Saturday, 29 November 2014

I'm feeling a little proud of myself.

It's now 10 years and nine months since I had a turning point in my life.
An overdose just before midnight on a Sunday night was the moment I couldn't hide my problems anymore. Suddenly I was that kid, another statistic.

My memories of that time are blurry. I could probably dig deeper and really go back there, but I've avoided it this long and don't think I would like to really revisit in depth.

The aftermath of such events was being sent to counselling and the local child and adolescent mental healthservice. It was short-lived.

I used to sit there mute. I'd refuse to go unless Mum was in the room with me. Not because I needed my hand holding, but because I knew she could talk and fill those silences. I wasn't opening up. 

I've always been more comfortable discussing my problems with females. The school's care was not worth talking about, but I was able to connect with one teacher who helped me as much as she could. Suddenly I was sat with a man from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and I didn't know what to do.

We got through bits obviously, but I was quickly boxed as depressed and needing some medication to get me back to school. And that's when I began taking anti-depressants. 

Long story short (I think I've been over the inbetween years a few times!) it's been a rocky road. A very rocky road.

I never really coped with London life. Only for having a job I absolutely loved, I'd never have lasted the two and a half years I did. I'd stay in the office as late as I could, hoping the tube would be as empty as possible and that I could quickly make my way home to the safety of my four walls. Once I was in the door, that was me safe. I could stay in my bedroom and keep doing some work or catch up on some TV. I was safe until the next morning and the next panic attack. 

That reached a peak earlier this year and next thing I knew I was back in Ireland.

Sorry, I'm really trying to do this 'long story short' business I promise. So early May I came back for my youngest brother's confirmation. I didn't even make it to the chapel. I freaked out and had to watch as my family head off without me. Again. There I was letting them down. Letting my little brother down. The next day I realised I wasn't going back to London. 

Over a 10 year period I've never seen anyone apart from my GP on occasions when I was dragged by my poor Mother. That happened again in May when my tablet dosage was increased for the first time.

I've established myself a home life routine again - even if it just throwing myself into writing and doing what I can for the people who have amazingly allowed me to remain part of what they do. I can't even begin to describe the emotions in knowing someone is willing to allow you to do what you love, even when you've been extremely hard work and abandoned them. That kind of support is what keeps me going.

But, truth be told, I exist in my own little 'Ryan bubble'. My parents are amazing people. Supporting, understanding, loving, but always pushing me. Always trying to help me. But I'm hard work. Extremely hard work. I like my space, I like my own routine. I've been used to being at home since I was 15 and began home-schooling. But I'm frighteningly alone, and I know that worried them both so much for the future.

One day my anxiety levels reached a peak which saw me sit on the sofa and pull a relatively large circle of the thick hair from my face. That's a frightening sentence to type for sharing, but the day after I did that I was so alarmed I took a picture of the mess (below), because I knew one day I would need to remind myself never to let that happen again. 

Since coming home I've been on one family day out, a promise I made to Mum that I would be part of and with enough notice and brain-planning I found myself able to be there with them all. Other than that, I've not really done much. I went to the cinema once, which, for someone who absolutely loves films, sucks. I'm in my bubble where I can work and enjoy the safety of being at home, but outside of that... Anyway, I'm glad I can write this now. 

My brother was recently diagnosed as ASD, after a long, long battle between my Mum and both his primary and secondary schools. As part of the assessment, she went through everyone in the family, detailing every bit of our lives. I think I caught their attention. Sadly, at 25, it's going to be a very long path to being diagnosed and officially placed on the spectrum. However, that's not the important part for me. Just hearing it and being able to research what Autism is and means was a huge moment for me. I suddenly felt like I had an understanding of who I am. Things made sense to me for the first time. I realised why I've struggled with so many things, why my personality is what it is. An official diagnosis might even disagree, but for me, that was the moment I was able to get a grasp of the last decade. Instead of just being the boy on anti-depressants because he was bullied at school, I could begin to understand my own brain. 

So I made a decision to finally speak to my GP and ask for the help I needed. Six weeks ago I got an appointment to see a psychiatrist. Yesterday, I had that appointment. Up until the night before I wasn't sure if I would go. I was trying to convince myself that I would, but as always with me, until I was in the door I wouldn't know for sure. Thankfully I did. And it felt amazing. 

The lady I saw said all the right things. When I first sat down she simply opened by saying she knew nothing about me. For the first time in ten years I was able to speak about everything. I finally found the voice I needed to help myself. 

The result? I'm coming off the tablets I've been on since I was 15. OK, I'm going onto new ones, but it feels like someone who understand where I'm at has actually made the first medically informed decision and knows what they have prescribed. And that feels exciting. I'll see a psychologist and then we'll progress with the ASD side of things. 

