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Breaking the Stigma: Why I’m Sharing My Mental Health Journey

This was a very hard post to write.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but needed to build up the strength to share externally and to have my experiences permanently written down from a time of my lowest lows and vulnerability. If I can help one person in the agency world with this post then it’ll have been 100% worth it.

Before I dive in with sharing my personal experiences, I’ve also had experience supporting members of staff with mental health challenges. After which, I decided to get mental health first aid certified. I’d highly recommend getting at least one person at your agency certified. I’ll be sharing my experience with mental health support for staff members in a future post so follow me on Twitter & LinkedIn not to miss that.

During my mental health course, one of the learnings that sticks with me is that mental health can be visualised as as a funnel. Everyday we are swirling around the top of the funnel, every now and again something will happen eg feedback at work, argument with a spouse or poor diet all of which hits our mental health and takes us spiralling down a level in the funnel. These every day issues have a tendency to resolve themselves and you will move back to the top of the funnel naturally eg rest, better eating, socialising etc.

However, sometimes in life you take repetitive hits before you’ve had the chance to get yourself back up or it could take one systemic hit which can knock you right to the bottom of the funnel, both of which result in you being unable to get yourself back up without help. This is where a therapist can help you create coping mechanisms to move back up the funnel when life feels too much.

My mental health challenges began following a series of events that happened within the space of a month towards the end of 2019:

  • Business: I was probably at burnout level anyway then we hired three new members of staff in the space of a month, two of which were very senior and are our directors today – this was a massive investment for the business and a clear statement we were going to start maturing as a company and get bigger. Hit number one.

  • Personal: We got a puppy. An intense few weeks while you adjust and start training. This was combined with my wife leaving for a business trip for 2 weeks so I was solely responsible for him during that time. Hit number two.

  • Personal: My uncle killed himself. After hit one and two I wasn’t in a great place anyway but probably manageable with rest however this pushed me over the edge. This was 10 hits in one. At the time, I mourned and got on with life. Looking back, I was literally drifting and floating through life and this went on for a good few months.

  • March 2020. COVID properly hit the UK, we all went into lockdown and our worlds changed forever. Again, I was still in reaction mode from the end of 2019. Our business works with eCommerce brands so as soon as the pandemic happened it was panic stations and clients were ‘pausing’ retainers with us daily. The first month of COVID it looked like we were managing a sinking ship with all of the uncertainty. Luckily, things settled down and did a complete 180 and the rocket ship took off. Clients realised while people are in lockdown all they can do is shop online so this catapulted an incredible level of growth for us where we went on to hire two new people every month for the next 14 months.

For me, it wasn’t until mid-2020 when everything came crashing down.

You may be thinking thats like 6 months after my uncles suicide? This was my first big learning about mental health, it’s not often the case of what happened last week/month that has the biggest impact on you mentally. The big hits can often be delayed by months or years and its for this reason (I believe) that causes humans to struggle with mental health as we find it really difficult to connect and correlate events that happened months/years or even decades ago to what is happening to us today.

My next learning is the best solution and often the only solution to getting back up the funnel is to talk to someone.

I do think men in general struggle talking with people around feelings and struggle, i know I did, it’s getting better but there’s still more to do. For me I started by telling my wife. Booze doesn’t usually help anything but this time, it did for me. A few too many whiskies and I broke down telling her everything that was going on in my head.

What was going on in my head? It’s hard to explain and articulate but a summary would be dark thoughts, negativity and lack of interest in anything. This was from the first moment I woke up to the very last thought before going to bed. At the time, I wasn’t officially diagnosed but everything i’ve read about depression I definitely had an element of it going on.

Once I told my wife, I was accountable to both of us to speak to a therapist which helped massively.

What I gained from therapy is so unique to me its hard to share exact learnings but these do stick in my mind and are universally applicable that can help others

Process your thoughts and feelings

If you have certain thoughts (positive or negative) that intrigue you, be sure to address and unpick them, either with a friend or relative. At the time I wasn’t addressing my thoughts and I was pushing them away and dismissing them over the 6-month period. This simply makes them come back bigger and potentially more dangerous than the previous smaller thoughts. Today, one of my coping mechanisms for this is journaling. I find because I’m an introvert I tend not to talk about things like this with people. Journaling then gives me a way to externalise and dissect my thoughts and experiences.

Suicide isn’t hereditary

Both my uncle and grandfather committed suicide. This family history combined with with my mental heath issues was just making my thoughts worse. Instead, I learned it is based on your environment and shared experiences, which do have a strong tendency to be impacted and influenced by family.

Therapy helped me massively but it took a further 5-6 months until I felt right again.

It was interesting to see how my thoughts evolved slowly through my journaling, starting negative and pessimistic to more positivity and optimism.

Since my experience I have spoken to my friends more about my experiences and how therapy and a life coach has helped me. I know for a fact if i hadn’t shared my experiences one of my good friends wouldn’t have got a therapist which has also helped him with his mental health.

Another reason which pushed me to write this post was that I recently had my biggest ‘relapse’ since 2020. I was at burn out but had a holiday booked in 3 weeks time so decided to keep going until my 2 week holiday.

This is the first long holiday I’ve had since becoming a dad, annual leave is not what it used to be and I wasn’t prepared again going into it in a vulnerable state.

I did all of my coping mechanisms which have worked for me over the last 2 years but it wasn’t working. I felt like I was dropping down the funnel again. This went on for around 4 days before I decided to tell my wife I wasn’t feeling right. As soon as I told her I felt a relief come over me and from that point onwards I moved up the funnel relatively quickly and had a great end to my annual leave.

However, it’s what I wrote in my journal which triggered me to finally write and share about my mental health experiences.

Even with all of my confidence and experience of managing my mental health, supporting my staff and doing a mental heath first aid course I still wrote “If this continues into tomorrow morning I need to confess.”

I surprised myself to still be using a word like “confessing” and stigmatising mental health as something to be ashamed of. Even with my experience I still find it difficult to talk about it in the moment but sharing our experiences can also be a powerful way to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and help others who may be struggling.

By talking about mental health openly and seeking support when needed, we can all work towards better mental health and wellbeing. Remember that mental health is just as important as physical health, and it’s ok to ask for help.

So if you’re reading this and struggling with your own mental health, know that you’re not alone. There is help available, and it’s okay to reach out and ask for it. And if you’re not struggling, but you know someone who is, be there for them. Listen to them, support them, and encourage them to seek help when they need it. Together, we can break down the stigma surrounding mental health and create a world where everyone feels comfortable and supported in seeking the help they need.