How we doing? No really, how are we doing? Take a few seconds to think about it. Are you struggling? Are your thoughts racing at a million miles an hour? Is there crippling depressive or anxious thoughts running through your mind, controlling you and making you act out of character? Are they causing you to behave and act in a manner which you know is not really you or how you want to behave?
I'm guessing that there may be due to you visiting the Men Tell Health website. Firstly, you're doing the right thing by visiting such websites and secondly you're not alone in what you are going through or what you are feeling. It probably won't feel that way, you'll feel alone and alienated, you probably believe that nobody understands, you'll wonder if others have similar thoughts, you probably suffer badly from a lack of self belief and self worth, am I close?
All those things I have listed there are exactly what I used to believe and feel. To be honest I could have written a full blog on symptoms and how my mind used to make me feel and the way it made me view both the world and myself, but I don't feel that would get us anywhere and it would probably make for a dull read. We all know the symptoms, the fears, the irrational thoughts. What I want from this blog is to give you my experience of PTSD, my story of where I was and where I am now, my ongoing battles with health anxiety but most importantly, I want to give you some kind of hope and also let you know you are not alone in what you are going through.
I find writing these blogs a challenge now, firstly because I have written that many that I fear they are becoming repetitive and secondly it's getting harder, due to my mind being fairly content. When I wrote my first blog it was to let people know about my PTSD, to apologise for the way I had treated them and the way I had acted. It was also to let them know about what I felt was my dirty secret; anxiety and depression. They then became an outlet to get my emotions out of my nut and to stop me going mad. They allowed me to say things that I maybe couldn't say face to face; they were therapeutic. They also allowed people to follow my journey and see my progress. I believe I need to write them now as I feel it's important to let people who haven't read my previous blogs or followed my journey back then see where I was and how far I have came, I hope that if you are at the point where you don't think you can go on or you are having a bad period you read this and can maybe relate and use it to pull through.
So where was I and where I am now? It's quite a long complicated story so I'll try and give you a shortened version. About 8 years ago I was attacked outside a pub a few days before Christmas. I naively tried to split up a fight that had nothing to do with me. I hadn't been drinking and I wasn't violent. I thought I was doing what any decent human being was doing and that I could cool down this altercation and both parties could go home and sober up and be injury free for Christmas. Sadly, it didn't pan out that way. I was left with some serious injuries over Christmas and what panned out to be years of hiding fears and not really coming to terms with what happened to me.
It's a bit longwinded to go into the actual attack but basically I was hit over the head with a clothes iron, a baseball bat and a glass bottle by a group of youths who were friends with one of the guys involved in the altercation I had split up. I thought I had sent him up the road successfully without anyone getting injured, but as I waited on my friend coming out from the pub I was set about. The bottle hit me around the ear and basically ripped my ear in half. I hadn't been drinking that night and this turned out to be life saving, I was advised by surgeons in the hospital that if I had been drinking that night my blood would have been thinner and in turn pumping faster so I would have probably died.
I got out of hospital after a few days and I felt physically fine, but it was mentally that was affecting me. I noticed changes in my behaviours, I hated being on the street at night, I hated being in pubs and clubs, I adopted all kind of safety behaviours. I hated the sound of running on the streets. I hated the smell of winter. It was like a trigger for thinking about what happened to me. I spent years just getting on with it, moved on with my life, met a girl I loved, but I was never the man I was previously. I had lost so much confidence in the world and in myself but I was hiding it well and not many people had noticed or if they had they didn't mention it.
It all came crashing down about 3 years after when I had, what I describe as, a 'proper meltdown mentally'. I cut myself off from the world; my friends, family, my girlfriend at the time, I felt so weak. My mind was constantly racing with anxious and depressive thoughts. I had no feeling of self worth, I felt alone even though I probably wasn't. I used to sit in a room full of people and wonder if they knew what I was thinking, If they could see how little I thought of myself, my mind made me believe that these people would be better off without me, I wasn't the man that I used to be, I was a hindrance, I genuinely believed that the rest of my life would be a battle between me and my thoughts, I was going mental, I was slowly becoming a 'fruitcake'.
I couldn't get my head round the thoughts I had, the feeling of weakness. I couldn't tell anyone, us men can't admit to feeling weak, can we? We're meant to be strong, I'd question what my mates would think of me, how my girlfriend would react. I worked in the building industry so what would my tradesmen think of me? Then one day I realised I couldn't go on with this carry on any more. I had been fighting it for months, I'd probably been fighting it for about 6 years without really knowing it. The nightmares were taking their toll, the flashbacks to being attacked, the panic when I was on the street at night, the stress was draining me, I just wanted to sleep the minute I got in from work, my mind and body had had enough.
