Matt: Real Men, Real Stories
*** The stigma surrounding men’s mental health is still very much alive and it is such a personal story to share. Names have been changed to protect identities. ***
From an early age I had problems, I was very shy and by the time I was a 13 years old, it escalated so much that I was taken out of school and homeschooled. My most vivid memory of that time was when I was starfished and physically dragged screaming into school by 5 teachers.
After being prodded and probed by men in white coats and child psychiatrists I was diagnosed as having Social Phobia. Throughout my teens, I didn't really leave the house. I was terrified of the outside world. It wasn't until I was 17 years old that I ventured out and started to socialise. Then in my early twenties I was diagnosed with depression too. I still suffer from the same anxieties and depression as I had when I was younger but I am in a much better place now.
It is funny as I never felt like I hit rock bottom at the time. When you are in a dark place you never really grasp any sort of perspective. It wasn’t till years later you look back and think "yeah that was a shitty time,” but at the time you don't think like that, you just prod along, not really existing.
“When I look back at my twenties and some of the years in my 30s I can honestly feel like I didn't live. I was in a daze, I did things, lots of things - I went to art school, had holidays with friends, went out to bars and club - I thought I was happy, but I wasn't.”
That's what it feels like to look back, when I was at rock bottom, the feeling of not existing, not living. When I look back at my twenties and some of the years in my 30s I can honestly feel like I didn't live. I was in a daze, I did things, lots of things - I went to art school, had holidays with friends, went out to bars and club - I thought I was happy, but I wasn't.
I never really felt present. I felt like I was viewing the world through a letterbox or something. I have taken anti-depressants most of my adult life, so I'm sure that has a lot to do with it; the numb feeling you get with it. I stopped taking them 3 years ago, I feel so much more awake now, I feel like I'm living now.
That has very much been a gradual thing though, a slow burner so to speak. It wasn't like "boom I've overcome it now, drive off into the sunset," it was more of a process, gradually doing things to make yourself better. Learning about yourself, learning from your mistakes and accepting those mistakes, accepting that its there and will probably always be part of you, almost befriending it.
I got help in various ways, my family have always been supportive. I am lucky that way, I have also had counselling on and off throughout my life which has been a lifeline, it really helped me get through some bad times.
“It wasn't like "boom I've overcome it now, drive off into the sunset," it was more of a process, gradually doing things to make yourself better.”
The drugs (anti-depressants) did work, but I was on them waaaaay tooo long. I became reliant on them, it didn't help that I was put on a drug (that is now banned) because of its side effects, coming off them had the same side effects as coming off heroin. That was a tough time, the cold sweats, sleepless nights, I stupidly suffered in silence too, I didn't tell anybody about it really. The doctors then put me on Prozac, to help me get off the other drug, it did its job, it balanced my chemicals and stabilised me. But mainly talking and also becoming fitter and healthier has helped. Going to the gym has worked massively for me, it keeps the demons at bay, if I haven't done any form of exercise for a couple of weeks I can really feel it.
My advice to other men would be to talk to your family and friends. Talk to a counsellor/therapist, be active about it, don't let it fester in your mind, let it out. If you find yourself in a downward spiral then try and do things that make you happy. Simple, small things. But most importantly, accept it, accept that its happening and its ok to feel like total shit sometimes, as long as you remind yourself that it won't be forever, the dark clouds will float away, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even this week, but it will.
If you have found yourself in a similar situation to Matt but don’t know what to do next, in the UK the @samaritanscharity is always there for you. Call 116 123. In the US the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis support in Australia is 13 11 14.
You are not alone.
If you would like to share your story then contact me directly here.