Category Archives: personal

The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me.

Get ready to cringe.

It was a hot summer’s day. About thirteen years ago. And 15 year-old me was doing what 15 year-old me would typically be doing on a hot summer’s day: staying inside playing computer games.

Somehow, I managed to tear my eyes away from the screen to go look out a window. Specifically the window from the computer room (mother’s bedroom). And who do I see from the window? Our sweet little cat: Splat.

Splat was having a little sunbathe. It was a lovely sight. She was on her back, soaking in the warmth. So I gave her a little wave.

A nice little wave. Just trying to get her attention.

For some reason I started throwing in some coos. Like “coo-ee! hello there! coo-ee!!”. Y’know, like baby talk for cats. It didn’t do much, because cats hate attention and live to ignore you. But it made me happy – waving and cooing.

But then I noticed something.

The window from my mother’s bedroom didn’t just overlook our garden. You could also see into next door’s garden. And in my excitement about the cat, I hadn’t looked next door. And I really should have.

Because someone else was also sunbathing that day. Out next door neighbour. He was having a little lie down with his top off, just catching some rays.

And he was staring right at me.

I can only imagine what he must have thought. A young teenage boy leaning out a window, smiling and cooing at him. (Because he could see there wasn’t anyone in our garden).

Needless to say, I ducked down below the window with a speed I don’t I’ve ever matched again in my lifetime. I think I was lying down entirely flat on the ground for about five minutes. And I knew I’d just have to repress the memory until either they moved out, or I did.

And now I’ve shared it on the internet for the whole world to enjoy. Thanks for reading!

checking in on my own mental health

So, 14-20 May is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is ‘Stress’ but it’s good to think and talk about MH in general, yeah? For us men especially, since suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and it is considerably higher in men.

A year ago, I wasn’t in the best place. Literally. I was living alone in a big house that I couldn’t afford. I was coming out of a two year relationship. And I was spending most of my time commuting for a job I wasn’t really into. Outside of work, I wasn’t doing much fun, and basically I was just not very happy.

A year on, how am I doing? Not a whole deal better, to be honest, but there’s been improvements in a few areas. So let’s break it down, in excruciating detail!

Health

Health-wise, I guess I’m ok. I always worry about my weight, which I know is stupid since folks frequently comment on me being thin/skinny. But I know I’ve definitely put weight on over the last few years, and I’d love to lose it. I know my diet of beer and sweets probably isn’t helping much, but I haven’t had much luck cutting them out.

In particular I know my diet worsens when I’m stressed/depressed. I eat a lot of sugar (hence my like 30 fillings) and I’ll use it to get through the day when I’ve got a low mood. I wouldn’t call it an addiction, but I’m literally eating a bag of Haribo Fangtastics right now if that gives you any indication.

Living situation

I’m not living alone anymore! And I’m not commuting 90 minutes each way for work!

I moved from Cambridge to London about six months ago, and it’s had a mixed effect on my mental well-being. Yes, the commute is better, but London is a busy, crowded place. It’s harder to get away from the hustle and bustle, people seem just a little bit meaner, and the buildings aren’t as pretty.

Having housemates again is great. And it’s especially good that it’s friends I’ve actively chosen to live with – not absolute randomers. Living with randoms is awful for your mental health since they can act unpredictably and it’s harder to have difficult conversations with them about things.

Living with friends is much better, but it still makes me anxious sometimes. Do my housemates hate me? Do they think I’m uncool? Why don’t they ask me to join in with things sometimes? How do I get them to take part in the things I want to do? These kind of dumb questions are still a cause of stress for me.

Work

I started a new job at the beginning of the year. And it’s great.

I wasn’t enjoying my job at the end of last year. It was stressful, made me feel inadequate, and frankly I’d probably been doing it too long. Leaving a company after six and a half years was really stressful to do, but I reckon it was the right move in the long-term. So I’m glad to be out of that environment.

My new role has come with its own stresses. I’ve got a lot more responsibility, which is satisfying, but also challenging. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming, but everyone is super supportive. I’ve had some rough weeks, but some great times too. Hopefully I’ll grow more secure and confident with time.

Love

A bit like a year ago, I’ve just gone through another breakup. This time it had just been a little under six months, so a bit less serious, but it still sucks. And it seems partly down to my inability to integrate in social situations properly with a partner’s friends and family.

