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FIRST PERSON: Do You have Breakdown Cover?

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of my breakdown, but I think it all started with the Icelandic Volcano in 2010.  Because of the airspace chaos following the eruption, I had to re-book a number of visas and flights for a long planned holiday totalling more than £1200, of which I received a meagre £100 back from my insurance company. When I returned home, considerably out of pocket, there was a re-structure at work forcing me to go down to 3 days a week and this is when my mental health problems kicked in.

Come the summer of 2010, my girlfriend and I moved into a new flat, but with less income and no savings after my trip, I struggled financially to keep up.  We had been priced out by the arrival of Westfield in West London, so had no choice but to move.  With mounting money problems, I had to get two other cash-in-hand jobs, one in a music venue, the other covering football matches for a betting company on the weekends. I would often work 6 days a week, leaving at 8am and getting home past midnight. When I wasn’t working nights, I began drinking heavily, often alone. Then the inevitable relationship issues with my girlfriend started. We weren’t communicating and began falling out of love. Drinking was something I have always enjoyed socially, but it became too much, drinking on my own and not wanting to go home, ashamed I couldn’t provide my girlfriend with a stable financial footing. One night there was a leaving do after work and I caught up with a girl I’d met a year or so before. We drank too much and she suggested going on elsewhere. I cheated on my girlfriend with her that night, which marked the beginning of the end.  I kept this demon a secret for a year.

I had always had a bit of a problem with commitment; something a counsellor once told me was linked to me never properly grieving my father’s death. That said, I had never cheated before and so began a self-exorcism of guilt. The drinking got worse and I started to lose my self-respect. I was on a one-man mission to fuck up my life. Just before New Year 2010 I fell to a new low of depression and self-pity. I took January off work to recover, but just felt worse and worse. I had no money to go out and often wouldn’t leave the sofa all day.

In February 2011, I finally went to the doctor who prescribed 20mg Citalopram without even glancing up. The side effects were terrible. I attempted to pull myself out of the gloom by starting a Life Coaching course, but after 2 sessions I stopped. I started sweating, the drugs making me more and more anxious. I was forgetting things at work and looked terrible. My usual exercise routine dwindled to football on a Monday night, but even that was a struggle. I started having panic attacks and my girlfriend gave me great support, which made the guilt worse.

Over the next few months they put me on so many different drugs I felt like a medical experiment, all with a variety of negative side effects. When I finally gave in and came clean to my girlfriend, she asked me to move out and we split up. I had to go back to my mum’s house, but continued to pay for a car I didn’t use and I flat I didn’t live in. If it wasn’t for my mum, I might have ended up on the street. I’m very lucky. By that time I was having an issue with my adrenal glands. You know that feeling of fight or flight you get when you sense danger? I was like that all the time, shot up with adrenalin and pissing like a racehorse 15 times a day. I would eat constantly, but all the nervous energy meant I began to lose weight. I looked like a ghost. It was at this point that I became suicidal. I couldn’t handle the constant stress and little did I know (thanks to the unsympathetic attitude of my GP), what I was experiencing was an acute nervous breakdown. I couldn’t see a way out.

One day I told a colleague I wanted to die and they took me to my GP.  They couldn’t get me an ‘emergency’ appointment at a Mental Health Unit until the next day. I saw a psychiatrist and he prescribed me Clonazepam to take away the suicidal tendencies and a sleeping tablet.  Later, after he missed a couple of my appointments at short notice, I told him I was addicted to the tablets but he just put my GP back in charge, simply saying: ‘I told you they were addictive’. On the way to an occupational health appointment in central London soon after I thought about killing myself once more, and it took all my strength to stay behind that yellow line on the train platform.

I didn’t sleep for 8 months (maybe 1 or 2 hours a night) and ended up having 6 months off work because I couldn’t function. I couldn’t play or watch sport, or even concentrate on a film or a book. I was close to sectioning myself, but the thought of it filled me with dread. I just wanted the pain to stop.

My family was worried sick and got me to try all sorts of things – pilates, yoga, homeopathy, strict diet, other doctors and practitioners, psychics, hippies, osteopaths, acupuncture, reflexology, hypnotism, counsellors, etc. It confused me even more. I just wanted one person I could talk to and who would prescribe me the correct medication and not kick me out of their office after 10 minutes. This would not come until October 2011, when I finally found a private doctor who thankfully gave me a discount when he saw how bad (and poor) I was. He listened, built up the medication slowly and answered my telephone calls. He even put me in touch with a free counsellor who was a lot more understanding than previous ones who seemed more interested in the two £20 notes I would hand them at the end of a disappointing session.  I managed to get back to work in October 2011 – that’s one whole year now without being off sick. I am still on medication and see my counsellor and doctor for progress reports and prescriptions.

As I write, I have met someone else and am so much happier with more of an understanding about what I can and can’t achieve. I know I did wrong, cheating on my ex, but it didn’t feel like me and I am slowly coming to terms with my actions.

Now I’m healthy again, it’s nice to be back doing what I enjoy (writing) after an unhealthy absence. I only found out about CALM after my illness and now it means a great deal to me. I feel a stronger person having come through a nervous breakdown and I don’t feel I’ll ever be in that position again. Let’s spread the word – it’s ok to speak out about your problems and ask for help and people like CALM give us an outlet to do this. If you said a year ago that in 12 months time I would complete the 3 peak challenge for charity and be able to write about my breakdown, I would have laughed but that’s exactly what I’ve done. Keep Reading CALM…and Carry On!

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