It was a typically sunny and crisp spring day in South East London. My dad and I were enjoying a rare day out in Greenwich and had decided to take a walk to the market and have a gander. However, this pleasant day was turned upside down after one conversation with my dad that changed our lives and relationship forever.
He mentioned something that dragged me straight into my past and I felt like I'd had the wind knocked out of me. I broke down outside of an old church that had been transformed into a gym, tears streaming down my face, struggling to catch my breath. I was reeling because I knew I couldn't run from myself any longer. I couldn't fight this battle alone anymore. My dad eventually convinced me to come back to the car where I explained fully the true extent and seriousness of my mental health problems and the demons I was facing on a daily basis. One of the first things my dad said to me, and his response couldn't have been more perfect if he'd tried, went something along the lines of "Well at least I know now and you're not on your own". In just one sentence, he made me feel like I wasn't this horrible monster that my mind was telling me I was and that I was still loved and cared for. They were more than just words; they were akin to a long needed hug after time spent away, that bandage on the graze on your knee when you fall of your bike, the bedtime story to help you fall asleep when you are a child, they were everything I needed to hear.
I was officially diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder at the age of 15 although it has been part of my life for a long time, I just didn't have a name for my thoughts and behaviours. It was around this time that I was also diagnosed with depression.
This one conversation I had about mental health had such a huge impact on the life of not only myself but my family as well. It was the foundation that we used to start talking about challenging the mental health issues I was facing and words like 'recovery' and 'hope' started to filter back into my vocabulary again for the first time in forever. This is why I want to emphasise how important Time to Talk Day is and how crucial talking to people about your darkest fears and worries can and will change your life for the better.
Thursday 4 February will be the third national Time to Talk Day organised by the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, which is run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Their aim is to 'Get the nation talking' and to directly challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. They would like conversations about mental health in England to happen in schools, places of work and communities. There should be no shame, guilt or embarrassment associated with having a mental health issue and Time to Talk Day is just one of the myriad ways the break this toxic attitude down. I know from personal experience that talking to people about my own experiences can not only help me but in turn has the possibility to help others as well.
I hope that people can use Time to Talk Day to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health in their own lives or communities. Breaking down barriers and having a chat with a co-worker could make such a difference. One thought that often springs to mind for me is that usually, men struggle with talking about their feelings and emotions more than women. I know this is a generalisation but the statistics concerning male suicide don't lie but I do agree that some women find it equally hard. As a man myself, I know that it's been a lot harder for me to talk to my male friends about my mental health than my female friends. The main point is, whatever gender you are, if you are worried about yourself or a friend, talk to them. You'll be surprised how much a difference one conversation can make.
Finally, and this bit is for you dad; you have never failed me as a father. You have always been there for me through thick and thin and your continued love and support is what gives me the strength to face every sunrise and sunset and keep fighting for the life you've given me. Thank you for being my best friend and the most caring, kind and patient dad any child could ask for. I love you.