Down Days


Down days. I still have them. I’ll be floating merrily along my way, feeling right with the world, when suddenly someone turns the lights out.

It happened to me recently whilst in Malta. I’d had a fun week, visiting my favourite spots on the island, swimming, eating good food and too much ice cream, when all of a sudden my world turned dark. I couldn’t make eye contact, couldn’t speak, couldn’t help feeling like curling up in a ball and crying myself to sleep. I was down as down can be.

Eventually though, it passed; my head cleared and I was able to engage with the world again. I put it down to a long two weeks spent almost permanently in the company of others (I’d spent the previous week in Cyprus for a friend’s wedding). I’d spent so long trying to stay up, without any time to stop and breathe, that I crumbled under the pressure. Previously that would have knocked me back and I’d have been spooked by the episode for days, but I’m a different person now. I’m able to accentuate the positive from the situation instead of dwelling on the negative.

Nowadays when I relapse I take it as a lesson, a reminder – I am doing well, but not as well as I think I am. I still need to be on guard, I – and the people around me – need to remember to be on the lookout for symptoms that I might be on my way down again. I can’t just pretend that all of a sudden, everything is alright.

When you start to feel right again, it’s easy to plough on forwards as if nothing ever happened, oblivious to the events of the past. I can’t do that. I need to be conscious of the bad decisions I’ve made in the past and make efforts not to repeat them.

I still get incredibly anxious about my stomach. Panic rises when I know I’m about to embark on a long journey and I won’t be near “facilities”. These episodes are incredibly disheartening and leave me feeling like I’m back at square one, still going through the motions of the first manifestation of my anxiety.

To combat this, once again, I try to get positive. I’ve come such a long way, I’ve dealt with the big issues and now is no time to feel down about the little things. On the way back down the mountain, you cross the same places that you passed on the way up (apt little analogy given what’s happening this weekend).

I have tools now. I manage my breathing and play games to distract my brain. It doesn’t work every time, but sometimes, sometimes is enough. On the flight back from Malta I felt the anxiety rising, but I caught myself. I identified that what I was feeling wasn’t actually anxiety, it was excitement to see my dog Lyla. It had been so long since I allowed myself to be excited, I had completely forgotten what it felt like. So having stopped, taken a moment and correctly identified my emotions, I decided to embrace them.

Hopefully I will do the same this weekend for my Snowdon Challenge. I’m full of cold, a coughing, sneezing, cold sweats mess, but I don’t care. I’m excited to take on the challenge. I’m making it to the end no matter how ill I feel. I see this charity challenge as the physical manifestation of my journey of the last 12 months. It’s going to be tough and at times I will stumble, but with the help of the people around me, I will keep on walking… I will overcome.


Down Days

Self Harm Pt.2


The first time I hurt myself my intention was clear – it was a test run for how easy it would be to slit my wrists. The second time I hurt myself was different. I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. No ready explanation presented itself. I was sure it wasn’t a coping mechanism, because I certainly didn’t feel any better for doing it. It neither eased my pain or provided relief.

I was told unequivocally by loved one’s, “You are not to do it again”. Sharp objects were removed from the house and I was closely monitored at all times. It didn’t help though, the seal had been broken and I continued unabated.

I took to hurting myself in the shower, one of the few places where I couldn’t be watched if my wife wasn’t around. I used anything that could be grasped and scratched repeatedly on my skin until it cut and bled. I did it when I was only slightly anxious, I did it when I was completely overwhelmed. It became my default mechanism in times of stress.

For a while, nothing stopped me. Not the tears, the upset, the pain, the embarrassment of being seen in public covered in cuts and scabs. And why would it? I didn’t know why I was doing it, so why would I know what it was going to take to stop it?

Of all the things that have happened to me during my illness, self harm is still the most surprising. I never thought it was something I would resort to, naively dismissing it as the domain of teenage girls desperate for attention. But there I was doing it. When I look back now, I’m horrified at myself. Admittedly it was at a time where I was really struggling with my medication – I was all over the place, but still, how on earth did I get so low – so irrational – that I was willing to do it?

Self-harm is when somebody intentionally damages or injures their body. It’s usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress – NHS website

Eventually, realisation dawned. I was expressing overwhelming emotional distress’Self harm was my way of showing people that I really wasn’t well. I wasn’t coping. Unable to express the feelings verbally, I was instead making a visual display. A display that quite clearly said, I am not alright.

Most people battling illness have physical signs. Quite often you just need to look at someone to know that they are not well, be it a runny nose, clammy skin, stitches or a plaster cast – there’s generally something you can see. I had nothing. To look at me would not reveal the distress I was in, the depths I was plumbing. That is, until I had my scars. My scars were visible, they were my battle wounds. It was pretty hard to ignore them.

Once I had finally worked out why I was hurting myself, the key to stopping it became fairly obvious. If self harm was expression, I needed a better way of expressing myself. I needed to talk. So I did just that. If I felt anxious, I told somebody. If I was upset, I let people know. I started writing about my experiences and chose to raise money for a mental health charity (more on that below). Finally, it was out there. People knew I was ill, so I didn’t have to show them anymore.

Self Harm Pt.2