By Jack Walton
When deciding what to write about for my piece for VENT I didn’t want to do the typical thing where I speak about my mental health “journey” and what I’ve experienced, because ultimately, I’ve come to realise that we all deal with mental health, every one of us.
It doesn’t matter your gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity – we all have a brain inside of us and therefore, we all feel the effects of both positive and negative mental health.
Growing up in a single parent family wasn’t always an easy experience. My Dad left when I was 6 years old and although I was too young to totally understand what was going on, I knew a change had occurred and things would never totally be the same again.
Upon reflection now 17 years after the event, I view it as a life “shaper”. That’s what I now call an experience that, although on the surface could appear to be traumatic and damaging to me mentally, has shaped me into the person I am today.
When I reflect on my childhood, I realise that during primary school, before you turn into a teenager, life is so much simpler, everything is easy, like one big game with fun and excitement around every corner.
I’ve also come to realise that as a child we live totally in the moment we’re in, we aren’t obsessing over the future or worrying about the past. We’re playing games, seeing our friends and are to the most part, untroubled.
The waters then were crystal clear, it’s a shame they can’t stay like that forever. Then adolescence hits. Turning into a teenager isn’t an easy thing for anyone, but for me, I found it much harder as I was coming to terms with the fact I was different, and back then, different wasn’t celebrated as much like it is today. It wasn’t deemed to be a positive thing. You don’t want to be unique, you want to fit in and be like everyone else so as not to draw excess attention to yourself.
I never knew I was gay until I started college some years later but starting secondary school at 11 years old, something in me changed.
All of a sudden, everything was different. I judged myself, I judged others and I was aware of my appearance for the first time and really focused on that as some sort of defining factor for who I was as a person – something I’d never done before.
The water now wasn’t as clear, it began to get cloudy and so did my headspace.
This is why I come back to my original point. We all have mental health and we all deal with situations out of our control. My headspace for the first time wasn’t a great place to live in. It was filled with fears, thoughts, criticisms and perceptions that I can now see weren’t real but when you’re living in that moment it’s hard to see what’s real and what’s fake.
I developed anxiety not long after this, trying to wear a mask every day and concealing my identity was getting me nowhere – it’s hard to be yourself but I now see it’s even harder to try and fit in, it’s exhausting and never tends to work, people can tell when you aren’t being true to yourself. To cut a long story very short, I was verbally bullied pretty much daily throughout this period for my sexuality.
I didn’t know what being gay meant, all I knew is that suddenly I felt different. I didn’t feel like I could relate to the other boys in my class, I didn’t have feelings for anyone at this point but I did feel different and I wanted it to stop.
Navigating life with anxiety isn’t easy. It’s eye opening that when you get older and conversations around mental health become easier, only then do you realise that pretty much everyone deals with some form of anxiety within their lives.
Growing up, I thought I was the only one, I wanted to be confident and outgoing like the popular kids, just typing that now makes me cringe, because then, that’s how your worth was deemed – based on the number of friends you had, the parties you went to, the alcohol you drank… all things I didn’t have interest in doing, so yet again, I was different from the rest, a lone sheep in a crowd of wolves.
Fast forward many years later and I’m now 22, I have a wonderful life, amazing friends who accept me for me along with a passion and purpose in wanting to help, inspire and make a difference to as many people’s lives as I can. One of the many reasons I try and get involved and write pieces like this is for that very reason.
I want to continue to normalise this – everyone on a deeper level gets this if they really choose to. We all know what a dark place our minds can be but the stark reality of that is for the majority of the time we’re living in our mind, so, please, let’s make it a nice place to live in.
I’ve come to the conclusion that our mental health is like a rollercoaster, a swinging pendulum if you will – it goes up, it goes down, it goes from side to side at different angles.
I see now my mental health is something fluid. Sometimes it can be really good for a long period of time, sometimes only one thing has to happen and it can feel low. We’re ALL humans having a human experience, so feeling anxious, low, confused, upset and exhausted isn’t an abnormal thing, we really shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.
Life moves at 100 miles an hour sometimes, but it doesn’t mean we have to move with it quite so fast – we can have time to take stock, recharge and realise that it’s okay to stop, it’s okay to revaluate and most importantly, it’s okay to feel.
As I sum up my piece for VENT I leave you with this – what truly matters in life isn’t how many possessions you have, how many relationships you’ve had, or even how many achievements you’ve made, it’s about how many lives YOU have touched. Let’s all continue to do our bit for a brighter future for all, no matter who you are.
Read more articles like this in our Experiences section.
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