This isn’t ‘my life with anxiety; a guide to dealing with mental health’, nor is it an account of my own personal trauma because honestly, there are few. Yet, I have become aware that it’s increasingly important for men to talk about mental health. Whether you are someone who suffers with a more serious condition, or someone who struggles ‘from time to time’, we should be taking the time to talk and understand each other.
Emotions are a recent arrival for me
Much of my later childhood and young adult life, I found my emotional responses sitting comfortably between ‘fine’ and ‘good’ - my happy place. This isn’t to say I wasn’t happy or excited about life, I just hadn’t experienced a huge amount of major ups or downs. My little experience and emotional naivety, learning how I deal with new events and being active in remaining conscious of personal growth is something I’ve found ever-important and a healthy practice.
As context, I work as a sound engineer in recording studios with days rarely at less than 12 to 14 hours, and often more. I’ll easily have weeks without a day off, or a week or two without any work at all - both can be as challenging as the other.
My first relationship changed a lot for me. This was my first experience of exciting intimacy, fleeting moments of full contentment and the ability to be vulnerable. It’s also the first time I’d been able familiarise with terms such as depression and anxiety, and begun to learn both how to identify and deal with them.
I had my first breakdown after maybe 8 to 10 years of not crying, something I know would not have happened independently without the outlet for vulnerability, of which I’m thankful for. Being in a relationship has brought with it the majority of this new-found anxiety, not just identifying previous feelings; but it’s with these anxious feelings come all the benefits of sharing your life with a best friend.
I was able to identify those feelings
and start to exercise methods of dealing with them
A lot of my anxiety comes from feeling overwhelmed and stressed when trying to balance my work and my relationship which is heightened to a climax with the underlying addition of feeling unsettled. For me, I’ve come to learn that this is an overwhelming (and often irrational) sense of guilt, failure, and paranoia due to my work taking up a large amount of both my physical time and mental capacity.
I found in my first year of working in studios I was terrible at having a day off; at this stage, work was everything. I loved that my work was my sole source of learning, inspiration, finance, friendship and social stimulation. Work kept me plenty occupied for all these, but although I may not have been conscious of it at the time, around this I was really struggling with loneliness and being unsettled.
I rented six different rooms in shared accommodation over that year, slept for two months on the sofa at the studio prior to that, and got the first and last trains for two months to and from the family home outside of London before that.
My main struggle at these early stages were periods without work. I found a complete lack of focus, clarity and purpose. I would swiftly run out of useful to-dos, people to see or ways to pass time. In these dazed periods, which for me would last afternoons or a few days, I would write everything down. Although I could often identify how I was feeling in that moment, I could never be certain of why. I found it immensely helpful to write down the reasons I suspected, splurge my unfocused thoughts without worry and re-address them in a better mindset.
I learnt it was OK to feel how I was feeling
I didn’t need to find clarity in the moment but in writing down my thoughts I could then find clarity in hindsight. I found comfort in being certain of why, instead of settling with ‘it was ‘probably this’ or ‘probably that’. I also found it useful to ask myself direct questions in third person, which I attempted to answer at the time but also would return to days later.
I suppose for me the most important takeaway and the reason I’m writing this, is that I remain very aware how fortunate I have been in life so far. Fortunate to have not have had any major health issues or life-changing injuries, no close family or friend deaths, no significant financial difficulties, toxic relationships or major battles with depression; but the fact is, all of these are likely and common, if not inevitable.
Many of these could come unexpectedly, and change your life overnight. For when these happen, you may not be in the steady relationship you’re in now, you may not have your best friends around you, be financially stable or have the ideal physical resources at the ready.
Just knowing that discussing, learning and talking about mental health can all help get you through tough times is important. It’s important to know in advance what resources are available to you and you should know that seeing a therapist is as normal and just as important as visiting your GP.
It may just save your life one day.