WARNING. What you’re about to read is incredibly sensitive, and contains information about suicide, and trauma. If you’re feeling in need of help, please don’t continue reading this. Resources are available for anyone struggling with their mental health. If you feel you are in an emergency situation, please dial 999. And remember, my story does not ever negate what you might be going through or have been through.
What do I suffer from?
I suffer from depression, anxiety and possibly PTSD (although the latter has not been confirmed by a doctor, but everything started going downhill after my trauma). Having a combination of different mental health issues makes everything a lot more complicated, and even harder for me (particularly as a man) to talk about it. I grew up in a society which would have seen the issues I suffer from today as lazy, ungrateful and selfish. I also was constantly told I needed to ‘man up’ and ‘snap out of it’, particularly from other men. You’d probably find me silently crying most nights because of this.
Growing up in school, I had no friends for 10 years. No one I felt I could call my own close friend anyway. I didn’t really excel at anything in school. I used to wear glasses so I just had a lot of bullying for being the one the teachers liked, or the nerd in the class. Back then though, I didn’t understand much of why I was being targeted so I kept on doing my own thing. That would include going to a remote area of the school field to look at woodlice, and examine them in minute details. I would spend all my lunch break doing this. If I wasn’t doing that, I was either drawing maps, looking at maps, or planes, or sitting in a sensory room with disco balls, fibre optic lamps and bubble tubes.
Groups would be difficult. If the teacher didn’t pick the groups for us, I’d always be the one who came last, and even then, people wouldn’t want me to be with them. This started happening more often as the activities at school changed from theoretical study to practical work. And this still affects me today, evident when people I care about are going on a night out, or a pub crawl and I cannot join them because I will get a sensory overload from being there. As a result, I prefer theory to practical work, and so I’ve spent the last 6 years of uni improving my academic writing skills, to the point where I now have my first journal article published on MDPI.
During school, homosexuality was also not widely accepted, and the term ‘gay’ would be heard on the playground constantly. Multiple times I was manipulated by people at school, including when I was made to kiss another boy on the lips in the middle of the school field with everybody watching. Peer pressure didn’t occur to me back then and so I thought it was acceptable to do. But also because I had been ‘bribed’ for a free laptop if I did so. And since I like proving to people what I can do, I just did it. Only to then be ridiculed for the next 15 years. This pretty much kickstarted all the bullying I received in school.
The boys didn’t enjoy playing football with me in PE class. The teachers also didn’t understand why I reacted so strongly against their snarky and often out of line actions towards me. I mean, I don’t think you’d want to have a ball drop kicked at your butt as a form of initiation. So I stopped playing football, because of this. Instead, I wanted something I could do where I felt welcome, and the sense of competition not as prominent. This led me to taking up gymnastics classes. So I found something I could do at school, but I still had no friends.
The bullying continued. You can probably name different kinds and I would tell you I was a victim of it. I was beaten up, kicked in the face in front of teachers (who did nothing about it). One time I was picked up and thrown over a brick wall (which hurt badly), another time I was fully knocked out unconscious and found myself in a wheelchair when I woke up. The hostility in terms of verbal abuse was also huge, including a lot of ableism towards my autism, and what would today be very bad homophobia. The worst bullying incident was that of one of my ex partners, who worked with 2 other people to produce a hate website directly attacking me and my autism. This website is actually still up and running. My parents began to monitor my computer time as a response to all of this.
While this was all going on, I began to be recognised for my performing arts. At high school, I was a favourite of both the drama and music teachers, because they enjoyed my acting, and my piano playing. Acting was something I liked doing because it meant I could escape from real life for a while. I starred in pantomimes, and comedy productions usually as the villain. To this day I still have my piano and I still play it, learning new music each year, but I should probably play it a bit more. So in the end, I found that music, and gymnastics were my coping mechanisms at school. Towards the end of high school, kids grew jealous of my acting skills and refused once again to have me in their groups during drama classes, leading me to struggle, and achieve only a satisfactory grade at the end. I’ve lost confidence in acting, and don’t think I’ll be that good in theatre productions anymore.
Today there are days where I still feel like I’ll be alone. I have far more friends who are women on my Facebook than I do men. This is because it was men who bullied me, so I find it a lot harder to trust men. It was women who’d be offering me support after the bullying, and throughout much of my school and college life. I stopped retaliating as I reached college, and afterwards, the hostility died down, the insults dropped, and the people that didn’t like me, took a liking to me very slowly. Sadly, this wouldn’t last.
