Time to talk…

Why didn’t I want to talk? I debated for a bit as to whether I should delve back into this world, in truth I debated on my bus ride home today (technically now yesterday, as you’re reading this…) but it seems as good a question as any to be asking on Time to Talk day, as well as covering just why it is so important to talk about mental health problems but that’s for later.

It’s a cause that is ingrained in my being due to my experiences with depression and social anxiety. Talking is massive, for someone battling mental illness, for someone who doesn’t understand it, for dismantling stigmas and fighting these horrid fuckers – it really is everything.

For a while “I’m fine” or “I’ll be fine” was practically my catchphrase. I didn’t want to talk because I didn’t understand, I was frightened and I just didn’t know where to begin or what was happening.

Today, I’m 23 years old. I have a job. I’ve got a first class journalism degree in my back pocket. I’ve conquered a lot of my demons but undoubtedly, there are still battles to be fought, wars to be won and all that business. If we fast forward back ten years ago, however, the contrast is stark.

A few years earlier I’d been uprooted from a quiet little village in Suffolk to go and live in the hustle and bustle of Basel, Switzerland. Now, technically I wasn’t living in Switzerland at first but the trip to school involved darting through France, Germany and eventually die Schweiz. It was some difference from just being able to take a ten minute walk to my primary school back in the day.

Nonetheless, despite initial fears, I embraced it. I had classmates from here, there and everywhere. I had a fantastic teacher. I had football. I had a lot of good things going me and bar a bout of homesickness at ski camp, bearing in mind I was 11 and I’d never been away from home before for a proper length of time, I can honestly say I was happy. There was a while though where I blamed Switzerland and my school for what I went through which on reflection, was unfair. It’ll come later but I built up an eventual return to England as if it were the holy grail. Instead, I was just me. Wherever I’d been, I think I would have faced what I did.

I shot through puberty like Usain Bolt charging to victory in the 100 meters. I don’t think that helped. Suddenly I was bigger, smellier and uglier and for someone who’d always been a bit shy, it wasn’t an easy thing to tussle with. The shyness had always been a factor for me. Wherever I’d been. I had never been the life and soul of the party but I think people liked me. I think I was good company. I’d tell jokes. I’d talk Football. I’d try give advice. I’d simply try be a good friend. I was always much better at doing this one-on-one, as opposed to in a large group however. The cracks steadily started to appear during these next two years as shyness began to twist into social anxiety. Ten years ago, 2007, that’s when it started.

I can remember it vividly. We had some sort of activity day in school – okay, perhaps I can’t remember it quite as vividly as I thought. But we were paired off in groups, we were going to have to present and I don’t think I knew my group members quite as well as I knew others. Panic set in. Discomfort. It was nothing they were doing, I should add, I was simply really shy and this was a bridge too far for myself. My panic took me into the bathroom where I ended up caught in a vicious circle, crying out of panic, crying out of frustration, feeling sorry for myself and feeling angry at myself all at once.

That was my first taste of social anxiety, and boy, it was about to twist the knife. Such occurrences didn’t really happen for the rest of that school year, on memory. There may have been one or two, or my brain is simply focused on 2007/2008 so let’s get to that.

It took 3 days to fall to pieces. I really can’t tell you what had changed, I can’t tell you what was the overriding driver behind my struggles except simply, I didn’t like myself and I just wasn’t happy.

My feelings of self hatred I projected onto others. If you don’t like yourself, then why are you going to believe someone giving you compliments? Why are you going to believe someone can like you? I appreciate it can be a very frustrating aspect of someone with depression and anxiety that they think like this, but we can’t help it – at least, we can’t quite do it on our own. The thought of school terrified me, to be honest with you. It terrified me so much that I recall far too well whirling into such a panic that I vomited all over my mum’s car. Sorry, mum! Needless to say, I didn’t end up going in that day.

Back then, I had no idea what this was or what was happening to me. Unfortunately, the episodes continued and culminated in skipping classes as I just physically couldn’t make myself go inside. It all came to a head a few weeks into the year when my mum was meeting with my head of year, due to my struggles, and found me in floods of tears wandering the hallways. By now, this wasn’t just social anxiety, there was something else gnawing away at me.

Before I get to the D word – no, not that one, get your mind out of the gutter! But before I get there, what is social anxiety? In my experience, social anxiety is being trapped inside yourself, feeling that there’s a million awesome things you could be, that there’s a million awesome things that you could do, but simply your brain and your body won’t allow you to do them.

It’s this brutal mess of vicious circles and self-fulfilling prophecies. There were some great people at my Sixth Form (2010-2012, we’ve jumped forwards a bit here), but there are friendships and experiences I could have had if I could have toppled my social anxiety. In fairness, I’d just arrived back from Switzerland and was the only one who didn’t actually know anybody else – which is hard enough if you’re the life and soul of the party, but I digress.

The mind of someone with social anxiety is an exhausting mess. Here’s an example for you, take those Sixth Form days, I’d want to make friends but I wouldn’t feel confident enough to put myself out there, I’d worry about being judged, I’d worry they’d ignore me, I’d worry they’d tell me where to go. Of course, this wasn’t a reflection on them. It was a projection of my own feelings onto everyone else which in turn, became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’d avoid people and think they were avoiding me, proving to me that I was right to be hesitant in putting myself out there. I was right that it wouldn’t work. Of course, it wasn’t that. It was simply a case that I gave the facade of someone who didn’t want to hang around with others.

It’s brutal. It’s exhausting. It’s demoralising.

Now, depression. Depression is probably my biggest fear, simply due to just how remarkably small it can make you feel, just how hopeless and bleak it can feel. Depression is like a permanent bully, stood beside you, bringing you down, crippling you and driving you towards surrender.

The fact was, my social anxiety had handed me so many self fulfilling prophecies and exhausted me so much, the whole fun of life had been sucked out of me. My self esteem was on the floor. My self belief was zero. My whole race was run. I flicked between therapists until I found Judith, who will forever be one of my heroes. I came to an agreement with school that I’d do half days and build myself back up as we’d reached a tipping point. After my mum found me, I missed the next week or so as I genuinely felt finished. I was 13/14, in a foreign country and I just had no idea what was happening to me at all. It was honestly terrifying.

I didn’t want to go back. Absolutely not. There was not a bone in my body that wanted to return to school. Again, it’s all a bit sketchy here – I remember the day I was due to go back, I frazzled out again, thanks, anxiety! And thus, it was the day after. It was gruelling hanging in there and I felt cut off and alone, simply as I knew it must be weird. I was missing school. I was disappearing in the afternoon. None of my classmates were any the wiser – but when I talk of heroes, I think that class of 8 Red is always going to be one that’s special to me as well and I’ll eventually explain why.

Well actually, I’ll explain now. It’s time to talk day and this couldn’t be more apt.

I was hanging in there but that was it. I was just doing what I had to do to get by. I was still doing my half days. All my teachers knew what the deal was, but my classmates didn’t. It all changed during a drama class. I’d decided I wanted to simply explain to them what was going, why I was like I was, where I disappeared to and what was going on.

So that’s exactly what I did. We sat around in a circle and I did my utmost to coherently explain my situation, I think I made sure to clarify that it was no reflection on them and I just… I didn’t want anyone to think I was lazy or a slacker or just plain rude. I wanted them to know that I didn’t want to be this way. I wanted them to know that I was doing everything to try and beat it. So yeah. I told them everything. I broke down a few times as talking? It is IFD. Immensely. Fucking. Difficult. But it is also UBL. Unbelievably. Bloody. Liberating.

