Chris Hough, Brighton, England

Understanding how my mental health effect’s me has been a life long process. I remember my first panic attack and the absolute terror and fear it instilled in me. It made me feel as though I would not and could not survive another day. Ever since that moment I have been trying to work out what happened and what that means to me. Hope is what has brought me to where I am in my life now and has been what has driven me to better understand my mental health.

I pretty much ignored my mental health until I was in my early 20’s. Then one December evening as I attempted to write an essay for my university course I started to feel very unwell. I didn’t know what was happening but I felt a completely overwhelming sense of dread and fear. I couldn’t concentrate on a single thing. My mind was racing and I started to feel as though I was about to die, which seemed a little irrational but very real. I couldn’t breathe, I felt sick and I couldn’t calm down. It was terrifying. I didn’t know what to do, the next 6 months were a complete blur as I tried to work out what was happening. I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I started to feel desperate. I isolated myself from friends and couldn’t talk to family. I dropped out of university and work. Doctors just told me I was fine and was probably just dealing with a form anxiety or depression. It seems funny now but a turning point for me was sitting crying watching a bank advert on television and realising I have to do something now or I might not survive this. I didn’t care if I was alive or not and could not see a way out. A friend then lent me a book about panic attacks that suggested ways to cope with them. So I made the decision to focus on the panic I was feeling, it was easier to focus on one thing at a time, it felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel somehow.

I began to understand that I had to allow myself to feel the terror and panic of the anxiety I was feeling to understand it. So I began to accept my panic attacks as part of life and that’s when I started to feel calmer. I started to be able to sleep more, go out more, breathe more and it gave me the room to feel that recovery was possible. I began to struggle with depression at times but I was so relieved to not be constantly panicking. There have been many ups and downs since this time and I still deal with anxiety and depression to this day but I feel better able to cope. There were times where I self- medicated with alcohol and did things that were not conducive to my recovery. I have now reached a point where I am able to open up and talk about how I feel and where these feelings have come from. I met my beautiful wife and she helped me realise that talking about how I feel and what I want is the most important way to understand how I got here. Since then I have seen a therapist, started running, learnt about meditation and opened up to sharing my feelings. I now know that talking and listening are what really matters when discovering who I want to be and where I have come from. I never felt able to share how I felt but as my therapist said “It’s a joy to hide but a disaster not to be found”.

I now see the future full of hope, I focus less on what I fear and can’t predict and feel more able to plan for the life I want to live. I understand now that my experiences are what has shaped me and not what has held me back. I want people to know that shame is not all you have to experience; talking and sharing what you have been through can change your life and the lives of others around you.