This has come up a few times, which tells me that it’s something I need to change or improve about myself. Or I just die alone, I guess.

Family

I recently went on holiday to Iceland with my Mother and sister, which was great. I don’t hang out much with my family otherwise. So that was nice.

But this month I also met my half-brother and half-sisters for the first (proper) time. This was a bit of a surreal experience, and I’m still “processing” it. It’s really weird to have all this family you don’t know, and I don’t know how to feel about it. So that’s just something going on in the background, I guess. Does it make me sad? Sometimes, yeah.

Social Life

Being social is difficult for me. Parties, gatherings, meeting new people – these can all make me pretty anxious. It’s something I’m focussing on with CBT, but it’s one of the main blockers in my life right now.

I just find it difficult to talk to people sometimes. Especially if there’s lots of new people, or if we’re in a loud environment. I’ve never understood how people can chat in clubs, or even loud clubs. Often I’ll just sit there and nod along to other conversations, even though I can’t actually make out a word of what’s going on.

And as I mentioned above, this is particularly difficult when meeting the friends/family of a new partner. Which causes all kinds of problems down the line and isn’t much fun.

I also really value my free time, like weekends and stuff. Sometimes you just don’t want to see anyone at all, right? And I can feel like I’m sacrificing the precious time I have to myself to see people I don’t really want to see. But then other times I get desperately lonely. So either way it sucks.

Creativity

I like to be creative. I write things like this blog, and make videos and things. Being creative is a great coping mechanism for me when I’m feeling down. But I often feel like I’m at the bottom of the well of my creativity.

Or I’ll have a short burst of creativity where I want to do lots of things, and then suddenly lose all drive and momentum. It doesn’t help that I always hate the things I actually produce, and usually the things I’ve worked hardest on get the luke-warmest reception.

Without wanting to be petty or anything, but here’s a thing that annoyed me recently:

Last July I did this and it was great – I was a viral sensation and felt really good about myself. Earlier this year I tried to do it again in what I thought was actually a more technically impressive way, but it got a much smaller reaction. Meanwhile, someone else did something similar in the same week and not only got lots of Twitter praise, but actually did better numbers-wise than my original tweet.

Yes, I know it’s kind of pathetic to base your self worth on social media vanity metrics. And yet that’s exactly what I do. If I work hard on something and it doesn’t ‘do well’, what’s the point in me even trying? What’s the point in me even bothering to create anything? Sometimes it seems like I shouldn’t even start on a new creative project, when I know it won’t be appreciated anyway.

And yeah, that makes me feel bad.

Mental Health

Way back in like October, my GP referred me to a local NHS mental health unit for some anxiety I was having. A few phone calls later and they were like “yeah you need CBT”. So a mere five months later I started some CBT, which I’m doing weekly at the moment.

CBT is a weird one for me. It’s very curriculum-driven, in the sense that there’s a list of things you just have to learn and understand. But once you’ve read and understood the list of common cognitive errors and been through the behavioural strategies for dealing with them, what next? There’s only so much mindfulness I can practice before I just have to admit it’s not helping.

I’ve been on medication before, but I’ll always try to avoid it as much as possible because of the side effects. So I’d like to avoid that as much as possible.

Exercise is sometimes heralded as the ultimate cure for low mood / depression. But as we all know, when all you want to do is lie in bed and cry, going for a light jog is at the absolute bottom of your list of things you’d feel comfortable doing.

Mental health-wise I seem to be getting worse. My anxiety and depression scores are going up, despite the CBT, and I’m noticing warning signs in things like my diet and alcohol intake. Physically, I’m a bit drained. Some days I wake up with my chest pumping with cortisol, which isn’t a fun sensation.

I’m a bit more anxious than usual at the moment. And I’m living with constant moderate depression.

But it’s ok.

It’s good to talk about this stuff. I have a few friends I can confide in, and that’s good. And writing blogs like this, out in the public and shared with the internet, is super cathartic.

The worst thing you can do is bottle your feelings up. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned over the years. But sharing them is also the hardest.

So: talk! Talk to me, talk to a friend, talk to anonymous strangers on Twitter. It’ll help, and you’ll feel better. I know it helps me, at least.

