2016 was the worst year of my life.
The year began with my ex-girlfriend leaving me. As many first long-term relationships are; we were incredibly toxic for each other.
I was incredibly jealous, controlling and self-doubting; not the best qualities for a boyfriend. She allegedly lied and cheated (I don’t blame her if she did). However, because this was my first long-term relationship, I thought these were all just minor-issues.
Honestly, her leaving me wasn’t what tipped my mental health, but it resulted in me leading myself down a self-destructive path.
Whilst we were together I spent almost all of my free time with her, with the exception of Tuesday evenings which I spent with friends. If we weren’t together I’d message her constantly (at least once every ten minutes). I worked everyday except for Sunday, and worked at least 1 evening a week as well.
Then she left, and I suddenly had all of my free time become available again. For a healthy person this would be a great opportunity to sit back and relax, allow your brain to have a rest after about a year of constant paranoia. I did not do this, being left alone to my own thoughts terrified me and I began filling my time.
Working 6 days a week and 1 evening is enough, especially when working full time is a new concept, but I literally couldn’t rest. Over the following 4/5 months I volunteered for more work than I could possibly handle. Not all of these were within those 5 months, but to put in perspective what work I was doing every week at one point or another:
- Working with my brother at least 3 days a week.
- Working for my dad’s company at least 2 days a week.
- Bartending at least an evening a week.
- Updating 2 gaming blogs, which I also made a quarterly magazine for.
- Updating an opinion blog.
- Writing my own book.
- Research into marketing, SEO, design, etc every night.
- Helping setup a comedy production company.
- Creating a business selling retro games consoles and games.
- Creating a clothing brand.
- Publishing a book for a friend, and helping with his blog.
- Helping setup a bakery business.
- Helping setup a record label.
- Setting up multiple blogs for people (photography, art, fashion, etc).
- And even more stuff I’ve forgotten about.
In addition to this, I also would also see friends almost every night, and go clubbing at least 1 time a week (out until 5am every time without fail). I would also take barely any holiday (only a few days in the whole of 2016). The end result, my brain going into meltdown, and things started to get really scary.
I was paranoid and anxious – of course – but suddenly other things began to happen. Prior to this, the only side-effect I knew about from my anxiety was losing my sex drive *sad flute sound effect*. This time, I began to hallucinate, develop really bad memory problems, and my anger issues became unbearable.
This was all new to me, and all of them became a daily issue.
They technically weren’t medical definitions of hallucinations; but I would vividly see things which weren’t there and hear things which didn’t exist, so it was any normal definition of hallucinations. I intend to write an article with some stories about these hallucinations – it got really bonkers at points – but for now I’m going to focus on how it affected day-to-day life and what my experience was with the NHS.
To give some examples of what kind of thing I was hallucinating about; I would see my cat wherever I went in the world, see objects that weren’t there, hear non-stop whispering like someone talking outside of every room I was in, and see people watching me in the dark.
I finally went to the doctors because of my memory issue, it got so bad I’d wash my hair like 5 times forgetting I’d done it whilst still stood in the shower. Additionally, I could barely function during working hours, and would forget jobs I needed to do or the had already done.
The doctor saw me a couple more times and decided to refer me to “italk”. I had an phonecall conversation with italk and they referred me back to the NHS, suspecting I potentially had schizophrenia. I cannot stress how quick this all was, and how fast the NHS began to act upon these suspicions.
Very quickly the NHS sent two people to check out where I lived (making sure I was in a safe place I think), and I started going to “kind of therapy”. I’m calling it “kind of therapy” because it wasn’t therapy, they were just doing an in depth diagnosis or something, but it felt like therapy because I was asked to talk about things you typically associate with therapy. Whilst doing this everyone at the NHS were really kind and accommodating.
Of course, I didn’t have schizophrenia. They put it down to anxiety, depression, and additionally diagnosed me with psychosis (probably not an accurate diagnosis). The doctor explained that because I wasn’t resting, my brain was probably trying to force me to rest/dream whilst I was awake, resulting in hallucinating.
The NHS referred me back to italk and I was referred for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). In comparison to my experience with the NHS mental health staff I previously dealt with; the doctor was rude, clearly had not looked into my issues, and was tired of talking to sad cases like me. Within 30 minutes I stormed out the room, fed up of listening to him dismiss me.
Going to the NHS felt pointless at the end, but it did allow me to see how quickly people in genuine need of help are seen to.It’s just unfortunate that less severe mental health issues are not given the same level of care.
How did I amend my mental health? I took the original doctor’s advice and began cutting free some of my time; starting with cutting out my CBT appointments, not seeing certain “friends” anymore, and quitting bartending. I then slowly cut further back over the following year, eventually leading me to just work a normal week focusing on me and my brother’s marketing company. I then had enough time to get proper sleep at night, relax properly, and my hallucinations eventually got much better. They still occur, but not on a daily basis or in a way that interrupts my day-to-day activities.
My memory loss slowly disappeared. My brother encouraged me to begin writing lists to unclog my brain, which resulted in me creating a task management spreadsheet that took away a lot of stress. Once that was sorted, I was much less frustrated with my own forgetfulness, and so my anger issues slowly got better.
Ultimately, the solution was time-consuming and initially very scary. Cutting out massive sections of your life is a really difficult decision, and initially feels wrong. Putting yourself first is very important when it concerns mental health, and whilst it may seem like the selfish thing to do, it will probably save your life.
You can’t rely on the world to change for you, you have to make the changes. Not everyone cares about your wellbeing, and you cannot ask others to hold you up whilst your mental state falls apart. The unfortunate reality of mental health is that you’re usually the only person that can be responsible for it.