It took me a long time to come to terms with my mental illness. My childhood and upbringing were incredibly difficult, but throughout those formative years I never really felt like I couldn’t cope.
In fact, some of my friends who knew what was going on at home spoke to me about how impressed they were at how well I reacted to it. I did well in school and was the first person in my family to go to university. I was fairly popular; I had a strong group of close friends and socialised in other circles as well. I also started boxing, alongside my best friend Alex.
On reflection, I realise that I put an enormous amount of effort into seeming OK. At home, there were times when I would weep for hours in my room but I had already bought into my own lie – I was fine. I never stopped to consider how I was actually feeling. The only person I spoke to properly about what was going on was Alex – usually just after we’d pummelled each other in training – but even then I would just outline what was happening, rather than how it affected me. Still, I didn’t realise it at the time but those conversations helped me enormously. He never judged me and he was always there and I’m still trying to think of ways I can repay him.
In 2013, my father took his own life. Because of what he had put me through while I was growing up, we hadn’t spoken for years but his death forced me to think about mental health, and more specifically my own.
By this point, I had met my partner, Andrea, and we had been together for a couple of years. I had spoken to her about my past but it had never even crossed my mind that I was suffering from mental illness myself. A year after my father’s death, my behaviour started to change. My moods would swing unexpectedly and I would sometimes go hours without speaking.
I found it almost impossible to verbalise what was going on in my mind, mainly because I didn’t fully understand it myself, and it was a difficult time for both Andrea and I. It didn’t last long, and I seemed to balance out again.
Then, last year, I had to face up to the reality of my mental health. I would frequently have panic attacks, I’d struggle to leave the house and even the most normal of tasks would petrify me. I’d always labelled myself as a bit of a worrier, but it became apparent that my anxiety was more than that. I’d stopped boxing back in 2013, citing injuries. Really it was because of my anxiety. As much as I loved training, when it came to the moments before an actual bout I was crippled with nerves and worry. It always affected my performances – sometimes I’d win, sometimes I’d lose, but I hated it and always dreaded it to the point where I had to pack it in.
My anxiety also meant I would rarely go out and socialise, meaning a lot of relationships and friendships withered away. This, in turn, made me depressed and there were days when I didn’t know what to do – or, if I should do anything at all. Sometimes I just wanted to stay in bed all day and remove myself from the outside world.
Again, I struggled to speak to Andrea about it at first but once I did things became a lot easier. She was able to understand why there were days when I was miserable, or why I sometimes wanted to cancel our plans because of the sheer panic about leaving the house.
Without her, I’d be in a very dark place. I still struggle with my anxiety and depression and I always will. My mind frequently conjures up worst-case scenarios when I’m about to begin a task and it takes a lot to convince myself that these things (probably) won’t happen. Sometimes I wake up and can’t shake the dark clouds hanging over my head, and this can make me irritable.
However, I feel a lot more confident about my mental health and my future in the knowledge that I’m not alone. It must be incredibly hard for Andrea, but she never blames me and she knows that sometimes I need to vent and at other times I just need her to hold me. It wouldn’t be like that if she’d never allowed me to open up in the first place and for that I will always be grateful.
My father never spoke about his mental health and it ultimately became too much. Thankfully, I’ve felt supported enough to be open about my own.
We know that men are far less likely to talk about mental health than women. That needs to change and, in my opinion, we are seeing a shift in attitudes and more men are beginning to open up. There is still a long way to go, but the more men who speak about it, the better. I know first-hand the benefits of doing so, and it makes a huge difference. So, we need to create a society where men can open up without being judged.
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