There is a quiet spot along the banks of the River Don where I like to go.
A bench, scratched with black paint and flecked with debris from overhanging trees, gives me somewhere to sit and watch the water tumble over nearby rocks. It has become my default place to go when I need some time to think.
It was only in the last few years that I realised something was up, and last year it came to a head. I was burnt out, anxious, afraid, wanting to shut myself off from the world.
I would happily not speak to a soul during my days off, wary of strangers’ glances and the thoughts I had running through my mind. Anxiety and obsessive compulsions took over.
During a particularly heavy spell of disrupted sleep, I woke up in the middle of the night and reached for the pen and pad that was near my bed. In the darkness, I wrote: ‘I can’t do this anymore’.
What that prophesied at the time, I don’t know. I had tried self-help websites before but knew I needed something different. Negative thoughts had dragged me into a spiral.
The short of it is, the NHS, particularly my therapist Elaine, was fantastic. Cognitive behaviour therapy is not something I’d ever really considered before but confronting my worst thoughts in a safe yet probing environment unburdened me. Like being given a physics exam by your dog.
Homework sheets, self-evaluatory questionnaires and breakdowns of thinking styles were handed out after each session. I still have them collected together for reference, when I feel like I need a refresh. I still have days when I struggle and I’ve come to peace with the fact that will forever be the case. Fighting it only leads me further down the rabbit hole.
There is no one-fits-all approach to mental health. Each individual will have their own set of circumstances and exercises that will help ease their concerns.
I threw myself into yoga, reading more, taking walks when I felt like I needed to clear my head. I still do those things.
I still have that note – I ripped it out of the notebook, folded it and tucked it away at the back. That book became my first poetry book, allowing me to rediscover something I had a fondness for when I was younger.
The whole experience has encouraged me to be more rational about things than I was. I try to be kinder and more compassionate to people, rather than judgmental or irritable. That is still a work in progress.
The only advice I can give is show that compassion to others, because you never know what they’re going through or what it might mean to them. A close group of friends kept counsel with me – I shared how I was feeling and what I was learning, which was invaluable. Work showed me immense support too.
If you feel like you’re struggling, think of someone you’d be comfortable talking to and hit them up for a chat. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy first, just an indication you could use a friend.
No-one is perfect, as much as that would make life easier. But it is our flaws and idiosyncrasies that make us who we are.