Text saying "you are not alone"

My Mental Health Story

This article isn’t gaming-related, but it is probably the most personal article I’ll ever write.

I apologise in advance if I don’t word everything perfectly in this article, or if it comes across preachy or wrong in any way.  I just feel that it is important that I get the words down onto a page, and that I share it.

I’ve toyed with writing this article for some time.

I come from a family with a long history of mental illness.  I have several immediate and close relatives with mental challenges that range from minor to severe.  When it comes to other people’s battles, I’ve done everything from giving a hug and wiping away tears to searching with the police, fearing the worst.

I’ve had my own struggles too, which I’d like to share in this article – in part to encourage you not to suffer alone, but also because in my case, my struggles have stemmed from a physical issue that I wasn’t aware of.  This has impacted my life in so many ways, and I wish I sought help sooner.

I’ve always been an anxious person.  I over-analyse, worry, and fear the worst in every situation.  Through my life, I’ve tried to use this as a strength of sorts – I double-check everything, I plan for every eventually, and I work as hard as I can to try to ensure that whatever I’m involved with is as good as it can be.  Not everything works out of course, and I can’t help beating myself up when things inevitably don’t go to plan.

That’s just me.  It is how I am.

I used to work as a PA to a Director of a University and chain of hotels.  It was high-intensity and stressful, but I was very good at it.  After my day job, I’d come home to my wife and young kids, try and be the best husband and father than I can be, then in the evenings I’d manage this site, GrownGaming, chat with my friends on social media and engage with the wider gaming community.

I was exceptionally busy, and it was a challenge juggling so many things, but I had my life down to a rhythm of sorts.  I was happy.  Pretty happy, at least.

But then in 2020, everything changed for, well, everyone.  The world went into lockdown.  I was deemed a keyworker due to my responsibilities to international students at work, so I worked through the pandemic, but the rhythm in my life was gone.  My hours at work got longer – there were so many more responsibilities that I had to meet and literally no one else to give them to because so many of our team were furloughed.  I did what I had to do to get through but felt myself getting more and more stressed and run down.  After the lockdown, there were business challenges, which meant working even harder to try and stabilise the situation as best we could.

I was running on fumes.

There was a day when I got home from work and couldn’t engage with my family.  I skipped a day managing this website and replying to emails, responding to my friends on social media.  I told myself I’d do it tomorrow.  But then tomorrow came, and the feeling was worse.  I decided I’d do it the next day.  Then the next.  Before I knew it, weeks, months had passed, the feeling of anxiety around the situation growing with each passing day.  I finally plucked up the courage to load up my emails and Twitter, but there were thousands of emails (including a lot of junk from PR, but still a scary number) and hundreds of social media notifications.  I panicked and logged off.  I built the situation up in my head into something it wasn’t.  I imagined that everyone was mad at me for letting them down, and that there was nothing I could say or do to stop them feeling that way.  More days, weeks, and months passed, and the situation continued to build up in my mind, and my job continued to eat further and further into my personal life and time.

I finally decided that enough was enough and changed careers entirely.  It was a family decision as much as anything – it involved a wage cut that we couldn’t really afford, but I thought that this would be the golden ticket to happiness.  In truth, switching careers brought a whole new level of stress and expectation.  My hours returned to normality, but I needed to use my spare time learning as much as I could about an industry that I have very little experience in.  I felt useless, and I pined for my old job which, while all-consuming, I was good at.  The fear of failure, of letting people down, grew day by day rather than subsiding as I learned new skills.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2023.  It had been over a year of feeling useless, of feeling like a burden.  I had been feeling weary for some time.  Then a colleague at work passed away.

We weren’t particularly close – our paths only crossed a few dozen times – but he was a super nice and chill person who could have easily become a friend had we worked more closely together.  Despite not being close, the death hit me hard.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I broke down in a work meeting and subsequently arranged an appointment with the doctor.  I rarely go to the doctor – I try to deal with anything going on with me by myself.  But this time, I knew I needed help.  I had zero energy, zero drive, and I was getting upset at anything and everything.

After a 5-minute appointment with the doctor, I was prescribed a strong dose of antidepressants.  I reacted very poorly to these – including hallucinations – so the dose was changed, and I was prescribed medication to slow my heart rate to combat panic attacks.  The hallucinations were gone, but I hit rock bottom.  I had two spells off work, totalling over a month, where I literally laid in bed, awake but with time going by quickly.  I felt like I didn’t exist – I was conscious but couldn’t think rationally and each day I found it harder and harder to focus.

I had a follow up appointment with my doctor, during which they recommended a blood test.

It turns out, I am exceptionally low in a few vitamins, which has affected my red blood cells and other things.  I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but the symptoms include extreme tiredness, a lack of energy, muscle weakness, psychological problems, which can range from mild depression or anxiety to confusion and dementia, and problems with memory, understanding and judgement.  All symptoms that I can relate to.

I made the decision to come off of the depression medication and to take the new prescription to try to alleviate the deficiency.  It was a truly horrible time in the beginning, but as time as passed, I can feel my energy levels returning, even in a limited capacity.  I’m about halfway through my prescription, after which I’ll be going for another blood test to see where my levels are, and if they aren’t high enough, there will be more tests to see if there are other underlying health issues at play.

I’m now trying to pick up the pieces of my life.  To get back into the swing of being a present father and husband.  To apologise to the friends that I literally disappeared on.  To forgive myself for letting it get this bad before seeking help.

I’ve spent my whole life telling myself just to deal with the way I’ve felt.  I’ve spent years trying to get through the present day, hoping that the next day will be better.  But I didn’t stop to recognise when everything I was going through had got too big for me.  Ultimately, no amount of perseverance was ever going to solve my problems – I was, and am, unwell.

I should have sought professional help for the low feelings earlier.

I should have left my stressful job earlier.

I should have spoken to my friends and family earlier.

I hate that the past few years of my life could have been so very different if I’d just done these things.  I’ve missed moments and lost friendships and I’ve allowed myself to suffer in the process.

I know that my journey isn’t over.  I have a lot that I need to work through, and I’ll need the support of my friends, family, and perhaps professionals and medication, in order to do that.  Once the physical issues have been resolved, I know that there are several mental issues that need to be address.  But I’m going to do my best to remember that I am not alone and that it is okay to ask for help.  I know I’ll probably stray from this at times, but that is part of the reason I am writing this article – to remind myself, as much as others, that we all need help sometimes.

Now, I don’t for one second think that there aren’t people in a worse position than me out there.  I know that there are, many of them, and I feel for them all.  Compared to some challenges that people face, mine are minor.

If you are struggling, don’t struggle alone.

Your struggles may be different from mine, but if you need help, please seek it.  Future ‘you’ will thank you.