Mental health problems so far as I was concerned, for much of my life, were something that happened to 'other people'. I had a successful career, a lovely wife and children, nice house and car, read the Guardian, was well educated, pretty well an average middle class man with a lot on my mind, plans to make, people to see.
One day I heard the dreaded words 'we need to speak' and from there I could feel my life pretty well unravel along with all of the safety nets that I had always assumed were in place.
Divorces, even messy ones, are life events that happen to a lot of people. They are sad, tragic even, for those involved, but usually they are events that we get through and then life settles back into some form of new reality. Unfortunately, not me.
I had always been what I liked to call a social drinker, and this often became rephrased by friends and work colleagues as a heavy drinker. Eventually, thinking I 'just' had a drink problem, I drifted fitfully from the 12 Step Fellowships sinking further into myself without realising that it would be a good idea to actually take some of the medication that the Doctor was prescribing. I hadn't because I was told that it would interfere with the booze which had become the only reason for me to get out of bed, let alone leave the flat.
In some cases I think sadness and even depression might be tolerated for some time following a marital breakdown, but even the closest friends, even the most sympathetic employers start growing weary of month after month of my low mood, hiding away, inability to function.
Eventually I had what I think is best described as a breakdown
Eventually I had what I think is best described as a breakdown and thankfully was actually brought into the services of a mental health team. To finally be able to talk to people who understood, and who were able to help point me to a form of diagnosis that got both my chemical levels balanced as well as giving me the feelings of respect in myself and the idea that there was a point to going on.
I was introduced to Time to Change and the Stand Up To Stigma project through the incredible work of The Comedy Trust, a confidence in comedy course. I’ve found it liberating and life enhancing to be with people who accept me. I’ve also met other people in their own parts of the journey towards recovery from or adaptation to some aspect of mental illness.
In my life I had gone from an averagely assertive and confident person in my healthy state, to at times a quivering wreck, unable to open letters, answer phones or open the door. So the idea of regaining confidence and being able to start telling jokes and joining in seemed very far-fetched... I for one couldn’t see it.
Stand Up to Stigma and Time to Change have played a huge part in me getting my life back
Stand Up to Stigma and Time to Change have played a huge part in me getting my life back. From an accepting environment, to friendly faces, to the chance to share experiences over a cuppa, the course became more than a course to me, it became a life line.
I loved that eventually we even started to work towards live performances, culminating in a 'world-tour' of public libraries in St Helens. Being able to be ourselves, to entertain and engage others in the discussion around mental health and mental health problems, to know that no one is alone and that it really is 'Time to Talk.'
I really do hope that the project continues to give confidence to participants and help change attitudes. One of the most wonderful aspects of working on it has been working in the community, this has allowed us to share our performances but also talk to the audiences about mental health. Through the project, we’ve been able to act as an inspiration to individuals who have become isolated through their conditions. To be told you are not the only one who is going through something and then to hear there is a performance put on by people going through similar things... Well, then you know for sure you’re not the only one.
Ideally I would love to see the programme expand, utilising the skills and experiences of participants and the talents and enthusiasm of the tutors. I feel that I have been given a wonderful way to look at how mental health and mental illness have been integral parts of my life. It’s now even possible for me to recognise that these are aspects of a life worth living.