This week's interview is with GT. GT was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease at a young age and since then he has not only had to come to terms with the physical battle, but he's also encountered many mental challenges along the way. From substance abuse to complex PTSD, GT is sharing his story with us today in the hope of helping others who may relate to his experiences.
In his own words...
41 years old and feeling it more by the day.
A sense within is who I am, not my disabilities, and it took a lot of time and effort to find myself again in all the chaos life can bring.
Father to a 17 year old, beautiful young lady, brother to a soldier of a sister, son to a father who has done us all proud & a mother who did what she could with love.
Nature loving, poetic pieces scatter my pad of thoughts with doodles of many visions.
I'm living with Crohn's disease, chronic pain and a life free from addiction/alcoholism.
Freedom from the awakening of the spirit within.
Life happened, the question for me which kept me going was, 'Why? What is the meaning of this?'
Living with the unknown can be scary. Accepting the support of others has been vital. Support I will provide for them too.
1) Hi GT, how are you? Hello Jemima, right here in this moment I am content thank you. After a rough few months, those moments of mild discomfort are welcome.
2) How are you really? Honestly, the way I live is within the moment. Often, due to the severe unknown pains and Crohn's related issues, it is wise for me to be this way to alleviate the stresses and strains of daily living.
3) We’re going to be discussing your diagnosis of Crohn’s disease today, as well as your mental health experiences and substance abuse. How do you feel about discussing such personal subjects? Good question Jemima, I am comfortable talking about these issues nowadays, as it has shaped me in to the man I am now. Being here to tell some of the tale is a miracle, knowing I may well be able shine some light on such subjects is cool.
4) How would you describe yourself? This is a tricky one; humble, compassionate, creative and loving. There will be plenty more others have to say, more good nowadays than bad.
5) You were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at just 12 years of age, can you remember how you felt at the time receiving this diagnosis? Yes I vaguely remember, mostly confused, scared, angry and disappointed as I had already learnt it would change my life in a way I never wanted.
6) How has living with Crohn’s disease impacted your life physically? Where do I start? I remember being brought home in agony from the amateur boxing club before I was diagnosed, then being in severe pain on and off for a while to the point I was scared to eat or move. Then came the diagnosis and the trial and error dietary experiment, which helped until it flared up again, so I was often under-nourished and under-developed. One of the medications given to me caused swelling in my face which gave people a reason to stare or generally take the piss. They worked and gave me a bloody good appetite though. I was diagnosed in 1992, aged 12. It was rare then and not much support was out there, or maybe it was and I just didn't want it. 7) How has the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease impacted your mental health? Having my hobbies and social growth abruptly interrupted, it quickly wore me down. Having to stop doing a lot of what I enjoyed left me lost, confused and scared, and I just wanted it to stop, although I knew it was life-long so I decided suicide was best for everyone. I didn't know what to do or who to turn to. Hiding away from the outside world due to the unpredictable flares just made me even more scared and depressed. Over the years, I realised I had a lot to offer, so I began the journey of living with rather than hiding from.
8) You’ve suffered with depression from a young age, for anyone who has never experienced depression, how would you describe it? I can try for sure. At times it felt like being locked in a cell within a cell with no help from the outside and I was never getting out. A roller coaster of emotions that I believed no one else understood, like no one else had lived.
9) Is there anything anyone else can do to support you if you’re struggling with depression? Yeah, listen, understand I may well just need to air my mind. There was a time when a call or a knock on the door from a friend helped pull me out of myself. I had a good friend whose dad has Crohn's so he never judged; he supported and helped me see the humour in my situation. Over the years I have learnt many techniques, to recognise the first blow then make that next best step.
10) At what age did the substance abuse start? And can you pinpoint the reason why it started?
It started early, it was normal in our house for there to be regular use of cannabis/alcohol so I thought it was normal. Cannabis started to become a regular thing to reduce the physical pain brought on by the Crohn's disease flare up, yet it didn't help with my mental health issues.
11) You were diagnosed with complex PTSD in your early 20’s, was this a shock to you or were you expecting it? It was a shock for sure as I was under the impression that PTSD is something soldiers live with. It was diagnosed after the 1st life saving/changing emergency operation I had, although there were underlying issues already which I wasn't aware of. Yet, having to have parts of my bowel removed leaving me with a colostomy bag was quite a big shock. On top of that, after the first op I was overwhelmed by it all and sought support.
It didn't help having to go through it all again whilst visiting mum in Essex a few months later, I ate a burger and the bowel got tangled causing the stoma to prolapse which was a disturbing sight to say the least. I still lived with the cause of the trauma, and eating became scary too.
12) How has complex PTSD impacted your life? All of my life was affected early on due to the unknown flares, the hospital appointments, the disturbing dreams. My home environment was somewhat unpredictable sometimes too. I left school early, personal growth was impeded and the journey to find myself again has been very, very long and time consuming. 13) Has therapy been a help to you throughout your mental health journey?
It has as I was open to the idea, I believed someone could accept me without judgement and show me how I can help me find my true self again.
14) Have you learnt anything about yourself through your journey of both physical and mental health challenges? I am still learning. I have learnt to love myself again, I am worthy. I see how my past life experiences lead me to have such negative beliefs about life, myself and others, which gave me something to change. I was taught to believe my life experiences can help others which I believed without understanding, now I see what they meant. The physical side was difficult to accept, and I know I want to do more than I can for sure. As frustrating as it can be I have learnt to slow down, look into new hobbies and remain open to new ideas.
15) Do you have any coping mechanisms to help you to get through a difficult mental health day? I have a few. Having a small, well-trained, adopted Jack Russell helps. He offers comfort and needs to go out to do his business and get a bit of exercise which can not happen without me taking the lead (excuse the pun). Music helps, meditation, contacting friends, my faith in nature, photography, poetry. There are more, yet being in our current global situation my wellbeing plan has had to change.
16) You now live with chronic widespread pain, how do you go about coping with this on a daily basis? There are times when it is so overwhelming I just wanna cry, my movement is restricted so that minimalises what I do and I have to be mindful of how I move and what exercise I can manage without worsening the issue. Being open about it helps, using mental health services like Mind has been essential over the last year for sure, set the pride aside and rest up when it is wise to do so. Yoga has helped along with the acupressure mat, our local health hydro was my go-to place, yet that is still not open due to the Coronavirus.
17) If someone is reading this today and they have just been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, what would you like to say to them? You are not alone, there is so much support out there for us and you have a lot to give. Appreciate what you have.
18) If someone is reading this today and is struggling with their mental health but has not yet reached out for help, what would you like to say to them? Trust those who say they understand and want to be there for you. Maybe look into peer supporters as there will be someone just like you who can help.
19) What is your biggest personal goal mental health wise? To be a small part of a person's personal growth. 20) How do you feel after answering all of these questions today?
Eeeerm, it has got me thinking, mainly about how I prefer to be with the person when communicating, which is good as I was lacking in confidence for a long time. I also realised how bad I am at answering questions about myself lol.
GT, you were brilliant, there was nothing bad about your answers whatsoever, and I'm so grateful to you for doing this today, thank you. I have no doubt your interview will reach others and encourage people to reach out for help and understand that they are worth that help.
If you are reading this today and are struggling with your mental health, please reach out. Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, or you can go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find a list of crisis resources. Look after you, you are important!