How I Found a Support Network for my Mental Illnesses
While I have had anxiety and depression for a decade now, it was only two years ago that I actually began to seek out support.
This speaks to how much stigmatization I’ve had to break through to accept myself and my mental illnesses. But I am trying more now to think of it as a positive and look at how great the support network has been for me.
In terms of how I found a support network for my mental illnesses, I have found that it can be a very long process to both accept that you deserve support and then find people who will support you.
Life Before Finding a Mental Health Support Network
Before finding a support network for my mental illnesses, I had lived with anxiety and depression, without ever fully realizing what they were.
I knew that I was different from others, but I didn’t know exactly how I was different. And I knew that worrying about going to school was normal but that I worried about it every week without fail and worried constantly about minor things that surely no one else did.
I also knew that isolating myself, never going out with friends, and only attending classes when I felt up too it at college wasn’t what everyone did.
And even though I could see others with lots of friends living life better, I thought maybe I was just a cold-hearted person who didn’t deserve friendship.
Not having the words and knowledge to fully understand what I was going through culminated in me having a panic attack at college, which was an absolutely horrendous experience. Feeling like I couldn’t breathe, was going to die and had to escape, I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me. When the attack finally subsided I found I’d failed to attend a crucial exam and that I was ashamed that this random attack from nowhere--which I didn’t fully understand--had prevented me from succeeding.
So I hid it away and never told my family what really went on when I failed to turn up for that exam. Instead, I made up an excuse of not being able to find the room for the exam, something which I also told the staff.
Life without any support for my mental health was awful and carried on really until my postgraduate course at university. In the interim, my dad had passed away and I had received grief counseling to cope with this. But these sessions were spread out quite a bit, and I didn’t discuss my constant anxiety over social situations or my general depression, only the trauma I was facing with my dad’s death.
But thankfully something convinced me to reach out for friends and support at university, which I did. It was at that point that I started on my long journey (which I’m still on now!) to getting support and learning to look after my mental health.
My Road to Mental Health Support
When I began to make some friends at my second university, I realized that there were other people who had similar experiences to me with worry, anxiety and even depression. Although people weren’t naturally forthcoming with talking about these issues, over time and within social settings, I began to see that other students had these same problems--and that I wasn’t alone. I also started to look for mental health support at my university and actively looked at ways to improve my wellbeing through counseling or therapy.
It wasn’t an easy thing to tell my brain, though, and as I began to push myself to do these new things, my anxiety kicked into overdrive, giving me crippling physical pain in my stomach and getting my brain to tell me that doing this was wrong and that, instead, going back to my old, isolated self would be better for me.
But I pushed through as best I could, putting things off when I really felt bad while still trying to push myself.
By the time I was about to finish at my university, I noticed an ad for volunteering with a mental health charity called Time to Change, which would eventually change my understanding of mental health, lead me to meet many inspiring people, and build up a support network.
Volunteering and Getting Support
At Time to Change, I have been extremely lucky in that I am volunteering for an organization that exists to combat stigmatization of mental illness. By existing to do this, you know that you will be supported with your mental health and are aware that it won’t be a problem to talk about your mental health issues, as that’s very much why the organization exists.
Still, I was nervous going down for my first couple of training sessions with them, as it involved me travelling alone to London and doing something completely out of my comfort zone.
But it was worth it.
In the last year and a half, I have met amazing people who have helped me: share my mental health story with colleges and conferences; connect with other young mental health champions on blog posts and other projects to challenge the stigma; and talk about my experiences on camera for others to see.
This experience has let me know that it is absolutely normal to talk about my mental health and that my mental illnesses are valid and deserve support. This has led me to build up a professional support network with therapy and medication, but it has also helped me build a more informal one, as I have connected with other young advocates online. I now help to moderate an online mental health community inspired by Time to Change.
This all leads me to where I am now, someone who isn’t afraid to share how I’m feeling in my darkest moments, someone who isn’t going to let anxiety or depression stop me from achieving my goals, and someone who knows there is support out there that I can connect with when I need it.
It takes a lot of courage to speak out. But if you are struggling with a mental illness, know that you deserve support and that support is out there for you.
Peter Shaw is a mental health blogger, volunteer for Time to Change and moderator of the Time to Talk UK group on Facebook. He has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and depression since 2016 and has delivered talks in colleges and conferences about his mental health for Time to Change. He has begun blogging recently to share his stories of mental illness, stigmatization, and therapy at: https://pshaw192.wordpress.com/