I think that people find it strange that somebody like me would be affected by recurring anxiety disorders and depression. I’m from a loving family, have a supportive long-term relationship, great friends and good career prospects. I’ve never had a reason to feel the way I have done over the last ten years.
What I want people to understand is that mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time with no obvious cause. It doesn’t make the conditions any less difficult to cope with or any less distressing. In fact, for me it made the mental illnesses I was experiencing that bit more difficult to make sense of.
Generally in life I am a very relaxed person. However, my anxiety causes me to get absolutely overwhelmed obsessing about questions and thoughts which have no answer and go round and round my head until I’m utterly exhausted.
My depression is a bi-product of the way that my anxiety overtakes me and strips me of my confidence and ability to focus on everyday tasks. I become withdrawn and see getting through each day without breaking down as an achievement. The conditions can become completely debilitating at times.
I’ve had several moments over the past ten years where I have felt like there was absolutely no way I’d recover from the lowest points I’ve experienced. I vividly remember breaking down eighteen months ago to my Mum, crying uncontrollably and feeling hopeless about my future. At that point, my anxiety had caused me to become obsessed with existential fears about reality which I just could not stop worrying about no matter how hard I tried.
Everyday I was going to work or spending time with people trying to mask the mental turmoil I was going through. I felt so ashamed of how I was feeling and I was living a fake life pretending everyday that I was okay.
It was only when I started to open up about my mental health that I began to get the support that I needed to put me on the positive track which I have been on ever since. At first I only explained my situation to people on a ‘need-to-know’ basis and I wanted as few people to find out as possible.
A handful of people in my personal life were already aware of my conditions but I had been through school, university and in the workplace concealing my mental health from everyone else.
I found the courage to speak to my manager at work about what I was going through and I am so grateful for how supportive she was to me. She really took the pressure off me and allowed me the time I needed to see my GP, go through talking therapies and begin taking anti-depressants.
By taking these steps I was mentally able to get myself to a more rational place where I could face my issues and accept the uncertainty of life’s big questions.
It has been a long process for me from the 15 year old boy who was terrified of panic attacks and crippled by agoraphobia to the 24 year old man who has overcome those conditions and is managing his anxiety and depression. I am now at the point where even these illnesses rarely affect me on a day-to-day basis.
I am always aware that these conditions could cause problems for me, as they could for anyone, in the future. However, I feel that I am much better equipped to manage my mental health now and it is important to me to help other people who are suffering to get to that same point.
I’m realising more and more that I need to speak up about my experiences to break down the misconceptions and stigmas which are attached to mental health. Keeping quiet and feeling ashamed is not only completely wrong but also reinforces the prejudices and behaviours which need to be eradicated.
That’s why I have shared my story publicly with all of my friends and colleagues to raise as much money as I can for Mind. For me, this starts with the Vitality London 10K run which is taking place on 29th May 2017: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RobEarl. I would encourage more people to speak up and get involved in fundraising.
I think it is vital that people feel able to talk and feel empowered to approach their family, friends, doctors or employers with the issues which they experience. Facing these problems directly is the only way to come out of the other side with the ability to manage these conditions. Most of all I want to show people that it is possible to achieve the things you want to achieve in life despite facing the difficulties of mental health issues.
Since going through my most recent challenging experience of anxiety and depression over a year ago, my girlfriend Stacey and I have bought our own house and my career is going from strength to strength. The only way you get yourself to a place where it is possible to achieve what you want though is by being honest with yourself and others about the challenges which you face.