Just last week I was asked to host a morning on mental health at BBC Radio Sheffield for their Heads Up Mental Health Awareness week. It was only after the event as I drove home that I realised that the event I had just hosted was another milestone achieved. The morning was to show a film “Hidden” that I’d made about my own mental health issues.
From the moment that my brother survived his first suicide attempt when I was seventeen, I have been trapped. There were three of us, you see. My older brother, younger sister and me. Both my brother and sister have suffered with mental health problems and somewhere along the line I subconsciously chose to cause my parents no extra worries or concerns.
I was trying to do my best for everyone.
And I believe that I succeeded. I finished college, went to university, got a good degree and subsequently a good job. I was the one that was always alright. I imagined them speaking at dinner parties, “Oh Jonathan, yes he’s fine. Nothing to worry about there at least.”
It wasn’t until my brother finally took his own life in 2004 and my marriage broke down soon afterwards that I realised just how depressed I was. The years of holding in unspoken words had taken a huge toll. I was fantastic at advising others, I told them to talk, to share their problems without even once thinking that I was on a downward spiral.
The every day anxiety was growing all the time. The depression getting ever deeper. But, I had conditioned myself to show a nothing but a bright cheerful exterior, whilst my insides were twisted like weeds. The day to day butterflies horrific and the will to live minimal. I began to day dream about car crashes, hoping that the commute that morning would lead to my untimely death. Sometimes as I sped home along the motorway after another day in the office, I’d close my eyes daring myself to hold them tighter for longer.
It was only when I began to empty my soul onto paper (or Microsoft Word to be precise) that things slowly began to change. The words initially were for my eyes only. But as I continued to write and the experience became more and more cathartic I decided, in my third novel A Tiny Feeling of Fear that I would empty the dark space inside and let people around me know how I had been living. I was two separate people. Happy and bright at work and around family. Crushed and slowly sinking by myself. Utterly trapped.
The experience of writing (which I expect would be the same with anything creative) has, of course, been hugely beneficial in my life. I am fortunate enough to become published and my fifth book came out this month. I do believe that I have used my experiences and turned them to something positive. I feel that I have an ability to observe and write at a more tuned in level about human nature because of the years I have spent moulding myself to fit. I also feel that anything creative triggers conversation, and over time I have been able not only to write but now also speak about my own mental health problems and experiences.
I have learned to identify four different types of day that I experience. The Car Day is the worst. The eye closing on the motorway. The best is the Something Day. A day that means something, that means that life has meaning. It has been a number of years since I experienced a Car Day. Some days I do wake, my breathing shallow, a feeling of fear running through my body, but I’ve learned that it is temporary and even if it lasts for months, I remind myself that better days do exist.
The stigma attached to mental health issues makes people feel alone. It makes them feel like there is no one out there that understands. If no one understands they feel that there is no point in them being alive. The only way that I felt that I could help to ensure that others didn’t go the same way as my brother was to be totally honest about my problems. To speak out and help people to understand that they are not alone.
The weight that has lifted for me has been immeasurable.
But the process is not finished.
I am still learning about myself every single day.