Suddenly, I had boosted my numbers in my battle. I’d become less alone through a ten minute monologue and you know something? They were remarkable with me. They really had my back. They really looked out for me. I can’t imagine it was easy. They were just kids themselves, well… just kids sounds wrong. I guess what I’m getting at is, it couldn’t have been easy for them to understand but they gave me everything. I’m not in touch with a great many of them nowadays but I’ll never forget them. With everything I was up against, I don’t think I could have had better backing.

Talking is power. This really is something I’ve only recently come to realise, but it absolutely is. It’s not recovery but it shrugs a monkey off your back. My parents knew. My teachers knew. My friends knew. I wasn’t alone. If I was having a bad day, I’d broken down that first walk and I could talk to someone. It’s the first step in looking depression in the eye and saying, I’m not going to take this. Fuck you.

But it’s not a magic fix.

As I began to stay a little longer at school, I began to have mood swings. I was keeping a report folder thing for my head of year, almost like a mood diary in which I was grading how things were going. I think I put an 11/10 on there one day. I genuinely couldn’t tell you if it was real, or if I was act by or if I was blindly hoping that this is who I could turn into. If you remember that I was struggling with social anxiety, you’ll understand why what happened hit me so hard…

So. I had done one presentation in front of the class – and I mean, Jesus. Standing up in front heaps of people. Talking. Bloody hell, it was my worst nightmare! But I did it. I flourished. I was funny. Yes! Me! I was actually funny. It was like rocket fuel, as if my blood was Lindt chocolate and I was sitting on a cloud, being hugged by rainbows and fed Jaffa cakes or something.

But with that, I put pressure on myself. In fairness to me, that presentation flowed naturally as i was just being me. I’ve got quite a dry sense of humour and I just relaxed and let it happen. The next presentation that came around, I forced it and I felt it was a trainwreck. Nobody had said a thing. Nobody had reacted badly. Honest to god, nobody had done a thing.

But I felt it. And that’s what mattered. I left the class, I went to the bathroom and I wasn’t sad. I was angry. I was humiliated. I was ferocious. I was fed up.

When you’re battling this shit, every setback is a punch to the gut. Every bad day you take to heart. This episode was exactly that. This was rock bottom in the blink of an eye. It simply spiraled out of control. The good thing about my episodes was I’d burn out, I wouldn’t have the energy to sustain them and eventually I’d just fizzle out.

Here was no different. So what did I do?

I managed to pull myself out of it far enough and I called my therapist, Judith. I explained. We went from there. Now, I won’t lie. We went somewhere a little worse before we went somewhere better, but the point is – talking got me on the road. Talking opened up different avenues whereas keeping silent would have driven me deeper into my depression.

That was rock bottom and I started to scrap my way up from there slowly. It was a stuttering, bumpy ride, rather than a graceful flight from A to B but it was never going to be anything else. That’s the nature of it. It takes a lot of time.

The following year, I got into football. I was goalkeeper for one of the school teams and this was big for me. Football in general was. It was something I really loved going into school for – to escape at lunch to play in goal, pulling off whatever saves I could, just having a great time with my mates. It was a release. It was an escape. It was somewhere I felt useful. I felt vindicated. I just felt good.

I pulled off a fairly impressive drama monologue if I do say so myself in front of an auditorium filled with people.

Despite the good memories beginning to outweigh the bad ones, I don’t think I worked as hard as I could have in fully beating my social anxiety. While depression had fallen away, I still wasn’t where I wanted to be and in a sense, I’d convinced myself that leaving for England in 2010 would fix my problems.

Spoiler. It didn’t.

That’s the nature of it. I just wasn’t there. Rather than talk and push on, I built England up in my mind. It really wasn’t all that and I struggled once more. Despite knowing the value of talking, I didn’t come out and say I was struggling – even having had chances to do so. Whether it was pride, or just that it crushed me a bit this wasn’t going to be the magical homecoming I thought, I just couldn’t get talking.

I ended up bashing my hand against a wall, stumbling up with the lame excuse that I “fell on it”. It was spawn from a mix of anger and a desperate cry for help. It worked and I got on the road once more. I wouldn’t say this was anywhere near as bad as what I faced in Switzerland, but it was really difficult being with a bunch of people who didn’t know me that well – that was nobody’s fault, it was just circumstance so eventually, I got talking again. You know what A-Levels are like, all your classes are different so that involved three different speeches.

Again, I think it helped. It didn’t really spark a mass upturn like Switzerland did and as I said earlier, I think I missed out on a fair few Sixth Form memories and friendships which is a shame.

I’d say that it’s only recently I’ve learned the true value of talking. After my cancer, and another round with depression, I’ve really got far better at it. I keep people in the loop. I nip things in the bud as I best I can. I have my ups and downs but all in all, I am in a wildly better place. I have a way to go. Social anxiety is something I’m chipping away at and slowly dismantling but these things take time. I’ve always been shy and it’s not an easy habit to break.

But I really feel that I’m scrapping at the door. I’ve worked myself all the way up, I can see that light seeping through and I’ve just got to bang away that little bit harder to break down my final wall. I’m nearly there. It’s not going to be easy. But I sure as hell am going to do it.

And I’ll talk my way there. I’ve got a myriad of amazing people in my life, I’ve got my degree, I’ve got a great job basically what I’m saying is, all the foundations are there. Mental health doesn’t have to be your master. It doesn’t have to stop you living. It doesn’t have to isolate you and make you feel alone.

Talking is power. Whether you speak it or write it, just get it out there. Get it in the open and in turn, things will open up for you. You’re not just swirling downward, suddenly you’ve got other avenues you can travel down, other possibilities, support, help and people looking out for you.

Ultimately, you’re the one that has to push yourself on when you don’t want to, you’re the one that has to beat what you’re up against but you absolutely do not have to do it alone.

So. Time to talk. Get talking. You’ll be thankful for it.

 

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All the bad, can lead to something good…

Well. It’s been a while. I feel as if another milestone has been reached, and in some ways it felt as if it was the closing chapter to this journey.

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If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you’ll know that my cancer journey began on A-Level results day. The uncertainty hung over me as my university degree began, before after my first operation – only a couple of weeks into my degree – I was told I’d got a plum sized, invasive cancerous lump on my thyroid.

Now, thyroid cancer comes in four forms. Folicular isn’t the worst of them, by any means. Still, being told you’ve got cancer at 19 takes some getting used to. Having it blow your degree to bits and put a spanner in the works when it comes to learning to drive wasn’t ideal. Being knocked back after battling against other issues, documented on this blog, was really tough to swallow.

Still! As the picture above shows, from a hospital bed to graduating with a first class degree. I kicked cancer’s arse and then some.

I’ve done my degree back to front. I took myself to Peterborough on the bus (2 and a half hours each way). I had two operations. A batch of radioactive iodine treatment (radioactive pee, the closest I’ll come to any sort of super powers I imagine). I came out on top of it all, I’ve now got a job in Norwich, I’m getting my head wrapped around it all and for the first real time, I can say that things are okay. Life feels as if it’s falling into place, bit by bit.

It’s a rare thing for me to say, and I hate blowing my own trumpet, but I am pretty proud of where I’m at. There’s still undoubtedly work to be done, but I’ve got far further than I thought I’d be able to.

