I started to write this blog three or four times, then stopped as I haven’t really gone public with the mental health battle I’ve had this year. But if you can’t vent your feelings on World Mental Health Day when can you?
“I don’t do stress.” I’ve lost count of the amount of times I carelessly uttered those words to my wife. If the pain of what I went through at the start of this year wasn’t so chronic, I could probably appreciate some of the irony associated with my flippant statement.
Well it turns out that I do ‘do stress and health anxiety’ and it’s a shitter. At its peak, I felt really ill, operating in a bubble where it took all my energy to just get through the day or to avoid those feelings of despair, foggy head, racing heart and impending doom that are always lurking around the corner.
At first, I’d convinced myself I had some serious illness as I couldn’t come to terms with your mind actually making your body feel so unwell. Once the NHS had brilliantly done their stuff and I had a clean bill of health, I realised I was suffering from stress and health anxiety.
In fact, I probably have had spells of this during the previous 12 months, but just presumed I was a bit rundown, had a bug or was nursing a hangover.
Right, well surely that’s the best outcome? I did immediately feel a bit better, backing myself to have a strong enough mental state to put things right quickly. Wrong. The following weeks and months had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster and it has only been recently that I’ve started to feel a bit more like myself again.
I used to wake up in the morning and immediately scan my body for any sign of not being well, the fog was lingering in my head and routine work – that I could do standing on my head – left me feeling vulnerable and shaky. Going to the Wolves had even become a daunting task (no jokes about standard of football) and that is something I truly love.
Don’t get me wrong, I did have some decent days, the odd few hours here and there and most of you will never have known what I was feeling inside. Even now, I still have nagging thoughts of ‘how do I feel’ and grapple desperately with my mind to convince myself that pins and needles from sleeping on my arm are not the first sign of a heart attack. At my lowest, I felt that I was being cheated out of being ‘me’, yet it was ‘me’ causing the issues.
I’ve been fortunate with illness so am not used to prolonged periods of being unwell and the biggest challenge for me was to give myself the chance to get better. The process didn’t happen overnight and some days I felt resigned to the fact that this was how it was going to be going forward. There were also significant feelings of guilt, especially when you read about or hear of friend struggling with life threatening illnesses that they can do very little about.
Regular sessions with a counsellor helped immensely. It gave me the ability to talk openly without needing to be the strong one, I could admit certain things scared me and that my obsession with being in control was actually out of control. If you had told me 12 months ago I’d be seeing a ‘shrink’ I’d have laughed out loud…reality is it was probably the first steps on trying to recover.
The doctor even offered me medication to help the feelings – Sertraline I think they were called. Those tablets are still in the medicine cabinet untouched, although I have reached for them a few times.
We all say that we appreciate how tough mental illness is, but I’ll be honest and say I didn’t and I don’t think you do until you come face to face with it. I’ve had friends talk to me about it and share their experiences and I like to think I’ve been there for them. However, did a bit of me think ‘come on pull yourself together mate’? Possibly.
I can safely say that battling mental illness is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and still have to do. My wife, family and close friends have been great, as have my many clients who didn’t judge and just told me to ‘look after myself’.
There have been some positives. I’m a lot more open with how I feel and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m struggling at times, plus my passion for getting fit has returned as exercise is the best medicine you can take. My liver is also enjoying a curtailed alcohol intake.
Am I cured? Definitely not, I’m guessing it’s something I’ll have to live with. The difference is you can’t physically see it like you do a broken bone or a cut head, but make no mistake the scars and the pain are just as real.
As Bob Hoskins used to say, it is good to talk.