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This weeks blog post comes from Luke, who wanted to write about the relationship between his mental health and Muay Thai (a form of boxing). He talks openly about his own journey…

TW: Cancer, suicidal thoughts, depression.

There you stand, hazy and confused after taking a relentless barrage of blows. There’s an eerie silence and you become acutely aware you are all alone. No one to save you. The referee in your face, his expert eyes casting judgment on your ability to continue…the count rising…’5! 6! 7!’…pressure building…it’s now or never.

But what if your head doesn’t clear, you can’t get your breath back or your legs will no longer support you. What if there’s no fight left in you?

It felt like I had lost my fight one miserable winter’s afternoon.

On my way to work I found myself crying, walking towards an oncoming train at Mile End station with an uncontrollable desire to jump. Sure, I’d thought of suicide before – on a daily basis in fact. Hell, I’d even planned where I’d blissfully hang and where I’d buy the rope. The thought of death seemed so serene to me I almost longed for it. Yet never had the urge become so strong that my body was acting upon it. This was when I knew I needed to seek help and fast. I screamed out loud ‘NO, NO, NO. STOP!’, people looked at me strangely, I ran out of the station and began my road to recovery.

For a while I knew something peculiar was occurring and the clock was ticking, but I’d always dismiss it with the good old Yorkshire belief that ‘tha’ll be reet’. I was just being soft I’d tell myself. On reflection I was far from ‘reet’ and after a series of consultations with a psychologist it transpired my mind had been silently battling itself for a very long time.

Roughly 8 years ago I had a choice to make, give up fighting or watch my degree slip away. It was a painful pill to swallow but I begrudgingly chose to stop competing in Muay Thai. This inevitably led to me skipping training and embracing the standard student lifestyle of drink, drugs and parties. For a while I really enjoyed it, properly loved it – these vices are simply not available to you as a fighter and I was reveling in it.

However there’s a fine line when you lead this lifestyle and I’d embarked on it almost out of spite at not being able to do what I loved. For that reason it began to spiral. It became a habit and not a choice. I had kind of submitted to the fact I didn’t need to look after myself anymore, what was the point? – I wasn’t going to fight again.

Then the cancer struck.

Instantly my life was turned upside down. It’s the worst possible thing you can ever hear. After a couple of surgeries and months of recovery the cancer had gone, the doctor told me I was “fine”. Physically I was, there’s no denying that, but mentally I wasn’t. Again, I’d give off this persona of a strong Yorkshire lad and dismiss my concerns, but inside I was a ruin. From therein I was drinking and abusing my body not to have fun, but to escape. Reality scared me.

I had zero desire for anything anymore. Literally nothing. I became uncharacteristically short-tempered and very defensive of my idiotic behavior. Strains in relationships with people started surfacing, particularly with my girlfriend, as I tried to isolate myself and things were quickly spiraling out of control. Isn’t it strange how we neglect those closest to us in times of despair?

The tipping point came as a culmination of factors – drink, drugs, emerging relationship issues, no self-respect and ultimately the lack of desire to live. The stresses of a PhD life served to amplify this deeper unrest and in a back-handed way I should be grateful to the PhD for that – it ultimately led me to that horrible situation on the tube platform. It’s an experience I will never forget and hopefully never revisit.

Through seeing a psychologist I learned a lot about my past and how that affected my present. I also learned techniques on how to approach and overcome the shit that life will undoubtedly throw at you. The therapy brought balance to my life and also guided me back to Muay Thai.

I may not be an active fighter anymore, but Muay Thai has been in my blood since the first time I stepped into the gym at the age of 14. The musky smell of sweat mingling with the sharp scent of Thai oil. The satisfying crack as someone smacks the pads. The shouts of ‘oooee’ in admiration of a well-executed technique. The camaraderie and jovial banter. The positivity. All this feels like home to me, indeed I class my fellow stablemates and coaches as family. Muay Thai has shaped me into the man I am today and I owe an incredible amount to the sport. It is my source of serenity, I now realise that and It’s comforting to be back.

Looking at the bigger picture, perhaps my experiences with depression were beneficial, clearly my lifestyle choices needed addressing and I needed guidance in life. Perhaps depression is an evolved mechanism that triggers change. After all there is no light without dark…It’s safe to say this is only true if people speak up and seek help, else they may never see the light.

That said, it’s important for us as a society to understand and be supportive. It’s everybody’s responsibility to recognise the signs of depression so people don’t suffer alone. We are pack animals, we have always and will always rely on each other for success.

Professional help saved my life.
Muay Thai has given me life.

I have a long road ahead, but I’m once again proud to be alive.

My fight is back, hands are up, head is cleared, I’ve nodded to the referee…let me back at it!

If you feel personally affected by any of the issues, please visit our talking and support page for more help, or use the “I need help now” button at the top of the page.

Illustration for this piece was created by Ed Leeds.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog in the lead up to the 2017 festival.

For this guest blog post, Colin Moody writes about how he see’s mental health and austerity overlap in his life and what needs to change for things to improve.

Austerity is bad for your mental health.

Do you feel alone? Depressed? Stressed? You may be suffering from austerity or the more recent strain of austerity fatigue. Both are bad for your mental health. Bad for all of us.

Let’s start with the root causes. I’d like to tell you how to light candles and attend some sensory stimulation classes but what we need to do here is to deal with the root causes.

