, including from men who engaged in the conversation. This has encouraged me to write further about my own experiences, and hopefully help men to talk.

My story in short, is one of depression and crippling anxiety, which began in my early 20's. After years of partying, drinking and basically eating rubbish, I piled on the weight. My self-esteem plummeted, which in turn fuelled my growing mental health issues. My anxiety was so bad at one point; even travelling on public transport was a challenge. I knew I needed to seek help and was placed onto a distance-based CBT programme via my GP. Combined with improving my diet and exercising; my condition improved, but never went away.

9 years later, I sit here knowing my depression and anxiety issues will probably never leave me. Some days I wake up and feel like I do not want to get out of bed. The mental strength I use to drag myself up to face the day can be exhausting. On such occasions, I am noticeably quieter. Sat trying to put a front on, and function as a 'normal' member of society, when all I want to do is shut myself away and sleep, can be draining and frustrating at the same time. The days when I feel good, I feel like I can conquer anything. The days when I feel low, I feel like the most abject failure this world has ever produced.

Anxiety can manifest itself to me in various forms, be it generalised, health or social. The panic attacks I suffer when my heart beats a little funny or when I find a random lump which turns out to be nothing, can be debilitating. Every headache is a stroke, every ache is cancer. I laugh at myself when not in the moment anxiety has me gripped.

My social life has certainly suffered, where years of closing myself off from friends and the outside world has resulted in lost connections. Most people probably thought I was just ignorant or uninterested, when the reality is whilst I wanted to socialise; my social anxiety prevented me from doing so.

In 2016, after being made redundant, I was unashamed to admit that I needed help again; and talking with a therapist was such a helpful process for me. However, not many people know of my struggles. Not even my parents. I mentioned to an employer once I was having a bad period of depression, which was why my performance had dropped slightly. This was met with the supportive comment of, "if I had known you had depression when we employed you, I wouldn't have'. No wonder people, male or female, feel like they can't speak up about their struggles.

 Just this week, I have been the subject of what society feels a man should be. A jovial dig about me not being a 'real man' because I have never put up some shelves got me thinking … I would happily describe myself as a thinker, a dreamer, someone who is more at home reading political blogs and football analysis than fixing a car or putting up shelves. I don't go to the gym (I prefer running); don't have bulging biceps and these days, barely even drink. But why does any of this make me less of a man?

This all feeds into the 'weakness' stigma of mental health. If I broke my leg, would I be less of a man? No. I am the same person, just wearing a bandage. Ditto my anxiety, which is just an illness which affects my brain.

I am so scared of others reading this (thanks society), but I feel it is important for other men to know that they are not alone. There must be so many men who are scared to admit they have a problem, because they don't want to be seen as weak, to the point where some feel their only option is to die. This has to stop.

My name is Adam. I have mild depression and utterly frustrating anxiety. So what? I’m no less of a man.

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