It’s not been perfect. I’ve got my regrets. I’ll give you an example – graduation yesterday. I was nervous. Terribly nervous. As I’ve said on this blog, I do struggle with social anxiety and though I’m getting more and more on top of it now, certain situations still get me. That was one of those. I can’t really tell you what I was nervous about. Getting up on stage to shake a hand, even though my posture at the time gave me an E.T. neck, was a doddle. Regardless, I was nervous. We were lining ourselves up, ready for the procession to the cathedral when our group assembled Avengers style and honestly, they were such a lovely, friendly bunch I was at ease. Just like that.

The ‘regret’ is, that I didn’t make more of things while I was at university with ’em. I was split between two groups – due to doing things back to front – and the trekking back and forth combined with the stuttering self confidence and shyness never made it easy, but still. It was one of my thoughts coming out of it.

Along the way bad things have happened too. I lost my nan I lost two cats, actually. One of old age. One far, far too soon.

Though, I’ve now got a new little one that I’m increasingly smitten with. Little Luna!

But the point is, I’ve kept going. Through the bad. I’ve smiled through the good. Made memories. Learnt things. Discovered myself. Met some remarkable people. Achieved some brilliant things. And I’m already busily working away at the next chapter.

Cancer. I kicked your arse. I got my degree. I got my first. I beat you back. And I’m not going to stop. I’m going to keep going.

I haven’t got any clue whatsoever with regards to what the future holds. This little journey has taught me exactly that.

The one thing I’m going to know going forwards is, all that bad can lead to something good.

Oh, and it’s also my birthday today. Graduation wasn’t really a bad way to see me to 23!

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Saying ‘YES’ to life!

Walking out of Greggs with a slice of particularly crispy margherita pizza may not seem all that much of an achievement to most of you, but as I walked out with that greasy remnant of the lunch rush in hand, I felt a warm buzz and a smile creep onto my face.

If I’m out and about, I’ll avoid cash registers like the bubonic plague. Self service. That’s my sanctuary. An automated, chirpy voice. A screen. No human interaction. It’s perfect.

Yesterday was the first day it’d dawned on me what a small, compact little bubble I’ve fallen into. A bubble of comfort. A bubble to go through the motions of life in and convince myself I’m going places when in truth, I’m not really going anywhere.

But through a combination of that therapy session, a successful Greggs encounter, Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2 and Yes Man – both film and book – the most amazing fact has occurred to me.

If you want to live. LIVE!

I can make life happen. I can get out there. I can do all these amazing, crazy, ridiculous, fantastic things. I can do it! It’s in my hands. Everything is in my hands. I can get up off my arse. I can go out of my front door. I can go and say hello to the world. I can do that!

I want to be a writer. How do I become a better writer? LIFE EXPERIENCE! I wanna visit places. I wanna meet weird, amazing people and change their name and fling them in a script. I want to know what it’s like to fly a helicopter. I want to make a short film. It might be shit, but I want to make it! I wanna get out there, I want to live all these things, some will be amazing, some will be god awful but the point?

I WOULD HAVE DONE THEM!

If you’re wondering, these are the words of a man who has a revealing few days when he’s looked inside of himself, realised just how little he was living, just how far that was pushing him back and just how much he’s got to change that – even if it scares the absolute stuffing out of him.

My little cat unfortunately passed away in very abrupt circumstances a week and a bit ago and it hit me hard. It knocked the stuffing out of me. It sent me back. I’ve struggled. It was the cap to a culmination of frustrations that have been bubbling up over the past few months.

When I was at school in Switzerland, I struggled with depression and social anxiety. I still have some great memories of amazing people and fantastic places but still, I was certain that moving back home to England would cure all my problems.

It didn’t. Instead, Sixth Form was blighted by the same issues. Still! Trekking off to university – a fresh start! That was going to fix things.

And, well, you all know if you’re reading this that university didn’t go smoothly either. Cancer came along and the rest is well documented in a series of infrequent blog posts over the past few years.

Still, degree in my pocket, venturing out into the world – everything was about to get better.

I’m immensely proud of myself for conquering each of these things. Getting a first for my university degree after cancer had me flip flop between two groups and do my semesters backwards is no mean feat. But it’s felt like life has kept getting put on hold. I’ve had to keep fighting these battles rather than snatching up these experiences in front of me.

When finishing university, I figured I’d pass my driving test, get a job and get somewhere with my writing. I failed my first driving test, I’m still job hunting and I haven’t got anywhere with my writing. I also haven’t got out much. I’ve undone a lot of the good work I did – hence that momentous Greggs visit and triumphant exit with crispy pizza in hand.

But regardless of that, I always expected life would just happen in the end. It would all come together. It would all come right.

But it’s me! I’m the one. I do that. I make life happen. It’s time to get out there and do it – it’s going to take baby steps, I’ve got to make this bubble of mine bigger, I’ve got to build up that confidence but day by day, experience by experience, success by success, I’m going to get somewhere good.

I hate what happened to my cat. I miss my little buddy heaps. Though, I’ve just got to make something very good out of something very bad.

I’m awake. I’m alive. I see things clearer than I ever have. I need to get out. I need to do stuff. I need to say YES to life!

After all the things I’ve been through, I owe myself that. It scares me to death but you know something? Bring it on. Here I come. It’s time to write the next chapter of my story.

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Cancer is a word, not a sentence

I’ve been told in the past, cancer is a word not a sentence. Hopefully, this story, complete with pictures, will show just that…

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August 2012. Let’s be honest, I’ve looked better. Rather chubby. Thick neck. Oh, also that sizeable lump on the lower right side of my neck – see that? I’m sure you can guess what it was…

Fast-forward a few months later, after a biopsy and ultrasound scan which came back inconclusive, it was time to have the lump and half of my thyroid cut out – to determine once and for all, whether it was cancer or not.

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Yes, that hurt. A lot. I have honestly never felt so whacked. It was a rough op, I remember the breathing tube had scraped against my trachea – thus, I had a bloody sore throat. Also, my cannula kept coming out of my hand which meant that was darn painful as well. Honestly, I couldn’t really move. Tube in my lower neck sucking out the excess blood and fluid trying to take the space of the lump, pain relief and peeing in a bucket thing. That was life for the following night…

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This is me waiting to go home, I believe. As you can see, the drain is now gone. There’s a plaster to patch that up. I still look rather messy. My hair was greasy. I’ve felt better, I really have. But, the alarming thing? If you look at this photo and then at the one above, the change in the size of my neck is quite staggering.

But, that was that for the time being. It was time to go home. It was time for the waiting to begin… Having been told the lump they removed was the size of a plum, I must admit – I kinda knew what was coming. So it was, a few weeks later I was proven right. I had follicular thyroid cancer. Due to the invasive nature of it, there was a chance it was in my remaining half of thyroid. That would mean more surgery to come…

I deferred university for the next few months. I stopped. My driving had to stop – despite being only a couple of weeks from my test. Life changed. Massively.

But, if you’ve been reading this blog a long time – you know this story. If you haven’t, well, it’s all still there. Indulge yourself!

Anyway, fast forward to December and here we are again. Back to hospital. Back into surgery. Opening up my neck. The rest of my thyroid out. I got rid of most of my hair, having absolutely hated having a greasy mop on my head last time around – as I couldn’t shower. So, short hair, smaller neck, an understanding of what’s to come? Honestly, it wasn’t all that bad…

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Sure, I probably wasn’t feeling too hot there. Though, I brought out a thumbs up in the end…

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With no thyroid left, it was time for a pot of pills to enter my life…

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Liothyronine. A temporary fix, before getting onto the big stuff – thyroxine – in the future.  What came next was the charming little adventure of radioactive iodine treatment. This… This was not fun. At all. Just, not at all. Not even slightly.

