Time to Talk 2023: Dave’s Story…
The sky is dark when I leave the office. Driving home, I realise the car behind is following me. The streetlights reveal shadowy glimpses of the driver as he nears my bumper. I turn left, he turns left. I turn right, he turns right. Filled with panic I turn abruptly down a side street, speeding into a housing estate and hiding in a cul-de-sac until I am sure my pursuer is gone.
Once home, I rush inside and lock the door. Leaving the lights off so the house appears empty I creep from room to room, drawing the curtains so no-one outside can see. I check the doors and windows ten times to make sure they are locked, then sit in the kitchen in darkness clutching a bottle of beer.
When my wife gets home she turns on the lamp near the TV – not the main light, as she knows I can’t cope with that – and gives me a hug.
‘How have you been today?’ she asks.
‘They’re after me again,’ I whimper.
Her eyes are kind as she holds my shaking hands. ‘There is no-one after you babe, I promise.’
Tears stream down my cheeks. ‘I can’t live like this anymore…’ I say, filled with self-hatred and guilt.
Hi, My Name is Dave…
Hi. My name is Dave. I write fiction and try to make people laugh. But the above is sadly not fiction, and today – for Mind’s Time To Talk 2023 – I wanted to share my story, in the hope it will help others.
I was 28 years old when the above event took place, three years into a debilitating mental illness that took away my career, my social life and my happiness.
To all but a handful of people, these revelations will be shocking. For despite my suffering I hid it well. Signs were there – frequent outbursts of anger, social withdrawal, trust issues bordering on paranoia – but I felt ashamed and weak, so I hid my problems away. I had a perfect wife, a career at one of the biggest law firms in the U.K., a loving family, and a great group of friends. ‘Who the fuck was I to complain about my mental health?’ I scolded myself. But in reality, I was victim of a toxic masculinity culture that convinced me my mental illness was weakness, a failure of character. So I resisted help.
Fast forward to 2023 and I barely recognise the person above. After a decade of psychological therapy, self-help books (the Overcoming series, in particular), wellbeing techniques, a skip full of medication, and unwavering dedication and love from my wife, close family and a few remarkable friends, the severity of my suffering between 2009-2015 seems like a movie. Like someone else’s past.
And in many ways it is. Because millions of people every day are battling with their mental health, many suffering in silence, and not all are as fortunate as I have been to come out the other side (mostly) intact.
Time to Talk…
You may wonder why I have chosen to discuss this incredibly difficult and private period of my life. The cynical among you may believe I am doing it for attention, or sympathy, but that only feeds into the outdated narrative that mental illness is inextricably linked to neediness.
The actual answer is simple: I am writing this because being open and talking about mental health matters, whether you are suffering yourself or know someone who might be.
I suffered in silence for four years, and in that time my condition deteriorated until I was broken. Ashamed and afraid, I hid from the world – missing stag parties, weddings, and many other life events that make existence worthwhile, losing many friends along the way.
Throughout that period my wonderful wife, parents, and lifelong friend, Ross G, took on the burden of helping me survive – selflessly and at no small cost to their own wellbeing – and it is not an exaggeration to say that without them I would no longer be here, just another suicide statistic.
Time to ask for help…
I realise now that silence never helped. In fact, it was only in late-2013 when I sought professional support that everything changed, and I was able to begin the long but rewarding process of recovery.
As I learnt more about mental health, obtained medical diagnoses for my own condition (a complex mixture of PTSD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Insomnia), and gained access to specialised psychological therapy through the NHS (long live the NHS), I finally grasped that my own wellbeing mattered more than any stigma the world could throw at me.
If you’re reading this and finding it hard to talk about your mental health, I understand. Truly. Frank and honest discussions about mental health are tough. The fear of judgment and rejection are a huge obstacle to recovery, and make it very hard to take the first step. But take it from me, there are people out there who care, who will listen, and who want to help.
Time to remove stigma…
For those who know 2023 Dave (sounds like a rapper-persona), I am perhaps more open and frank about my own mental health than anyone they have ever met. I can say without fear that I have a mental illness, I take anti-depressant medication, and that my mental health is an intrinsic part of who I am (both the good and the bad).
But know that frankness didn’t come easily. I have suffered prejudice of the worst kind, from strangers, colleagues, and friends. Some of the things that have been said to me, and the behaviour I have experienced over the years, is deplorable. And those things hurt, I won’t lie. But after suffering for 14 years I know, unquestionably, that the more we address mental health openly the sooner fear and stigma behind mental illness becomes a relic of the past.
Time to Change…
I won’t play the blameless victim. As a younger man I used sarcasm as a defence mechanism and due to my insecurity and low self-esteem I acted in ways that hurt those I loved, and pushed away people who loved me. That doesn’t mean I deserve to have mental health problems, of course, but it does mean that my recovery required acknowledgement and acceptance that I needed, no, I wanted, to change.
And it may seem an odd thing to say, but many positives arose out of this darkest period of my life, and for that I am grateful. There is no doubt that I am a better human being because of it. Through it I developed self-awareness, an understanding of how my actions affected those around me. It also gave me increased empathy and compassion (something our world needs in abundance). But most of all, it gave me the desire to try every day to leave the world a little better than I found it, and to help those who need help (just like those who helped me). I don’t always succeed. But I try.
And so I hope my honesty in writing this article helps you, whether it’s to seek help for yourself, or to reach out to others who need support.
Time to Act…
So text that friend you’ve been meaning to text. Ring that family member you’ve been meaning to ring. Ask them how they are, how they feel. And tell them how you feel, too. Start the conversation. Our time on earth is short, so let’s use it to build bridges, to help others, and to ask for help ourselves. Because we deserve it.
Thank you for reading.
NEED HELP AND SUPPORT?
Check out the Mind Time to Talk 2023 website for more info on this great campaign.
Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/
Young Minds (for children and young adults) – https://www.youngminds.org.uk/