‘At 14 years old, I knew something wasn’t right. Something inside me was changing.’: Man details mental health journey

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of self-harm and drug and alcohol abuse that may be triggering to some.

“My story is long and complex but most importantly, it is ongoing. It is a story I hope will inspire other people, especially men, to speak out and embrace the differences that make them who they are and ultimately help people to realize living with a mental health disorder does not have to limit your ambitions. Each person has their own story. I do not believe mine is any different from yours just because we have been through different things.

We deal with life events in our own way and mental illnesses affect everyone uniquely, so nobody has it ‘worse off’ than you. If anyone tells you they, or someone else, has it worse than you in terms of mental health problems it is like saying you should not be happy with what you have because someone is happier with more. Whatever you have been through or are currently going through should not be invalidated because of another person’s experience. If your mental health journey is only just beginning, then perhaps the only difference between my story and yours is I have chosen to share mine.

At just 14 years old, I knew something was not right. I could not explain what it was, nor could I describe how I was feeling. Something inside me was changing and it was terrifying. As a child, nothing was wrong with me as such. I had a few weird quirks but what kid doesn’t? I was generally well behaved, did well in school, and was very social. My mother was a teaching assistant and my father was in the army, which meant he was away quite a bit and that left my mother to bring up myself and my younger sister by herself a lot of the time.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

I lived a very average life until things started to change when I was 11. I lost both of my grandfathers within a matter of months to cancer and as a family, we did not deal with it very well. The cracks began to appear in the relationship between my parents, and my sister and I were caught up in the middle of it. Things were difficult for a few years after that, but I told myself it was normal and it would be difficult for any family to deal with, however, it did not get any better. By the time I was in my penultimate year of secondary school, I had started to change, and it wasn’t just the usual physical and hormonal changes you’d expect from a boy of that age.

My behavior became erratic, my mood low and my motivation non-existent. Eventually, at 15 and in my final year of school, my mother reluctantly took me to see the doctor and I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, prescribed Fluoxetine (Prozac), and referred for counseling with CAMHS. I wish I could say things started to improve by then, but they only got worse. I did not take the news well, and neither did my parents. It became our dirty little secret and I kept it all to myself, I didn’t even tell my closest friends. I felt so alone and alienated, and because of the lack of support from the ones around me who did know, I rebelled. The treatment plan did not seem to help much, so I started looking for ways to self-medicate. I remember thinking there must be more to why I was knowingly starting to act in such reckless and impulsive ways.

My relationships with those around me started to fall apart. Maybe it was the stress of exams or the anxiety of not knowing what was to come after school, but something exacerbated the downhill spiral. I didn’t know it at the time, but the routine of school life was the one thing actually keeping me together. As a naturally high-functioning person, I depended on this structure to give my life direction and I had used this for support when I became unwell. I left school and things deteriorated quickly. College was not for me and the two years I was there are a complete blur. No longer did I have that same structure I needed in my life to keep me in check and shortly after enrolling, I had turned to self-harm, drinking, and drug abuse to get me through the day. I worked hard with two part-time jobs throughout college, but I knew full well I was only distracting myself and I needed to fund my new addictions. I gave up on my dreams of going to university and I failed college miserably.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

The last of a string of three abusive relationships in my late teens was when I decided I could not go on living the way I was. I had been physically attacked, had my mobile phone smashed to pieces, been blackmailed, and literally locked inside the house and told I was not allowed to see my friends or family. By the time I was 22, I had attempted to kill myself three times by overdose, each considerably more serious than the prior attempt as I became more desperate to escape my living nightmare.

Having failed these three attempts I realize now I had actually succeeded. Succeeded in surviving. I distinctly remember on the third occasion a paramedic telling my sister and friends if they did not get me to a hospital quickly then I could die from liver failure. It was the first time I actually saw the impact of what I had done on my loved ones. I was rushed to hospital and when I woke up the following day I was filled with dread, regret, and shame. Did I really want to die, or did I just want the life I hated living to end? After a lengthy and uncomfortable conversation with a psychiatrist, I was eventually discharged. After that, I vowed to make a change not only for my loved ones’ sake but to give myself a chance to actually be happy.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

At 22, I left home with nothing more than a few bags of clothes in the boot of my car and moved away from the place I grew up in which had caused me all of this pain in order to try and start over. I knew I could not heal in the same environment that made me sick so for me, this was the best option. I got my own place, a great job, new friends, and learned to enjoy my own company. Finally, I was starting to enjoy my life. I became extremely high functioning and successful in my new career and I felt secure for the first time in my life.

