Mental Health and Me: My Story Told My Way
The willingness to open up and talk about mental health issues within today’s society has dramatically improved in recent years. I take huge comfort from this. But I’m also aware we have a long way to go before it’s discussed freely without fear of judgement or reprisal. We still live within a culture of maintaining that stiff upper lip. Fall down and you get back up, brush yourself off and act like nothing happened. To show vulnerability or weakness, especially within a gym, an environment of strength and resilience, is inconceivable. Sound relatable?
I should say from the outset, I am not a psychiatrist, a trained counsellor or a qualified mental health professional. This is me speaking from my own experience of mental health issues. This is me opening up to you so you understand it is ok to talk about these things, especially if you’re struggling yourself. It’s not easy, which is why I’m going to tell my full story to empower you to talk to people you trust.
Life Changed Forever
When I was 21 years old, I lost my father and stepmother in a car crash. It happened on 9th August 2014 at 7.00pm. I found out about this in the early hours of the next morning when I was awoken by the authorities standing over me while I was in bed. I’d had a fun night out with some friends the night before. What followed were a few months of total surrealism. I was on autopilot, pretending to be ok. I kept myself busy, locked up all emotion and told myself “I can deal with this”. The inevitable depression kicked in a few months later and it’s a state I would remain in for the next three years.
During those three years, my life had no purpose. I had no drive and no energy. I was by nature a little introverted and struggled to make every day conversations but the depression took this to a whole new level. But the thing that stands out most when I look back at that period of my life is how little I spoke to people about how I was feeling, even those closest to me. I outright refused to, believing I could deal with it all on my own. And I believed it emphatically, for three long years, trapped by the fear of showing weakness to anyone.
Taking Back Control
1st February 2018 was the day I decided to make a change in my life. To take a stand against the things that were holding me back. I had waited for life to come to me for too long so I decided to go and find it for myself. To this day, it is the most frightening thing I have ever done. I had known for a while exactly what I needed to do, but mentally I was thwarting the idea before I’d even left my front door. Maybe this was to protect myself from being hurt by life any more than I had been already. It’s a reasonable excuse, but an excuse nonetheless and this held me back for a long time.
In the space of a few months, I stumbled across a CrossFit gym and embarked on a personal training course. Previous to this, I played football at weekends but this was my only form of physical activity. My lifestyle was certainly not the healthiest. I smoked and my diet was suboptimal. Improvements to my health and lifestyle grew organically over time. As they did, I noticed my outlook on life began to change and, along with it, life itself. With that momentum, I began to venture into more things socially and invested in my education for a career in coaching.
Most importantly, I started to have conversations about my mental health.This included seeking professional help but also talking to friends and family, or sometimes just checking in with myself once in a while to make sure I was doing ok. I became more comfortable speaking about how I felt and eventually, it became an acknowledged truth that it was going to be a long journey. It continues to this day, as I write this very blog. Maybe it will always be with me, but I know it won’t stop me from achieving what I want to do in life. And when tougher times appear, which they will, I am better equipped with the knowledge of what I can do to help myself.
My Life Now
Three years on from stepping out of depression and six years after that tragic accident, I can truly say I am a better person than I was. I have far exceeded what I thought life was going to be for me by a universal margin. While writing this, I am giving myself praise which I have never felt comfortable doing before. That in itself is a little win for today. The little wins do add up over time so don’t neglect them. Reward yourself by acknowledging that you did a good thing, either for you or for someone else, even if it’s just something minor.
The most important message I want to convey is that, in times of darkness, there are always avenues and people who can help. I would always advise speaking to a professional in their field, such as a therapist or counsellor. It’s where I found the help I needed and I’ve never looked back.
So, I have mental wellness challenges that impact my day-to-day life. That doesn’t stop me from aspiring to be the best I can be in anything I want to do. In particular, it doesn’t stop me from being an outstanding coach (!). Maybe it helps me understand when other people are facing their own internal struggles, whatever they may be. Be kind. Be understanding. Talk to each other.
If you have any questions about my experiences, or feel compelled to share your own, please feel free to get in contact.
Coach Sam Saunders
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