Again, I’ve written about it. It’s a difficult, surreal sort of night. But again, you’ve just got to tick it off. It’s targeting any remaining cells that surgery couldn’t deal with and wiping them out…

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I don’t know how to rotate on WordPress apparently… But still, there was no way I wasn’t taking a picture of that. I had radioactive pee. How’s that for a superpower?!

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This is the face of someone who has really, really enjoyed themselves, isn’t it? It wasn’t a fun night. At all.

I then had to be scanned to check that the radioactive iodine had gone where it was supposed to. It had. So, job done in that regard. Next came a big, big decision. To go back to uni, or not to go back to uni.

I knew for a fact, I didn’t want to. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. I may have written differently on here in the past, but I can tell you as fact – I didn’t want to go back. I’d been gone a while. I still felt horrendous – I’d had to come off my thyroid replacement for my RAI treatment so I was weak as anything. Uni was the last thing I wanted to do.

YET… Uni was the thing I NEEDED to do. I had to do it. So, I went to university to talk things through with the student support advisor to find out how things would work with me going back halfway through a year. Basically, I’d do things backwards – Year 1, Semester 2 – then Year 1, Semester 1 in September before bumping forwards for Year 2, semester 2. Hopefully that makes sense…

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Here we are, a smiling face after an early day back at university. You can see my scar, rather fresh on my neck – but neat and tidy all the same. I was proud, to be quite honest. I felt good. I’d done a good thing. It wasn’t easy, but I’d pushed through, I had done it. That felt a world away from who I used to be.

I did well. I got all Bs, despite missing the first few weeks and recovering from fairly extensive cancer treatment – I have to say, I’d have taken that.

I was also awarded the Lions Award at university, as seen below. This is awarded to a student who manages to overcome difficult circumstances without letting it affect their studies. It was a really nice boost, to be honest. An acknowledgement of what I’d done. I appreciated it.

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Then came a well earned holiday in Madeira. Now, I like doing this… A little look back. This picture below, compared to the first on on here. A year apart, but I couldn’t really have looked more different. I couldn’t really have felt more different, either.

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September 2013 came the news that, *drumroll* I had kicked cancer’s arse. I’d done it. Yet, weirdly, that news didn’t come all that easy. Like being told I’d got cancer shook me up, being told I’d recovered took some getting used to as well. I was going to be going back to university with an entirely new group and a knowledge that, nothing was really standing in my way now…

The big wide world awaited. I could get out there and I could get things done, now. That was pretty scary.

But I got back, I got on with it and I got better marks than I’d got the year before. I was also told by one of my tutors that there was a potential job opportunity in the offing if I fancied it, so I ended up commencing work experience at routeONE magazine – a trade magazine for the bus and coach industry.

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After a successful five or so months of work experience, I was employed as a trainee journalist. my first ever job! Making money, being a journalist, being all grown-up! It even came with business cards…

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After another successful semester at university, it was time for another holiday. A year had passed already. This time we were off to Brazil… I could post a picture of me, smiling, looking healthy somewhere sunny but I took this awesome photo of a Jaguar so… Here’s that awesome photo of a Jaguar we saw.

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September came. Another check-up. Another all clear. Everything was good. Cue another year. In this particular university year, I was awarded the course academic award for journalism.

I was actually given an award for academic reasons! I’d won an award at Sixth Form for overcoming depression and social anxiety. I’d been given the Lions Award for dealing with cancer. But now? Course academic word! Uncharted territory…

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I decided to leave my job in the summer. It had been a fantastic opportunity with some fantastic people, but I wanted to put all my focus into finishing university with a flourish.

Now, I’m all set for my final ever day at university on Thursday. I’m on course for a good, overall degree. I’m learning to drive again. I’m doing really well with that. I’m happy in myself. I like who I am. I feel strong. I feel healthy. I feel good.

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3 years from that first picture on here, this was me on the Isles of Scilly in the summer. As you can see, I changed quite a bit.

Honestly, this blog is just half the story but I just wanted to show you all how I’ve developed over the past three years. How I’ve changed. Things I’ve done. How I really kicked cancer’s arse. I could have written 10,000 words or so if I told you everything.

What comes next? I don’t really know. But, I’m excited to find out. Finishing university on Thursday is going to be a fantastic moment for me, after everything I’ve gone through. It’s going to feel great.

Have a fantastic Christmas and remember, cancer is a word. It’s not a sentence.

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British Thyroid Foundation – Cancer Films

I was involved in making some films for the British Thyroid Foundation and basically, here they are:

Here is the introduction piece, with some snippets from me – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pro9cvUwvV0&list=UUYDXPYRXk0_x6ZKIgZBc1Og

And here is my individual film about my cancer journey – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4W2KwlPL-s&list=UUYDXPYRXk0_x6ZKIgZBc1Og

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Life is an opportunity, not a challenge

One of the hardest lessons I think I’ve had to learn is, there’s no magic fix to your problems. The clearest example of this is when I was depressed and coming towards the end of my time in Basel, I was convinced that moving back to England would set me free of it all.

But, if you read my last blog you’d know that it didn’t work out like that for me.

I’ve really struggled to find the words needed to write this next blog. But, I think I’ve latched onto it now. I know what I want to say. You see, I got the all clear in September again. I’m reluctant to use the word cured but I’d bet good money that my thyroid cancer never resurfaces again. But after hearing that news, I didn’t know how to feel. My teenage years haven’t been the most conventional and I’ve always been fighting; depression and social anxiety took up a number of years, cancer took up another – I could never really say I was ‘okay’ for a sustained period of times.

But now, that’s exactly what I can do. I can be okay and really, I’m not sure I’ve known how.

I wasn’t unhappy to hear my cancer wasn’t back, quite the opposite. I was wary of what came after that. This meeting, this news felt like a landmark moment to me. It was like a crossroads. I felt as if I was really stepping away from my cancer treatment and into something new.

I’ve always said that I really liked who I was when I was fighting cancer. Though since I’ve been better, I’ve slipped into old habits and been stressed, fed up, bored.

I’ve been a million miles away from who I want to be.

That’s because I’ve seen things as a challenge. University has been a challenge. Work has been a challenge. They’ve been things I’ve sort of thought I’ve got to push myself through, I’ve got to be the best I can be, I’ve got to do this, that and whatever.

When I had cancer, life was an opportunity. I remember writing about going for walks and different things, I haven’t been for one of those in ages. I don’t even remember the last time I took a stroll away from the house. I saw things differently because cancer took away most things for me, I didn’t have a chance to get caught up in the every day, trivial stresses.

That was me, so why did he disappear when I got better?

Cancer was a different world to this one. It’s a fierce, intense bubble of treatment and hospital visits. I wasn’t going to university, I didn’t have work, I had a chance to try and enjoy the simplicity of what I was left with.

After my treatment, I pushed myself back to university pretty promptly and since then I guess things have snowballed. Yet, there’s been moments where I’ve had a great time. Brazil for example, we went there on holiday this summer. There were moments where I was a grumpy little shit, primarily as I let myself get caught up in the fear of the unknown here and there.

