We’ve recently had World Mental Health Day 2016 and we’re huge supporters of such a worth-while awareness day. Many many dads suffer from mental health issues and we want to help raise awareness, especially in regards to men’s mental health. Which is why this account, from a member of The Dad Network, is so important.
The Wrong Side of Yet
“Am I dead yet?”
It’s a sentence I’ve largely come to terms with. Accepted it, dealt with it as best I can and moved on. Only I’ve not; not really. I’m still the wrong side of ‘yet’.
The wrong side of a word I don’t even know if I said. My mind tells me I did but it’s not to be trusted.
I knew I’d overdosed. I knew I was in trouble. I knew there was a blur of high-vis vests above me and a bright light being shone into my eyes that I so desperately wanted to follow but I didn’t know my own name. I didn’t know if I was dead. I may never know if I said ‘yet’.
And for years the ‘yet’ was important. You see, I don’t think I intended to take my own life but the ‘yet’ would suggest differently. An otherwise innocuous syllable within which lies the answer to whether I did, and therefore could again make a conscious decision to crawl beyond the numbness of antidepressants.
‘Yet’ defined who I was.
It was seven years ago that I suffered a mental breakdown. A culmination of circumstances that can be excused and bad decisions that can’t.
There were so many occasions where I could and should have sought help, but I didn’t.
I’m a bloke. I was coping.
My mind prescribed panic attacks and bouts of uncontrollable crying. I prescribed myself illegal drugs to release some of the pressure in my head. Eventually my doctor prescribed antidepressants and sleeping tablets.
I’m a bloke. I was coping.
Over the next few months I lost almost everything. My mind, my job and my house. Very nearly my partner and our two young children. But for a friend finding me when they did I would have lost my life.
What can I say? I’m a bloke. This was coping.
And herein lies the problem. So much of what I went through was because of my entrenched attitude that as a bloke I should be able to cope. That I shouldn’t ask for help. That like so many men my age it was what was expected of me. Only I didn’t cope. I didn’t ask for help. It never should be expected.
People ask me if I’m better now and I am. I’ve been off antidepressants for a few years and my panic attacks are sporadic and manageable.
But when it comes to mental illness, better is relative.
For me, better is not walking twenty miles to escape the voices in my head.
Better is not going near the edge of a bridge, not because I think I’d ever jump but because I no longer trust my mind not to suggest it.
Better is racked with shame and guilt for what I’ve put my family through.
But better is also recognising low days for what they are. It’s not being ashamed to ask for help. It’s appreciating how fragile I still am but how far I’ve come.
Better is admitting I’m not coping before it’s too late.
I may never be the person I was before the breakdown but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I may never make it beyond the ‘yet’ but maybe I don’t need to? Maybe it’s better that I don’t?
I know there’s a long way to go and there’s many days where I still struggle, but seven years on and I am better.
I am better, and more importantly I’m confident that tomorrow I’ll be better still.
But it’s also made me realise how much more we as a society, particularly men, can and must do. We owe it to ourselves and and each other.
We need to talk about mental health. To pressurise the government into taking it more seriously by investing in the services that are so desperately underfunded. To support the many charities taking it upon themselves to fill the gaps, and most importantly break this taboo that is ruining so many lives.
When I look back over my darkest days there were occasions, however fleeting, when at my lowest points I would have taken help had it been offered. When a phone number on a passing bus would have been rang. A leaflet in a waiting room read. When, if a friend had casually asked how I was feeling at that very moment, I may just have opened up about how broken I really was.
So if you have a friend who you think may be struggling, ask them. Bring it up in conversation. Let them know you’re there when they need you and don’t be embarrassed to ask them again next week. And the week after. Without wanting to sound overly dramatic, you could be the right person at the right time that saves their life.
And if you’re the one struggling, please, please please ask for help. Make that appointment with your doctor. Phone one of the many helplines available. Tell a family member or friend.
There were two conversations with my counsellor that have stuck with me to this day. What would you tell you to do? And admitting you’re struggling isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s one of strength.
I know through painful experience just how difficult that first step can be, but it may prove to be the best decision you ever make. I’m not going to pretend it’s all plain sailing thereafter, it’s not, but the important thing is making sure you have a thereafter.
A thereafter that for me has meant seeing my two young children grow up. A thereafter that’s brought levels of happiness I’d all but given up hope of ever experiencing again. A thereafter full of optimism for my life ahead.
A thereafter that, but for seeking help when I did, I may never have had.
Mental Health Helplines
Charity offering support and carrying out research into mental illness.
Phone: 0845 767 8000 (daily, 6pm-11pm)
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35.
Mens Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)