I present the news and host shows on the One Love Breakfast on BCFM radio. Over the last few years I’ve seen many people come in to the studio to tell tales of how bad austerity has affected them and I hope to share some of that with you. Their individual responses include a huge strain on their mental wellbeing as more and more of the basic services they rely upon are being taken away. Connections they rely upon are being severed. People, I am told, are dying of austerity. Taking their own lives. Or even being asked whilst in fragile states in cubicles inside community buildings whether they have considered killing themselves. Just an hour of mental health awareness training and that question would be seen for what it is. Damaging.

And that’s what I see. People who have had their mental health damaged with no sign of support to repair it.

While we mostly get people who are tirelessly working with ever dwindling resources to satisfy that human instinct to help those who need support, it is the tales of stress that worry me most. Tales of people choosing between food or heating in the winter. Mothers who cannot afford to feed their children during the school holidays whilst the free school dinners are not available. Stories of care workers whose hands are tied to spending such short time with clients that they say it does not allow them to do their job. To care. All these stories have one thing in common. They reduce self worth, health and are generally damaging to more than just the ‘service user’ as there are dependents often involved effected indirectly. So the effects of austerity and the cuts is a huge pyramid of suffering.

We are a collection of societies that need to interact, to be communal and it is the access to and the running of these communal spaces which is threatened now. How bad will it get down the line after all those youth services are taken away. I can already imagine headlines about youth and their behaviour but the root causes are not discussed. Not by mainstream media. Not looking back to those missing school meals and no where to hang out and interact with wider society, no place to know their own self worth. And the more austerity bites the more headlines will react to people’s reactions and eventually that killer second stage…

I call it Austerity Fatigue.

Maybe you have seen “I, Daniel Blake”? Well, the narrative is being played out and, as Ken Loach told an audience in Bristol last year, “there were so many stories we could have used…”

But austerity fatigue means that you don’t really connect to the issue Daniel faces any more out of self defence for your own mental wellbeing. How damaging is this long term. Even people who are facing terrible hardship directly are feeling this. Something switches off because it’s just so horrible. We, at the show, had a man who wanted to talk to us about how sanctions had affected him and his wellbeing but after several emails and conversations he simply said it was all too much and did not get back in contact. We tried so carefully to make sure he could speak anonymously and in confidence. But it was not something he could do.

Are we broken by austerity? And austerity fatigue?
No.

Because ignoring the root causes goes against everything we are as human beings. With the exception perhaps of a few highly individualistic MPs I can think of, mostly in the cabinet.

We need to fix things. We need to make things right. Maybe you are giving a few hours here or there to a charity or group? That is making a difference. That doesn’t just change the mental wellbeing of the people you’re helping, but yours too.

We, it seems to me, are forming new ways to tell ourselves stories about how we are and what defines us. What we value is shifting. This is good. Good for mental health.

There is no money and cuts are getting harder, but people who were forced to cooperate to survive are reaching out to those who need it and it may just save us all. Connected and united we are strong and it feels like I’m laying down new connections in my brain the more I engage with people, new groups, new activities.

So if you feel like you have austerity fatigue or are on the receiving end of some of that original hurtful austerity then reach out to those around you. Look out for people in your community. Attend the Freedom of Mind Festival. Develop some new ways of thinking that might improve your mental health. You won’t do it alone.

We’ve got a long way to go and people are suffering in horrendous isolation still but people are starting to talk about their mental state now openly, and this once begun takes us on a journey unlike any I can think of being on before.

Our society will change from the mind up if we get this right. A society with strong mental health is unstoppable. And maybe one day a politician will have the audacity to stand up in parliament and praise austerity for how it kick started a social revolution of positive change towards strong mental health.

So come to the Freedom of Mind Festival and start a journey. One that will start in your head but take your body on a path you had no idea existed.

If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to cai.burton@freedomofmind.org.uk

Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog in the lead up to the 2017 festival.

We are so excited that Bristol is going to be hosting Peerfest this year. We wanted to talk a bit about what that means…

Conversation. It’s the first of Freedom of Mind’s three main aims,  (conversation, education and change) for a good reason. Talking about issues and problems that we are experiencing is an important step in our journey towards better mental health. If we bottle up our problems we can often lose out on valuable support and end up feeling frustrated and isolated.

Read more

• My Journey With OCD

20 September

by Ant Lightfoot

Blogs

In his personal story, Ant talks openly about his relationship with his own OCD and the struggles he has gone through whilst coming to accept it.

I see and hear it all the time:

“My bedroom has to be so tidy otherwise it sets off my OCD”, or: “I just washed my hands twice in a row; I’m so OCD lol.”

I hate to break it to you, Brenda- but you’re not. And you’re perpetuating a dangerous misconception every time you say so.

Read more

• “THRIVE” A Poem – By Shaun Clarke

14 September

by Freedom Of Mind

Blogs

For this blog post, guest contributor Shaun Clarke has written a poem he calls “Thrive”

Thrive reflects a positive mind-set that seeks to focus on human potential given our natural or assumed order and imposed intellect on this planet. It proposes that we create our own reality or submit to that of others which impacts our state of mind.

Read more

 

Join Jade, Katie and Anna as they go through their list of songs that make them feel good and talk about what they mean to them.

Listen along with the whole podcast above or by reading the transcript below and playing the songs as you get to them.

Read more

Jade talks about how their experiences with art have changed through time, and how it’s effected their mental wellbeing.

I have a complex personal relationship with art. It’s not so much a secret talent, but an unmentioned one, and with reason.

Read more

One of our writers, Anna, has created a list with her top strategies for getting through a panic attack.

So you’re having a panic attack.

They’re not fun, I know. But you will get through this, I promise.

Read more

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