Healthy Mind

Pat mckeown: my ‘cashface’ story

Looking back on my life so far, the majority of it has been spent suffering with mental illness. Even as a young child I suffered from severe depression.
 
This trend continued throughout my teens, and even creeps up on me now from time to time in my 20th year.
 
This is not to say I haven’t had some wonderful times, even a predominantly positive mood over extended periods of time. But, if I’m honest with myself I have mostly been in a clinically depressed state or that of debilitating anxiety. However there’s nothing about my life that I regret.
 
Whether it was bereavement, difficulty with family, struggles with friendships and relationships, I have been notorious for reacting in a negative light, and keeping the suffering to myself. It was keeping the suffering secret that proved most detrimental.
 
Some of my life events were monumental and it’s easy to understand for example the effect the loss of a father at a young age would have on a child.
 
But, sometimes it was just a comment made in passing, perhaps by a loving family member or a caring friend – which would be picked up in a negative light. I would say nothing.
 
Keep the anger and frustration to myself. After all, I was and am a young man, and young men don’t get upset over comments made in passing or “insignificant” things that people say.
 
However, in keeping this backward mentality and refusing to outwardly acknowledge my pain I became closed off from my surroundings. This broke me down into a deep, dark sadness time and time again. I struggled to shake this sadness for years. This sadness still creeps into the pits of my mind from time to time reminding me of its existence.
 
Day to day I’d be disillusioned by absolutely everything. Friendships, relationships, family, academia. Life. Life disillusioned me. One of my worst moments was very recently when I found myself completely alone. I hadn’t made the appropriate preparations for moving to another country and on my first day I ended up completely isolated. This isolation resulted in the worst anxiety attack I have ever had.
 
“I was regretting every action I had taken which had brought me to that point. I was regretting life”
 
The thoughts going through my mind in those moments were horrific. I was regretting every action I had taken which had brought me to that point. I was regretting life. Luckily, from years of experience of overcoming mental difficulty, I realized I had to talk to somebody.
 
After years of counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, creative visualization, anti-depressant medication (you name it, I tried it), the most important lesson I have learned is that when you are suffering, you tell somebody.
 
I tried my brother but no answer. The time difference meant he was fast asleep. It was then that I eventually worked up the confidence to try contacting my cousin who was holidaying in America.
 
Luckily he was available to reason with me. He reminded me that everything was alright in that moment, and that it was completely understandable and rational for me to be reacting the way I was.
 
He reminded me of the most important lesson I had learned, but forgotten, in that lapse of mental wellness; that when something is wrong, you tell somebody. Not only because it’s extremely important for the person suffering, but also for their support network. 
 
If he had found out in weeks to come that I had suffered the worst panic attack I had ever experienced without contacting anybody he’d have been devastated.
 
Before I rang him I thought I was being selfish looking for help. You know, “he’s on holidays with his girlfriend and there’s Pat ringing him balling his eyes out barely able to talk”. This attitude in hindsight is ridiculous. He felt extremely privileged to be able to help, regardless of where he was or what he was doing.
 
We spoke for over 2 and a half hours and that conversation has set me up for one of the most exciting journeys I’ve ever taken.
 
I mentioned how I have absolutely no regrets. All the suffering I have endured through whatever circumstances has helped define my character and who I am today.
 
Without this suffering I would not have the emotional intelligence to be able to help others when they are going through similar struggles I have gone through.
 
There was a time when I felt that living was like some sort of cruel torture.
 
I could have never imagined living the life I live now. Opening up about my experiences and sharing my pain with those around me was the first step to elevating myself from the deep black hole that is depression and anxiety.
 
To my support network I am eternally grateful. To myself I am much healthier and happier living the philosophy of having #NothingToHide.