It’s always so hard starting one of these posts. I may have just undertaken an entire year’s training that focused on how to write an effective piece that grabs the attention, but not one in the first person. How do you do it? To be honest I don’t really know, but here goes nothing.
I can scarcely believe that it’s nearly two entire years since first made being made aware that I was suffering from severe GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and depression.
Looking back at it now, it seems like yesterday. But, then again, so much has changed in that period of time that I see that version of me as a long lost friend whom I haven’t kept in touch with.
And with good reason.
That Will was constantly exhausted from worrying all day, every day about anything and everything.
That Will found it hard to make friends because he couldn’t trust anyone.
That Will spent most of his time wishing he was someone else, someone better.
That Will was fuelled with self-hatred and anger and believed he was terrible at everything.
A lot of the time, that Will didn’t want to be around.
Yet he thought that was entirely normal. He’d been feeling that way for going on nine years, the anxiety even longer. He wasn’t aware anything was wrong.
It took two of his close friends to sit him down and point out that this was definitely not how most people felt. Ironically, both of them had actually gone to him for advice as they were having relationship issues, yet they were the ones dishing it out.
I’m so grateful that they did though.
Back then, I often didn’t listen to people when they were trying to give me advice. I was always so self-critical that I thought there was nothing people could tell me that I hadn’t already told myself. But I’d never contemplated I was mentally ill. The fact they suggested so made me sit up and listen for once.
Why, though, was it only these two people who were able to spot that all was not well? Well, I think that comes down to two factors. Firstly, I was quite good at hiding it and carrying on as normal. My sister may be the far superior actor in the family but I seemed to have inherited enough of that talent to keep my internal struggles hidden from most.
And secondly, it was because they had seen it before. They knew how to spot the signs and they knew exactly how to deal with me. I remember that one of them in particular actually elicited a change of thinking there and then – she got me talking about why I didn’t like myself before listing off all the things I could actually do and the fact that people actually like me.
She made me think about the positives for the first time in a long time. If it wasn’t for her and that chat, I don’t think I would have ever sought help.
For me, this is exactly that reason why events such as ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ are so important. I’m certain there are so many people out there like the old Will who are struggling mentally without realising that they are. As a population, it is up to us to help them out and the only way we can do this is by becoming more aware of mental health ourselves.
Specifically, we need to learn to look beneath the surface, beyond the outer layer of personality, and to the little things as, most of the time, it’s the subtle nuances which are the tell-tale signs of an issue, not the more obvious changes. Even something as small as developing a routine of going to bed earlier and/or waking up later than normal for no reason can suggest all is not quite right.
Don’t get me wrong, mental health is a massively complex issue. Everyone is different; no two cases are the same. There are millions upon millions of combinations that could indicate a mental health problem – it would be impossible to uncover, remember and understand all of them.
But if we can learn how to spot some of the more common ones, that could start a huge chain reaction. Not only would people be able to diagnose themselves, they could also point out potential problems to others. At the moment, it is the minority who are mentally aware and who can spot signs of internal struggle. We need to make this a majority.
How? More professional education is certainly needed, whether this comes through workshops in schools or the workplace, night classes and so on. But it also needs to come from the people who have been ill. As is the case with most things, experience is key – only those who have been there themselves can really understand what happens and convey it effectively.
That approach should be taken with caution though – not everyone who has suffered an illness will want to talk about it. If they don’t, that’s fine. Everyone has the right to share as much or as little personal information as they want – it’s their life after all, no-one else’s.
But, for those of us willing to talk, we need to help increase awareness of mental health to ensure it is the majority, not the minority, who understand some aspect of it. We are the ones who are going to make the real difference.
As for me, things are pretty damn good right now. I can’t lie, it hasn’t been easy – those first few months after my initial diagnosis were incredibly difficult and there were some very, very low moments for a multitude of reasons.
But, serious knee injury aside, the last year or so has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve had some incredible opportunities, met some absolutely fabulous people and developed a passion for hockey, something I never thought would happen!
Furthermore, I feel good about myself. I enjoy waking up everyday. I enjoy looking in myself in the mirror. I am even starting to take pride in the person I am developing into.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions – I am very far from the finished article. Having had an adolescence stunted by such serious mental problems means I am still very immature in certain areas. But I now know where I need to improve and develop and am looking forward to the challenges doing so will throw up.
The changes I’ve undergone in just two years astound even me – I look back at the old Will and struggle to fathom just how we could even be related.
And all because two people recognised something was up and sat me down to talk to me about it.
Now, it’s my turn to help. Whether that be through writing, talking or something else, I want to help not only those who are suffering, but also help the general population become more aware. Together, we can combat mental health.