They were my choices though. When I let myself enjoy that holiday, I had the best time. When I didn’t, well…

But on the face of it, how many people get to go to Brazil? It’s a beautiful country, a hell of a place an that really was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

University started up again and I’m not going to lie, I started to struggle, I got frustrated at the late, dark nights, I found myself stressed, feeling on the verge of breaking down. Luckily I knew all the signs and knew where I was heading, so I took action and took a step back, just to look at things.

And, there was someone I remembered. Me in 2008. Like I said, if you’ve read my previous blog then you’ll know what I’m talking about. He couldn’t see any end to the depression, he could barely go to school, he felt alone, he felt as if he had no friends and I owe it to him to take life by the horns. I owe it to the kid who sat in his bed one night, fearing that he may very well have something deadly growing in his neck, fearing that any dreams of a future he wanted were slipping away, I owe it to him to do something.

I owe it to all those like me, those who also suffer with depression and social anxiety, who can’t see an end to it, who are really struggling… I owe it to those cancer patients. There are some brilliant, inspirational kids that I’ve followed on twitter who have sadly lost their battles. I owe it to them.

I am going to slam every single stigma there is with mental health.

I am going to continue to kick cancer’s arse day after day after day.

This is a long road, there is a hell of a long way to go but I am not stopping.

Life is an opportunity, life is an opportunity I’ve earned after winning my battles. I know what challenges are. And right now, what I’ve got, it’s not a challenge.

It is an opportunity.

You never know how long you have and it’s up to you to make the most of it. Some of those cancer kids I spoke of, they do amazing things in their limited time. Stephen Sutton for example, what a guy! I don’t want to wake up one day and be packed with regrets, I want to know that I’ve made the most of my opportunity.

I have dreams, I want to be a writer, I want to write books, I want to write movies, I want to write TV. I have passions, I’m really developing an interest in photography, I love Norwich City FC (even if they make it hard sometimes), I love playing football.

I am going to show everyone just how far I can go. There will be bad days. There will be good days. But more than anything, I know where I’m heading, I know where I want to be and I will fight with everything I have to make it there. Life is an opportunity and I know what I want to do.

I have had false dawns. I have rested on my laurels when I’ve needed to push harder and further. But I get it now, I have shown myself I can overcome colossal challenges, I have shown myself I can do really good things and now, I’m going to prove it. I don’t want to be back here in a few months writing a blog exactly the same as this.

After all, what you say will be forgotten some day. What you do will be remembered.

So, here I go…

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Demons within – beating depression, my toughest challenge

I’ve dedicated this blog to my battle with cancer. Though, in light of the sad news of Robin Williams’ passing, I’m going to go a different route with this entry. I’ve seen things said on twitter, things about his apparent suicide being selfish and there is just no way anybody can understand what it’s like to be in that situation. It’s been said that the guy suffered with severe depression and, right now, I’m going to do my best to provide an insight into what it’s like.

Depression terrifies me. It really does. It’s the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. It started during my first year of what was middle school, through the opening stages of social anxiety – another demon of mine. I remember, during an activity day at school; I just couldn’t take it. There was no rational explanation as to why. I was utterly overcome feeling uncomfortable, feeling out of place and I just had to get out of the situation. I rushed off to the bathroom and from what I remember, I just sobbed. I cried and cried and cried. I was a twelve year old kid at the time, I just didn’t understand what was happening to me.

How was I supposed to know? I’d always been a shy kid but this, this was something different. The weirdest thing about it was that the previous year at school had gone really well, I’d really enjoyed myself, I’d made friends (I’d moved to Switzerland after growing up in a tiny village in East Anglia). What was happening to me in that moment was scary, as the tears dried up, as the panic faded away, it was replaced by a humiliation at what had just unfolded. I was utterly humiliated that I was sat in the bathroom, tear stained and terrified. My mind was swamped by worry of what everybody would think of me.

It’s the first real incident I can remember and boy, it was just the beginning of a really gruelling fight.

I’m going to jump forward a year or two, slap bang into the heat of battle as it were. Grade 8 (the school I was at opted for the American route of school years). 2007-2008. There are memories from that period that I think I’ll never be able to get rid off.

So yeah, you ready for an insight? Because you’re about to get it.

The beginning is hazy. The back to school period, there are few things I can remember. I’ll set the scene, it’s been a couple of years since that initial incident, gradually my confidence has faded away, the thought of going back to school has terrified me and I’m about to meet my breaking point, which has been a long time coming.

I remember, just the third day back, on the way to school, the thought of going there terrified me so much, I got so panicky that morning that I was sick – unfortunately, all over the car. I knew all too well that an anxiety like that was nowhere near normal. Now, what I refer to as the shadow within, that had been steadily swamping over me more and more – without me even realising – was soon to make its move.

I was missing classes. I just could not make myself go. How can you force yourself to go in a room with a bunch of people that, you know do actually like you yet, somehow, you utterly convinced hate you? Does that make sense? I kinda hope it doesn’t… Because that was the whole point back then. None of it made sense. I couldn’t understand what was going on in my mind. I couldn’t understand why I was slowly feeling worse and worse. But, perhaps worst of all, I couldn’t make myself talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t because, as I mentioned earlier, I was so humiliated that I felt so weak and so vulnerable. I just didn’t have the strength to open myself up to someone, to admit ‘yeah, I’m really struggling here’.

Then, by chance, I was handed help.

My mum must have been in to speak with my head of year. It was about me missing classes no doubt. I, not in class at the time, was roaming the halls, crying, lost, rock bottom. It was September and I couldn’t make myself go to class. I couldn’t shake myself free of all the anxiety, I couldn’t shake myself free of the tightening hold my shadow was mustering over me. I just couldn’t. My hope was evaporating. It was September, I couldn’t make myself talk to anyone, what the hell was I going to do? Was it always going to be like this? Was I going to have to spend the rest of the school year, struggling to go to class, struggling to even walk in each morning?

That was a terrifying thought. It really was. I was at a dead end.

But, my mum was walking down the stairs, just as I was leant against shelves – still crying, still lost. She saw me and she just gave me a hug.

Do you know how powerful a hug can be? Do you know how strong you can make someone feel just by putting your arms around them? Do you know how safe you can make someone feel just by putting your arms around them?

Finally, it wasn’t a secret anymore. Finally, I didn’t have to lie that my days had been fine, I didn’t have to pretend that I was doing okay. I guess it’s just a shame that, that was how it happened. In an ideal world I’d have told my parents and just told them, ‘I need help.’ Yet, those three words are perhaps the hardest for someone struggling with depression to say. To step up, to admit you’re struggling, to admit you’re ill, to admit you can’t do this on your own – that is so, so difficult. You really can’t underestimate how difficult that is.

Advice I’d offer to someone, something I wish I’d done is write it down. You don’t have to say it. Just write down ‘I need help’ and then give it to your parents, to your girlfriend, to your boyfriend, to your husband, to your wife… To whoever!

What I did do, the tearful walk around the school was a cry for help. I wanted to be found because I didn’t want to be on my own. I didn’t want to live with my depression on my own anymore. It was really hurting. I was desperate for someone to found me and, I guess I got lucky that it was my mum.

