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Diary of an Anxious Dad – mental health survivors

In this week's Diary of an Anxious Dad, columnist Marc Davis encourages society to speak out and break the stigma surrounding mental health.

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As technologies have advanced, civilisation has progressed. Life expectancy has risen by thirty-one years compared to that of the early nineteen hundreds. Lifestyle and science play a large factor in that increase. Research has been given a big boost as technology has taken over, almost putting us into a new age, a cyber age maybe?

Medicines have become easily accessible, some are just at the click of a button. With that being said, society has become accustomed to quick relief for anything that may be of a slight inconvenience to our day to day living. Headache? We all have paracetamol at home. Sore throat? No problem, cough syrup can be purchased over the counter. So, why is it that medication for mental health is such a difficult discussion? If we can take tablets to ease our discomforts, then why does mental health not fall into this category too?

Mental health illness can be very discomforting. I was having a conversation with another tradesman on site last week, explaining my struggles through mental health and how I’ve fought back in a bid to gain control of my mind and he asked me if I take any medication for it. I hesitated before I answered. I then went on to tell him that I take medication daily. I’m not ashamed that I take medication but I am ashamed that I didn’t answer without pausing, it’s almost as if subconsciously, I was worried that he may judge me. What is there to judge? Even if he does judge me because of it, it’s a reflection of his ignorance, not my strength. That taboo can be kicked to the curb in my life, next time anybody asks me, I will say it with grace. I’m not ashamed of my struggles. Mental health does not define who I am. I am a mental health survivor.  

During my struggles over Christmas, I stayed silent for the first few days because I was worried what people may think of me. I was convinced I would lose friends, family would distance themselves too but it has been the complete opposite. I have also met a network of new people that all have similar battles to face themselves.

I have been welcomed into a community of wonderful people and made to feel like I matter because I do matter, you matter too, everybody matters. Mental Health is a struggle but to be facing it alone is a whole different level of pain. Somebody online told me the other day that he thinks speaking out is weak but quick to my defence were a fair few others that counteracted his comment with the complete opposite statement.

Speaking out is courageous, it is breaking the boundary that shouldn’t even be there. I believe speaking out is similar to jumping off of a rock into the sea, the initial fear will consume you, once you are standing on the ledge it will seem like a bad idea, it’ll make you doubt yourself, your knees will tremble but once you take that leap, it is so liberating. You become free, as gravity pulls you down and the water breaks your fall, the jeers of support become apparent. You will rise up from below the surface and feel refreshed. You will wish you had done it sooner. Free yourself from those psychological shackles and take that leap, you will not regret it.

There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of if anybody makes you feel uncomfortable about your mental health, that says nothing about you and everything you need to know about them. Be proud of who you are, embrace your lumps, bumps and imperfections because there is only one you, you are unique. Nobody can replace you. Don’t be ashamed of your struggles. Mental health does not define who you are. You are a mental health survivor.

Mental health is becoming increasingly popular to talk about on social media, which is fantastic. There seems to be more and more people coming out and talking about their experiences, I applaud these people, they are paving the way for others to do the same. As morbid as it sounds, there’s something strangely comforting in speaking to people that feel the same, I guess it’s reassurance that we’re not alone. But until my episode at Christmas, I was unaware of how severe mental health could be, now that I know how bad it can impact people, I feel obliged to spread as much awareness as possible, as well as educate those that are unaware, just as I was.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one but in the past, I have been known to have opinions that don’t rest well with others. I used to believe that suicide was selfish, how wrong was I? Suicide isn’t selfish, it is the final symptom of a silent disease that is taking far too many lives. The brain is such a powerful organ, it is brilliantly engineered but when it is running low on the fuel it needs to function, it can turn very nasty, very quickly.

I had days where my brain was telling me to end it all, I sat and sobbed on numerous occasions. It was then that I understood that suicide wasn’t selfish and that mental health was more than just feeling sad or being nervous. It was then that I realised I had to fight for my life every single day, for the remainder of it. I’m not alone in my battle though, I have a great support network of like-minded people that I have connected with through my hardships and I couldn’t be more grateful for those that have connected with me. They have inspired me to accept who I am, as it is evident that they are not ashamed of their struggles. Mental health does not define who they are. They are mental health survivors.

The complexity surrounding mental health is bewildering, each case is unique to the individual it plagues. During my research, I have come across seven different mental health disorder categories, each category having a vastly diverse range of illness’ that are associated with their retrospective disorders (and I’m sure there are many more). They are all linked to some degree, in the sense that all mental illness’ alter our perceptions and hinder our thought process, potentially preventing some of us from leading relatively normal lives, whatever normal is.

We have to constantly be wary of our mental health throughout each and every day, I obsess over mine often, waking up hoping I won’t have a ‘wobble’ that day, it takes over me at times and I’d imagine it does to others too. Life must be increasingly more difficult for those that feel as though they can’t talk about it but the stigma is breakable. It’s not something that can be done in one night but by breaking it off piece by piece, we can eventually break it completely.

That is not an easy task, it seems the stigma is made by reinforced concrete and those of us that are advocating, are doing so by swinging a toffee hammer at the stigma itself. Education will help take pieces of the stigma away, I for one will be educating my boys that it is vital to talk about their health, both physical and mental. There will be no stigma in our house.

By teaching the next generations as they grow, we can phase the stigma out, taking away pieces of it with each person that opens up. The stigma should not even be there but it is ingrained into society, we can make the change by simply teaching our kids to talk openly about their troubles. We can teach them that it is okay not to be okay. But we can only educate them if we show them that we are not ashamed of our struggles. Mental health does not define who we are. We are mental health survivors. 

There is no criteria to meet in order to develop mental illness, it doesn’t discriminate. No matter what car you drive or how many bedrooms you have in your house, you are not ineligible based on status. Mental illness can happen to anybody at any time. I used to breeze through life thinking I’d always be okay. I was wrong. I was an over confident person, I once got called a social butterfly by a friend as I was able to walk into a room not knowing anybody and leave with new friends. I can’t do that anymore. Anxiety has knocked the wind out of my sails, almost out of nowhere.

I now have to adapt to a new lifestyle, missing out on a lot of my old hobbies that I once took for granted. But, I’m not alone in my struggles. Mental health affected one in four people before the world went into lockdown, I’m almost certain that number would have risen dramatically, given that suicide has increased by eighty per cent. Something needs to change. Mental illness needs to be taken seriously as we sit on the edge of an epidemic.

Everybody in the world will have been affected by mental health in one way, shape or form. Whether directly or indirectly, we all know somebody that has struggled or is struggling. If we start to open up and have these conversations, in schools, at work or down the park with our friends, it will become the new norm to talk about it. If we listen with the intent to understand rather than with the intent to reply, we can learn so much from each other.

There is no shame in our struggles. We can redefine the perspective on mental health. We can all survive mental illness.

Marc Davis – Diary of an Anxious Dad


The contents of this article are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a doctor or mental health expert if you have concerns about your wellbeing.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily represent the official policy, position or opinion of Stroud Times.

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