When someone close to you says they're 'feeling down' or 'depressed', common responses include 'chin up' and 'look on the bright side'. If you have an anxiety disorder or depression however, these often sincere words of encouragement sound meaningless. At worst, they reinforce the fear that you are different from those around you, that something is wrong with you and that it shows.
In many ways I count myself lucky. I had a good upbringing and a good job as a primary school teacher. Furthermore, unlike some, I have only recently experienced the debilitating effects of anxiety and depression.
I first realised that something was 'wrong' shortly after I began teaching. I felt increasingly tired, irritable and lacking in motivation, when previously I relished the prospect of inspiring young minds. I was regularly turning down offers to go to the pub and birthday parties with friends, I felt guilty, yet strangely relieved knowing I wouldn't have to put on the proverbial mask and pretend to be confident, happy and outgoing. Each offer or invite I turned down represented an opportunity to hide my growing anxiety and depression.
After three demanding years of teaching I remember looking in the mirror and barely recognising the haggard, bleary-eyed reflection that stared back at me. I was at breaking point, binging on junk food and lying awake at night dreading work. My friends rarely contacted me and my family had grown wary of my erratic temper and sullen moods. At work I sat mute and wished I was more like my colleagues, that I could be happy again. On occasion, I would genuinely laugh, but moments of levity were fleeting and true happiness always felt beyond my reach. I knew then that something had to change.
My journey to recovery began this summer. It was a typical Saturday morning and I was attempting to plough through piles of marking when my phone rang. For a moment I hesitated. What if it was a friend inviting me out? I quelled my rising panic and answered the call. It was a friend, but instead of asking me out, he told me about an upcoming job opportunity at Movember, the men's health charity. After some research I knew instantly that I wanted to work for them, I became a teacher because I wanted to help others. I thought that if I could work for Movember, I would carry on doing that, whilst reclaiming my life and improving my mental health.
Incredibly, I landed the job at Movember. Everything was so different from teaching: there was no planning, no marking and I was given ownership over a project that I really enjoyed. Everything was going really well and I started to feel more upbeat, finally enjoying coming to work again. Not long after that however, my mum began a course of chemotherapy and my grandmother passed away. These blows sent me spiralling back into depression. I couldn't sleep and didn't want to talk to my new colleagues, much less socialise with them. I felt desperate until we had mental health and suicide prevention training at work. That day I learnt about the symptoms of anxiety and depression and finally acknowledged what I had known all along, that I had depression. I also learnt that men often find it harder than women to speak out about their mental health, but that it's never too late to take action.
The following week, I went to my GP and was formally diagnosed with anxiety and depression. In many ways, hearing my doctor confirm what I had long suspected was a relief rather than a cause for alarm. The next day, I did what men with anxiety and depression so often find hard to do; I spoke about it with my line manager. Fortunately, the Movember Foundation is committed to breaking down the stigma associated with men's mental health and is investing in mental health programmes in the UK and around the world. I was humbled by the sincerity, understanding and support of my colleagues. In that moment, I accepted who I was and no longer felt ashamed. My journey on the road to recovery continues, but it's no longer a journey I'm making alone.
If I could give advice to anyone who thinks that they may have an anxiety disorder or depression, it would be this:
• Don't push people away - let your friends, family and colleagues in and embrace their support.
• Take time to breathe deeply and reflect on all the good things in your life. However bad things seem, there will always be something or someone in your life that makes you smile.
• It's never too late to take action. Start a conversation, call your GP surgery, visit your local A&E or contact a mental health charity such as MIND.
To find out more information go to movember.com