All in all, I wanted to write this as today I feel good. I feel positive. I'm proud that I finally did what I needed to do. Sure, it's late in many ways, but I can't focus on that. I have to see a future. I need to believe that this is the beginning of becoming the person I'm meant to be and building the life I deserve to have. 

Step one of that was organising a quick visit to London. I'm nervous / terrified but excited and hopeful. Small steps. Even if it takes a year, I want to believe I can get there again. That I can do the job I love with the people I love and actually find a life for myself for the first time. 

Now I just want to keep enjoying the time with the family I'm so lucky to have :)

I'm always fearful of over-sharing, but that subsides when I remember the blogs I've read that have helped me, and if I can do that for one other person, it makes it so worthwhile.

Mind -
Mental Health Foundation -
Rethink -
Young Minds -

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

We Owe It to Robin Williams to Talk About Mental Health

Last night I took my daily anti-depressant and crawled into bed. 
Without a second thought of what I would read, I took what I expected to be a final glance at Twitter. It was hard to miss the succession of tweets each shouting 'BREAKING' down my timeline. 

The death of a celebrity is something social media is still learning how to deal with. The initial fear is that it's a terrible, sick joke. Sadly, last night's news was very real.

Robin Williams was one of the greats. You only have to look at his filmography to realise just how many films you knew and loved. The man who made generation after generation laugh. But social media was shocked to learn that he had been battling depression. How could such a funny man be so unhappy? If we want to show Robin our appreciation for all the laughs, let's do our bit to help end those questions. Let's finally see depression recognised for the silent killer it is. 

I was first diagnosed with depression at 15 after bullying resulted in an attempted suicide. I was ignorant as to what illness I'd been labelled as having. As were many others I quickly discovered. If I had a penny for every, "you seem so happy", '"you're in a good mood today", "get some fresh air and you'll be fine!" I've heard over a decade...

I tried numerous times to stop taking my medication, convincing myself that I had somehow become too reliant on them. I couldn't possibly be normal if I was taking this drug to somehow function. Lesson learned the hard way as days locked away in total darkness would follow. The scariest thing I find is how heavy I can feel my head become - like there is a sudden mass just filling every empty space. 

I've never been great at communicating with a doctor about how I'm feeling. I've always turned to writing it down, always with the intention of keeping it private. Late last year I had a very dark period, while still taking the medication. It took weeks too long but I eventually sought help and had the dosage increased; the first change in nine years. I was mortified. There I was at 24, crying in a GP's surgery, approaching a decade with this illness and now needing that extra bit of help.

Almost a year later and it's been far from plain sailing. Getting older has made it harder to live with depression, as normal everyday things become more and more of a challenge. Life goes on all around you but no one wants to wait for you to catch up. It's understandably difficult as they can see you on a so-called 'good day'. Walking, talking, even smiling. See, I'm totally fine! That actor making millions laugh? He's got it all, he looks so happy. Some will hear that Robin Williams was suffering from depression and still to fail to understand why we have heard the tragic news today. Ignorance is already in fine display across the internet as the word 'selfish' is repulsively used to describe a man whose battle they will never know the true extent of. 

People see what they want to see. And when they can't see depression, it's very easy to forget that it even exists. There's no badges, no big flashing arrow above our heads; the requirement is suddenly on the sufferer to be the person to say it. And if you know depression, you know that that isn't going to be easy.

It's no secret that men are diagnosed with depression much less than women. The stigma of living with this so frequently misunderstood illness is frightening. Be it family, friends, colleagues... the fear of them not understanding you can leave you to suffer alone. Please, please, please, do not do that to yourself. You are suffering from a very real, very dangerous illness and you deserve all the help and support available.

"You're in a bad mood". A sentence that has made my blood boil on so many occasions. But take it. If someone gives you those few words, grab them. Admit you are. Telling that one person is all it might take. It will be the bravest decision you'll make, and you will never regret it. 

While writing, I also found so much strength and comfort in reading stories from others who are living through the good and bad days. You're not alone. You're never alone.

It's extremely sad that it takes the death of such a universally loved husband and father to spark a conversation like this, but if one person out there can seek help as a result, I think everyone would agree that it is a conversation well worth having.

Friday, 2 May 2014

The 'D' word

I was going to open this with a definition of the word depression, however I couldn’t find one that I felt worked for me.

I couldn’t find the right phrase to describe what I feel defines something that has defined me as a person over the last decade.

I’ve touched on the subject in my post from last December, but it is going to back to 2005 when I took an overdose in the early hours of a Monday morning - I was that terrified about facing another week at school.

