It’s OK to be scared about not being OK – I was.
I think most of us have seen the social media posts going around to encourage men to talk about mental health. I was one of the people who was vocal about this, sharing posts about men’s mental health and how shockingly underdiagnosed it is. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that I was one of the people who was struggling. One of the undiagnosed and one of many battling demons of their own.
Sometimes it is hard to understand when you are ill. For some, a collapse in mental health is a rapid process, like falling off a cliff. For me, and I am sure for others, it was more like rolling down a gentle Wiltshire hill. The scary thing about the latter of these deteriorations, is that when the decline is so gradual, so gentle, it can be hard to see that something is going wrong.
I was potentially saved by going to live aboard for a year, having taken a year out of my university studies to undertake a placement. When I returned, it became clear to my family that something was wrong. I did not recognize it myself, life still felt normal to me. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was getting upset and verbally aggressive about things that were completely inconsequential; doing the dishes or my dad not seeing the complete flight of my shot on the golf course, even being stuck at traffic lights all evoked an unnecessarily angry reaction. To me, it felt like a completely normal response to an irritating situation but to them they could see it was way out of proportion. They tried to nudge me towards help without being pushy, but anytime they mentioned it I shut them down. Not in a way to make them more concerned but in a way to move the conversation on. This was not a conscious decision but looking back on it, it was definitely a way of my brain defending itself.
When I got back to university, I felt wrong. At the time, I couldn’t tell you why, but I did. I was living with one of my best mates from home, seeing friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year and I had received my top choice project for the year and yet none of this excited me. Throughout Freshers’ week, I found excuses not to go out. I am not a big one to party and never have been, but during previous Freshers’ I had enjoyed a couple of nights out with all of my mates. Not wanting to go out wasn’t because I recognized something was wrong but just because I felt tired and didn’t fancy the large amount of social interaction that it would require. I kept going through the first week and bit of university, limiting my interactions with others, burying myself in work and grinding myself into submission.
On the Tuesday of week 2 I was sat in my room, late in the evening, having got back from another long stint in the engineering school, I was catching up on the popular BBC drama, Bodyguard. It was the last episode when the main character, David Budd, walks into a counselling room and simply says, “My name’s David and I need some help.” I remember crying when I saw this, not balling my eyes out by any means but crying none the less. It’s an emotional part of the show and a lot of people will cry during it, but my tears were for something else. I realized I was, in some ways, like David. I’m Matt and I need some help.
I sat in my room for the rest of that evening terrified. I was scared of what the next steps would be, what my family and friends would think and most of all would I ever get better. I was also scared because what was wrong was in my head. The enemy had infiltrated with no sign, no trace and was changing the very way I thought. It was the darkest I have ever felt, to a depth that I would not wish on my greatest enemy. I lay awake until sometime in the early morning when I finally fell to sleep.
The next day, scared again, I called both my parents to let them know something was wrong. They were both amazing and offered to come and stay with me, to come and pick me up, to do anything I needed in order to get me to a place of feeling better. I then told the mate who I live with, who took it in his stride and offered me support and advice. These three people gave me the confidence I needed to push forward and get help. I went to a GP the following Monday who diagnosed me, a key step for anyone as self-diagnosis is possibly one of the most dangerous things for someone with mental health issues.
I am now 3 weeks into treatment for the anxiety and depression I have been diagnosed with. My biggest advice to anyone out there, is not only is it OK to talk, it is OK to be scared to talk. Something going wrong in your head is one of the scariest things that can happen to you as it is directly affecting the way you think, the way you act. Being afraid is a completely normal reaction and something that makes these conversations so difficult. But accepting you are scared, accepting you are not OK is the first step you can make to being OK again.