Sunday, 12 June 2016

Zayn, thank you.

I'm not a popstar. I don't know how it really feels to be a popstar. I wouldn't want to even begin to imagine.

I do know what it's like to live with anxiety. To never know when your brain might suddenly freak out and stop you carrying out the most basic of tasks. The things others take for granted, the thing I might just have completed the day before without any struggle.

It's unpredictable. It's debilitating. It's frightening. You aren't in control of your own emotions. You're a puppet, with that big black cloud taking over whenever it wants.

Reading Zayn's statement was heartbreaking. Sure, he's been the butt of a few 'normal guy' jokes since calling it a day with One Direction and jumping into a solo career (complete with high profile relationship, but this was no laughing matter. He was about to make a solo appearance in front of tens of thousands of people inside Wembley Stadium. That's gotta be overwhelming for the most seasoned performer.

He spoke of how anxiety has "haunted" him for the last few months, and as anyone familiar knows, that's exactly how it feels.

I know there are thousands of disappointed fans, people who probably paid out for tickets specifically to see their favourite up on that stage. They'll be gutted, angry and probably not give a toss about the reasons for such a late cancellation. But I really hope that once those initial feelings subside they can read that statement and understand the situation just a small bit.

Then there are those who so fleetingly dismiss it. It's his job. He's used to performing. He looked fine yesterday... Oh dear, where does one even begin with that?

"You don't look depressed!" - one of my favourite lines from a psychiatrist saw last year. Yes, an actual clinical psychiatrist. It doesn't give me much hope for everyone else's understanding and grasp of mental health. But if the media are going to judge Zayn Malik for it, they need to be aware of the millions of others they are judging just as carelessly.

I might not have needed to delight thousands of teenage girls, but there where plenty of mornings where I found myself rooted to the spot at my flat door, unable to walk down the steps onto the busy London street. Days where I would get to a tube station, freak out and have to call a taxi to get me to where I needed to be. Days where I would be at an event and suddenly find myself crying in the bathroom out of sheer stress at not knowing what to do because I was alone.  I might have happily walked into the office the next day. I wasn't deciding when and where to become a victim of anxiety. I was always just waiting, on alert for the next meltdown. It could be 8am or 8pm, at home alone or out with a friend. We don't get to decide. Sorry about that.

The waiting hasn't changed. Eventually it all drove me out of my job, out of London, away from people I loved being around. It would have been absolutely lovely to sort my shit out and save the career I love, but that wasn't me to be. Beaten? Maybe. Giving up? No chance.

I am full of nothing but admiration for Zayn in admitting his battle. He should not be ashamed of it. He is living his dream and will hopefully, with his fans support, find a way to keep achieving his goals.

I find that absolutely inspiring right now, and I hope anyone else who understands, who experiences such things or who knows someone who does, will do as well. It's another step in the right direction with this mental health conversation - don't let anyone destroy that.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Writing to one of those famous people.

It's ten years since I read a blog from JK Rowling that made me finally sit down and write her a letter.

At that point, her Harry Potter books had been a substantial part of my life for eight years. They'd seen me through some truly awful, dark and terrible moments. 

Yesterday I read a few quotes from Sia on body image and the passionate words reminded me of JKR's blog on the very topic. I remember being instantly annoyed by the same piece of writing because JKR titled it "For Girls Only, Probably". There was no probably about it. It was everything I needed to read at that time. There she was talking so furiously about something that mean a lot to me. So much so, I decided that it was time to say 'thank you'.

I've often wondered how 'weird' that might have been, especially when you know some people look at you like you've got two heads for having bothered. I know plenty of people are touched by music, books, actors performances etc but how often do you get the chance to potentially scare them off with an essay about your life? I'm so glad I didn't keep a copy of my first letter because I don't think I could read it back now - the scared, vulnerable 16 year old me, who had never written down the deep, dark, scary thoughts before. 

Taking the chance paid off though, and as I shared on Twitter, the reply couldn't have been more genuine or inspiring. The paragraph on body image remains one of my favourites - you can feel Jo's passion on the subject even then. No doubt her kids continue to grow up  being everything she hoped for with such fine example. 