Shielding my ears
For those of you who might not know, I have a huge sensitivity to vehicle engine starting sounds. To the point where if a large engine is off, I will shield my ears until it starts up. Unfortunately this very aspect of my life led me to permanently end an 8 year friendship with someone who took a liking to me during science classes.
We will refer to him as my ex friend, because that’s where it stands and will always stand. Thankfully he isn’t in my life anymore and I am fine with that. But the damage he did still lives with me today. It was a lovely afternoon, and we had just had lunch at Wimpy. We decided to take a walk along the coast of Beachy Head to burn a few calories and get some fresh air. The problems started as soon as we arrived. Basically, I saw a white coach from a distance in the coach parking area. Naturally I shielded my ears, thinking I was going to be alright.
But then, this ex friend of mine grew incredibly angry and hostile. He started to argue that there was no one in the coach, and it wasn’t going to start and told me to stop being silly. Shocked at this, I defended myself saying it is a natural reaction when I see a coach or a bus. He eventually flew into a huge rage, stormed back to his car, and drove off with his friend, leaving me alone by the edge of these cliffs. It was not a fun experience at all. I felt betrayed, I felt hurt again, I felt like jumping off that cliff. In the end, I accepted he’d gone and made plans to walk the 30 or so miles back home, or find the nearest train station. Days later, he shamed me for my political views, and for my cosplaying (a hobby I took up during college).
Once again I felt abandoned, lost and alone. And this is why I now feel like I must ask any friend I meet who has a car, if they’re okay with me shielding my ears. It sounds silly, but this is the reality. I have had this sensitivity to engines for a very long time. It’s not something that just goes away. Autism doesn’t work like that. My brain is very sensitive to certain noises. It just happens that my sensitivities are incredibly specific and unique compared to other people.
This is the mild part of my story. If you’re sure you want to read on, please be prepared to read about suicide and trauma. Once again, help is there if you need it.
Sadly, because of this significant event, and because of my huge ability to remember a lot of dates of my own history, there’s no way I will ever be able to forget what happened on this particular day. So writing it down doesn’t bother me. February 28th 2013. Just after my 18th birthday. I had been walking home from army cadets (which was something I took up to increase my self discipline). I was walking along the main road when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck twitch, and I could sense I was being watched. I quickened my pace, and naturally, wanting to get home as quick as I could, turned down a dim lit road for a shortcut.
Looking round, I saw two figures, and as they came forward still, they were wearing balaclavas, and looked middle aged. Realising I might be about to be mugged, I stopped dead and watched as one of the men stood behind me to avoid any chance of me making a dash for it, and one in front. I remember the exact words in what felt like the end of the world for me. “Got any fags?” The man in front said, to which I replied no because I don’t smoke and never will. Suddenly, the man behind me made a quick grab for his pocket (my reflexes are fast so I zipped around) and pulled out a knife. Two seconds later, that knife was an inch away from my throat. He was holding me at knife point. Then came the words:
“Give me your money.”
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t bring myself to speak now. There was a knife just inches from my throat. I was being mugged. I was being held hostage by two men who didn’t give a damn about the world they lived in, they just wanted money, and they would be willing to use deadly force to get what they wanted. They wanted something from me. And they were not getting it, because upon turning my pockets out, they found nothing of use. I saw them sigh at this point, and then they realised I was of no use to them. They asked a final question to me: “Do you live nearby,” and I nodded to this.
A minute later, the knife was pulled away from my throat, and back into the man’s pocket. Both of them turned around, the direction by which they came, and finally disappeared around a corner. I was in shock by this point. I was in denial, and I was wondering if I had just woken up from perhaps the worst nightmare ever had during sleep.
The ordeal was far from over.
What followed next was a huge fear of going outside for a few weeks. I got home, locked everything, even my own bedroom and sat there in silence, finally accepting that I’d just be alone and wouldn’t have anyone around to help me. My mind started to go all over the place. I stopped all my activities I would enjoy doing, I stopped talking to people, I stopped looking after my hygiene, I refused to eat and drink for a while, and didn’t join in any family outings or anything they wanted to do. I felt as if some huge black cloud had taken hold of my brain and completely flushed out all the positive stuff I had experienced. Flashbacks of my bullying became frequent, I couldn’t sleep at nights, I ended up crying myself to sleep about 90% of the time.
I deteriorated, fast. A few months into the summer break, I started to contemplate killing myself. I was not sad, I was not happy, I was not anything at that point. I was empty, null. I felt like it wasn’t worth it anymore. That I was just a waste of space. These thoughts began to plague me for days, and they continued for months. One night, I was in the biggest mess, and after my mum asked me if I was really alright, (months of masking and trying to stay out of my family’s sight for fear of being turned down support) I finally confessed that I was feeling suicidal.
