My name is Blué O'Connor, I am 29 years old and I was born and raised in Bristol.
On reflection of a period during my mid twenties, I now realise that I have always had an issue with mental health but because I wasn't aware, educated or able to communicate my problem, it just got worse and worse, until it became unmanageable. I now understand, like physical health, mental health is on a scale and can improve or deteriorate throughout life.
I had always suffered from social anxiety growing up and during my mid-twenties this progressed to high levels of stress, anxiety, and eventually depression.
I started seeing the Dr for severe chest pains, heart palpitations, panic attacks, low moods and other signs of a diminishing mental health. I was prescribed Valium to sleep and handed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) leaflets. I had no idea what this was at the time and I didn't follow it up.
Everything came to a head the day before my 26th birthday, when driving home from work I had to stop the car on the road because I thought I was having a heart attack. I thought my life would always be like this and on reflection I now see I suffered a bout of depression. I would cry in my home alone, at work and in secrecy. My friends and family would only see the side of my life that I wanted them to see.
At the time, I felt like it was my own problem. I wasn't entitled to worry my parents or my friends. I had to get through it alone. There was an element of shame that was totally unjustified. I would have felt no shame if I had broken my arm and required physical health services such as a cast.
This led me to eventually address my whole lifestyle from my diet, career, friends, hobbies and more. Things started improving slowly and step by step things got better. I still have bouts of anxiety but I feel like I have the skills and knowledge to control them now. I now know what triggers a decline in my mental health and how to combat it.
I have an armoury of tools ready at my disposal and I haven’t had a panic attack since that day. Different tools and techniques work for different people. It’s always worth trying something to see if it invokes positively on your mental health.
My rocks, as I like to call them, include;
Removing and / or limiting stimulants such as sugar, alcohol and caffeine. It’s been proven that these substances increase stress, anxiety and depression. Removing high levels of alcohol intake was a great step to becoming comfortable in my own skins and removing the cycle of highs and lows brought on my being drunk and hung-over.
Relaxing. Reading, listening to music, going for a walk, visiting a park and practising mindfulness are just some of the things that actual allows me to relax.
Limiting T.V, social media and screen time in general. Like food, the messages your mind take in from all these information sources will manifest somewhere. Limiting junk T.V, social media and screen time improved my mental health and thought patterns tenfold.
Goal setting, affirmations, gratitude lists. All these tools work great for me. I am happiest when I’m achieving the goals in life I really want, telling myself I am good enough and listing the vast things that I am grateful for in my life.
If you are interested in some of these points then I go into them in more detail on my blog titled “15 Awesome Ways to Beat Anxiety and Stress at http://beardedtravel.com/2016/10/11/15-awesome-ways-to-beat-anxiety-stress
I wish I had been able to speak to someone at the time of my mental health decline. It would have taken me a considerable less amount of time to learn what I now know. There is definitely this feeling of shame which is increased when you find yourself in very masculine and male dominated circles.
As a man, I especially felt as though l shouldn't be feeling this way and that I should just “Man Up” as they say. I didn’t even know how to talk about the things going on in my head. In most cases, I didn’t even know the word. I found myself struggling to find a way out as I was working within the aerospace industry, playing football, weightlifting, etc and talking about emotions isn’t really deemed manly.
Nowadays, I can definitely see it affects more of my male friends than I first realised. I always lend an ear to anyone who is suffering. I've been back in Bristol for 7 months and I have already had close friends open up to me about their own problems because I was open and honest about my own experience. I feel like listening and relating is the best way I can help people. Suffering in silence is a recipe for disaster and this is one of the reasons why male suicide rates are so high.
Hopefully by sharing my experience I can encourage other men to seek advice, talk to each other and take control of their mental health sooner rather than later.