A few years passed by with no major issues until one day I received a phone call. One of my best friends had died suddenly in a car crash and just like that, it felt like everything was falling apart again. I thought I was better. Stronger. No longer sick. Yet here I was on this downhill spiral yet again wondering what had happened. I relapsed. I did not know it then, but I know now that relapsing is crucial to your recovery. It pushes you to explore alternative solutions to new problems and builds your mental skill set. Relapse is totally normal and does not mean you have failed; it means you need to reset and readjust. It did, however, pose the question again perhaps there was more to my ‘depression’ than what met the eye as I had been doing so well for so long.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

It did take me a long time to build myself back up after that, and I believe that was because I never thought it would happen to me, so it really knocked my confidence when I did. I started therapy again for the first time since I was 18 and underwent numerous medication changes to get me back on track. By the age of 27, work had become my coping mechanism. It kept me busy, I met lots of interesting people and socialized all day, it paid extremely well, was close to home, and came with just enough stress to keep me switched on and focused without worrying. I loved it. On the back of the success I was enjoying in my career I was offered a new job by a different company, albeit the same brand. A two-step promotion essentially.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

On day one of the new jobs, however, I realized I might have made the biggest mistake of my life. I found out I had been lied to about almost everything the company was promising and the guy that employed me left the business immediately. For almost a year, I was run into the ground earning £10,000 a year less, commuting over 60 miles a day, and working 12 hours a day for a failing business – and it was my job to fix it. Eventually, it broke me. I was leaving my house at 5:30 a.m. and not getting home until 8 p.m., even then I would eat with my laptop to catch up on emails. In 2019, I had the biggest relapse of my life as a result and was taken into the hospital from a routine therapy session when I finally broke down. I was completely overwhelmed, burnt out and suicidal.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

Later that year and almost 2 years ago now I was re-diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable (or Borderline) Personality Disorder and began an intense 6-month course of Dialectical behavior therapy and yet more medication changes and took 10 months off work. EUPD is an illness characterized by an inability to effectively regulate very intense emotions (good and bad), problems managing explosive and sometimes inappropriate anger, identity disturbances and problems with self-image, impulsive and reckless behavior and can include symptoms such as frequent mood swings, memory loss and dissociation.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

13 years after my initial diagnosis, I finally had the answer for the question that had been at the back of my head all this time, ‘What is really wrong with me?’ It took a while to sink in, and although I was grateful to finally be offered the correct treatment after all this time, it did raise a lot of questions about my past I could not have anticipated. What caused this? Is there something fundamentally wrong with me as a person instead of just being unwell? Was I misdiagnosed the first time? Eventually, I decided it did not matter. What mattered now was the present and my future.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

After I was told I had EUPD, I researched it thoroughly and to my horror found more books and articles about how to manage a person with EUPD than how to manage the illness itself. As one of the most stigmatized illnesses due to its symptoms, I decided I had to act. Unlike the first time I was diagnosed with a disorder, I refused to see this as a setback and was determined to take back control of my life and help others. 18 months on since my treatment finished, and I truly am a changed man. Why? Because I wanted it. Because I refuse to be told what I can or cannot do, or who I can or cannot be because of a ‘label.’ Your diagnosis does not define you; it simply serves a purpose when it comes to providing the relevant framework for your recovery journey.

I have learned so much over the years, much more about life and about myself than I ever would have done if I had not become unwell. The most important thing I have learned is that mental illness recovery should never be seen as a destination or an endpoint to reach. It is not linear, nor is it easy! It is an ongoing journey of self-discovery, learning, and healing. Recovery is not about simply ‘getting better’ and finding your way back to your old self. It is about learning from your experiences and using the skills you acquire along the way to create a new path towards an even better version of yourself. Genuinely accepting this is the first step toward real recovery and self-discovery.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

My so-called ‘illness’ is a part of me, and I no longer resent it. I embrace it. It is a part of who I am now and accepting this reality makes me stronger, more emotionally intelligent, more empathetic, patient, and wiser. You see, living with a mental illness does not make you any less of a person, it makes you more. It means you have suffered and overcome against all odds. It means you are exceptional, not typical. You have adapted. You have succeeded. You have won battles that most people did not even know you were fighting, and wars some might never be able to comprehend. This makes you superhuman.

Courtesy of Chris Jones

For me, the end goal is not ‘happiness.’ Happiness is just an idea until you achieve it, and then what? I am seeking more. I want to continue changing, adapting, and evolving. I have made peace with the fact I may never be completely ‘happy,’ and I’m totally fine with that! In fact, if anything, putting myself in that mindset has actually made me happier because I put no pressure on myself anymore. I haven’t overcome my mental illness, I’ve embraced it. If anything, I believe my life is more fulfilling and rewarding as a result of it. It all starts with accepting it, really wanting to get better, putting the work in, and choosing to live. Having a mental illness is not your choice, but recovery is.”

Courtesy of Chris Jones

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Chris Jones of Stafford, England, United Kingdom. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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