Updated: Apr 2
James and I met in a pub around a year and a half ago and we just clicked. Within our first conversation we chatted all things mental health related and I knew I'd found somebody who got me, who I could confide in and who would always have my back. This week I caught up with my friend and today he's sharing his own mental health experiences with us to help create more understanding around such important issues.
In his own words:
I'm a 48 year old male who has been dealing with mental health issues most of my adult life. I work as a support worker which is rewarding but can be taxing on my own issues.
1) Hi James, how are you?
2) How are you really?
I am doing OK today.
3) Are you feeling comfortable enough to answer these questions about your mental health today?
Yes. Oddly because I'm speaking to you and I know you understand it feels comfortable although other people will be reading it.
4) Why did you want to be a part of this project in raising mental health awareness?
I feel it's important that there is awareness of mental health to bring understanding, support, empathy and compassion.
5) Can you remember the first time you had a panic attack?
I don't like to remember my first panic attack but I can. I was about 18 in a pub with friends. I was in the garden and just started to think I couldn't breathe. I went inside to get a drink and really started to struggle so I went back outside. Someone rang an ambulance and when I got to the hospital I was told "it's just a panic attack.” No advice, nothing.
6) Do you know when a panic attack is coming on? If so, what are the signs for you?
Luckily, I have not had a full on panic attack in a while, I think that's thanks to medication and me knowing its a panic attack and learning methods of stopping it. Usually I will become conscious of my breathing and then there is a short distinct cough and then I start to worry.
7) For someone who has never experienced a panic attack, how would you describe it?
Frightening! I know it's different for everyone but mine are about dying. So I feel I can't breath and I think I have no pulse (I used to check my pulse all the time) or my heart is racing. This makes me over-breathe and it spirals. I can't think straight and I want to run but I want to stay still at the same time. I can hear people talking to me but I can't take in the information. I have to get away from people. If it goes on too long I will get pins and needles in my hands, arms and head. It is all very scary. At one time I was getting one attack after another all day.
8) If someone is reading this today and what you've just described sounds familiar to them as something they've been experiencing, what would you say to them?
I would tell them that it is a horrible thing but there are ways to control the panic. Breathing exercises definitely helped me. It helps if you can recognise it as what it is.
9) How long ago were you diagnosed with anxiety and depression?
I was diagnosed around 6 years ago.
10) Did life before your diagnoses feel any different to afterwards?
Diagnosis is always a good thing as it gives you a name and a grasp to your illness and allows you to treat it. However, I knew what was wrong with me, I just needed some help to deal with it. So, do I feel any different? Not really, apart from the medication providing some control.
11) How does depression impact your life?
Depression is a funny beast. My life runs pretty smoothly with the help of meds but the low times still come, they just don't seem to get quite as deep and dark. There are times when I don't want to go out and I'll find it hard to deal with people at work. I sometimes just want to curl up and sleep, lock the world out.
12) If you're having a day where you're struggling to get out of bed or do your usual activities due to your mental health, is there anything anyone else can do to help you through the day?
This is difficult because I want to lock people away but I have good friends I can fall back on just to understand me and often make me smile. What really helps is people saying "pull yourself together" and "it may never happen" (joke).
13) What does anxiety feel like to you?
Anxiety, for me, happens for specific reasons. It's hard to describe but I guess it's like how you feel when you're frightened. It makes it hard to deal with people or with problems. It's hard to take in information.
14) Do you have any particular techniques which help you if you feel yourself becoming anxious?
I don't really have a technique to deal with anxiety, I just live with it until it leaves. I can often take my mind off it by playing stupid little games like candy crush. I tell people at work if I'm feeling anxious so that if I act differently they can tell me and understand. Sometimes I will say things at a knee jerk reaction when I'm anxious.
15) Do you have any outlets for when you're struggling with your mental health?
I've already mentioned silly little games but I also use my guitar to help me. And I doodle a lot, I think this keeps me sane in lots of situations. I do art work which keeps my mind busy. I think keeping your mind on positive and enjoyable things helps.
16) Tell me more about your artwork...
My artwork? Well, I've always liked drawing. I think my artwork is a giant doodle but others call it art. It's just sitting with pen and pencil and seeing what comes out. You helped me get back into doing it again as you wanted an owl! Thank you, I'm enjoying it.
17) Do you think there is a link somewhere between mental health issues and being creative?
Everyone I know who is creative seems to have some sort of mental health issue, so probably. I think maybe we have to learn to think differently. Would we give up our creativity to feel well?
18) Have you ever found it difficult to be open about your mental health diagnoses?
I have struggled to let people know how I feel. But now I'm more open.
19) If someone is considering reaching out for support but hasn't yet taken that leap, what would you like to say to them?
Mental health still is taboo amongst some but more and more people are becoming understanding. If you have not sought help or spoken to someone, you need to do it. It will consume your life if you don't get help. Help may be telling your mum or your best friend. Seek medical help if you feel you can't cope. Medication can help some but not all. Look into therapies and coping techniques. Remember you're not alone and there are millions out there with mental health issues. You may never be cured but you can feel better and you can deal with living.
20) How do you feel after our interview today?
I feel good because I hope that I might help someone, just one would be enough. I also feel a little raw as it's hard to reflect on my own issues.
Thank you so much my friend for doing this interview today, I have no doubt it will be relatable for many people and reassure others that they aren't alone and can reach out for help. I'm so proud of you and proud to know you. Fuck lockdown, I can't wait to see you again (hopefully) soon!
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health in any way, please REACH OUT. Speak to someone you trust, see your GP, or go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find contact numbers there to provide help. You'll also find a video on the support page which could help you if you, or someone you know, is experiencing anxiety, depression, panic attacks or problems with sleeping.