When I was around 13 I started experiencing generalised anxiety. My Dad had passed away a few years prior and alongside the anxiety I really struggled with depression. Symptoms of the anxiety included sickness, sweating and palpitations.
Friends didn't really know what to say
By age 16, my anxiety had started taking over my life, to the point that I found it difficult to socialise and leave the house. Although friends knew about it, I didn’t ever talk about it as I thought it was something that just affected me. Friends understood and showed compassion, but didn’t really know what to say.
When I started a new as a Sports Assistant for the department of Sport and Recreation at Portsmouth University. My anxiety took hold again, so I decided it was about time to see the doctor and over the next few months I experimented with different therapies and took some time off.
By the age of 19, I managed to overcome most of the anxiety, but just couldn't shake the depression. I felt so proud and self-fulfilled in that area but the fact that I was left with the crippling depression was what really brought me down the most.
I can't believe how things have changed
I felt determined to fight these feelings and when I returned to work, I started a course of CBT and was allocated a community support worker. Doing exercise and regularly going to the gym had a big impact on my life.
I’m now 23 and I look back on younger years and can’t believe how things have changed. At one point I couldn’t leave the house and now I talk publicly about my experiences and have a fantastic job. I lead a full, happy life and have a great network of friends.
I've got a group of three mates who've been there through thick and thin
I’m lucky to have a great friendship network and have three mates in particular that have really been there for me “through thick and thin”. Like many of my friends, they have been there for me when I’ve been going through a tough time and have looked out for me over the years. They all still stay in touch as much as possible.
We'd often go to the gym together and train, go out to eat or just generally chill out at each other's houses watching films all day. It'd be something I always looked forward to, regardless of how low or perhaps balanced I felt within mood. I never ever took out the issues on other people, I realised that what I was going through wasn't anybody's fault, especially my friends'.
I always saw the time spent with friends as valuable and a nice positive escapism for a few hours, or for the day. Time like this was essential to recovery. It’s surprising how understanding people can be if you confide in them. Mental health is like any other illness, everybody now knows somebody who's dealing with or has dealt with it, so it can easier to relate than you may first think.
Five tips I'd give on how to look out for your mates:
- If a friend were to confide in you and reveal concerns for their health, remain open-minded and listen. Encourage them to seek help, even offer to go along with them to do this if they'd prefer the support.
- Tell your mate that you're there for them and that they're not alone in this. Show genuine compassion because after all, nobody is immune to illness - physical or mental.
- Help your mate find positive escapism. This could be exercise, sport, music or other activities you could do as a group. All make the effort to get involved together.
- Stay in contact. Don't push too hard if they don't want to do something but reach out and make an effort.
- Tell your mate that they're important to you. Real mates are there for each other through anything. Some of the best times you've all had together haven't happened yet, there's many of them ahead.