Thanks for reading. Getting this all down makes me feel better, and if it at all helps you come to terms with anything you’re feeling too, that’d make me very happy.

<3


Further reading:

If you’d like to know what living with anxiety can be like, here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about an attack I had during a comedy gig. I’m glad to say things are better now with this, and I frequently go to shows on my own now (only partially out of choice). But the negative thoughts patterns and things in that blog post still affect me day-to-day.

And the other week, as an exercise for myself, I wrote down a list of as many of my anxiety triggers as I could think of. Writing them out and seeing them in a list is kind of therapeutic. But reading over it, it makes me feel a bit silly. 28 year old men aren’t supposed to freak out when someone knocks on their door.

Ugh.

I don’t like to use this blog for personal things. But I’m in a bit of a state right now and I just need to let it out. I promise I’ll never do this again.

So sometimes I get anxious and depressed and things. It’s mostly during the winter months what with it being all dreary and dark and horrible and all that. But it also happens during the summer. And it’s not much fun.

There’s not usually any specific trigger for it. It’s just general worrying about things. And then worrying about worrying. Then worrying about the worrying about the worrying. It’s the kind of vicious cycle that ends with up wrapped up in bed crying and listening to depressing music.

I’ve tried pretty much everything. Exercise. Meditiation. Mindfulness. Dieting. Counselling. Citalopram. Fluoxetine. Quitting caffeine. Nothing’s helped much.

But I’ve been feeling better the past few weeks. Finally got the ok to come off the meds after the latest six months of that, as I was doing mindfulness stuff to just SHUT MY BRAIN UP FOR ONE SECOND.

But I still find it difficult to do things. I get anxious in social situations. I worry about failure. I genuinely fear being exposed emotionally. And it has real knock-on effects to my quality of life. I don’t sleep right sometimes. I load up on sweets and coffee to feel good for once. I swing into manic behaviour to balance things out. I spent loads of money on stuff I don’t need or really even want. I avoid situations where things might be out of my control.

Like today. A friend told me about a comedy gig in town. I love comedy. I like having someone make me laugh, giving me a new perspective on things. I just like being able to look at the ridiculous things in life and laugh at them. It’s great. I’d love to do it myself (if you’ve read anything I’ve written I’m sure you’ll agree it’s pretty much just gonna stay a dream though).

So I got all excited for that but unfortunately my friend couldn’t make it. Uh-oh. Suddenly there’s a dilemma. Do I go, on my own, or not go and just stay at home instead? That’s not an option surely, as I’ve paid just under £10 for this ticket. That’s a waste of money, and I’m a big comedy fan. Going it is then.

But not alone. In comes the anxiety. Who goes to a show on their own. Freaks and losers, that’s who. I don’t genuinely believe this of course. But the idea is stuck in my head. And besides, even if I don’t believe it I’m sure some people there will.

So I ask around. See if anyone’s up for joining me at the comedy. I even offer to pay some folks to go with me. I’m that desperate not to be alone. But it’s all too short notice and nobody can make it.

Still, I go. I reckon I can just sit at the back and hide. Nobody will even notice me. It’ll be great. No worries.

I get there and it’s the smallest venue ever. Suddenly: all the worries. Only the first few rows are filling up and the back rows are closed off as it’s not going to be a big crowd. Uh-oh. I ask where I can sit.

I’m pointed to an empty space right in the front row. Right in the middle. The single most exposed spot in the venue. But it’s too late. No turning back now.

I feel like I’m on display. Half the seats are angled so they face another. I feel like my every movement is a performance for the rest of the audience. I cross and uncross my legs. I get out my phone, check it a bit – gotta look like I have a real life, don’t want people thinking I’m some kind of loser freak – realise I can’t get any signal in town, put the phone away, fiddle with my hands a bit, worry that fiddling with my hands probably looks weird, look up, stare at the ground. What do people do on their own at these things? The people to the left and right of me have given me a wide berth. I’m sure it’s perfectly innocent, just them respecting personal space boundaries, but I feel them judging me.

These are all the thoughts that are running through my head. I sweat. I breathe hard. I worry that people can hear my irregular breathing. I hold my breath. Holding my breath means I have to breathe deeper and louder again still. Negative anxious behaviours reinforce a feedback loop. I’m stuck in a personal hell of my own making. I can’t even get up and leave without making a scene.

