When you look at yourself, what do you see? For many years I tried to avoid the man in the mirror, because he was my chief critic, judge, jury and executioner...
The first time I took antidepressants was in early 1998 following the death of my dad when he was just 50 years old. I was 22 and didn't know how to cope.
It was a good friend of mine (who was my boss at the time) that suggested I see a doctor. I walked out of the surgery with a prescription in my hand for happy pills to help it all go away.
They helped for a short while. Not by solving my problems, but by helping my brain "switch off".
This started a cycle that would last the best part of 10 years. The drugs and counselling would help for a while, but then the depression would return or deepen.
It reached a point where I was so dependent on my happy pills that forgetting to take them would cause physical withdrawal.
I felt I was becoming a junkie, hooked on my prescription, but I had no choice... I was self-medicating in other ways too.
Life sucks when you are unable to feel comfortable in your own skin. Whenever I did see my own reflection I would be critical. Even if I was starting to feel better about myself, my inner demons would be quick to attack and put me back in my place.
I've heard it said that there are 3 essential elements to change. The first is honesty.
Honesty means seeing things as they really are - not better and not worse. This was tricky for me as the person I was back then only saw grandiose dreams and catastrophic results. Of course, neither reflected reality.
Ever been in a shopping centre and found yourself trying to find a specific store? If you manage to locate a map on one of the walls the most valuable piece of information on it is the bit that says 'you are here'. Until you know (and accept) where you really are, how can you possibly move forward?
The second element to creating change is being open-minded
If life feels like you are stuck, then continuing to do the same things over and over is not going to get you unstuck. You need to be prepared to try something new.
For me this meant a complete change in lifestyle. Not something I was ready to embrace initially, but once I allowed myself to be open-minded and think 'what is the worst that can happen?' I found ways to move forward and improve my life.
Who knew that changing what I ate could help lift my depression and anxiety? Why had nobody told me about the links between food and mood!
The final element is willingness. It is not enough to learn new ideas, you must be willing to put them into action... and also to persevere.
Change can take time to achieve. You need to be patient and accept this. As a very wise man once said to me, if you get nine women pregnant you don't get a baby in a month.
It is now over 10 years since I last took anti-depressants or suffered a severe mental health episode. Sure, I have the odd 'bad day' but who doesn't? I've learned to accept myself as I am, to choose myself instead of waiting for others to pick me and slowly but surely to love the man in the mirror like my life depends on it (it does).