For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered with mental health issues. From bashing my head on a concrete floor as a toddler to having capricious behaviour as I got older. In addition to this there is a strong chance I’m quite far on the spectrum but do I really need another label? I have memories of being emotional as a child and being branded as sensitive. I was probably displaying empathic traits but didn’t know what it was; in fact the empathy side didn’t come to light until I was in my 30’s. I mean the empathy had always been there but realising what it was doing to me was quite the eye opener. It was then that I decided I need to take control of my mental health.
PLEASE NOTE - THIS IS MY PERSONAL STORY. ALL THE DECISIONS I MADE ARE MINE ALONE. I AM NOT A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PRACTITIONER AND THE STEPS I TOOK WERE MY CHOICE. ANY STEPS YOU TAKE AFTER READING THIS BLOG ARE DONE BY YOUR OWN FREE WILL AND YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ACTIONS YOU TAKE.
Ditching The Meds
Since I was 15 I’d been on some kind of “mental health medication”. Following the suicide of my best friend at school and not really coping with it that well I went to the doctor. Whether it was my decision to go or whether mum “made” me I can’t remember. What I do remember though is that I was put on Prozac. There was little or no discussion about what was causing the issues but that seemed to be the way things went. This seemed to be the trend for the next several years. Of course I’d have a check up with the doctor and I’d just be given more meds. I was about 20 when the doctor finally told me that I seemed to be better so I can stop taking the medication. I did so and the next week I tried to find as many ways of crashing my motorbike as possible. I had come crashing down with an almighty bang…I should have weened myself off the medication, not just stopped - a lesson I learnt for the future!
A couple of years go by and I find I’m not coping with the rollercoaster of life, so back to the doc, back on the meds. This time I was put on sertraline. Things balance out, off I come. Things “go wrong” back on them I go. Finally when I’m in my 30’s I go to a doctor who doesn’t just offer me medication, I’m offered therapy as well. This worked to a point, but I tended to be obsessed with one issue and focus on that for every session. It wouldn’t be so bad but it was nearly always about a person I was in love with - unrequited love is so hard to bear! I still wasn’t aware of empathy or the fact I was an empath! By now I was on citalopram but I was starting to get fed up of feeling like a zombie. I had no emotions, I felt like I was a cypher just going through the motions. As a creative person I need to be able to feel emotion and this just wasn’t happening. Five years ago I decided to ween myself off the medication.
I didn’t discuss this with anyone I just did it. I started by taking one every other day and did this for a month. That went to every three days for three weeks. Then once a week for a month. I finally stopped taking medication in November 2015. For the most part things were going great but then the job I was in turned sour. Unpleasant people, egos all over the place, unsupportive management, deceit and any number of negative experiences. But I still kept off the meds. I changed jobs and ended up working in a breakdown call centre for a transport hire company. Now, I hate using the phone - I’d much rather have a face to face conversation with someone - so working in a call centre was a personal challenge as much as a professional one. After six months of being there I had a mental break down, got signed off and ultimately left the job. The doctor offered me medication and I said I’d rather try and get through this without and he respected my decision.
FINALLY I See The Light
The day I realised what was going on with me was like one of those filmic moments when the clouds part and a stream of light comes in through the window. I’d been told I was an empath many, many years ago but I never actually knew what it meant. Nor did I think to look it up - I can be a bit slow sometimes (I am only human after all). When I eventually found out what an empath was things started to make sense. In its simplest definition an empath is an emotional sponge taking in the emotions and energies that surround them. As I said in my introduction I was branded as being sensitive…at a primary school the teacher would say to my parents “Oh he’s so sensitive” and ‘friends’ would say I needed to “man-up” and “toughen up” and not be so sensitive. What they didn’t realise, and of course I didn’t either, was that I was simply responding to each situation or person in a heightened manner whether I wanted to or not.
Over the past few years I’ve been reading up on empaths and “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies For Sensitive People” by Dr Judith Orloff, has been a big help. I’ve analysed what’s happened in my life and have come to the conclusion that I was responding to the situations around me. I was absorbing the energy but rather than expelling it quickly I was holding on to it. When my best friend took his own life the sadness around the school was palpable. Everyone was in shock and because we were so close it had a profound effect on me. Of course, being bullied on a nearly daily basis didn’t help either - that’s a very negative energy! When I was working in the call centre you just knew that every time your phone rang it was going to be someone in trouble. The stress levels in the room were sky high; I absorbed that energy and carried it with me.
A Way Forward
I want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not negating mental health issues. There are some people with genuine chemical imbalances that can cause mental pain. However, I would like to say that before you diagnose yourself as being depressed, or anxious, or anything else for that matter, have a look at your surroundings. Are you in a situation where everywhere you go you’ve got people with a negative attitude? Do you find yourself getting emotional or feeling uneasy in a crowded room? Does conflict make you uncomfortable? Do you get overwhelmed by closeness or intimacy? Do you sometimes feel that you have a sensory overload? Do you feel calm in nature? Do you find that you care for someone and want to help them even if you know you can’t? If you have answered yes to any of these questions there is a chance you too could be an empath.
Being an empath is as exciting as it is scary (sometimes). The simplest way I have found of dealing with it is to avoid situations I know I’m going to find difficult. If I’m invited to a big party it’s unlikely I’ll go, or if I do go I won’t stay long. If I get invited to an occasion and there’s going to be someone there with whom I don’t get on, then I won’t go. If I find myself in a situation where there’s a conflict, I’ll either switch off mentally (or try to) or I’ll leave. If you are in a situation you don’t like (be it a job or relationship) then you have a choice; you can either leave or you can practice loving it, or work on it to make it better. You don’t owe anybody anything (I’m not talking money here) so no one has a right to put you in a circumstance that makes you feel uncomfortable or unhappy and nor should anyone expect you to! Finally, don’t hold on to bad experiences. Learn from them, then move on. Easier said than done I know but let them go otherwise you’re in for a whole bucket load of mental anguish. Talk to people, or hire a life coach!
I hope this has been an interesting and informative blog for you. Always remember that mental health issues are very real and need to be talked about. You are not alone. In this blog I’ve shared my personal story and I want to reiterate that it was my decision to take the path I have. You are in no way being compelled or expected to follow my path. With that said, if anything I’ve said is ringing a bell with you then please do research it and see if you too can break free from the chains of medication. In a future blog I’ll be sharing with you a checklist of things you can do to further help your mental health. In the meantime, stay safe and look after yourself.