I remember it well. Making the long trek into West London with my mum. Busy streets, shoppers with their bags, it was a prime area of London for shopping.
I had been low before, sure, but never quite like this. I didn't want to leave the house - I wanted to stay curled up indoors. I didn't want to be seen, be strangers or people I knew. Being out in public was a struggle, and it really hit home when I went to the gym and, whilst it was a place that was usually a source of focus and re-invigoration for me, I found myself utterly paranoid and constantly looking over my shoulder, for the fear that I was being looked at and that people could tell that there was something "wrong" with me.
It was a relief that my family realised something was up, and my mum pleaded with me and managed to persuade me to go and see someone. I went reluctantly, as I really didn't think there was anything fundamentally wrong with me, or anything "diagnosable" as it were. I thought I was in this low sort of funk which I just had to work through and that I prayed I would make it out of.
It turns out, it was just the intervention I needed. You'd have thought that the depression and anxiety diagnosis might have come as no real surprise.
And yet, not only was I surprised - I was in disbelief. I refused to believe it. How could I possible be depressed or anxious? I've never been *as bad* as that, I thought. I have never been suicidal or had thoughts around self-harming. Somehow, I had decided that - without those - I was clearly not a person who could be depressed or anxious.
I felt that I would be doing those who really *did* have depression and anxiety a disservice, disrespecting them even, by jumping on the mental health bandwagon. Plus, and especially so whilst I was in that state of feeling so low and with clouded thought and a sense of hopelessness, that whatever I was going through wasn't a "thing" and that there was just something different about me fundamentally that wasn't there to be diagnosed or treated but that I just had to somehow get myself out of.
After all, I'd spent the last few years trying to self-diagnose my unhappiness. I hadn't realised it at the time, but those hours spent poring over self-help and psychology books weren't just for my own fascination and curiosity... it was also because I was desperately seeking "the answer" for myself. One that never did come, but instead got me even more confused and frustrated as I took more and more information int.
I am really pleased to say that, since the, it really has hit home that my mental health is an actual, real thing which needs to be looking after.
With the increasing attention the subject of mental health is getting in the mainstream, and through my psychology study (a Masters in Positive Psychology, believe it or not!) - I knew this, logically.
But I had separated 2 groups in my mind. A certain person who was depressed or anxious or who had OCD or bipolar or things like that... and then just me who wasn't any of those things but was just unhappy and helpless.
My logical, orderly brain which I had poured information into had sought clarity and these distinctions. Because definite and clear-cut things reassure us and help us feel safe.
But the truth is, mental health is *way more complex* than that, as we are each such beautifully complicated creatures with a variety of brains, bodies, genetics, circumstances and the rest.
So this narrow-minded, black-and-white, all-or-nothing, mentally-ill-or-not mindset was a fairly toxic one, and it was one that had become very much ingrained.
My official diagnosis was depression and anxiety (how convenient, I thought, as I pretty much thought that that was *the* generic diagnosis to give when one didn't display any obvious signs of the various other mental health conditions), thought at one point my psychiatrist suspected that I may be on the bipolar (II) scale; it was eventually concluded that it was more cyclothymia, lower-level swings in mood. I'm a sensitive chap and my mood can change easily, even without me realising in fact - and things like my environment and the weather (Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD) certainly affect me.
Were these labels helpful to me? Perhaps, perhaps not. Again, I think they give a sense of certainty, but - for me anyway - they also the potential to be limiting; I had to be careful not to stick myself firmly in certain boxes to the point where I wasn't able to climb out, as it were.
For me, though, the ginormous realisation for me, having gone through a period of self-healing over the last couple of years, has been this:
I have a mental health. Sh*t. Mind-blowing, right? I have naturally *really* realised this as I've experienced some deep lows but also experienced how, with the right treatment and effort put in, it's possible for me to *feel* happier.
Initially, this involved me actually opening up and sharing what was going on for me. I had gotten so used to putting on this brave face and bending over backwards to put others at ease and be the entertainer and completely focus on other people and give my energy away, at the expense of myself. I was fortunate to experience various forms of therapy, group and one-on-one, from CBT through to art and drama therapy. I have realised that my ongoing wellbeing is much dependent on the management of my energy and covering the basics - sleep, movement/yoga, food and drink, and so forth. (Oh, and learning to switch off... he says, typing this up at 11.50pm...whoops).
Stacey Solomon put it beat in an article that I read recently in Happiful magazine - what I have gone through has made me that much more aware of my mental health, but I'm glad of this. I wouldn't want to change myself or my experience as I wouldn't be who I am or have gotten to where I am right now, otherwise. And, indeed, if I wasn't such a sensitive energy-absorber, I wouldn't have the great empathy and creativity and the other special qualities I have.
PS. That Stacey Solomon article I was talking about? You can find it over here - in the same issue of Happiful in which I shared my own story about my mental health, in it’s most honest and open form to date (my story is on pages 71-73).