I took a week off school after that. I had to. I’d reached rock bottom and I couldn’t face going back there. I just needed time to try and get my strength up, strength to face things again, to try and talk things out, to understand things. Though the week that followed is one I can best describe as ‘numb’, I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t sad. I was just ‘there’. I was festering in the aftermath of what had occurred at school, again feeling humiliated, embarrassed and confused. After that week was up I didn’t go back on the Monday. The anxiety roared back, the depression kept it’s foothold and I wasn’t going anywhere.

I did arrange to start seeing a therapist. I also worked things so I could go back to school on a half day basis. I just didn’t have the strength to go in for full days. Each day was like climbing a mountain as it was. Each day I was putting in this mass, mass effort just to be alright.

That’s no way to live. I needed help.

One memory that will always stick in my mind is when I plucked up the courage to tell my classmates what was happening to me, to tell them what I was going through. It was a morning, I was in drama class and my teacher had been incredibly understanding of what I was dealing with and I decided I wanted to come clean. I wasn’t always there, I missed classes and I was tired of it. But, again, to this day I have no idea how I did it. We sat down in a circle and I stared at my trainers; I couldn’t face anyone. The words came out of my mouth, I explained what I was dealing with as my therapist had told me, ‘depression and social anxiety’, but the more I said, the more I started to break, the more the lump in my throat grew, the more my eyes began to sting with tears.

It was the first time that I’d properly confessed it, out loud. It was as if I was hearing it myself and it hurt. Every single syllable hurt. I was opening myself up, explaining the reality of my life right now and it stung. It was crushing to feel so weak and so vulnerable. I had to tell them because I didn’t want to be on my own anymore. They didn’t have to give me sympathy. They didn’t have to even talk to me about it. I just wanted them to understand why I wasn’t there sometimes, why I couldn’t cope with things – I just wanted to be honest.

But do you know something? They were an incredible group who really looked out for me. 8 Red. That was our class name. I felt I could trust every single one of them. They really were there for me. I’ll always be thankful to them for that.

There’s a feeling you get when depressed. It’s a hollow feeling. It’s an empty feeling. It’s right in your chest and it’s so absorbing. Can you imagine a feeling, something that hurts so much, something that’s so strong that you just want to cry? That, just that feeling can make you feel so small? That, just that feeling can make you feel so, so weak? Because that’s what it does. It swamps over you and it’s so hard to shake it off, it’s so hard to get rid of it. In the various diaries I kept, the sessions with psychologists I had – I’d always mention that empty feeling. At the time I remember just asking myself, how is it possible to have a feeling like this? How can I possibly feel like this?

It’s crippling. That empty feeling cripples you. It hurts. It genuinely hurts so, so much.

You know what else? You wake up each day and, to be honest, you think ‘oh shit, here we go again’. You feel flat as soon as you wake up. It’s like you weigh a hundred tonnes when you try to drag yourself out of bed. It’s day after day after day. We all have bad days, I know that. But, what if you always have bad days? Imagine a stinking mood you’ve been in, a really bad mood where you’ve felt rubbish – then, imagine that over the course of days. Each morning I just wanted to go back to sleep. I wanted to sleep and try again later.

Imagine your confidence has sunk so low that, you never believe anything positive about yourself, you can never take a compliment, you can never shake yourself free of self loathing. No matter what people told me, I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t take it on board. I really wasn’t being awkward, I didn’t want to be that way but I just couldn’t help it. That, then resulted in further self loathing, frustration and despair. Depression is like a prison, you can be in a room full of people and feel completely alone. The fact is, nobody can see it and that makes you feel even more alone. People can see a broken leg. When I had cancer, people could see my lump and you can still see my scar. But you can’t see depression. Escaping it, how do you even start escaping it? You have no idea when it’s going to end and that’s perhaps scariest of all. Try facing something that is so dark, so consuming, that makes you feel so empty and you’ve got no idea when it’s going to end? You do feel like you’ll be depressed forever. You’re convinced that, that’s the way things are always going to be.

The anxiety never helped. I was paranoid that people hated me too. I was sure people never wanted to talk to me.

Could I tell you why I was depressed? No. I couldn’t. I didn’t understand why. During rational moments, I knew the things I was thinking weren’t true but I could never take it on board, I could never harness that belief and hold onto it. There’s a conversation I had with my dad once, he told me, “You’re good looking, you’re intelligent, you’ve got a family that loves you, it’s just hard to understand.” I told him in reply, “I know all that but, I just don’t like myself.” If you don’t like yourself, how can you ever believe that anybody else likes you? My parents were really fantastic with me and always willing to listen

I talked about a broken leg, you take a bad fall or something – bam, you have your why. Cancer? You grow a tumor. That’s why. Depression? I don’t know. There’s a lot of reasons.

During those days, I put too much emphasis on the ‘why’. The fact is, it doesn’t matter.

I’ve got to name one of my heroes at this point. Her name is Judith Blatter-Meunier. I’m naming her, as, she was a massive, massive presence in helping me move forwards, in helping me understand my mind, in helping me understand the little things I could do to make me better. She taught me about the vicious cycle. My therapy was under the banner of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT. What that gets you to do is, you look at the way you think and the way you behave and, along with your therapist, you work out how you can change that, how you can challenge your negative thinking.

The vicious cycle was my thought process. Something would happen to me, say I wouldn’t go to class. Then I’d think, I’m pathetic for not going. Then I’d think, everyone’s going to be judging me, everyone will be wondering why I’m not there. Then I’d think, everyone’s going to hate me. It just went on and on and on until I felt so low, so small and I just handed the depression more and more power over me.

What Judith helped me do was work out where I could stop things, before it got worse. She helped me work out different ways to challenge my thinking. I made flash cards, I’d write down the belief on it and then I’d write down the response. The point always was, when I felt okay I knew the beliefs weren’t true but when I was having an episode, when the depression swirled up around me I was a million miles away from knowing that.

Here’s some examples for you, ‘Depression is like a broken leg, you need time to recover and if during recovery it gets too much, you take a break. Be patient. It will get better.’ ‘It will take time, be patient and things will get better. The quicker you do things, the worse they’ll get as recovery from depression cannot be rushed.’ ‘You want to live a normal life again, but you don’t want to live with depression and social phobia. Then BEAT IT.’ ‘Please, don’t give up now. You’ve come so far, I know you’re exhausted, I know you’re fed up but life can only get better.’

Of course, I didn’t get into therapy and everything was magically fixed. No. What I was up against was engrained pretty deep in me, it had a real foothold. That’s not something that goes away overnight.

In the lead-up to what I see as a defining moment for me, I’d gone from one extreme to the other. From being the guy who was isolated, missing classes, absorbed with despair and gloom day after day; I was stupidly out of my shell, I was pushing all this confidence towards the surface, when presentations came about – I was giving my all to be really interesting, really funny but you know? It was all false. Anybody who knows me will know how far away that is from who I am.

One day, in Art class, I pushed myself a step too far. I knew it was all forced. I knew I was making a fool of myself. I broke. I walked out of class straight after; overcome, swept up in the darkness, embarrassed, humiliated and I was snapping. I knew I was snapping. It felt like I’d plummeted back down to earth. It felt as if I was right back where I started. After tussling with inner demons I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. I made a phonecall to my therapist and basically, I let her know I really needed help.

If you’ll forgive me, I’d like to keep what followed a little bit private. But, where I ended up terrified me and it showed me how far I’d sunk. It was somewhere I really didn’t want to be and it hit home as to how much I was struggling. In a warped way, it was perfect motivation to fight back.