I was looking for the least non lethal, harmful way to just end my life, I told her.
The next day, I was rushed to a GP with an appointment. After I confessed everything I was feeling, the doctor told my mum I was suffering from major depression. I was put on medication, and referred to cognitive behavioural therapy (which would take 6 months to actually get contacted after). Mum explained that I wasn’t changing clothes, or doing anything I once enjoyed doing. The doctor told her that this is a symptom of a mental imbalance. When you lose all joy in life, you begin to question what the point of it is.
I didn’t want gifts, I didn’t want anything my mum was generously offering me, I knew deep down she just wanted me to be happy. I’m so used to not getting anything as a child that I don’t expect anything now, to this day. Sure, I used to demand for basic things like a go on the family computer, or a snack after school. But I never expected to do anything with family that I enjoyed doing, such as a meal out at an Italian restaurant, or a trip to the Spinnaker Tower. In December 2013, I had an appointment at a mental health hospital, where I was finally given more guidance and a bit more support. In June 2014, I started the CBT, for 6 weeks. I found that it helped rid me of the suicidal thoughts, but not my low self esteem or confidence.
As well as depression, the doctor also explained I was suffering from anxiety. I was constantly asking for reassurance, for hugs, for anything I knew might even help just one bit. I worried about burdening everyone, and as a result, grew more depressed and isolated from things. CBT helped change that a little bit but it didn’t stop me from feeling worthless. Most days today I still do feel worthless, and I do have flashbacks every year which is why I need the most reassurance on notorious dates that are just too easy to remember.
Having been okay for a few months since CBT, I stopped taking medication and tried to revert back to my life, and seeked friends to talk to. A few months later, I felt the same feelings I had before CBT again. This would happen a few times throughout the next few years, right up to my new life here in Stirling. In fact, by the end of first year, the relapse had gotten bad. I finally got to a point that I realised that I needed to get help again and phoned the university for such. Put back on the medication, and given some counselling sessions (which would take 6 months to get an appointment) I was again fighting with my own mind about my life.
My mental health today
Today I live with depression, and anxiety. I live with depression because I tend to feel empty and worthless most nights. And I live with anxiety because I’m seeking reassurance and appreciation from others. I don’t want to be alone again. But I fear that I may be. Because I struggle with socialising in person even today. And I often contemplate on isolating myself from people on very bad days. I still have to ask people if I can hug them, if they mind writing me something, if they want a picture with me, if they want to meet up, or if I can shield my ears if I am in their cars. I have been battling for years. I am a fighter. I endured bullying, abuse and hate crimes. I endured a trauma. I live to tell the tale. And I’m not going to give up.
One thing that has really allowed me to accept my mental health is the film Frozen. This is one of the reasons it is my favourite film of all time, as most people who know me, will know. Anna was and still is my favourite Disney and favourite fictional character. What she went through as a child resonated with me so much. While I wasn’t physically shut behind a closed door, I was often left out of everything I wished I could do. It’s only now that I have the strength to talk about it, and I hope I can see friends and do things like walks, hikes, sciencey stuff, environmental stuff, save the planet, put people first, help in any way I can. Tangled is another film, I resonated with the fact that being shut in a solitary space for ages meant that your social experiences would be less. To this day I struggle with slang, sarcasm, innuendos, metaphors and any other non literal language, including internet memes, dark humour, and references to films I have never seen.
I am, in fact, afraid of the dark, particularly if I am on my own. Some nights it is hard, so I make sure I carry my headphones on me if I am walking or taking public transport. Some days I look at myself and I still see a broken person, with a black cloud over my head, not as big as before, but significant enough that it stops me from feeling happy. I have a few insecurities I fight with, such as my crooked nose, and the fact my eyes are not perfectly aligned, a prominent wrinkle between the eyes that is easily noticeable in photos, and that I have a rounder, more babyish like face. I have a decent looking body due to my fitness, but I hope one day I’ll accept my face for what it is, and also try to take in more compliments from people. This is coming from someone who was called ugly for years. But I am working on bettering myself. That’s why I also have a positive journal I carry with me when I see people now.
I am trained as a Scottish Mental Health First Aider. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling empty sometimes or afraid of isolation or loneliness. I work out a lot, but it doesn’t change my difficult nights and the fact I’ve always, (for all my life) struggled to get good sleep. I am sure that will have had some impact on my muscle gains but it is what it is. I still do trampolining and gymnastics, I still do piano playing. I study a PhD which is intense but enjoyable. I have a life which I am grateful for, but which also still has its daily struggles. I am here, and that is what matters. I will never stop persevering.