I previously never really had any real understanding of what mental illness, anxiety or indeed depression was.
I grew up in a loving but not particularly affluent family and due to my parents working in the public sector, we moved between Dorset and Essex, finally settling in Dorset when I was 13. From a young age I was a sensitive person who was quite emotional. I had friends but I never really fitted in anywhere. I bumbled around school but never really achieved. There was a bit of bullying but nothing to serious and school ended with a dull thud.
When I got to 16 I decided to re-take my qualifications and I went to college. This is where I did okay and I seemed to mature and grow educationally in a more adult environment. However there was something not right in my head. I had a lot of negativity, worry, anxiety. I had the odd panic attack. My mother suffered from depression and had tried to take her own life on at least two occasions. Was it genetic or just what I saw as I grew up?
I did okay through my A Levels and was heading for good grades when my life took an unexpected dive. My father died suddenly from a heart attack when I was 18, half way through my A levels. All of a sudden my emotional and mental state plummeted. I was the eldest of five children with a mother who was already depressed and who had then lost the one person who kept her going.
I did not know what to do, my depression and other anxieties grew, I wanted to die as well, my hero, my rock had gone. I managed to get through the rest of my A Levels and I went to my second choice university. I did not really do that well at University due to lack of parental support, money and having to work. I was also trying to look after my siblings from afar. I think this is when my mental health really went from bad to worse. I went from bad relationship to bad relationship. I did not reach my potential, I had no money, I missed my dad, I did not exercise and I drank too much. In the end I seemed to give up. I had the odd bit of counseling that got me through university but the seed of full on depression and mental illness had been sown.
This leads me to the next part and back to the title of this article.
Arguably from 25 years old and onwards, I have had some of the best times of my life. A good well paid and secure job, good friends, stable relationships, and then eventually a very nice house, a beautiful wife and great kids. A bit of counseling here and there, but generally identifying triggers to depression and trying to get through 1,2 or 3 weeks work.
But here I am, 40 years of age and coming off the back of one of the most traumatic years of my live. Yes turning 40 gave me some great times with friends and family but it also set off lots of anxiety in my head. I am approaching the same ages of my mother and father when they died.
Overweight unfit, high cholesterol , high body fat levels and drinking too much. Enjoying life 70 percent of the time. You think at times you have beaten the beast, but you have not, and that is what mental illness is, it is a beast. It lurks, it waits, looking for a reason to pounce on you when you least expect it. You may know the triggers, you may be waiting, you may be lying on a beach, somewhere hot thinking I feel great. But you get back to normal everyday life with stress, money issues and other problems, and there it is. Your brain has a dull thud, you start to get anxiety and panic attacks, You become isolated from friends, your energy goes and you eat comfort food.
It does not matter if you are rich or poor, young or old, or what colour or race you are. Mental illness does not care, it just wants to destroy you, and unfortunately for some it does, and this destroys their family and friends as well. Some people are given anti-depressants, but sometimes it just fills a hole. If you are still carrying on with exactly the same life it does not necessarily help.
This is what I learnt, the hard way. If I was going to tame the beast, I had to fundamentally change my life. Exercise more, eat better, relax and improve my wellbeing. It's a battle. It is not easy but after four months I have only had one lapse. I may fall off the wagon but I am back on straight away.
I am not an expert even though I feel I am just through experience. But to beat mental illness you have to give yourself the best chance possible. This means eating healthy food, exercising regularly, being open and talking to people early. Speak to a GP as soon as possible or contact a mental health charity. You may never destroy the beast, but taming and controlling it can make life worth living.