Updated: Apr 2
This week's interview is with my friend Alex, who is sharing his experiences with depression, anxiety, and of traits of BiPolar Disorder, as well as what life is like for him as a parent with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
In his own words:
Im like bread... Thick and soft.
I'm Alex. Single, full-time dad to three girls. I've suffered with mental illness for as long as I can possibly remember, it's a constant struggle but I always try to find the positives in each day... why does this sound like an AA meeting?
1) Hi Alex, how are you today?
Good morning (or whatever time it is when you read this), I'm feeling ok, my kids got me up at 5.30 in the morning but I'm used to that now.
2) How are you really?
How am I really? Hmm how long is the word limit on this questionnaire? Haha.
I guess in short I'm just my usual self, trying to smile through my depression and other life stresses for my kids sake.
3) What made you reach out to be a part of this project to raise awareness around mental health?
I've always been open with my mental illness and sharing my experiences. If something I say can help someone else or give someone else a little bit of a confidence boost to reach out for help then I guess my job is done.
4) Tell me about yourself…
I always hate these "tell me about yourself" questions as It makes me realise how boring my life is hahaha.
My life is pretty tame (even though I have three girls full time on my own). I try to enjoy the little things in life and avoid drama and other's negativity like the plague!
My life pretty much revolves around my girls so I rarely go out and socialise. I'm quite a reclusive person at heart and enjoy my own company. I am a music addict and always have to be playing or listening to music throughout the day. I am also an avid painter, not like Van Gogh or Salvador Dali but of little geeky miniature plastic models.
5) Do you find that people more often do or don't understand what you go through on a daily basis?
Oh yeh, 100% that they don't understand! It's usually just based on the way I look and how well I hide my emotions etc. I have a killer resting bitch face (even though I'm probably blasting BoyZone or Steps through my headphones) so usually people just assume I'm pissed off and stay away or don't approach me. I also have a bad habit of making everything into a joke with really dark humour, so people just think I'm fine. If people ask, "How was your day?" I often reply saying, "It's been ok, could be worse, could be dead," and they usually just laugh and walk off.
6) What are your mental health diagnoses?
I was initially diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I started secondary school over in the UAE about 15+ years ago, but typically it's one of those situations where they just dose you up on prozac and let you go on your way. Over the years, these illnesses have progressed and during my most recent therapy session in 2017, after my huge mental breakdown, I was diagnosed with traits of BiPolar Disorder.
I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and unfortunately, having three young children, that is just horrific as sand, paint, and their creative freedom triggers me so badly.
7) What is the biggest impact depression has had on your life?
I'm not sure how much of an impact it has had on my life as I can't remember life without it, as weird as that sounds. I've had it since I was very young and it seems like almost another personality of mine. It's an odd way to feel as it is such a prominent part of my life. I feel like if I didn't have it I wouldn't be me, if you know what I mean.
The main impact it has on my life is that it causes me to just shut down emotionally for no reason. I can be feeling fine and dandy then all of a sudden I just need to be on my own and avoid all human contact.
It doesn't make me as suicidal as it used to because unfortunately I'm stuck on this planet now because of my little semen demons! (Or some people call them children).
8) When you're feeling depressed, how can someone else support you through that?
I never really like to feel like a weight on others so often find myself self-soothing and using my own coping mechanisms to get through my moments.
I used to talk to my mum about it as she would understand, but my dad never really understood it (typical 60's generation of 'just get over it'). He has gotten a lot better at it since he was there when I had my major breakdown and he started to see how depression and anxiety actually affects people in-person.
9) What traits of BiPolar do you live with?
I find it all depends on the day and certain triggers during that day.
I can often be an extremely bubbly and sociable person but can then switch it up in the blink of an eye and be a complete recluse and extremely emotional and want to cry.
10) What are the biggest challenges you face due to having traits of BiPolar?
My major issue is trying not to let it effect my kids and make them upset or angry when I change suddenly. I often have to take myself out of the situation, or room, and just allow myself to have my moment before I can return and carry on like usual.
It is emotionally taxing in your body and mind to have a sudden switch and have little to no way of preventing it.
11) When you explain your diagnoses to somebody, how do you hope they react?
I have never really needed to explain it to people as I often just smile through my issues or I avoid people if I end up having a moment.
My close friends and family understand how I am and know to just let me ride out the storm. But more often than not, people who don't know me well enough and who notice my change think that it is something they have done. In those situations I just have to let them know about my BiPolar and hope they allow me my space.