Finally the show starts. The first act is lovely, wonderful, funny. I’ve seen them loads of times and they’re always great. It’s the reason I came. Then there’s a short interval. Again, I’m at a loose end. Do I wander off or just stay seated? I can’t just leave. The empty gap will be really obvious and people will know that I left halfway. Yes I know they’re complete strangers. But I still don’t want to be judged by them. It just feels horrible to me. I know it’s crazy but it’s how I feel.

So I just sit there. Everyone else is talking. Or getting up and doing things. I can’t even get a drink, there isn’t a bar. I try the whole phone pantomime again but I’ve even run out of things I can be pretending to do on that. I’m reading texts from my network provider for promotions I don’t care about. Anything. But even then I worry. Am I looking at my phone too much. Who spends that long writing a text? I can’t play a game or anything – don’t want to be that guy sitting in the front row of a theatre on his own playing a game on his phone. So I just sort of sit there.

I’m not even sitting comfortably. My bike lights are in my pocket and if I rest my hand on my lap there’s a slim chance they’ll be activated and I’ll just draw weird attention to myself. Where do arms go? I can’t fold them, that would look weird at a comedy gig. No armrests to prop myself up on. So they just sort of hang awkwardly between my legs. Or on my kneee when I shift my legs into a cross-legged position, as I do every minute or so to look like I’m not just sitting there unmovingly.

Finally the second act starts. Yes. Home stretch. Over halfway done. Nothing embarrassing yet.

Until he turns his attention onto me. Exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Attention. Everyone looking at me. Being called out.

He calls me out for being weird. Says he’s had his eye on me since I walked in. Addresses my clothes – my vintage cardigan making me look like an 80s bumblebee (?) apparently. Some other stuff too, but I’ve tuned out. I don’t know what to say or do. I just sit there and take it, in as much good humour as I can.

Laughingly I ask, “do you want me to go then?” Secretly I hope he says yes, giving me permission to leave. But he says to stay, but he’ll keep his eye on me.

For the rest of the show I’m on edge. I can’t laugh at the jokes. I feel that he could come back to me again at any moment. I’m worried that he’ll come back for another round. I try to avoid his eye, but make sure I appear to be laughing when he looks my way. Don’t want to give him an excuse. And got to put on a brave face for the rest of the people.

I’ve always thought that people who get picked on at comedy gigs are just ok with it. And 99% of the time I’m sure that’s the case. Most people are up for a laugh most of the time. And it helps when you’re with friends. If I wasn’t on my own it’d be fine. I’d have someone to fall back on. But I’m there alone. With a room of strangers laughing at me. My every fear realised. All my negative thought patterns entirely validated. Every time I’ve been told “you’re overthinking it” completely upturned. Exactly what I was worried would happen did happen. And it was horrible.

Eventually the show ended. I’m not sure what to do. I kind of hope the comedian comes over and apologises or something. Like that’s not what he really thinks, it’s just something to do as part of the show. I’ve seen that happen a few times and sometimes it’s ok. But it doesn’t happen. Everyone just leaves. So I leave too.

I try not to make eye contact with anyone. Everyone there with their friends knows that I’m the guy on his own. The weird guy that got called out. I get away quickly.

Cycling home I almost cry. I know that’s super lame but I feel really upset. It’s hard to put into words how much public humiliation can affect someone with social anxiety unless you’ve felt it. And this isn’t me being all ‘precious and unique snowflake’ – it’s just a thing I have and this is how I feel.

And I know that I should just ignore it. I’ve got so much to be “happy about.” Lots of friends. I like my job. I’m financially independent. I’m more or less healthy. But my brain relates all of this to footnotes. It’s like all these good things are in this tiny little font and there’s a huge YEAH, BUT… in great big bold letters after that. You simply can’t ignore it.

So yeah. I’m upset. I’m on the verge of relapsing back into another dark patch. Another six months of gloom. Another six months of medicine and not feeling yourself and getting constantly asked if you’re feeling ok.

Sorry for the long one. I don’t really expect anyone to read it. I just know it’s better to let these things out than keep them in.

Be happy.