Writing this piece in 2015 would see a very different story.
Although looking reasonably healthy on the outside, perhaps just a little more pale and weary eyed, on the surface you wouldn’t have known anything was wrong. In reality, I was ill. Mentally, I had crashed to the lowest point in my life. I was riddled with deep anxiety, I was suffering with insomnia and I was stuck in a depression that didn’t seem like it would ever lift. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was suicidal but I was no longer in control of my life, or rather I just didn’t care. Cocktails of whisky, anti-depressants and sleeping pills became an everyday habit and I wasn’t taking any care of my dosage.
I was abusing alcohol, self-harming, hiding from friends and refusing to go to University in what was my most important year in education.
The reasons for the deterioration of my mental health stemmed from a number of things, and happiness seemed like a feeling that was long lost and alien to myself. I didn’t really see things getting better, and I wasn’t putting any effort into trying to make them so. I had a void inside of myself and I was filling it with prescription medication and alcohol. I searched for a “cure” in various places and forms, but nothing worked.
My two passions in life, writing and music, took a back seat and I literally did nothing but hide in my room. Writing for MoviePilot was a daily joy for me, but my writing soon became sporadic. I would pen three articles in a day and then vanish for weeks. I turned down gigs, not wanting to play or feeling as if I didn't have the energy to do so. Even surrounded by hundreds of people, I would feel incredibly lonely and the idea of being so unstable scared me to the point of not wanting to leave the house. The crippling fear of having a panic attack in front of people had me so worried that I cut out the middle man and opted not to see anyone.
Finally, after the breakdown of a relationship that was exasperating my illnesses, I decided enough was enough. I had to do something, anything. I’d always loved to travel, and decided that leaving my home for a number of months could help get my life back on track.
I decided that to be happy, I had to work at it. It wasn’t something that was going to suddenly happen to me overnight. So I started to focus on myself. I started to go for walks, breathing in the fresh air and sounds of the sea. I fell back in love with my home, an area of outstanding natural beauty and stunning coastlines. I remembered what it felt like to hear the sounds of the waves crashing into the beaches where Game of Thrones is shot.
I was starting to feel better, but I still felt the urge to runaway and find myself, as cliche as that sounds. In the summer of this year, I travelled to the other side of the world, alone, to work at a camp in upstate New York before traveling around the East Coast for a month or so.
What followed was the best summer of my life. Working with inner city children from the city of New York gave me a whole new outlook on life. A lot of these kids had already faced hardships in their young lives, things I could never dream of, yet one thing resonated with me. They where happy. Happy to be alive, happy to be in the countryside, happy to be among the trees and summer sunshine. The worries of the world didn’t seem to faze them.
Camp would make me confront the challenges I knew would test me. Removing yourself from your comfort zone can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it can also be one of the most beneficial things you’ll ever do. It certainly was for me.
My social anxiety was in overdrive before I left. I kept overthinking every little detail, worrying if I’d not find anyone who liked me, if I wouldn’t be able to do it, if homesickness would cripple me. I’m pleased to say that none of those came true, but with many mental health issue you always fear the worst.
It may not seem like the biggest hurdle, but knowing that I would be wearing t-shirts that would display my scars was extremely daunting to me. What helped me get over it was the realization that it wasn’t anywhere near as big a deal to people as it was to me. The scars were often pondered over by children, and stories about fighting off a monster was my usual reply. The kids often wouldn't believe me when I said I’d fought off wolves or battled enormous monsters, but I had the battle scars to prove it and as with many things, they laughed, moved on and forget they had even asked. With time, I learned to forget them as well. No longer did they define me. I used to look at them, or catch people glimpsing them and think “they think I’m crazy”, but now I often use them as a way to open up conversations on mental health.
It was at this camp that I also met some of the most wonderful people to ever enter my life. New found friendships that I know will last a life time. Humans are social creatures, and when in the depth of my illness I had forgotten that. Friendship can be life saving, and I’m proud to say I have some of the most amazing people as friends. I can honestly say that one friend pretty much saved my life, giving me the perfect balance of tough love, empathy and guidance. He stood by me through everything, and I’m not sure he’ll ever know how much that truly meant to me.
Albert Camus once said,
“Go out for a walk. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself”.
Spending time with myself was exactly what I needed. The most important thing in life is your personal happiness. At times, the road may seem tough and almost impossible, but help is always at hand when you look closely enough.
Traveling is often said to broaden your horizons, and it’s true. Experiencing new cultures and meeting people from diverse backgrounds so much different from my own gave me a new-found love for life and everything it has to offer.
I’m not sure you ever 'get over' mental health issues. Sometimes I get scared when they rear their ugly head, but I’m stronger now and I understand how to deal with them. Never take for granted the power of a good book, film, walk or coffee with a friend. I know I never will.
Know that you are always needed, wanted and loved.
In hindsight, going solo was the best thing I've ever done.