2004, the year my life started to collapse. As I was driving down the A12, 3am, with a bottle of vodka in my system and no idea as to where I was going, I had a strong feeling of the lack of care I held for my own life. My first love had just broken up with me, and not knowing how to handle this new pain, I seemed to fall off the rails.
My recovery period from this fairly regular life event lasted longer than I had expected. I’d always known I was more sensitive than others, and that life’s tragic events would hurt that little bit more, but I had never expected a relationship of only six months would leave me bed bound and hollow for as many more.
What followed was a further ten years of tragic ups and downs. I would often think I was just unlucky, and that any normal person would react with the same emotional intensity to my life, but what I went through was no more tragic than any regular path to 30.
Each small and unremarkable event just acted as a trigger in me that would set off an unstoppable feeling of negativity, and each time I would have to claw my way out again, I would be left a little emptier. After a while I started to avoid situations that might set me off. Girlfriends, family, work, all suffered because I was afraid to fully immerse myself. The blinding fear that I would fall into despair again became worse than the falling, so I ended up only living half a life, if that.
During those times, my Mum was a strong pillar of support, she would often say “sometimes, you need to hit rock bottom before you can start rebuilding”, and in some ways that did ring true. Every time I found myself at my lowest, I always eventually found strength enough to start my life again. The usual process would be to seek professional help, but that often ended in me seeing a doctor, who, inexperienced in dealing in with mental health, would prescribe me another dose of anti-depressants that left me feeling numb. I do realise that medication can be effective in a lot of cases, but for me personally, I decided I would rather feel everything too much than nothing at all.
I had to find another way to help myself. Medication wasn’t right for me and I felt like it shouldn’t be a permanent solution. Counselling worked, but with limited resources on the NHS, I couldn’t afford to have regular treatment.
I would sit and think for hours about why I felt a certain way and how could I change those feelings. It occurred to me that after 10 years of suffering from depression, anxiety and hyper sensitivity, I’d become pretty good at coping, and that maybe I could use what I knew to help someone else.
I started volunteering as a mentor and found I got a lot of satisfaction from it. I would honestly say it helped me as much as it helped the young man I mentored. Because of that, I decided to quit my job and volunteer full time abroad. Again, I found myself feeling more confident and generally happy. When I got back to the UK I began working for a charity that helps young people get a head start in life, I completed a diploma in mental health studies and started thinking about making a career for myself in mental heath awareness.
I wouldn’t say I’m emotionally stronger by any means, I just know how to cope better, and taking a new direction in my life has giving me something positive to focus on. As I’ve gotten older, I find I throw myself into love and work more, not because I’m any less scared, but because the risks now feel worth taking.
CALM writer Paul began to suffer depression, social anxiety and issues with confidence from the age of 18. In 2014, after a really rough patch, he decided to take his life in a new direction. He now works for a youth and social integration charity and is keen to participate more in mental health campaigning.