 But on the subject of 'writing to celebrities', I was wondering how often people do take the chance to really just say how something made them feel or help them? Nowadays, Twitter feels to have made people feel closer. You can tweet JK a message and hopefully you might get that 140 character reply. I know that means a lot as well to the person getting a reply (someone has still taken time to acknowledge you exist!), but I don't think I'd ever substitute being able to go back my letters, some handwritten, that are there to actually hold a decade later. I still go back to them when I need to remind myself to buck up or to keep going. They've travelled with me as I moved to London, around London and back to Ireland. 

People can be very dismissive of the whole exchange with celebrities; why should their words mean so much to you!? But when that person gives you something that you know in your heart has helped you, what's the harm in sharing that, what's the harm in telling them? None whatsoever. I'd still tell anyone to go write a letter to someone like that. People often say things like, 'Never meet your heroes!' and for a long time I believed that. However, I then did have the opportunities to meet people who had unknowingly helped or inspired me - and it's lovely when you can (in a non terrifying way) explain why that may be the case. Through work, I was also lucky enough to see people meet their idols, chat them and hand over letters that were no doubt as personal as my own had been - I just hope they each got the feeling a reply can bring. 

Still, these days I can just shout Mom or Queen at JK and hope she'll know how grateful I am.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


Forgiveness is not something we are taught. 

No one sits you down and guides you through the process. It just exists. 

Raised as a Christian, attending catholic primary and grammar school, it was just a ~value we are all apparently meant to have. Whether it's a product of good parenting, teaching or something we figure out ourselves, the ability to forgive isn't one I'd really questioned until recently. 

There's no doubt that being able to forgive is an extremely hard act. I'm in awe of people who can find the strength to genuinely overcome feelings of resentment, even hatred towards someone or something that has wronged them. 

I've been thinking a lot about it recently. Did I ever really move on from the people who made me dread waking up every morning? Did I want to? Is my lack of forgiveness now actually hampering my ability to move on? 

I think I know the answer to that last question. But it's just passed 12 years since I took an overdose and I still don't think I'm ready to. Deep down, I'm not sure if I even want to.

Along the way I thought maybe I had somehow managed to 'forgive and forget'. I was doing things I loved, getting on with life - and dealing with the hurdles and pitfalls along the way. It's now, after ~celebrating my 27th birthday, and really thinking on something I read recently, that I wonder if I do need to "get over" the past - for my own sake.

Even having typed that though, I find myself resenting it. I do know that I am responsible for my own life; I enjoy the good moments, I suffer the bad moments. Maybe as I get older I'm slowly realising that this forgiveness business is as much for me as it is for them. The people of the past aren't losing sleep over me, they're not plagued by my sense of failure, of regret, of self-hatred for having been defeated by own mental health so often. They're probably not still afraid to once again live in the town they were born in for fear of seeing faces that remind you of downing pills at 1am on a Monday morning.

I don't think I'll ever be the kind of person who could receive a message from one of those people and offer my genuine forgiveness. I'm well aware that that might not be a good thing, but I can't imagine what one of them could say that could make up for the situations I've found and continue to find myself in. I have no qualms in saying outright that I absolutely hate them for how they derailed me. I hate that they made me weak. I hate that they still make me weak. They probably don't even remember my name, but be it weight jibes, comments on sexuality or a simple surname joke, I know exactly how every word of theirs added to the trauma. 

I take responsibility too of course. I know plenty of people have overcome their bad experiences, and can share inspiring stories of sticking two fingers up at the bullies with their later successes. I've still managed to achieve things which I am incredibly proud of. There are plenty of other factors at play which have led me to where I am right now - things out of my control, not influenced or otherwise by apologies. Looking back, Autistic tendencies made me an easy target when I and they didn't know exactly who 'Ryan' was. I'm just glad that I understand me a bit more now.

Thankfully I've never been on the receiving end of one of these ~apologies where the once-victim is expected to hear how their bully was a product of circumstances at the time, how he didn't know any better, how he might have been in the closet himself and lashed out. Sure, maybe I'll feel different if I was to find myself in that situation, but right now, I just cannot imagine allowing any of them to explain away their behaviour. Some victims don't survive their desperate attempt to escape. Will the apology and excuses cut it for their families? If it does, fair enough, they have my utmost respect.