In the months that followed I saw a stream of people from an adolescent mental health team to the school counsellor. The latter being quite a challenge - I completed my GCSEs studying at home, only venturing to the school to see an American counsellor who visited once every two weeks.

From what I remember, I was quite quickly prescribed anti-depressants. On reflection I don’t remember a great deal about the early stages of taking the medication. I just know they worked.

During all of this I was of course still keeping the secret of being gay. Quite a big topic to have avoided discussing - but I was also scared at it becoming ‘the focus’ and dealing with my own feelings, blaming it for causing this ‘mess’ I was in.

It’s taken a very long time, but I’ve come to terms with the fact this is a life-long situation for me.
I’ve struggled - my poor parents can vouch for that - with taking medication regularly and trying to live without it. What was I thinking?! I got a few good weeks out of those experiences before needing some interventions...

Of course, medication doesn’t make everything perfect. Moving to London was always my ambition, but I had to convince myself I could cope with it. Almost three years in, I won’t lie, it’s not always easy.

There’s been long periods of struggling through and navigating my way through dark, confusing and scary thoughts. But that’s where I find myself being a different person. Different to the teenager who gave up almost a decade ago; having a family who I love and adore, a best friend I can turn too no matter what, a job I bloody love and other people in my life who I feel care if I’m at my desk in the morning has made ‘growing up’ and dealing with who I am a much easier experience. My best friend would probably describe me as a “stubborn bastard”. That’s the best compliment I could ask for. That stubbornness has got me where I am today.

I found it funny when a celebrity, who I had interviewed several times, called me the ‘smiliest person he’d ever met’. Don’t get me wrong, I am a happy person! The downside being that people can’t quite comprehend this side to you when you’re in a bad patch. It makes it more difficult. Mental health of course still carries that stigma. The clear lack of understanding I see on a daily basis when I read through Twitter can be quite astounding and heartbreaking. Then I remember that I don’t do anything about that. As little as I could do, I've always stayed quiet about my personal experiences.

Am I embarrassed? Yes, sometimes. Wrong answer perhaps, but the honest one.
It’s not the easiest topic to discuss, it’s not easy to describe to people and even reading lines of this blog back have made me cringe - just thinking how some people might read it and possibly judge me.

But this is me. I live with this. I know what I’ve been through and know how depression has, and will continue to be a big part of my life. So I’m dealing with it and where better to start with that than by getting over my own struggle to speak about my experiences. I’ve read some amazing pieces from people who have been to darker places than I can’t even begin to imagine. I’ve been so inspired by those stories.

I want to do something useful, no matter how small, to help continue the battle to raise awareness, spread understanding and provide a greater focus on mental health issues in the UK.

I finally found the #timetotalk :)

Mental Health Awareness Week: May 18th - May 24th -
Stonewall -

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Thursday tube thoughts.

A large class of what I’d guess were five or six year olds packed into the tube carriage this morning as I made my way to the office. 

Accompanied by four teachers, the kids seemed on top of the world. Chatting away, laughing loudly, holding onto their little lunch packs carefully as they made their short three-stop journey. Six for me, FYI.

As the teacher in charge was moving up and down the car checking on each of them I couldn’t help but watch how they all responded to him.

I’d never noticed it before, but every single child looked at their teacher with such fondness, such admiration. I was quickly reminiscing about my own primary school teachers for the rest of the day.

Primary school couldn’t have been a happier place for me. I struck gold with the teachers I had - the people who would guide me through those early years, and without doubt play a part in helping me become who I am today.
Mrs Williams in primary one and primary three and her late mother Mrs Love (not a relation of mine!) in primary two - an incredible woman who I both loved and feared in equal measure - were the best a young child could ask for.

Teachers do get a hard time. They’re not miracle workers, they do make mistakes and they sure all are not the ones I’ve been lucky to know - but the difference a good one can make on a single child’s life? HUGE. 

It was watching that class yesterday that I remembered how you don’t know the personal circumstances any individual is coming from, but if they can step in that classroom and feel safe with that one teacher, how great is that? To be able to do that for a child, or a group of children every year. To help nurture an entire classroom full of the next generation. That must be a damn good feeling to go home with at the end of the day.

I've experienced the exact opposite too. That's a story for another day but one name almost destroyed everything I believed in when it came to the role teachers had. I'm thankful I've moved past that now and know that one bad egg shouldn't tarnish my memories.

Both my aunt and uncle are teachers and my sister is currently at uni with the aim to doing the same. I’m so excited for her! I know she’ll be an incredible teacher and will always give 100% to every single child who she crosses paths with. What better reward could their be than an entire classroom full looking back at you with such admiration?! 

Although, I will note that I was very grateful the tube journey was short. A pack of small children really can make quite a noise!