** Please note that this post may upset sensitive readers as it contains some deeply personal experiences of the past. AND ! It’s a bit long !!
I (Gareth) woke up early this morning, a long night filled with dark dreams, nightmares and fighting. It was the sound of crying that woke me up and then I realized who it belong to.
It’s been a while since I have had those kinds of dreams – the kind where you’re trapped in a small place, fighting for your life, fighting to get out, fighting to escape. Yet no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t move and fear paralyses every muscle in your body.
It all feels so real. Too real almost so despite the time of day, waking up is a huge relief and you just let all the emotions go.
And then it dawned on my why all this was so familiar, so real, so emotional. I had been there before, many, many years ago.
“All I could do was lie there and fight. It felt like I had been tied to the bed, my arms and legs stuck in some sort of gross restraint contraption – you know, like when you have one of those dreams where you just can’t move but you have to get away from whatever it is that is chasing you? You can’t actually see what is coming, yet you know that if you do not move, then it is going to get you. That is how I felt – this bad dream that I just could not wake up from and the more I tried to move, the tighter the restraints came. At the same time, I had the overwhelming urge to go and have a pee – my bladder felt like it was going to burst at any minute and I didn’t think that I could hold it in for much longer. And to make matters even worse, there was this irritatingly annoying beeping going off in my ear – beep, beep, beep. Fucking irritating if you ask me.”
Life has a funny way of reminding you of the past every now and then. Glimpses into an old life when things were very different. Flashbacks to a time when, on the surface, things looked like they were OK yet deep down inside, you were hiding something you were so ashamed of, something you wish you could ask for help with yet didn’t quite know how to.
It almost feels like a movie. Something that never really happened. Something that is so far removed from what life is like today yet something that reminds me of a time when there was so much anger and so much internal pain. I had so much to be thankful for yet deep down inside, was so ashamed of so many things and, as crazy as it sounds, it seemed impossible to . . . . . . . actually, things just felt impossible.
“I wouldn’t say that it was anger that came over me; I would probably say that it was rage – driving ugly rage that filled me from wherever it came. Why, why did you have to wake up I said to myself, just why. Enough is enough and now this, no matter how hard I try, it won’t go away – this thing inside me that wants to eat me, this thing inside me that drives me crazy every single day of my life, this thing that won’t go away no matter how much I drink or shovel up my nose or down my throat or even smoke, and here I am. Here I am again. Only this time physically tied to a bed, naked, covered in a sheet with wires and tubes coming from all over the place – a machine angrily beeping at me with every beat of my heart telling me that I am still here, that I am still taking up space on the planet, that I am still hurting my family – AGAIN !”
Living with Mental Health Problems is never easy. In fact, living with any health condition is not easy. Yet sometimes, having something that you can physically see makes it easier to communicate what is going on for you.
Trying to communicate that you feel “pointless” or “down” for no reason at all is hard. Trying to make sense of the “voices” in your head can be tiring, especially when they just go on and on and on, no matter how hard you try to ignore them or “think positive.” Your body takes a hammering even though these things can’t be seen and, as time goes by, you feel every ounce of your energy draining away every time you take a simple step towards living in the world.
So you smile. You say “I am doing just fine thank you” but yet inside, you know that it is far from that. You do your best to get through the day, you tell the doctors the things you think they want to hear and, despite how much you have going on around you, you just simply go through the motions.
You find your own poison that dulls the pain and you have secrets that you never, ever want anyone to find out about.
For me, as hard and painful as it is to admit, that was the reality for me many years ago.
“So deep down inside, lying there, strapped to a bed covered in piss probably, I made a decision. A decision that scared me to the core yet one that only I could make. This time, no matter how long it took, I would deal with this thing I was fighting. I would end this seemingly never-ending journey somehow and it would be OK. How I was going to do this, at that stage, I did not know, but I was going to do it.
And that’s when it began, this long journey out from that dark place, from that place where you feel like you have to hide, from that place where you just want to be yourself but for some unknown reason you feel you can’t be. Lying in that bed, looking up at my wife and sister, I knew that I had to do it, if not for me, then for them because I could not carry on like this anymore, I could not carry on hurting them and lying to them even if I did not care a single ounce about myself, I had to do it for someone. And then I looked over, I managed to turn my head slightly to the left and saw those 2 little people and I knew that I had some strength left in me. What right did I have to let my children see me like that, laying there like that? Something changed that day in that dark place and as I started drifting towards that dark place again, my thoughts were on my children. My small children, scared and wondering what was going on.”