Would an apology from a teacher, who for no apparent reason despised everything about me, help me fix whatever it might be that causes me to stumble when things are going well? I doubt it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not plagued by a need to hear 'sorry' from these people. I very rarely think about them on a day-to-day basis. Through the process of CBT and counselling last year, I wondered if I needed to forgive them or myself. Perhaps both? I'm not sure if I could (or want to) do either. Am I hurting myself because of that? Possibly. I don't know how to change it though. The sessions reached an end. Once a week for three months, you've had your shot kid, there's a long waiting list.

Victim blaming, victim shaming. The culture of forgiveness. Along with Stephen Fry's indefensible comments on self-pity recently, I thought more about how the two sit alongside each other. Is forgiveness really necessary to stop his bemoaned culture self-pity and allow people to move on? I'm not a victim of sexual abuse either as a child or an adult, so I hesitate to even begin trying to imagine how someone who is felt reading his comments. I was angered even by the suggestion that this is some kind of self-indulgence that I or any others take pleasure from.

Perhaps it's because of my own experiences that I feel we are so surrounded by this attitude these days. The victim must be strong. He or she must forgive and forget. "Be the bigger person," we are told. Sure thing, let me just put the last 12 years of medication, counselling, fear, anxiety, depression and struggling to survive aside and make sure that those poor bullies can sleep well tonight.  And then maybe we can all live happily ever after... just because I was the bigger person and did what society expects of it's victims. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

An update...

About eight weeks ago I wrote a blog after one of my weekly visits to my psychologist. The session had really taken it out of me. I knew I wasn't in the best place and that I needed to write something in that moment.

When it came to the bit I knew I couldn't post the finished blog online. I'd surprised myself by how dark my thoughts were. Writing it had helped, sharing it with the world might not. 

Long story short, this was rock bottom. Again.

You'd think by now I'd know the signs and be able to do something to help myself. In those situations though, helping yourself is the last thing you want to do. 

Shutting down, going into hiding, ignoring life. It's very easy to do when you just don't care about anything at all. 

It's been 11 and a half years since I took an overdose and entered this weird rollercoaster of 'life'. It's not much of a life right now, but I'm breathing so I suppose that's a start.

Pretending to be a functioning adult has become all too easy for me over the last decade. Every so often there's a rough patch, then there are the ones that derail me completely. May 2014 - I abandoned London and returned to Ireland. Defeated again.

I wish I could really explain it clearly. I wish I understood it. It's been almost five weeks since I couldn't pretend to be OK anymore - not even online where it's always been easy to distract myself and talk about EastEnders or X Factor. Instead I closed down Twitter and let myself completely lose touch with everyone and everything going on. After a few days you get used to not leaving the room you make your prison cell. It's the safest place on earth. If I know I don't want to hurt myself, no one and nothing else can. The buzz of a new email arriving in my inbox? Ignore it. The phone battery will die soon enough and I'll be free of that noise. All those free hours to just listen to that voice in your head. 

I left the house only to attend psychology. Missing one session prompted a phonecall and an awkward speakerphone monologue from my psychologist who persevered until I found the ability to say a couple of words. But she cared enough to do that. She didn't give up. That was the first time someone outside of family has pushed me in those darkest moments. Except this time, unlike being able to fight off the love and support from my parents, I couldn't leave someone I've only known a couple of months fearing for my life. Is that what I'd become? Was I now a risk to myself, to others even? That frightened me a lot.

Psychology has been a difficult, draining, terrifying and wonderful experience. I'm not really sure how I slipped through some mental health net and got left to my own devices for the best part of a decade, but finally, things began happening and the process started. Digging into memories and dissecting experiences I'd locked away is something I' fought against doing for far too long. 

I've no doubt that doing so and unleashing so many emotions after so long is what threw me into where I am right now. But I've come to realise that it is a necessary evil. It's now about learning how to recognise the darkness, to prepare for it, to fight it, to throw open the curtains and to not give up even the 10% of 'life' I've been living for the last decade. It's funny how much you can learn to value even the smallest bit of your existence.

