What a year 2007 was, am I right? Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, J.K Rowling finished the final Harry Potter book, Rafa Benitez took Liverpool FC to ANOTHER Champions League Final; let’s not talk about the result, the Dalai Lama received the United States Congressional Gold Medal and 14-year-old me first experienced what mental health was all about.
It’s interesting how a set of circumstances can upheave something from the past that lay buried, and who knows when it would’ve been brought to the surface, if ever. After a lot of crying and a lot of asking the question, “Why?” – my gorgeous family network suggested I should go to the Doctors. So I did.
However, the problem with being a 14-year-old young man, going to the doctors with, what in hindsight was, mental health issues, the chances of leaving the GPs room with something to fix me was unrealistic. Draped in a cloak of not wanting to seem like an emotional puff, and generally not knowing what it was I was feeling, I left with a leaflet and a number that I would never look at, nor call. Instead, I opted to “forget”; push it all to the furthest crevice in back of my mind and hope for the best.
Through my incredible tutor at college; yep – that’s two years later, I spent time with a counsellor, and that was really good for a bit, then I decided that food would be good for a bit, then food was absolutely terrible and I should eat none of it, then I should obsessively go to the gym, then food became good again, but I needed to have muscles as well as eat. So, food addiction, borderline anorexia, body dysmorphia, food addiction and muscle dysmorphia.
7 years of trying different “ticker tape” solutions, because I was embarrassed by what was going on. Men don’t feel sad. Men don’t cry for unexplainable reasons. Men are strong. Crying is for the weak. Emotions are for women. It took an ultimatum from an incredible woman in my life at the time to finally go to the GP and ask to be put on medication at 23 for depression and anxiety, because not only was I destroying myself, but I was now destroying my relationship through my hot headedness. It was time to put an end to crying without cause. For being irate when there was no reason to be irate. To stop allowing the extend of my illness seep out and affect others.
2016 was completely different to 2007. I now had an iPhone 6S+ sat in my pocket, J.K Rowling seemed to be focusing more on politics than wizards, Rafa Benitez was (and still is at the time of writing) managing Newcastle United; though Liverpool have still been equally dismal in cup competitions. Although I was more acutely aware of my issues, in 2016 I no longer felt the stigma attached to my illness, in fact, I was proud, as much as it had been putting me on my arse more than ever, it also made me kinder, more empathetic, more sympathetic and more willing to do anything for anybody that was struggling. Therefore, when faced with the ultimatum of losing the person I loved, I signed up on the Sertraline train and began the three weeks of side effects; nausea and a food addiction go together gorgeously!
Prescription drugs. Wow. Hell of a trip. I’d never tried self-medicating my illness due to my addictive personality being bad enough when it came to food, though this was different, a Doctor was telling me it was okay. The drugs worked; sorry Mr Ashcroft.
My depression was significantly attenuated and my anxiety non-existent. Though there’d be days when the drugs just wouldn’t work, and therefore I had to up my dosage (with support from my GP, of course). The upped dosage drugs worked; sorry Mr Ashcroft. My depression was significantly attenuated and my anxiety non-existent. Though there’d be days when the drugs just wouldn’t work, and therefore I had to up my dosage (with support from my GP, of course).
The penultimate week in April I had a significant event happen in my life that resulted in a complete nervous breakdown. My GP maxed out the Sertraline dosage and subscribed more pills for the other depression / anxiety that would work instantly, and they did. But. Why? Should I have to take 4 tablets a day to feel happy? I still think Richard Ashcroft’s wrong, but just like counselling wasn’t the solution for me, tablets weren’t either and just like that, I stopped.
I cannot alter the root of my depression and anxiety, and hold this responsible as to why medication & counselling just cannot work. I have a rational mind and being unable to rationalise what happened has caused a horrific amount of upset over the last ten years of my life. Whether that’s kicking a door in that won’t close in the utility room at my house, taking a tea spoon to a 5kg tub of peanut butter and eating it with no regrets or breaking down in the middle of Tesco comparing the nutritional content of tinned sweetcorn, or the time I was ready to take an open blade and open my arteries in the bath. It had to stop, I had to reverse it all.
A wise colleague of mine is famous for his phrase “I don’t have friends, friends let you down” and it is true, however, what doesn’t let me down? What’s a constant? What makes me happy? I enjoy the arts. I could put Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” on the turntable and never fail to jump at the clocks chiming at the beginning of “Time” or weep at the lyrics to “Us and Them”.
I could watch Blackadder and feel myself filling up with laughter every time Edmund’s trialled for eating Speckled Jim. I enjoy going to the gym. I can load up a barbell twice my weight, and deadlift it for reps, knowing that the only way I could be let down is by my own lack of concentration. I love being in the studio and working with bands, systematically crafting a record, mixing and mastering to the final released piece. I love where I live, and how I’m only a small drive from the dales, the moors and the lakes.
All of these have one common thread throughout. Focus. It’s meditative. Why do I weep every time I hear “Us and Them”? Because I’m so focused on every aspect of the music that I meditate on the message behind the music. In the gym I’m meditating over the repetitive motion of ensuring I’m positioned correctly; ensuring I don’t injure myself, and executing the lift as best I can. In the studio, I’m balancing the 90% psychology to get the best out of the artist, with the 10% of sound crafting that’s needed. This intense focus takes away the external factors and focus implicitly on the internal.
I’ve flirted with meditation for a great deal of time and the stereotypical hippy drippy imagery associated couldn’t be any further from the truth. Meditating on external upset roots me directly to how I’m internally wrestling with it, until it’s no longer an external factor.
By being able to focus on how I am and focus on what I perceive as problems has allowed me to let go of negative emotion, whilst also allowing me to stop being dependant on people and substances. I don’t feel euphoric, but I’ve found my 'me', and I implore you to find your 'you'.
Morrissey rather brilliantly puts it in “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”, simply put “I’m not happy and I’m not sad”, but that’s a hellish improvement from how I was 2 months ago. My mind is standing on a beach on a windy day. I just have to let the waves wash over me. The anticipation is worse than the crash, and after the crash of the waves comes tranquillity, even if it is momentarily, it still exists and the wind will pass, bringing calmer times.
This morning I woke up late, which meant I couldn't get to the gym on time. My beautiful cats had knocked a tub of moisturiser over and it'd spilled out onto the living room floor. By the time I got ready for work, it was too late to have a coffee if I was to get there on time. It was pissing down, so I couldn't read the final two chapters of 22.11.63; another example of using art as a constant, on my way to work. My 4G hadn't been renewed when EE told me it would be yesterday, so I couldn't listen to music for half of my journey.
2 months ago I'd of asked to just roll over and die having to deal with all that stuff. Today I understand that I have very little control of the external, but my internal reaction to it all I have complete control over, and as such didn't have a panic attack, I didn’t cry, I didn’t get angry, I didn't go back to bed and cocoon myself. Another week passes without me feeling the need to take medication. Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, we all need to find what works for us.
I am well and truly on the road to being a happier person. By leaving no stone unturned on the path to finding mental enlightenment I am happier. I accept that I am mentally ill. I accept that I’m not okay all of the time and that that’s okay. I am defining my mental illness and not letting it define me. I will talk.
I’m Jamie Donnelly. I’m 24. I’m perfectly okay with not being okay, but I am in a good place. Love. Talk.
What a brilliant piece of writing, don't you agree? Jamie's journey, like many others, has taken some twists and turns as the world changes. It's all credit to him for keeping going and really starting to better understand himself throughout. We could all take a leaf from his book. What does your life look like 10 years ago compared to now? Do you recognise yourself? What have you learned? Let us know in the comments below.