Mental illness, what mental illness?

For the first time in my life I have actually admitted that I suffer severe problems (polite description) with my mental health. Anxiety, paranoia, irrational thoughts, worry, stress and self loathing are just a few of the symptoms I can name!

I collided with a massive 'stop sign' in November 2017, when my coping strategies failed and I found myself trying to deal with the usual issues at work - excessive workload, increased pressure, tight deadlines, interfering colleagues and overbearing bosses, to name but a few. On top of this our house was in the middle of a complete overhaul - we had no kitchen, we were washing up in the bath and money was flying out of our bank account. Stress levels were rising rapidly. I was bickering with my wife, making her emotional and stressed, and my two kids were unhappy.

When construction work started I thought I would be able to cope. I believed I was mentally tough, I assumed we had loads of money and cooking on a camping hob would be great fun. But, oh no, I had simply tricked myself!

Firstly, I was nowhere near as tough as I believed and secondly, I had been blessed with a brain that often felt like it was operating at maximum capacity. When just one area of your life, be it work or home, is going badly wrong you can usually cope - as long as the other parts are okay, you generally get by. But this time everything seemed to be going wrong, and I felt as though the walls were closing in. I was finding it almost impossible to get through the days. I would look at my work computer and the words were just moving around the screen. I couldn't take anything in, digest information, make rational decisions. I just wanted to curl up in bed and let my wife deal with everything.

At one stage I was certain we were going to run out of money and not be able finish the work. I saw my work suffering as my ability to get on with people was getting worse and I had no mental or physical energy. I was bringing myself and others down.

Then it happened! I went into work as normal, but I was completely unable to actually do anything. I just sat staring at my computer, trying to make sense of the information on the screen. I didn't talk to anybody and hid myself at the back of the office, just waiting for the minutes to pass. I felt like running away from everything, and even, for one split second, felt like ending it all. Luckily, thinking about my amazing wife and two boys put an end to that, but I had crashed into a big wall that I couldn't climb over, smash through or break down. Eventually, a very close and lovely work colleague realised something was seriously wrong, took me to a side room and talked to me. The dam was broken and I told her everything. It felt like the best release ever. From that point on, I knew I had to recover and I started to develop new coping techniques and strategies that are making a real difference.

So that day was the catalyst - the day I finally admitted to myself that I had problems with my mental health. Instead of just thinking I was grumpy, tired, bored, fed up and angry, it was more. Depression, low mood, anxiety. All the things that had evolved over a long period of time but I'd denied ever existed, denied that I was not in a good place. Now that I understand the root cause of all the symptoms, I get fed up with people saying 'Paul, you're so grumpy'. Yes, I might still be at times, but I am really trying. Trying to be a better person, husband, friend, father, brother. It's hard, it's tiring, it's a long and rocky journey, it's putting a smile on your face and enjoying yourself when you know that on the inside you just want to lie in bed. It's wishing your life away before realising that you only get one life so you need to make the most of it. Now I just want to fight the demons, I want to do everything I can to beat this thing, and to do that I want to train both brain and body, educate myself, get better and stronger and fitter. But mostly I want to use everything I learn and experience to help others - because no one deserves to have mental health issues and I never want to go back to that dark place.

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