This current experience isn't over. I've just promised myself that I'd do something to help myself - and that has always been writing. Tonight was the first time I've found the drive to look at the screen long enough to string a sentence together. 

An overshare? Maybe. But I want to be able to come back to this. Even when I've recharged to that 10%, I want to know I can read this and remember the very worst moments. Maybe this will be the last rock bottom, the final 'things get worse before they get better' moment. 

I'm honestly not really sure how to finish this to be honest. A few attempts haven't read back well. I'm not dying and I'm not planning to die anytime soon (touch wood). I know there are people worse off. There are also plenty living within the darkness and doing a much better job of making the most of their lives. Knowing that is part of the process of getting up in the morning, of appreciating what you've got and striving to achieve more - no matter what obstacles lie in the way.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

I don't look depressed. Hurray.

Edit: Originally published May 2015.

I'm starting this with a 'long story short' attitude, so let's see how that goes.

The fact today happened on Mental Health Awareness Week is a complete coincidence, but made me want to share it even more.

So, after 11 years of being diagnosed as 'clinically depressed', I finally made some progress late last year in tackling some of the issues around that area of my life. 

My GP referred me to to another department, naturally, and eventually, I was given an appointment with a psychiatrist. She was lovely. I've seen her numerous times and, while the sessions have been draining emotionally, it's been great to feel like progress has been made on some fronts.

Meanwhile, the process of diagnosis on with the autism side of things is slow - I've been told bluntly several times that even being "diagnosed" won't lead to anything, so that's reassuring. But personally, it's more about me understanding myself, so I'm not focusing on that.

Alongside this, I was sent to the psychology team. I know. It's basically one appointment after the other these days. I had the most amazing session a few weeks ago that basically laid out a plan for 'helping' me. 

Which brings me to today. I was going back to the psychiatrist for a 'check in'. I was in generally good form today, so wasn't hesitant or nervous about going along. I gave a quick update and said I was feeling good today. Then came the clanger.

"As soon as I saw you today I thought, you don't look depressed!". I'm not even sure how my reaction may have come across. I just laughed. 

Is that not the most ABSURD sentence to say to someone who has been taking anti-depressants for 11 years?! WHAT does that even mean?

I was in good form, I was fine being there. But wow. Shall I just cancel my appointments, flush the tablets down the toilet and consider myself cured?

Of course not. I can read between the lines and take it that it wasn't meant in exactly that manner. But what if I wanted to take it the other way? What if another person wanted to? I laughed, but when I told Mother Love, she couldn't quite believe it. Now I'm quite annoyed at not having reacted correctly in the moment. 

If I or another person wanted to pull the wool over someone's eyes about our mental health, just how easy can it be made?! It may be difficult to see through it at all times, but if I was faking my mood today for someone else's benefit, that was an alarming success. 

That was my last appointment with that person, who discharged me back to my GP - especially as the new psychology appointments are about to begin. While I'm relieved to know I'll be working on specific issues with another person, it's worrying that another has ticked a box and sent me off again. Just another figure on a report. 

With #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek in full swing, it's more important than ever to remember that a smile does not mask suffering. Don't just presume that my good mood today means 11 years of confusion, fear, pain are over. One day I want to say they will be, but that's not today. 

We don't know what the next few years hold for any of us, but mental health funding cuts coupled with a 'snap out of it' attitude, leaves me frightened for the millions who are and will try and deal with it alone. Never have organisations like Mind, Samaritans and Rethink been so important. Don't ignore them. Fight for them, even if you don't need them now, because you never know when you or a loved one just might. 

That 'long story short' thing went well.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

I'm feeling a little proud of myself.

It's now 10 years and nine months since I had a turning point in my life.
An overdose just before midnight on a Sunday night was the moment I couldn't hide my problems anymore. Suddenly I was that kid, another statistic.

My memories of that time are blurry. I could probably dig deeper and really go back there, but I've avoided it this long and don't think I would like to really revisit in depth.

The aftermath of such events was being sent to counselling and the local child and adolescent mental healthservice. It was short-lived.

I used to sit there mute. I'd refuse to go unless Mum was in the room with me. Not because I needed my hand holding, but because I knew she could talk and fill those silences. I wasn't opening up. 

