Mental health and reaching out.

*Disclaimer- This is my personal experience it is in no way intended to diminish anyone else’s struggle*

Alcohol was my medicine. A belly full of lager made everything disappear… until the morning. I never learned to deal with life. I opted for an escape over reality. I pointed fingers and avoided responsibility. All the while problems were amassing in my subconscious. Like an enemy lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to attack.

That opportunity came when I lost my job. I was 28 years old and it was the moment that started the snowball rolling down the hill. As it rolled it collected my previous problems and gathered momentum. The very real proposition of bankruptcy and becoming homeless, combined with the emotions I had avoided for a long time, created a devastating situation. It became unbearable. I drank more until I couldn’t afford to any more. Then I sat in darkness, begging for a solution.

Eventually, I was left with the option to end it all or reach out. I thought reaching out for help was weak. I thought I was less of a man for having emotional problems. The thought of seeking help made suicide more appealing.

I felt like a weak man. I was supposed to be strong but was now falling apart. I was embarrassed. It took a huge amount of energy to reach out and take the steps to try to turn it around but I can not put a value on that decision.

I’d worked in the oil industry for a long time. I’d earned good money but fallen into a rut of working and drinking. I had no plans. My dreams had been shelved. I was working to buy alcohol and to pay for my living expenses. It had been like that for a few years. Work, drink, sleep, repeat. I thought that the low-level depression was just a part of life and alcohol was the reward for putting up with it. I thought that this deal would continue indefinitely. The alcohol suppressing my desires and inadequacies.

Then I got the letter saying I was going to lose my job. It was 2009 and the financial crash had wiped 10% of the value of the house I’d bought the year before. The job market was bleak as companies boarded up to protect themselves from the oncoming shitstorm. But I thought it would be alright. I was reasonably skilled so finding another job shouldn’t have been a problem.

Eventually, my money whittled away. I started living off my credit cards to cover my bills. When they reached their limit I went to the banks to ask for loans or credit increases. I felt like a character in a Dickens novel begging for help. They all turned me away. I reached out to friends and family for help. Thankfully, they were forthcoming with support. I wasn’t losing my house but I was accumulating debt. I began to feel like a failure. I was applying for jobs below my skill set and often heard nothing back. It was demoralising. My self-esteem had been propped up by alcohol for years and this life stress test exposed my fragility and shattered me.

As my money disappeared so to did my access to alcohol. I would gather money from my spare change pot and buy a bottle of cider. Just to feel “okay” for an evening. The days I didn’t drink I was plagued by two main thoughts; I feel terrible and I should be ashamed of feeling terrible. I berated myself for feeling bad. I would spend my days in bed in a darkened room wishing for a solution. Momentary breaks would come when I would scamper to the local off licence to get what I could. The problems would be beaten back but only until the next morning.

The light at the end of the tunnel got darker as I lost any hope of ever getting out. The worrying time was during the Christmas period. I was surrounded by friends and family yet felt completely alone. I felt like they wouldn’t understand. Or would laugh at me. These were my closest people and I still couldn’t talk to them. There is nothing worse than feeling alone in the company of the ones I love.

This continued for ten months by which time I was done. I had nothing left and would spend my days in bed. I felt like my only options were to seek help or commit suicide. The thought of getting help filled me with dread. I saw reaching out as weakness. I couldn’t imagine opening up to anyone. It would be unmanly. I felt like admitting weakness made me weak. I thought that if I asked for support I was a failure at life. I thought that it was women who needed help with things like this, not men. I couldn’t be a man if I was going to speak to someone about my problems. That’s not what men do. I would rather die. Killed by my own pride.

I contemplated how I was going to do it. How would I end it? Pills, hanging, drowning. I thought about it for weeks. The thought of reaching out for help only cemented the decision to end it.

I can remember having a thought that was uncharacteristic of the time. It was “what about the people you know?” The people throughout my life that had helped me. It would all be for nothing if I just gave in without trying the alternative. If I couldn’t do it for myself then I could at least do it for them. I didn’t believe that I deserved help but people had helped me throughout my life so they must have believed in me. If only just a little.

I didn’t want to reach out. Thinking about it petrified me. I smoked a lot of cigarettes and put the phone down numerous times. Eventually, I phoned the doctors and made an appointment.

When it was time for my appointment, I had to force myself to leave the house. I felt emasculated. Like a failure. My feet were blocks of concrete that I dragged towards the doctors. A diatribe swirled around my head. Faceless voices calling me shameful labels. The tears poured down my face. I stopped and turned back many times before forcing myself to continue. I don’t recall seeing anyone along the way as my gaze was pointing firmly at the floor. I looked and felt like a condemned man.

