Head Lines: James's Story
We dream of a world where people discuss mental health as freely as they discuss the weather. So as part of our mission to normalise conversations around mental health and the ups and downs we can all experience, we’re launching Head Lines - a blog series where we invite others to share their stories. First up is James, a Brighton based writer who kindly shared a brilliantly honest account of having to take some time out at the beginning of this year.
James’s Story: Tailwind journeys.
In order for you to understand why I had to go on long term sick from my job I’ll need to tell you about what makes me tick. What my values are. What is important to me. And why I exist.
It is nine in the evening. I have been crying now for five days. The flesh on my cheeks puffy and red, my chest tight. I am on a train back to my family home before facing my doctor and telling him that mentally, I’m in a crisis.
Prior to this week, I had been a highly functioning 34 year old man. Running all of my energy into two jobs. Always at my best, part of both jobs having to interact with people I’d never met before. Leading a full social life, a calendar on the wall fluid and dynamic. A weekend away here. An event. A party. I hadn’t considered that within this time I needed to take time for myself.
I get on the train. At least twice a week I get on the train. The feeling of moving forward, progression is the sensation. Whether I have music in my ears, a novel to gradually read or simply to look out of the window. A train journey is an hour out of the day to be still. Still whilst physically moving forwards.
Recently getting on the train has been a struggle. Dogging me to remain still. Unmoved. Safe. Unaware of the strangers sat by me or the beauty outside.
The destination is the focus and the focus alone...just get through the damned journey.
I get off the train late and arrive at my family home before midnight. Family. A word I hold in high value. And over the coming months I would realise just how much.
November of last year I had some unsettling and disturbing news that someone in my immediate family was sick, hospitalised. On morphine.
Again, in January a different close family member became very unwell resulting in being admitted to intensive care.
Both of these events I had no control over. All I could do was watch from afar. Playing a role in helping within the family dynamic where I could, seeking out opportunities to be a support. Something that I would later learn - not everybody asks for help. And not everybody knows how to ask for help.
In February my friend's father passed away. The catalyst. Something that I am still addressing.
We all have coping mechanisms and we all adopt tactics in order to deal with everyday stress and anxiety. My mechanism would be to make myself as busy as possible. Let the energy within my anxiety lead. Channel it into a tool that I could work with. Let all of that anxiety become the tailwind to my everyday achievements and success.
By doing so I addressed nothing.
The morning after my train journey, I made an emergency appointment to see my GP.
My doctor was kind and encouraging. After congratulating me on my success in letting my guard down, speaking out and asking for help. He gave me a list of options to consider. Therapy. Antidepressants; mood stabilisers which he preferred to call them. And also, some time off work. Time to deflate. Time to address the fact that by early February of this year I had reached breaking point.
I emailed my employer.
“...unfortunately a lot of external stress factors in my life over the past few months have brought me here. I have just seen my GP who has said that I am unfit to work. He has signed a certificate which I shall forward on to you....
It saddens me that I have to take time away from a job that I love. At this moment in time my mental health must take priority. My focus now is to get better so that I can return to work as soon as possible. The doctor would like to see me again at the end of the month.
I am more than happy to talk over the phone in the near future. It might be helpful to talk things through with you.
If there is any additional support that you could offer me, that would be really appreciated”.
My employer was equally as open and supportive.
I was recommended to contact our EAP; Employee Assistance Program.
A source of support that I wasn’t aware of. After a fairly painless assessment over the phone I was put into contact with my now therapist, whom I see or speak to weekly.
The access of having someone totally impartial, without judgement has been priceless. We go to the gym to train our bodies. Why shouldn’t we go to a therapist to let off steam for our minds?
Opening up to my GP and then my boss felt incredibly liberating. Suddenly a massive weight had been lifted by having the strength to be vulnerable, and say I need help...
As I mentioned before, not everyone asks for help, and not everyone knows how to ask for help.
Another important thing to recognise; some people may ask for help from one person and not another. That should never be taken personally in my opinion. The main objective is that they’ve asked someone for help!
I have learnt and I am still learning. All of this is a journey, from one to the next. Take a deep breath. Recognise the feeling. Fear? Doubt? Lack of motivation?
Whatever it may be that becomes the breaking point for you. Or, if it’s just an everyday anxiety, sit with it. However uncomfortable. Notice it. Answers will unfold but the first action needs to be stopping for a moment to sit with it.
This cloud that lingers over my head will release. It’ll disperse into pieces that become more manageable. More attainable for the mind to absorb the sensations around it. To focus. To be excited. To challenge and be challenged.
But for now I just focus on one small journey.
I’ll arrive where I want to be eventually.
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