Adam from the ‘Headstrong Project’ shares his personal journey with anxiety, panic attacks, relationships and how he came to set up an organisation that aims to break down barriers and raise awareness around mental health.
I’m 18. I’m on the phone, I don’t remember who to. Suddenly I feel weird. Really weird. I drop the phone and run out the door. My mum follows me and I tell her to phone an ambulance. “Why?” she asks. “Because I’m dying” I replied.
Mum didn’t call an ambulance – maybe it was mother’s intuition, or maybe she took a punt (we’ll go with the former) and I didn’t die, obviously. The strange and scary feeling began to fade.
I still thought I was going to die sometime soon, so I went to the GP to establish what exactly it was that was going to kill me. The doctor carried out the routine checks – nothing to report. She then said something that confused me. “I think you’ve had a panic attack”… I remember thinking, well, that’s a load of rubbish. First off – I was in the middle of a phone call about nothing in particular – so there’s no panic-inducing situation. Secondly, I didn’t sweat, have palpitations, hyperventilate or any other of the panic attack symptoms that you read about. I just felt weird. Really weird. I don’t remember if she prescribed me any drugs or therapy, if she did then I didn’t take it. I didn’t believe her diagnosis.
This was the beginning of a very long and challenging road to eventually finding out that the doctor was right all along.
A few days later it happened again. The weird dying-but-not-dying thing. This time I was working behind the bar of my local pub. Colleagues suggested it was a blood sugar issue and plied me with Coca-Cola. It didn’t help. Eventually the feeling passed and I carried on with my shift.
The third time it happened I was on the other side of the bar. This time I took a breather outside then came back in and, in a detached state, sank two pints of Old Speckled Hen in record time. This helped. I calmed and reattached to my surroundings. I felt at ease.
I’d found a cure. If it happened again I’d simply nail a couple of pints of mid-strength ale. Bad move. It seems like a ridiculous idea now, but at the time it didn’t.
My self medicating of a condition I didn’t know I had would eventually see me split up with my girlfriend, lose my job, sell my car and end up living in the spare room of a friends flat.
I did visit the GP on a number of occasions with symptoms varying from the “weirdness” to insomnia to blurred vision, but I simply didn’t buy the “mental health” disorders I was being diagnosed with. I took various antidepressants and sleeping pills but never according to directions or for long enough. Why would I? These were drugs for a condition I didn’t have….
Fast forward to July 2008. I’m in a Turkish hospital, staring at the ceiling tiles, then at the drip in my arm, then back at the ceiling. Standing at my bedside is, well, no one. I’m alone.
My binge drinking, mismanagement of antidepressants and sleeping pills, disregard for my friends, denial of mental health issues and total lack of self-respect had put me in a foreign hospital with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company. I was ill, skint and lonely.
What have I done? Who am I?
That moment was the beginning of something huge. I had to change. I flew home a couple of days later and began to make plans.
First off, I’d visit my long suffering ex-girlfriend and try to build some bridges, admit my failings and brace myself for the justifiable torrent of hard truths she would deliver to me.
Second, knock the booze in the head. This wasn’t going to be easy. I wasn’t a textbook alcoholic, I could function without it, but my beer jacket had become my comfort blanket – and I was never comfortable.
Finally, and most importantly, I had to accept that the thing going on in my head/body might just be an “anxiety disorder” and I need it to tackle it.
And so began a journey that saw me straighten up, marry that long suffering girlfriend, become the father of two beautiful children, and begin to build a career. All, ultimately, because I faced up to my anxiety, and with the support of some extraordinary people, got my life back. If I hadn’t, I’d be dead.
Since starting a blog I, along with 3 friends, have set-up the Headstrong Project – an organisation that aims to break down barriers and raise awareness around anxiety and mental health through original projects and events. We are working closely with Dorset Mind to identify and support the mental health needs of the local communities. Our next event, the Headstrong Social, will be held in Shaftesbury on the 22nd of November. For more information please visit our social media accounts. @theheadstrongproject