At the start of this blog, I mentioned people calling suicide selfish. So, from the perspective of someone who has battled depression – why do people commit suicide? Why do people feel suicidal? Because they want to escape. It’s because you’ve reached a point where the emptiness, the loneliness and the darkness are all so, so strong that you can’t break free from it, you can’t see an end. Life hurts, when you’re depressed. It honestly does. Is it not tragic that a human being sees ending their own life as a better option than living on? Isn’t it sad that people are so devoid of hope that they can’t see this monster they’re facing going away?

It’s not selfish. It’s not. Unless you’ve been there, faced with that, faced with all those feelings – you cannot understand what it’s like.

Sometimes I think it’s a case of you don’t want to die but you want to escape. You just want it all to stop. You don’t want to face depression anymore. You don’t want to feel the darkness and the emptiness anymore. You just can’t. You’re convinced you’re a burden to everyone, you’re certain that everyone would be better off with you.

No it’s not true. Of course it’s not. People love you. It’d break their hearts but you can’t realise that because the depression is so, so strong.

How about, rather than calling it selfish, rather than being mind numbingly ignorant and judgemental about it, we try and be more accepting of depression and mental illness? If we want people to come and get help, if we want people to open up and reach out, let’s have a world where they feel comfortable doing that.

Stephen Fry once said, “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Basically, he hits about a thousand nails on the head at once.

If you have a broken leg, you get it put in plaster and nobody expects you to walk for a bit. It takes time to get better. People understand that and people appreciate that. If you get ill, if you get the flu, it takes time to get back on your feet. You’ve got to take time out and recover. People understand that and people appreciate that.

But, there really seems to be this different attitude to mental illness.

Why? Is it because we can’t see it? Trust me, it’s there.

I was really lucky in the people I had around me – my family, my friends, my teachers, my therapists. They were patient. They were understanding. They were appreciative for when I managed to do things, for when I managed to be okay. They really were. To be fair to them, I don’t think they could truly, really understand why I was doing the things I was, why I was behaving how I was but where they’re utterly commendable is they never asked me why, they never pressurised me, they were just always there for me. They seemed to get how to treat me, how to help me and I’ll always be so thankful to them for that.

I did get back on my feet as that year drew to an end. It wasn’t easy at all. But, I manage d to get through and just managing to ‘get through’, well that was a very big achievement after all I’d come up against.

One of the big stepping stones for me came the following year, when I became goalkeeper for one of the school teams. It’s because I was good at something and I was part of a team. It was just football. Football was an escape for me, getting in goal and flinging myself about; actually feeling I was good at something was just awesome.  The first half of that year was still a struggle. I was still nowhere near right, I was still in therapy but step by step, my confidence was building.

Experience was my ally I guess. I’d got so used to fighting depression and my social anxiety that I knew how to fight back now. I knew how to make it weaker. I was just better equipped to deal with it and that was due to the help I’d been getting in therapy and from my family and friends.

One of the beliefs I’d had was, because it was going on inside me, because it was happening to just me that I had to beat it on my own. Partly, that was true. I was the only one who could beat it. But that didn’t mean I had to fight it on my own, that didn’t mean I had to be on my own. That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned. I was branching out and determined to keep going. At the same time, we’d decided we were going to move back to England now – my dad had got a job back home and that was a big thing for me. Any time we’d gone and visited home, I felt so much better – yeah, I even had my moments there but I’d put it on a pedestal.

I was sure that was going to help me (you can probably guess it wasn’t as straightforward as that…).

My final year in Switzerland still wasn’t me firing on all cylinders. I still missed classes. I still had moments. I was more on top of it than I ever had been but it was still there, it was still grinding away at me.  Though my confidence was increasing and that was important. There was a drama assignment I had to do, we were performing monologues in front of a packed auditorium. I was pretty decent… I gotta say. I was shouting, falling to my knees, I was totally into it.

I think I surprised a few people and for me, it was testament to the progress I was making. One of the things my therapist said to me was, you’d never notice you were better. You’d just realise one day that the bad moments would be further and further apart. Cuts heal, they turn into scabs and then they fade. You can’t see the affect depression has just as you can’t see it heal either.

As I got back to England, it wasn’t the fairytale I perhaps thought it’d be. I knew a grand total of one person at my Sixth Form, my lovely cousin and my confidence wasn’t high enough to make friends. It sent shockwaves through me. The social anxiety seeped back, the depression followed.

My general thought on the matter was, ‘shit’, basically.

Again, I didn’t admit to how I was struggling anywhere quick enough. My parents were more aware, I think they knew but whether I was too proud or too embarrassed to admit it? I don’t know. I think because I’d wanted to go back to England so much, because I was happy to be home, I felt so stupid for finding it difficult. Again, I made a cry for help. Anger boiled over. I smashed my hand against a wall again and again and again until it was nastily swollen. I just had to release the feelings inside me. I was furious at myself. My cover story that I fell over, well, nobody was stupid enough to believe that.

They knew.

I’d got Norwich season tickets back and there’s something I’ll remember about that. We were playing Barnsley at home. We won 2-1. But, for each goal, I didn’t feel anything. I almost started crying in the stadium. I felt so numb and so empty. I was at the football. I was back with my team. We’d scored! But depression wouldn’t let me enjoy it. Any football fan will know the joy you get when your team scores.

Imagine not feeling that. It shocked me. It hurt me.

Of course, we were better equipped to manage it this time. We knew what it was and we knew what to do. I started seeing the college counsellor to talk about my situation. I also saw another CBT therapist, Becky who I went and saw again during my cancer recovery. Like with Judith, I do owe her a hell of a lot.

I struggled to get to class again. It was so disheartening and so crushing that it was back again.

I kept a mood diary, “I’ve had to work very hard to control my thoughts. It disheartens me a little because I see what a long path ahead I have.” “I seem to have irrational days where I really struggle and can’t cope. Then there’s days like today where I’m numb. I don’t feel anything.” “I’m breaking. I really hate myself, I’m pathetic. I want to rip myself to pieces. Why am I here? What’s the point? What do I get from it all? I can’t fight anymore. I don’t want to. I want to runaway.” “I can’t look at myself in the mirror, I can’t feel anything but shame. What a useless twat I am. This is my life, a few good days and then all that hard work blown to shreds because I am not strong enough. One step forward, two steps back. I’m never going to change. I just want to lock myself in a room and never, ever, ever come out again.”

That’s a bit of an insight into the mind of a depressive I suppose.

I ended up doing the same thing I did in Basel. I had three classes, I dropped one early as I couldn’t cope. But I had these three remaining classes, I got up in front of everyone and I told them I was depressed. I told them I had social anxiety. It’s because, I didn’t know them as well as I did people in Basel and I was desperate not to isolate myself further.

I don’t know how I managed to get up and tell them, just like in Basel, I have no idea. It’s just something I managed to do. I guess the desperation of wanting to not feel alone was stronger than the fear I felt. There was no great happy ending at Sixth Form, I got through, there were some good people, the second year was better than the first but I didn’t manage to get anywhere near the level I desired. Sure, I improved but I do regret not making more of my time there.

I never wanted to be like that. I never did anything on purpose. I think I was terrified people would think I was doing it deliberately or for attention or something. But I wasn’t.

I hated being depressed. I hated struggling. It was no fun. But I couldn’t break free from it. I didn’t want to be the way I was and that was what hurt the most, I felt like I could do nothing about it. I felt trapped. It doesn’t matter what you have, how many friends you have, how amazing your family are, whether you’re rich and famous… If you’re not happy. If you don’t like yourself. Then that is so, so hard to overcome. It can happen to anyone. Being happy is an amazing, amazing feeling. Don’t you ever underestimate what it’s like to feel happy. It’s incredible.