I don't know if I ever seriously considered suicide, I could understand why people would take their own life, it would end all that thinking, I wouldn't be tired no more, I wouldn't be fighting these thoughts every day, my mind would be at rest and content. I didn't give a thought for how it would affect anyone else after all my mind was telling me they'd be better off without me anyway. I was worthless, useless, a hindrance. Thankfully I had enough strength to seek help and I’ve felt the benefits of doing so.
I confided my struggles in an amazing GP who tried to make me see that there was no shame in the way I felt. I had been through a very traumatic experience, to be honest I’ve had a traumatic life since childhood and I think this was the tipping point. We spoke about referring me to a Psychologist which I was right up for, what harm could it do? I was a mess and anything was worth a try.
My Doctor prescribed me anti-depressants, I wasn’t that keen on taking these and didn’t, but I wouldn’t give this advice to anyone else, it’s an individual choice, I was simply put off them when my Doctor told me they make me feel worse to begin with, no chance was I taking that risk. After a few months of waiting I eventually began my sessions with my Psychologist Laura, between Laura and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy my life has been turned around.
I don’t want to go into my treatment too much in case I bore you, but basically, we relived the attack, I would close my eyes and talk about what I was seeing, what I was feeling, basically Laura was taking out the memories that were stuck and hadn’t been processed correctly by my brain and putting them into a part of the brain that wouldn’t see them as current live events and it worked. I had to face my fears, visit pubs again, walk the streets at night, open up to friends and family about my battles and where I was mentally which led to me blogging. I had to reconnect with people, I basically had to rebuild my life and confidence in the world and myself. I’m not going to lie, there were periods it was really hard, facing your fears is obviously going to be difficult, but it was all small steps at a time which eventually led to bigger steps and then I would start doing the things I loved again without even thinking about i;, back to the football with my mates, allowing myself to go to pubs and get drunk instead of staying sober so I could keep myself safe. I’m able to go to gigs again without worrying about the crowds, I can hang around groups of guys again without feeling inferior and weaker than them, and I don’t fear every stranger I meet.
My whole experience has changed me, my life has changed quite a bit, I lost people from my life due to my illness but I now don’t take people or life for granted. I’ve learned how anyone can make mistakes like I did, I’ve learned to recognise the signs of my anxiety, I’ve accepted that I’ll always have little spells of anxiety but, due to my psychologist Laura, I now have the skills and knowledge to cope. I don’t feel shame in talking about my thoughts or how I feel, from doing so I’ve learned that more people than you think suffer from depression and anxiety. The people you think are the most confident, the coolest, the hardest, the ones you compare yourself to the most are likely to be feeling the same as you or have some kind of issue.
I try to make light of my anxieties now, I understand how irrational and wild my thinking can be at times. Don’t get me wrong it’s horrible and crippling at times, but I have the skills to tell myself that it’s irrational, I focus and challenge my thoughts, I ask myself questions like “what are the chances of it happening”? “Will it matter in 5 years time”? I’ve written about coping skills in my previous blogs and I can also provide you link’s to useful websites if you wish to get in touch with me.
So where am I now? I guess I’m content mentally and I’m happy with where I want to be in life. I’ve got an understanding of what really matters in life, the basics. As long as I have a roof over my head and enough to eat and enough money to do the things I enjoy I’m happy. I don’t strive to compete with other people anymore, I don’t compare myself, and I don’t place great expectations on myself. I try to focus on small things, short term. I find not looking too far forward and making too many long term plans helps me. It keeps me focused on the here and now. I don’t look back at all. When I was at my worst mentally I would look back with regret and a feeling of underachievement and get frustrated. I’d beat myself up about my mistakes and this would add to my depression. Just try and concentrate on the here and now.
I’m at university studying psychology and hope one day to be able to help others turn their life around, I don’t think I would have made that choice if I hadn’t went through what I did. I know that it’s a competitive field, but for once in my life, I have confidence in myself and I am determined to give it a right good go and if I don’t achieve it at least I have gave it a go. I won’t spend years regretting not going for it or beating myself up mentally about it. I do voluntary work with Victim Support Scotland to try and help others experiencing the same as what I went through. It also boosts my self-esteem and self-worth and this is important when facing up to depression and anxiety. I’ve learned that we need to work together. We need to discuss what we feel, what we fear, otherwise it’ll chew away at you and limit you, destroy bits of you. I try to make people laugh and not let things get on top of me. I think with mental strength I’ve became more cynical, but I think I maybe need that, Life is a cruel thing at times but I’ve learned to appreciate the good times more and ride out the bad times.
I hope if you’ve read this and it’s touched a nerve or you can relate that you will seek the help you need or at least get in touch with me and I’ll try to help in any way I can. I think the most important thing is that you to understand that you aren’t the only one experiencing those thoughts, the fears or feeling ashamed. It’s natural and more common than you think.