March 27, 2013

Lifford Shillingford from Artful DodgerI'm self employed as a singer songwriter which I have been most of my life. I've had some chart success in the year 2000 with a group called Artful Dodger singing their chart hit "Please Don't Turn Me On" reaching no. 4 in national charts in the U.K. I also teach students, sharing my knowledge for singing and my experiences in the music business.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety over 10 years ago after finally reaching out for help. I realised that I couldn't get through this alone and that maybe, after years of fighting this illness, attempts to take my own life and self medicating, I didn't have the strength to do it anymore.

The overwhelming feeling of being alone crippled me. I spent days on end in bed getting up only to use the toilet. I spent countless days just crying; crying all day wishing for someone to save me.

People living with mental illness can seem self-absorbed

People living with mental health problems can, from the outside, seem very self absorbed, selfish and inconsiderate but, trust me, when you feel so much emotional pain that it becomes physical, that your heart at any moment feels like it could fall into the pit of your stomach, there is no time for anyone else.

When I did manage to go out it was about getting what I needed as quickly as possible with little eye contact, no care for what I looked like. I had turned into that person I used to see as a kid, hair uncombed clothes, dirty and ruffled... that was me.

Knowing I had someone to talk to was really helpful

People who are different are often scary. People like to put things in boxes so they can have an organised view about life but that's exactly what mental illness isn't. It isn't organised and box like, one condition alone can have so many layers and complications which can change from day to day.

I learnt quite quickly that getting better is a gradual thing and that there is no quick fix. Some things were immediately really helpful though, like knowing that I wasn't alone, knowing that there were people out there like me (lots of them) and, mostly, it was so helpful to know that I had someone to talk to and help me understand what was going on with me. And that was a huge step in the right direction.

I still felt folk would rather not talk about mental health

Once I began to understand more about my condition, I then felt I had to try and educate others around me which at times was truly frustrating and at disappointing. I felt and still feel at times that folk would rather I didn’t talk about it, often changing the subject at the first opportunity. I again began to feel alone and frustrated at people’s reaction to my honesty about what I'd been through. Friends fell away leaving just a handful and even family members stopped communicating with me and turned their attention to my wife who I suppose in their eyes was still "normal".

It takes time patience and perseverance to take those steps that make change. It's taken me a long time to get where I am today but I'm working again and feel really good about my achievements. I found that the doing has to come from within, only you can take those steps to heal yourself and even though at the time they seem minute and pointless steps eventually, eventually you will walk again.

Discrimination stems from a lack of understanding

I think discrimination stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding of mental illness. I think a lot of people who have had no knowledgeable contact with anyone living with depression or other mental illnesses are genuinely scared. We all knew someone growing up who was labelled mad or different and we were always told to keep away from them, as if they were likely to freak out at any moment and bite off your ear off. The truth is that people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be victims – rather than perpetrators – of violent crime.

I've finally achieved a life-long goal of mine, which is to make a record of songs about my life and experiences. It's taken me a while but it's here now, I'm here now. There's a song called Sinking Swimming which is about that helpless feeling I describe and with some help from friends I've made a video that is due for release soon. 5 years ago I wouldn't have dreamt of successfully coordinating a project like this, stretching my mind to organise and multitask. So please listen, I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading my story.

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Lifford Shillingford is on Twitter @Liffordshilling and you can find out more about his music at

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