September 18, 2017

Andrew: Even the guy you'd never suspect can benefit from a reminder that it's perfectly ok to struggle.

“I WOULD never have suspected.”

Those five words are innocuous in that short sentence, but their impact on me was bigger.

I had spoken previously to a handful of people before then about my experience of living with anxiety, and managing depression too. But it’s only when somebody comments on a disguise, that you realise how effective it has been. I hadn’t consciously put one on, rather grown into it. There is, not now or ever, any intention to deceive on my part, but concealment seemed the comfiest fit – the best way to get through next day.

That’s as far ahead as I look.

As for the five words, it’s what my friend said next that struck a chord; “That’s what prompted me to go get help and advice,” she added. This is somebody I know well and knowing that I’d been through a tough and challenging time – a person they believe successfully projects a version of themselves to the outside world that portrays something different – had become a spur for them to act.

That’s powerful.

It surprised me too, but in a wholly transformative way. I had never given much thought to how sharing that side of me with anybody would be received. After all, the prospect of doing so felt scary and out of my control. I volunteered to become a Time to Change Champion earlier this year, and that exchange with a friend was a catalyst.

As I’ve started to become more open about what I’m going through – whether it’s a comment here or a social media post there – the response I have continues to inspire me. My phone has lit up more than once with a text offering words of support. Others have sent me a message privately online. Not once have I felt pressure to confess anything but I have felt comfort, relief too, from knowing there are people out there rooting for me.

That’s not to say I doubted as much, but the fact they reaffirm it is so heartening. But those same words – ‘I would never have guessed’ – have been repeated over and over.

And they resonate.

I don’t know if they’re genuinely surprised, or maybe don’t know what else to say. If they had recognised signs, wouldn’t they have said something? How many others around us, who we talk to daily, are wearing a similar disguise to the one I have? That’s why I signed up to be a Champion.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt ashamed, but I’ve certainly been careful about what I’ve written or said. That’s been a survival mechanism, and it works. I don’t want it to be that way though. For those that don’t know, Time to Change invites supporters to sign a pledge wall, promising to play their part in helping to end mental health stigma. It’s one of the first things I did, and my promise reads: "As somebody who has needed - and richly benefited from - support and understanding to handle my own emotional and psychological challenges previously, I pledge to use that empathy and experience to raise awareness, confront stigma and help inspire a change in attitudes towards mental health issues."

I’ve no idea if that’s too ambitious, but as a journalist my reserves of perseverance are plentiful! I’ll stick at it. This isn’t a personal quest to get others, whether I know them or not, to go and get help. Nor am I seeking sympathy.

I can’t diagnose a mental health issue somebody else has although I probably am able to recognise some of the signs. Depression made me insular, inadvertently selfish, and in some ways counter-intuitive to talk or write openly about how it feels. But the potential benefits of doing so, be that convincing others to change how they engage with mental health issues or directly challenging discrimination, make the effort worthwhile.

To finish, I’ll share a secret:

I carry with me everywhere a folded piece of blue paper, on which I’ve scribbled a collection of handwritten notes and words. They include advice, addressed to myself, that I wrote during a moment of reflection after visiting a museum exhibition in London on the history of mental illness, asylums and people’s attitudes towards both in the UK.

‘What support might you need if you were struggling with your mental health?’ is one of the questions I answered. I won’t share all of what I’ve scrawled, save for a single word: ‘reassurance.’

Why that one? Because even the guy that you’d never suspect can benefit from a reminder that it’s perfectly ok to struggle.

Read more personal stories >

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.

Comments

Andy Simpson

A wonderful, clever man who suffers terribly with anxiety and depression a dreadful toxic mix. He is a marvellous writer and I know will be a fantastic Champion helping those who suffer similarly with his kind, thoughtful words. I'm so proud to count myself as one of his friends.

Anxiety

My anxiety is at its height. I feel I'm drowning.please help

Support

Hi Julie, I'm sorry to hear that, it must be really difficult right now. Are you getting support for your mental health at the moment? We have some links on our site that could be helpful: http://bit.ly/2pLovFU. The first step to getting support is usually through your GP, so if you haven't already, that would be a good place to start seeking treatment. Wishing you all the best with it, Tim at Time to Change

Anxiety

Hi, I really enjoyed reading your blog - I think a lot of the time people regard Anxiety as something that women mostly tend to suffer but I have found in my work as a hypnotherapist that there are probably an equal amount of men that do. It is definitely not something to be ashamed of, it's just that amazing mind working overtime on information that it has picked up over the years. Imagine all that power of your mind working for you and not against you. It just needs re-programming.. Getting rid of the stored up emotions and straightening out the thought processes. Even the strongest most capable person can suffer with anxiety, the problem is that they then go on to really question themselves as they are shocked that they could succumb. We are all human, none of us are perfect but we must stop picking ourselves apart - we need to be the biggest supporter of ourselves, our own best friend. You would never treat your friends the way that you treat yourself in your mind. I work on getting rid of the reasons why the anxiety has appeared in the first place - there is always a reason, it just needs to be put back into balance.

Men's Mental Health - Anxiety & Self Care

It is imperative that men take note of their mental heath. Often times it is us who put the weight of our families on our backs and no one expects us to feel weak. No one expects us to need help because we are often the ones helping and ensuring the safety of those we provide for. I heard a saying once, "Sometimes the strongest people need the most strength". One can only pour from a cup that is full. Self-help and mental health can restore the cup to ensure you can continue the cycle of providing for your family. Personally, I studied for my CPA for a year and a half and it was a grueling process. I realized I didn't know what it felt like to have fun anymore. I didn't know what it was like to step outside or go play sports. It wasn't okay. My main focus was passing the CPA because passing the CPA meant I would be able to provide for my family in the coming years. Once I realized that I would be successful without it, and that it didn't define me as a person, I was able to ease off of the gas. I was able to pick my head up and take a look at what was actually happening to me. My self-care had gone out the window and I have to pull myself back in to save what I had left.

What did you think of this blog? Tell us in the comments