22nd June 2019
Just landed back in the UK and whilst in the air I turned 42. It is now 9 years to the day that I came close to taking my own life. Birthdays always a day of mixed emotions therefore for me now. The events of June 22nd 2010 and my 33rd birthday will play out in my mind throughout the day, but predominantly I will be celebrating a day of change, a day of life turning in a more positive direction and the fact that I turned the car around and didn’t drive it off the cliff top, as had been my intention. Nine years on and life is in a much better place, but a bit like how a diabetic has to constantly ‘manage’ their condition, I am the same with my mental health. You are never ‘cured’. I am open about the counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy that I have received and have to still implement techniques that I learnt in order to get through life each day. Sure those that see, know and work with me do not see the struggles. Outwardly I am a very confident and outgoing person. My struggles very much are an ‘unseen battle’. In recent weeks and months my struggles have been at a high level and at times I have been crippled with anxiety. Sometimes even just getting out of bed, beginning the day, or a simple task like responding to an email can cause huge fear and your mind can become consumed with ‘hypothetical negatives’. On these days I choose to simply celebrate the fact that I made it through another day. Some may see it as strange or be surprised that I bare my soul and share my thoughts and feelings in this way, but I feel passionately about breaking down the barriers and taboos that surround mental health issues. When I was at my deepest and darkest moments in 2010 I felt like a ‘freak’. I didn’t think or couldn’t comprehend that others were experiencing the same emotions and going through the same as what I was. It was the bottling up of those emotions and not revealing anything to even my family or my closest friends that saw me contemplate taking my own life. We hear the figure all the time of ‘one in four’ people suffering from mental health issues. The reality is that this figure is taken from dated research and in truth the figure is much closer to 50%. My mental health issues do not define me. I openly wear my scars of life and my experiences have made me the person that I am today. I hope that people can accept this about me and don’t make judgements. Suffering with mental health issues does not mean that you need to be taken away by people with white coats! I have a good network of family and friends and enjoy a successful professional career. We do not need to be scared by people who have mental health issues. Over the past 12 months I have talked openly via many platforms about mental health and now regularly present and share my story. I featured for almost 30 minutes on Radio Newcastle at the end of 2018 talking about my journey and experiences and recently featured in ‘North East Times’ magazine. Whilst it was flattering to be recognised as an EdTech entrepreneur in the North East I also made sure that I was open, honest and shared the true transition from my role as full-time teacher to that which I have now with Animate 2 Educate. I am particularly proud to have supported the Striker Boy campaign and to have helped establish EduFootyAid in support of Mind Charity. These fabulous events and initiatives have allowed me to regularly put mental health and wellbeing on the table and to hopefully help to create a culture where people are not fearful of sharing and talking about their mental health issues. It is good to talk and we do need people around us to listen. We all live busy lives and whilst we regularly ask people ‘Are you ok?’ ‘Hope you are well’ etc, are we prepared to take the time to listen if the answer is no. It is easy for someone to reply ‘I’m fine’ and therefore we need to think #AskTwice. When asked for a second time it is often then that people will be truthful about their feelings. I positively promote wellbeing and discuss particularly how technology can play both positive and negative roles in this. I challenge what I consider to be unacceptable and damaging behaviour and always aim to make myself available for anyone who needs to talk. I do think that we are in a better place in society than it was it was in 2010 with regards to addressing and viewing mental health issues, but there is still such a long long way to go. From an education (and parenting) point of view we need to stop being proud of children who didn’t cry when they hurt themselves, we need to stop needing/wanting ‘big strong boys’ and we certainly shouldn’t ever want anyone to ‘man up’. Showing emotion is normal. Showing emotion should be encouraged. Showing emotion lets us rationalise things that have happened in our lives. Keeping things bottled up, not showing emotion and not talking is what leads to anxiety and subsequent depression. As I metaphorically blow out my birthday candles my wish is that I live to see a time where the stigma around mental health issues has been removed and that people can openly talk in the way that I have done in this post. Some may view me as ‘brave’ for speaking out and writing a post like this. I don’t want anyone to ever have to be brave to talk about their feelings. I want people to be able to openly, comfortably and without fear of prejudice discuss their feelings and show their emotions. Let’s change the world and help to make my birthday wish come true!