So, you might be asking – “how do you fix a broken brain?”. Unfortunately, that is a very difficult thing to answer and what worked for me may not work for anyone else. You must understand that when you are in the grips of anxiety, paranoia, and agoraphobia, you don’t trust anyone. Doctors, healthcare professionals, basically any stranger. You start to believe that they all have ulterior motives and don’t have your best interests at heart. It’s a catch 22. You need their help but don’t trust them to provide it.
And remember, this was 1995. Mental Health had stigma attached to it. There wasn’t the understanding or acceptance there is today. It was getting better, but I wasn’t going around telling everyone I was suffering! No way. I didn’t want the label of a crazy person. It was uncomfortable to write that statement, but it was true. Also, the internet was only just starting to emerge, so it wasn’t as simple as searching Google for help and support.
Somehow, I latched on to the notion that a healthy body breeds a healthy mind. I forced myself to start running every morning. I was an avid football player and I set myself a goal of getting the fittest I had ever been so I could get back to playing for a team. This meant I also spent a lot of time outdoors practicing my ball skills. Sometimes by myself and sometimes with my kids. I found that when I had a task to focus on and it was something I enjoyed, the paranoia wasn’t quite as bad. Although during the rest of the day it was still hanging over me as much as ever.
I had always liked The National Health Service. But free health care comes with the caveat of very long waiting times for services that are not immediately life-threatening. The waiting time to see a mental health professional was 8 weeks. This meant I was going to have to figure this out myself. I can’t remember where I got my research material from. It could have been the local library, some handouts from the NHS, or some basic internet searches (I maybe even asked Jeeve’s). Since I didn’t trust medication, I started to investigate holistic methods of self-care. I started aromatherapy with Natural oils like lavender, jasmine, and bergamot. I also tried meditating and self-hypnosis. These helped a little but were not the panacea that I was hoping for.
Things just weren’t improving, and it was getting frustrating for my wife as well. She felt helpless and confused. Her husband had changed and not for the better. If I had a broken leg, then she would know how to handle the rehabilitation, but a disorder that she couldn’t see or understand was outside of her comfort zone. She tried tough love, compassion, and everything in between. I started to sense her frustration and that drove me to dig even deeper for something that would help.
We were previously living on welfare provided by the UK govt and savings. I was a very proud man, and this hurt. I decided that I would have to get a job so I can start providing for my family again. I thought that it may even help me if I forced myself back into the world. I got a job as a salesperson at a local electrical goods store. Some days it was a real struggle. Others were somewhat bearable. If the paranoia became too much, I would make excuses for having to leave. I can remember two specific occasions. On one, I sat in the manager's office in tears. The tears were real but the story I told her was not. I preferred to lie and blame my problems on my marriage. A complete lie. Yet it was better than admitting I had mental issues. The other, I think it was when I quit, I just walked out. I lived 10 miles away from work and I just started walking home. Fate played its sadistic hand and had my parents drive past about 2 miles into my walk! Obviously, they picked me up and took me home. That was an interesting drive.
I had always been agnostic growing up. I had a healthy inquisitive nature and preferred evidence-based information rather than the notion of “just believing”. I also didn’t like the way humans had used religion to commit horrible atrocities and unspeakable acts. But for some reason, I decided it was time to read the bible. After all, what harm would reading the bible do? So, I picked up a copy and read it voraciously, hoping for some form of epiphany. It didn’t really come although it did play a part in my recovery.
I found my own version of spirituality. It was a turning point for me. I started to believe, and still do, that there was some sentient version of God that did not come with all the trappings and baggage laid down by the bible. But that was not the turning point. Things were just so bad. So frustrating. In truth, it was getting close to thoughts of suicide. And then one night I just decided – FUCK IT! Seriously. I decided that if this was what the world had planned for me then so be it. Rather than fight it, I decided that there was nothing I could do about it, and I was going to stop fighting. It was actually like an epiphany. I handed over my life to this new spiritual world I had found and trusted that they knew what was best for me. And do you know what? It started to work. Looking back, I think I was so intensely focused on hiding my mental health issue, constantly in fear that I would be embarrassed if anyone found out. I was ashamed of my weakness. Letting go lifted a huge burden from my shoulders.
Things gradually started to get better. It definitely was not an overnight cure. I joined that football team I worked so hard to get fit for. We moved from the town where my parents lived, back to my wife’s family home where we had met. I decided to go to university and start on my electrical engineering degree. At the weekends, I started to DJ at the nightclub I was resident for, 5 years before leaving for the USA. I was scared shitless for each of these monumental things. But my new motto of “fuck it” was here to stay. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
There have been some big bumps in the road during my journey to recovery. The biggest being a complete relapse on a very special 40th birthday trip my wife had planned to Vegas. Two days into the vacation from Scotland I regressed right back to the start for absolutely no reason. I went to the bathroom while we were waiting to get into a David Copperfield show and “snap”, something in my brain decided to break again. Fortunately, this only lasted 5 days. Unfortunately, that was the length of our vacation!
For fifteen years after this all happened, I struggled to talk about it. It made me feel very uncomfortable. The feelings I had recovered from were still raw in my mind. My mouth would go dry, my heart rate increased, and I feared it would start all over again. But over time, it started to become cathartic. It started to make me feel proud. I started to realize that my story could help others. And the more I talked about it, the more I realized that although it was a horrible part of my life, I learned so many good lessons from it. It changed me. And it was a positive change.
If there is nothing you can do to change the outcome – don’t worry about it. I think that was my biggest takeaway and I use it every day. I am much more relaxed. I don’t jump to conclusions. I give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove me wrong. I started to read (well listen to) numerous self-help books and still do to this day. I have an abundance of patience and live with the knowledge that my life most definitely could be worse. When you go through something as debilitating as this, you find a new refreshing perspective on life. It has improved my family life immensely.
It also allowed me to follow my dream. Being behind the microphone is my happy place. My engineering education gave me twenty years of steady reliable income, but it did not fulfil me. Voiceover does. It makes me smile. It gives me a determination I have never had in any other profession. I have an insatiable drive to succeed. If I had not gone through this dark part of my life, I would have not ended up where I am now. And that is the happiest I have been at any point in my life (if you take away my wedding and birth of my children!). I suppose it might just be human nature that sometimes we need to go to really dark places to find pleasure in the really light places. And I don’t take that for granted. And if you ever find yourself in one of those dark places, I hope you find solace in this story. And if you need help, I am here for you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.