As I look back today, I feel good and it’s really hard to pinpoint as to where the ‘big’ moment came. Everything just improved, I had to keep fighting it and I managed to keep finding the strength.  As soon as sixth form ended, as those of you have read this blog will know, I got cancer – I made my teenage years interesting, hey? I think cancer taught me how strong I was and for once, I was genuinely proud of myself for something. Again, if you’ve read this blog then you’ll know it’s still been a struggle to get better. Meeting Georgie really helped me with that, she’s someone I’ve always felt able to talk to and admit things to. She’s always be in my corner and she’s given me strength. My family have always been there as well, always been there to support me, always been there if I’ve needed them.

I’ve had brickwalls behind me, people to catch me when I fall and I’ve learned how strong I am. I learned perspective, I learned to take a step back and cut myself some slack. My therapy was key in learning how to analyse my thinking, to understand myself. Just understanding myself was a remarkable thing at times. To just be able to understand my head helped things feel less scary.

I think my depression and my social anxiety will always be there. I think it’s part of who I am. But the point is, I know how to cope with it, I know the warning signs, I know there are people I can talk to and more than anything, I now know I’m strong enough to overcome it. That’s not to say I might not have a real battle again one day. It’s a crippling, lonely, empty thing for someone to suffer with. It feels endless, it makes things feel pointless and that’s why I want to end my blog with this:

If you’re reading this and you need help, if you’re reading this and you’re in desperate need of someone to talk to or someone to listen – then leave a comment, contact me, whatever! Absolutely do not hesitate. Furthermore, if you want to share your story; cancer or depression, then do the same.

This can be a platform not just for me, but for anyone else to share their story, to get it out there and just take a little step in fighting back. It’s not easy, it’s not at all easy but it can be done.

I’ve had depression. I’ve had cancer. I’m now 20 years old, halfway through a university degree, I have a job at a magazine, I’ve got a girl in my life who makes me stupidly happy, I feel healthy and you know what? Most of all… I feel happy. I can’t tell you what an amazing thing that is, after everything that’s happened to me. I feel happy.

And you can too. Hold onto hope. Hold onto your dreams. They can be the most powerful fight in toppling depression, in toppling any challenge you have because they’re light. They’re light in the darkness.

I believe in you. You can do this. It’s going to be okay. And, as hard as it is to believe, you are NOT alone.

 

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3 things.

A year ago, I was nearing a bout of hypothyroidism as my first blood test after treatment drew closer. Two years ago, I had a tumour growing off my thyroid gland. Today? Well, I can sum things up with three sentences.

I’m happy.

I’m healthy.

I’m doing okay.

I could launch into a waffly, analytical, deep, endless passage but I think those three sentences sum it all up really. My next blood test is on the horizon but I’m not scared, I’m looking forward to it.

Let’s continue kicking cancer’s arse.

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A kid and a cat

I remember the first time my dad brought Smokey home, she was a big eyed little fluffball and dove straight underneath the kitchen table.

Goodbyes suck. They really do. But unfortunately I had to say goodbye to my little Smokey today.

It’s amazing isn’t it? How animals can mean so much to us. Well, they’re not just animals. Pets are more than that, they’re your family. Smokey has always looked after me, through all sorts of challenges that have come my way – whether it was lonely evenings suffering with depression or sitting with me while I recovered from cancer, she was always there.

I’ve grown up with her, I found a photo from when I’d just started school and I was holding a basket with little kitten Smokey inside it. She was poking her head out, all cute and adorable. Then I took a picture the other day of me, a big hairy 20 year old, holding her in my arms. For 17 years of my life, she’s been there and I will miss her. I’ll really miss her.

She was an amazing little cat, she’s been all over the place! A right little jet setter! She came with us to Switzerland and France! She’s been on aeroplanes! She’s given us an abundance of wonderful memories; whether it’s the times she used to come and sit on my laptop keyboard or, the times she’d roll around in the sun, or every little cuddle… She was just a special little kitty cat.

She always looked after me. I hope I did as good a job looking after her.

Simply all there is to say is thank you Smokes, you were a beautiful little cat and I hope you know how much we love you and how much we’ll miss you.

Sleep well sweetie.

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You only live once (or twice…)

Yesterday I was involved in filming for a short film about thyroid cancer for the British Thyroid Foundation. It was a neat experience, it was really laid back and I think we shot some good stuff. It’ll be interesting to see how it all looks when it comes together, but for now…

I’m reflecting (again…)

I spoke of cancer handing me a second chance and as my first full year at university has drawn to an end, it’s something I still really believe.

By a second chance, I don’t mean I was dead and brought back to life or anything like that. I was lucky in the sense that although my cancer was a rough experience, I was never in big danger of it killing me.

But what it did give me was a real wake-up call.

Cancer isn’t like a typical cold or a spot of flu, it does change your life – I had to stop going to university and I’m still dealing with the consequences of that, as I do my semesters backwards and switch between two years. I couldn’t play football any more, I still haven’t got back into it just yet but I’m doing my best. I didn’t have the energy to do things I used to do, I couldn’t concentrate on my writing – a keen passion of mine.

It sucked, really.

But it’s made me all the more thankful and all the more appreciative of where I am now, of how far I’ve come and the future I’ve got waiting for me.

When your life is stripped down to the bare bones, you really see how good things were when you can do what you want, do the things you love and do the things you enjoy. Furthermore, when you’re fighting something like cancer, the little worries of each day really seem trivial. In a sense, I guess the reflection period I had throughout cancer was a perfect mix to help me onwards – as long as I stuck to it.

If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know I struggled to do that for a little while, especially in the immediate aftermath. I felt pressure to bounce back immediately, only from myself I should add. I guess I expected I’d bounce back immediately and to any current patient reading this, I can’t stress it highly enough.

PATIENCE! Battling cancer takes a massive strain on you, both physically and mentally and it’s not easy to bounce back to normal life straightaway. It takes a period of adjustment and you’ve got to build your strength up too.

But as the time passed, I slowly settled back into the guy I wanted to be. Cancer helped me strip away all the parts of me I didn’t like, and left me with someone I’m glad to be and with an attitude towards life I’ve wanted for so long.

I’m enjoying being alive now, that’s a new thing for me but I really am. I’m just enjoying it. If there’s things that worry me, I don’t let them stress me, it’s just a challenge to have a good scrap at! If there’s opportunities that come my way, I’m doing my best to take them with both hands and make the most of them. I’m chasing the things I’m passionate about, the dreams I want to achieve and I’m not going to settle for anything less.

I also really want to make sure I make a difference. Like many others, I was inspired by Stephen Sutton – what a lad he was! There’s a saying ‘we must be greater than what we suffer’ and I think he utterly ‘is’ that, he was phenomenal and he didn’t let his illness hamper him. He really did some incredible things and I’m sure his story will be told for years to come.

It’d be awesome to pursue some fundraising opportunities and ways to make a difference in future months, I need to work out what the hell I wanna do but I will. I definitely will.

When I had cancer, I often though, if this was a terminal cancer and I was to die, would I be happy with what I’ve done? The answer was a firm ‘no’. So as the years go by, I’m going to make sure I really don’t have any regrets.

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