This week’s Sharing Our Stories comes from Graeme Willgress who has battles with his mental health.
Please tell us what your condition is:
Anxiety (extreme) Depression (Clinical elements) and elements of Borderline Personality Disorder.
How long have you had this condition?
Since my late teenage years until the present.
How did you know you had this condition?
I didn’t. I struggled for many years/decades thinking I was a terrible person and that I was completely worthless, despite some good achievements and being able to project an ‘I’m fine’ image to others.
How does it make you feel?
For many years I battled suicidal thoughts and dark corners of my mind for months and months at a time (years sometimes).
When I look back now, after many years of therapy I still feel sad. But then again, I wouldn’t be who I am without all the turbulence. When people tell me now that I’m inspirational, I can hear it and feel a little proud of my efforts, something that was previously impossible.
What are the main impacts on your life?
I spent my whole potential career falling in and out of things I was very capable of through illness with the financial and emotional impact that brings along with it.
I stopped going out, socialising at all. I shut myself away and cried as loud as I could for nearly five years. Imagine that?
Overwhelming sadness and emptiness. I cannot explain how dark life has been for most of my adult life. There is now a small light and I’m walking straight toward it with a smile.
I’m often completely exhausted and sleep much more than other people I know. I exercise cautiously, despite what others think of my cycling. In reality, it’s twice or three times a week and receding as I age. I pace everything I do and are currently adjusting back to part-time work as a cycle instructor, which feels full time to me. I love this work and feel it’s helping me help children and adults take charge of their health both physically and mentally.
I get lost, stuck in the back of my head, unable to get out again. I set goals to not overdo things and to allow myself more time to relax without making stupid demands on a mind that cannot deliver them.
Do you know what causes it?
Chemical imbalances are part of it. I am much more level on medication which I’ve been taking for over a decade now without any great detriment. I feel more alive and able to make decisions beyond the hour I am living at the moment. I have tried to live without the medication, but I slide back into depression pretty quickly.
There were major emotional issues at home as I grew up. These were abusive and destructive. I didn’t learn how to deal with my own emotions as another family members took up all the emotional space in our family. I spent my time fire fighting for other family members and trying to stay away from the plethora of ‘light the blue touch paper’ buttons of my father. When he was angry, my fearful mother would effectively disappear, leaving us to fend off his anger. There was no time to deal with how it left me feeling and when things settled it got swept under the carpet.
What do you wish people most understood about your condition?
That I’m still me, I’m not a ‘nutter’ (arguable) and I’m no danger to anybody because my mental health fluctuates. I would also ask them to understand that mental health problems are very real. I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through what I have had to suffer.
How can somebody best help you?
Listen without judgment.
Offer support/tea to support the feelings of desperate loneliness that accompany these illnesses.
They should believe that mental health should get the same respect as physical illnesses. Perhaps we could then progress.
Are there any positives to having your condition?
Yes. Look at all the amazing things I have done in my life. Without the illness, that person wouldn’t have existed. Yin and Yang.
What is your preferred way to distract yourself? Playing piano. Riding my motorcycle. But most of all, cycling in peace and absolute mindfulness through this beautiful country of ours without, for a short time, any worries.
How does wearing Braver than I knew, make you feel?
Braver than I knew. Part of a community. Proud to be me.