16 stone, 6 foot 2 male, with broken teeth, nose, jaw and then a broken mind.
That’s what schools did to me.
1995, cycling down Ash Bank Road to the Mitchell High School, Stoke when my pride and joy, a Giant carbon fibre racing bike, got its front wheel stuck in a drain placed the wrong way round and I went arse over tit, headfirst over handlebars, and bit the kerb.
Inertia you see.
I’d learned all about that in dreadful Physics lessons at my crap comprehensive school, Thorne Grammar in Doncaster, in 1979.
At 30, I lost my teeth, broke my nose, broke my jaw, but after two days’ absence, sucking liquidised food through a straw, I was back in the classroom teaching, with no front teeth.
I was a legend back in the day.
In my own mind?
I never thought after the physical trauma, and subsequent inability to ride a bike for a few years, that anything would faze me, but some 17 years later, I broke my mind.
Now I had to have therapy to recover from the horrendous anxiety attacks I suffered with.
CBT and EMDR counselling made me see the bigger picture and more importantly overcome those dreadful, irrational fears.
I’d stop the car at a certain point, and cry, in paroxysms of fear, eventually turn around and head home to perceived safety.
Now this wasn’t for some BAFTA award, I was genuinely traumatised and I associated a Norfolk place with bad things.
Counselling saved me.
Instead of me regurgitating the past, though, again, I’ll summarise in 5 points what I think you should do if you suffer from anxiety, or any other form of mental health issues, at whatever level:
- TALK. Talk openly with a patient listener about how you feel and what triggers it. I bored my wife and close friends to tears, I’m sure, with my obsessive fixation on anxiety and depression, but talking helps. Talking to trained therapists helped even more. What they did was listen, not trivialise or mock what I was going through but explain why it was happening and what I could do about it.
- CRY. Men don’t cry – forget that. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to cry in public, do it. Admit your emotions and don’t bury them under that masculine veneer.
- WRITE. I was told to keep a “Worry Diary” and to be honest I nearly laughed out loud at the concept, but I maintained one for a few weeks and writing down what I felt, and what was triggering anxieties, actually helped no end.
- EXPOSURE. Not that Wilfred Owen poem we all know verbatim (well me and Roy Cropper do), but expose yourself gradually to fears. I had to time myself at critical locations – 2 minutes, 5 minutes and the like – getting out of the car and getting closer to the source of anxieties over a period of weeks and months. That script you see, those toxic files in my mind, needed neutralising and once I realised I wouldn’t disappear into a chasm, when I left the refuge of the car, I began to get better.
- TIME. Recovery from anxiety, stress, depression takes months and years. I’ve been ill since June 2012, which is a long stint, but I’ve recovered properly in the past 6 months – that’s 4 and half years of fighting mental demons and beating them. There’s been awful times, in the true sense of the word, in my head and actions, but I’d like to think now I’m getting back to my old self. I’m not there yet, I may never will be, but I’m closer to normality than I’ve been in years. Allow yourself time and plenty of it.
I do hope my transparency and openness will encourage other men, suffering from mental illness, to come forward, submit articles and talk openly on here, in name or anonymously.
We’re on a crusade here.
Man Stress is not a vanity project; it’s a platform to get men talking with each other, like many have done already – we’re really grateful too for the positive reception this venture has gathered already.