My story began eight years ago but only really became clear to me three years ago, after I had a heart attack.
Eight years ago, I lost my mum to cancer and my nephew to meningitis within two weeks of each other. I was grieving, but there was more going on that that. I wouldn't speak to anyone about how I was feeling and I became more and more isolated. I was scared that if I told people what I was feeling or what I was going through, they wouldn't understand. I was trying to earn a wage to pay the bills and had I young children, I didn't want them worrying about their dad.
Being a male, I decided to bury my head in the sand and carry on regardless. Spending a lot of time on my own, working more hours to keep myself busy and out of the house. My family thought I was grumpy and moody as I was always snapping at people. In reality I was slipping into depression and couldn't speak to anyone. I didn't want my bosses thinking I couldn't do my job, I was a manager running a busy sales office. I needed my job.
Work was becoming more and more stressful as targets where getting harder to achieve. I didn't pass on the stress to my staff and soaked up more and more, becoming anxious on a regular basis. I was worrying about debts, so everything was getting on top of me. I still didn't speak to anyone. I didn't really understand stigma but in my mind I was scared of admitting that I had a problem. I was definitely self stigmatising.
Eventually everything came to a head and I had a heart attack. The doctors can't say for sure that stress and anxiety caused it but that it was a definite factor as I had no other risk factors. My blood pressure and cholesterol were both normal. My poor mental health eventually affected my physical health.
At first I again tried to deal with this on my own but soon realised I needed help. I visited my doctor who suggested medication, but I didn't want tablets! We discussed counseling and decided CBT was the way forward. I had six sessions which helped massively. I left my job and spoke to my family and friends about how I was feeling and what had been going on. Talking about it and facing my problems definitely helped me to come to terms with everything.
Now I speak to groups of people with Time to Change about my story in the hope I can help other people. I've realised sharing my story is the most powerful tool I have. It helps other people, but it is self-help for me too, as I never hide away or get myself isolated, and never forget what stigmatising myself caused.
The best piece of advice I can give is to speak out. Especially men. Don't hide away, because you may not be as lucky as me. I came out the other side, but I may have not!