14 years ago, today, I made that very decision and as I look back now, teary eyed, emotional and trying my best to communicate my words on a screen, I am reminded of all the hard work, mistakes, blunders, lessons, learnings and everything else that has happened during those years.
There have been moments when I have felt like giving up, when it has felt like everything has come undone and nothing would ever work.
In those moments, I do my best to remind myself of that decision I made in that hospital bed and to say to myself that no matter what, I always have a choice. I have a choice to give up and a choice to keep going, one simple moment at a time.
So often, when we make a decision to change, we almost expect everything to magically get better, we expect there to be no more problems that we had before and we expect things to be “fixed” once and for all. I know that there was a part of me back then that said “OK, I need help, I am going to stop doing x, y and z so everything is now OK and I can deal with everything.”
Yet we seem to forget that we didn’t get to that change point over night. We didn’t just end up in the position – it took time to build up. It took signals and signs along the way that, for some reason, we didn’t want to listen to.
Never in my wildest dreams did I EVER expect my life to be the way that it is today. Not once did I believe that I could do what I am doing now, neither did I ever think I would actually be able to find a way to live, in peace and harmony and, most of all, without medication or drugs and drinking and hurting myself to relieve the pain and pressure inside.
Along the way, I have made mistakes. I had felt pain like I have never felt before. I have inadvertently hurt people with my actions and lack of thinking. I still live with my Mental Health problems and they get to me from time to time – the crazy voices, the paralyzing fear and darkness of depression, the violent and scary thoughts.
I have regrets about the things I have done and some people say that we shouldn’t have them – heck, I have even said it without thinking in the past. But those regrets remind me that there will always be work ahead. They will remind me that, daily, I need to keep showing up and doing the things 100%, even if that means I don’t do anything at all.
Happiness, and health and everything else is not just something that happens. It is the result of a commitment we make to our own lives, whatever it is that we are going through. I don’t share this openly very often for a number of reasons – a few of them being fear, shame, my loved ones reading them, guilt and “who the hell am I to say these things, I should just be thankful that I am alive.”
But at the end of the day, nothing in life is worth anything unless it is shared with others, given away freely and released into the world.
In 2014, an average of 16 people took their own lives every day because they didn’t feel like there was a way out. In 2002, I almost became one of those statistics and today, I am truly blessed, thankful and humbled to be where I am right now.
It has taken me many years to get to the point where I feel as comfortable as I can be, sharing openly about what I lived through. It has taken me 14 years of daily hard work, committed to just doing my best in my life – taking care of my body, working on my mind and living my life as best as I can.
I still doubt it – and quite a lot. As I said, I still have periods where I have to hold on for dear life, asking for help, reaching out for support but most of all, actively applying every tool I have learned along the way.
So to mark this next chapter, I am making 2 deeply personal commitments.
The first is to share more openly in a way I feel safe. How that is, I am not 100% sure yet because, well, because I am not.
And secondly, is to do something physical for a cause I am so hugely passionate about – Mental Health.
A few weeks ago, I received an email welcoming me as part of the 2017 Heads Together London Marathon Team. So that’s what I will be doing. Being a part of this is, for me, a huge thing – something bigger than I can begin to explain and I still can’t quite believe it.
Will it be easy ? No. Will there be a lot of work involved ? Yes. Will it take up time and energy and effort ? Yes. Will I feel like giving up along the way ? Who knows.
Will it be worth it ? Hell Yes !!
Whatever you are going through right now, know this one thing.
A decision without action is like a snowflake falling on a hot day – it doesn’t last for long and nothing happens.
- You can do it.
- You can keep going.
- You will find a way.
- And there are people out there who can (and will) help you deal with whatever it is that you are going through.
- Keep going.
- Keep doing the things.
- Keep asking for help, even though it might be tough.
- And most of all, keep on keeping on.
To everyone who has been there over the last 14 years, all I can say is thank you. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for support me. And most of all, thank you for believing in me more than I believe in myself.
P.S. There is a 3rd Commitment because we have just finished our 4th Book, The Feel Good Factor, and yeah, we are pretty proud of it. But we’ll share more about it with you as soon as we see the first copy in our hands because we haven’t said anything about it and it really was a bit of an accident !!