12) Can you explain the impact Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has on your everyday life?
I have always had OCD for as long as I can remember. I remember having to do the same morning routine before school, eating my lunches in a specific way and living in a very similar daily routine. I rarely bothered any body with it and my family and friends often let me get on with it or didn't notice.
Now though, since having young kids, I find that my OCD gets unbearable some days and it starts to snow ball and affect my anxiety and then possibly my depression etc.
I try to do fun creative things with my kids but when there is slight mess or things aren't being done in a certain order, I get completely flustered and overwhelmed.
13) Can you recall your earliest memories of OCD? Where it all started?
I can vividly remember an OCD routine as a child of opening my mouth really wide to scratch my lips, I had no idea why I did this but it became a regular 'tick' of mine for months and months.
Another 'tick' that I can remember was having to have all my toys facing the same way each night before bed.
I do believe that my OCD (and other mental illnesses) were enhanced on my families move to the UAE while I was in year 6. My daily routine that I'd had for years was up routed and I was thrown into a new environment in a country I had never heard of.
14) If someone is reading this interview today and they are struggling with their mental health, what would you like to say to them?
I'd just like to say that no matter how isolated and alone you feel, there are always people out there who have or who are suffering the same. Just because not everyone shows it, that doesn't mean that they aren't suffering with it. I know it is incredibly cliché but is it true!
15) Have you learned anything in particular about yourself through your mental health diagnoses?
That I'm a really weird person? Haha.
I don't think I've learnt anything new since being diagnosed. I just think that I understand my own head a bit more now and that it all makes a bit more sense.
16) Tell me about your life as a Dad of three girls, and what it’s like to be a parent whilst coping with mental health issues…
It's hard, I'm not going to lie. Being a parent is hard enough and so is having a mental issue, so I guess having both is a perfect storm. There are times where I shut off completely and hide away as I can't deal with being a Dad. There are times where the kids drive me to tears and I cant help but break down and cry. There are times where your kids are all screaming and shouting as you feel your head start to boil and you try not lash out and shout.
But after all of that, there are moments like this morning (while writing this) that I have my middle child laying across my lap with her blanket watching TV, and my youngest who is currently squashing her Olaf ornament into her morning toast, where you realise that you wouldn't change your life in a heart beat!
17) How does anxiety impact you in your everyday life?
Anxiety and myself have a hate-hate relationship, especially being a parent as now I have to do all the stuff that triggers me for the kids, like doctors calls and talking to other parents and being sociable for their sake.
Anxiety is another one of those things that I just try to laugh my way through or hide really well beneath my tattooed, scary exterior to avoid conversions. My resting bitch face and facial tattoos usually ward off people who I don't want to talk to, and when it comes to friends and family I just try to make a joke out of how I feel to mask it.
18) What is your biggest goal mental health wise?
I don't really know. I guess most people would say to have no have any issues but, like I've said before, I'd be too scared to lose any part of myself as I'm worried that this mental illness is too much of a part of my personality to lose.
I guess one goal would to be to stop this whole 'deal with it' culture that has been the major issue over the last few generations and make it more talked about on a day-to-day basis. I want men to be able to not feel pressure from social norms or feel like they have to follow suit or run the risk of being laughed at. I just want people to be people and to all understand each other more.
19) What do you hope people take away from reading your story today?
Mostly that anyone you see on the street, on the bus, or anywhere, can be suffering with hidden issues that they don't always show, so to be more understanding of others.
Also, that if anyone is suffering than please try to talk to others about your issues. It will lift the weight off your shoulders and will also help them too if they suffer in silence.
We can't be the silent generation, we need to be the loudest and more caring one for our kids sake and their future kids sake too, we need to be the mental evolutionary step for the human race.
20) How do you feel after our interview?
It was nice. It would have been easier in person as my fingers are now numb from typing, and I have a baby sitting on my head in a full nappy and also toast all over my back, but I enjoyed it.
Alex, thank you so much for doing this interview with me today! I would have preferred an in-person interview too. You're absolutely brilliant for sharing your struggles so candidly, and doing so whilst caring for your three girls, knowing that it's going to help others to hear your story. Look after you, you're important.
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health, please REACH OUT. Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, or go to the 'SUPPORT' page on this website where you will find useful contacts. If there is a waiting list, put yourself on it. You are worth waiting for, I promise.
If you'd like to share your own mental health experiences in a future blog, get in touch! You can message me on social media @jemima_unspoken, or leave me a message on the 'contact' page on this site.
Until next week, stay safe peeps x