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.

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