Michael shares his experience of having Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for anxiety and depression.
After I suffered my first anxiety attack at the age of 21, my life changed. At the time, I was under a lot of stress from a relationship I was in. My partner had a lot of issues going on in her own personal life, which put a strain on how she treated me and our time together.
I didn’t realise how much the relationship impacted me until I began having anxiety attacks.
The first time it happened, I was on a train the day after a night out of drinking.
I’d never experienced the fear that I felt that day before it happened. The only way to describe it is that I wasn’t able to quiet the noise in my head. I got a really intense sensation of pins and needles in my stomach and arms. I remembering thinking I was having a stroke because I couldn’t move my hands.
When I got off the train, I managed to calm down and tried to ‘laugh it off’ about what had just happened. Looking back, I realise this was the start of quite a dark time in my life for my mental health.
For the next few months, I avoided public transport completely and developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. I couldn’t get over the fear of feeling the same way I had felt on the train. I started avoiding certain places or meeting with friends if it involved having to get on public transport or be in unfamiliar places. My social life and work life was completely affected. I felt like a prisoner in my own home at times. Looking back on how I was feeling at the time, it probably made my mental health worse because I wasn’t going out.
Eventually, after a lot of encouragement from my family, I went to see my GP who sent me to a counsellor. Through counselling, I started cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helped me massively. During the sessions, I learned how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks through the techniques I was taught.
The best bit of advice I could give to a person suffering is to face up to whatever it is they feel is causing it, which starts at opening up to someone. Whether it’s a friend, doctor or something else, I think speaking about how your feeling really helps. I learnt that talking can be really important in helping through my counselling.
Since getting help, I’ve been able to talk a lot more about how I was feeling at that time.
‘Being a man’
The amount of my friends who’ve said they’ve experienced similar things with their mental health at some point in their life has been unbelievable and eye-opening. So many people around me have went through the same thing and not felt able to speak about it and get help. I wasn’t aware of this until I begun sharing my own story with them.
Some of my male friends in particular have opened up about feeling anxious or depressed. They’ve told me they’ve not felt comfortable enough to get help, because they feel they need to put on a ‘brave face’ and ‘be a man’. Growing up, it’s never been usual for my groups of mates to talk about how we feel which is something I want to change. I think so many men don’t seek help because they feel they always need to appear strong as a man.
Ending the Stigma
Dealing with anxiety and depression has made me a more understanding, sensitive and compassionate person – I feel stronger for it in many ways. I now make a point of asking my friends how they are feeling and telling people about my own experiences. I hope doing that makes people feel more comfortable to open up to me if they’re struggling.
There’s still a lot to be done about changing stigma and attitude towards mental health, but I hope that by starting a conversation I can help make a change to the people around me.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts or thinking about self-harming, speak to someone immediately, like a trusted friend, GP or support group. Visit NHS Moodzone to find a list of groups which can give you support for mental health.