I've always been more comfortable discussing my problems with females. The school's care was not worth talking about, but I was able to connect with one teacher who helped me as much as she could. Suddenly I was sat with a man from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and I didn't know what to do.

We got through bits obviously, but I was quickly boxed as depressed and needing some medication to get me back to school. And that's when I began taking anti-depressants. 

Long story short (I think I've been over the inbetween years a few times!) it's been a rocky road. A very rocky road.

I never really coped with London life. Only for having a job I absolutely loved, I'd never have lasted the two and a half years I did. I'd stay in the office as late as I could, hoping the tube would be as empty as possible and that I could quickly make my way home to the safety of my four walls. Once I was in the door, that was me safe. I could stay in my bedroom and keep doing some work or catch up on some TV. I was safe until the next morning and the next panic attack. 

That reached a peak earlier this year and next thing I knew I was back in Ireland.

Sorry, I'm really trying to do this 'long story short' business I promise. So early May I came back for my youngest brother's confirmation. I didn't even make it to the chapel. I freaked out and had to watch as my family head off without me. Again. There I was letting them down. Letting my little brother down. The next day I realised I wasn't going back to London. 

Over a 10 year period I've never seen anyone apart from my GP on occasions when I was dragged by my poor Mother. That happened again in May when my tablet dosage was increased for the first time.

I've established myself a home life routine again - even if it just throwing myself into writing and doing what I can for the people who have amazingly allowed me to remain part of what they do. I can't even begin to describe the emotions in knowing someone is willing to allow you to do what you love, even when you've been extremely hard work and abandoned them. That kind of support is what keeps me going.

But, truth be told, I exist in my own little 'Ryan bubble'. My parents are amazing people. Supporting, understanding, loving, but always pushing me. Always trying to help me. But I'm hard work. Extremely hard work. I like my space, I like my own routine. I've been used to being at home since I was 15 and began home-schooling. But I'm frighteningly alone, and I know that worried them both so much for the future.

One day my anxiety levels reached a peak which saw me sit on the sofa and pull a relatively large circle of the thick hair from my face. That's a frightening sentence to type for sharing, but the day after I did that I was so alarmed I took a picture of the mess (below), because I knew one day I would need to remind myself never to let that happen again. 

Since coming home I've been on one family day out, a promise I made to Mum that I would be part of and with enough notice and brain-planning I found myself able to be there with them all. Other than that, I've not really done much. I went to the cinema once, which, for someone who absolutely loves films, sucks. I'm in my bubble where I can work and enjoy the safety of being at home, but outside of that... Anyway, I'm glad I can write this now. 

My brother was recently diagnosed as ASD, after a long, long battle between my Mum and both his primary and secondary schools. As part of the assessment, she went through everyone in the family, detailing every bit of our lives. I think I caught their attention. Sadly, at 25, it's going to be a very long path to being diagnosed and officially placed on the spectrum. However, that's not the important part for me. Just hearing it and being able to research what Autism is and means was a huge moment for me. I suddenly felt like I had an understanding of who I am. Things made sense to me for the first time. I realised why I've struggled with so many things, why my personality is what it is. An official diagnosis might even disagree, but for me, that was the moment I was able to get a grasp of the last decade. Instead of just being the boy on anti-depressants because he was bullied at school, I could begin to understand my own brain. 

So I made a decision to finally speak to my GP and ask for the help I needed. Six weeks ago I got an appointment to see a psychiatrist. Yesterday, I had that appointment. Up until the night before I wasn't sure if I would go. I was trying to convince myself that I would, but as always with me, until I was in the door I wouldn't know for sure. Thankfully I did. And it felt amazing. 

The lady I saw said all the right things. When I first sat down she simply opened by saying she knew nothing about me. For the first time in ten years I was able to speak about everything. I finally found the voice I needed to help myself. 

The result? I'm coming off the tablets I've been on since I was 15. OK, I'm going onto new ones, but it feels like someone who understand where I'm at has actually made the first medically informed decision and knows what they have prescribed. And that feels exciting. I'll see a psychologist and then we'll progress with the ASD side of things. 