At the doctors, I had to fight to keep it together. In my head, I was thinking that I was a failure and I didn’t deserve help. I was weak for needed help. I gave my name to the receptionist and took a seat. The words I wanted to say were already primed in my throat. I just wanted to blurt it out there in the waiting room. I wanted to scream “PLEASE MAKE ME FEEL BETTER!”

Finally, my name was called. I entered the doctors’ room and before I took a seat the tears came. “I need help!” I blurted out before he could ask his questions. “With what?” he asked handing me a tissue. “I have spent the last year in bed. All I think about is killing myself!” I said through the sobs. It felt great to tell someone how I felt. It was like the pressure had been relieved. I almost felt stupid for keeping it in for so long. The doctor offered anti-depressants which I declined and said that I would like to speak with someone. It was arranged that I would meet with a therapist named Stuart. When I left the doctors I was so grateful for the fact that I had gone. It had seemed like a monumental task at the start of the day but afterwards, my only regret was that I hadn’t done it sooner. The finger-pointing and name-calling I had imagined never materialised. Everybody needs help sometimes.

It was a month until I saw the therapist and in that time I had tried to stay busier. I was still worried about money and my head was still chaotic but I was optimistic that talking to someone would help. I tried to keep busy instead of laying in bed all day like before. I tried not to give myself a hard time. On the darker days, it was like being trapped in a dark well with a disembodied voice that would spew negativity constantly. The words would cut me down and make me feel inferior. Until I could focus on nothing else and I would lay in bed hoping it for it to stop. Thankfully, those days had lessened after reaching out for help.

I tried to help myself. I ate better and moved more. I was so out of shape by this point that it made moving uncomfortable. Walking down the street I would think people were laughing at me. I had no self-confidence left. I would stare at the floor as I walked conscious about everything.

On the first session with the therapist, I was surprised by his appearance. All I had known prior to the meeting was that his name was Stuart. I had a mental image of a therapist as a tweed coat wearing professor but this guy was built like a rugby player. It turned out he had been a rugby player but had suffered a bad injury that had thrown his life into turmoil. He had received a lot of help to get over the incident and decided to pay it forward and to help others. So he studied to become a therapist.

He didn’t say much. I spoke the whole time I was there. I poured it all out. I left everything in that room. Everything apart from my problem with drinking. I never mentioned how much I drank. Even at my lowest point, I was still lying about that but I was honest about everything else. There had been a couple of deaths in the family within a close period of time and I hadn’t processed them. I didn’t have the emotional ability. I just pushed them down, stuck my chest out and walked on. Foolish. There were things that I had carried around for years. Things like rejection or regrets that had seemed major when they happened but were minor when I was older. My finances were a major concern and getting a job was still difficult but he encouraged me to do some voluntary work to get out and to meet people. It was great getting it all off my chest. When the time was up I thanked Stuart.

Outside, I lit a cigarette and had a little chuckle to myself. All that shit I had carried around for no reason had been weighing me down. I felt lighter and even slightly optimistic.

It was a month until the next session with Stuart and in that time I had vowed to get out of the house more. I’d started doing some light exercise. I wanted to try and do something useful so I visited the volunteer centre in my local town. There were so many options. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I just wanted to help. There was a position as a teaching assistant available not far from my house. It was as many hours a week as I wanted to give and it was a short walk away. I said I would pay them a visit.

When I sat down with the manager she asked if I needed help or wanted to help. I was heavy and unkempt. Even with the recent spike in positivity, I was still down but on the way up. I said that I would like to help if I could, wherever possible. We talked about what they offered and how I could help. I agreed that I would help people with their English and maths. It was low-level stuff but would lead the students to get to their GCSE. I was happy to be part of their journey.

The following month, I want to my second appointment with Stuart. I felt different this time. I felt positive about things for a change. The first meeting had cleared a lot of the shit out of the way and allowed me some moments of clarity. Within twenty minutes I was leaving. He asked me what I had done in the previous month because it was clear I had improved. I said “I just realised that a lot of the problems I had were in my head. I couldn’t see a way out because there were so many things going on. It was like a snowball on a hill at first it’s easy to stop but over time it grows and becomes dangerous. Thanks to you I realised that I have to deal with things or else they become bigger problems later.” He wished me well and said, “The pieces will just fall into place now!”

All this happened ten years ago. Reaching out for help allowed me to recover. Like when I quit drinking, I had to take action and put the work in to change the situation. I had to face fears and deal with things I previously didn’t want to. I learned that it isn’t as scary as I thought.

Over the years I paid my debt off, lost weight and found moments of inner peace I never thought possible. It didn’t happen overnight but it was worth the wait.

Charlie.

If you are struggling then reach out. It may not solve all you problems but it may help find the way:

Suicide Prevention

If you know anyone who may be helped by this blog then, please share.

Thanks for reading.

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