People sometimes call this the ‘invisible illness’ because it is hard to spot. According to Mind, the UK mental health charity, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. It may be invisible but that certainly does not mean it isn’t there!
I am a sufferer of mental illness and it affects me in subtle ways. When I was a teenager I would suffer from mood swings that could become quite violent. Between the ages of 14-19 I was a complete idiot. I felt that the world was against me. I could not see how my actions were causing a detrimental effect to my family and close friends; I acted without thinking and wanted only what was best for me. I could blame it on teenage angst, but that is a very easy option. Eventually I calmed down and realised that there was more to the world than just me. After coming off the rails at school and again at college I decided to go back into education and eventually went to university, getting my degree. Unfortunately, my dad never got to see that side of me as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer before I was accepted onto my degree course. It is no coincidence that this was at the point of my life where I realised I had to make a choice; be who I was or who I could be.
Some 20 plus years later I still look back and think how disappointing I must have been to my dad when I thought that having a reputation among gangs was something to be proud of. I now have three children of my own (two sons and a daughter). I often find myself wondering what my dad would have thought of them all. I know he would have loved grandchildren, and especially the joy of handing them back at the end of the day! It is at these times I feel an invisible wave wash over me and my sadness grow.
There will always be times when that invisible wave hits me. More often than not it is brought on by financial stress, although there are times that a memory of my dad or the realisation that life choices I have made have had knock on effects to my family pull the emotional trigger. What I have learned is that there will always be things that get you down. It is how you deal with the stress and get back up that matters. I will probably never be able to suppress the feeling that bad things happen to me because I have made bad decisions and that is how mental health affects me. It is constant.
THE GOOD DAYS
Most days are a lot better than others. On the bad days, I just get on with it. Sometimes it helps to talk about my problems, but that is a rarity; I find it hard to open up. Thankfully I deal mostly in good days. I put a lot of effort into giving something back to the community. I help out at junior parkrun, I volunteer a few hours a week delivering free activities for ParkLives across Southampton, I coach a cadet American Football team and I generally try to say as healthy as a doughnut-loving man in his forties can be (although there is a long way to go before next year’s London Marathon!)
Having a healthy lifestyle isn’t all about getting the guns out in the gym or running up and down mountains; it can be as simple as getting off your backside, leaving the house and seeing what is outside your own front door. Throw a ball for your dog to chase. Volunteer at parkrun and cheer people around the course. Sign up to a free ParkLives activity with your family. I promise that you will get a lot out of it. I do!