All in all, I wanted to write this as today I feel good. I feel positive. I'm proud that I finally did what I needed to do. Sure, it's late in many ways, but I can't focus on that. I have to see a future. I need to believe that this is the beginning of becoming the person I'm meant to be and building the life I deserve to have. 

Step one of that was organising a quick visit to London. I'm nervous / terrified but excited and hopeful. Small steps. Even if it takes a year, I want to believe I can get there again. That I can do the job I love with the people I love and actually find a life for myself for the first time. 

Now I just want to keep enjoying the time with the family I'm so lucky to have :)

I'm always fearful of over-sharing, but that subsides when I remember the blogs I've read that have helped me, and if I can do that for one other person, it makes it so worthwhile.

Mind -
Mental Health Foundation -
Rethink -
Young Minds -

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

We Owe It to Robin Williams to Talk About Mental Health

Last night I took my daily anti-depressant and crawled into bed. 
Without a second thought of what I would read, I took what I expected to be a final glance at Twitter. It was hard to miss the succession of tweets each shouting 'BREAKING' down my timeline. 

The death of a celebrity is something social media is still learning how to deal with. The initial fear is that it's a terrible, sick joke. Sadly, last night's news was very real.

Robin Williams was one of the greats. You only have to look at his filmography to realise just how many films you knew and loved. The man who made generation after generation laugh. But social media was shocked to learn that he had been battling depression. How could such a funny man be so unhappy? If we want to show Robin our appreciation for all the laughs, let's do our bit to help end those questions. Let's finally see depression recognised for the silent killer it is. 

I was first diagnosed with depression at 15 after bullying resulted in an attempted suicide. I was ignorant as to what illness I'd been labelled as having. As were many others I quickly discovered. If I had a penny for every, "you seem so happy", '"you're in a good mood today", "get some fresh air and you'll be fine!" I've heard over a decade...

I tried numerous times to stop taking my medication, convincing myself that I had somehow become too reliant on them. I couldn't possibly be normal if I was taking this drug to somehow function. Lesson learned the hard way as days locked away in total darkness would follow. The scariest thing I find is how heavy I can feel my head become - like there is a sudden mass just filling every empty space. 

I've never been great at communicating with a doctor about how I'm feeling. I've always turned to writing it down, always with the intention of keeping it private. Late last year I had a very dark period, while still taking the medication. It took weeks too long but I eventually sought help and had the dosage increased; the first change in nine years. I was mortified. There I was at 24, crying in a GP's surgery, approaching a decade with this illness and now needing that extra bit of help.

Almost a year later and it's been far from plain sailing. Getting older has made it harder to live with depression, as normal everyday things become more and more of a challenge. Life goes on all around you but no one wants to wait for you to catch up. It's understandably difficult as they can see you on a so-called 'good day'. Walking, talking, even smiling. See, I'm totally fine! That actor making millions laugh? He's got it all, he looks so happy. Some will hear that Robin Williams was suffering from depression and still to fail to understand why we have heard the tragic news today. Ignorance is already in fine display across the internet as the word 'selfish' is repulsively used to describe a man whose battle they will never know the true extent of. 

People see what they want to see. And when they can't see depression, it's very easy to forget that it even exists. There's no badges, no big flashing arrow above our heads; the requirement is suddenly on the sufferer to be the person to say it. And if you know depression, you know that that isn't going to be easy.

It's no secret that men are diagnosed with depression much less than women. The stigma of living with this so frequently misunderstood illness is frightening. Be it family, friends, colleagues... the fear of them not understanding you can leave you to suffer alone. Please, please, please, do not do that to yourself. You are suffering from a very real, very dangerous illness and you deserve all the help and support available.

"You're in a bad mood". A sentence that has made my blood boil on so many occasions. But take it. If someone gives you those few words, grab them. Admit you are. Telling that one person is all it might take. It will be the bravest decision you'll make, and you will never regret it. 

While writing, I also found so much strength and comfort in reading stories from others who are living through the good and bad days. You're not alone. You're never alone.

It's extremely sad that it takes the death of such a universally loved husband and father to spark a conversation like this, but if one person out there can seek help as a result, I think everyone would agree that it is a conversation well worth having.