In the second edition of our ‘Just Checking In’ series, our founder Freddie Cocker spoke to a childhood friend. They spoke about the problems he had experienced with cocaine addiction, the impact that had on his anxiety and the apprehension he feels in doing simple, everyday tasks in his life.
Hi mate, first of all, how are you feeling about your mental health currently?
The reason why I decided to do this with you mate is, for me, I’ve looked at things a bit differently to other people. I find it quite interesting that one day you can have the best day of your life and then the next day its Armageddon.
The last couple months I’ve actually been feeling quite good. My pride is my work. If I’m busy doing something, my focus is very laser-like and I can fully concentrate on that. I don’t think of anything else and my mind can’t drift into negativity.
When was the first time you became aware of your own mental health and realised that it wasn’t just physical pain you were experiencing?
I think the biggest problem I have with pinpointing where it started is that a few years ago I was taking quite a lot of drugs. I was taking a lot of cocaine and it took five years of my life away. I’ve always had a bit of underlying paranoia and I’m not sure that will ever go but the cocaine exacerbated it and took my paranoia to another level.
When I started taking coke, I could see as I was doing it that I was going downhill. I was getting angrier and more paranoid. When you start realising stuff in your own head, you make your own issues worse by worrying about it and overthinking a lot. It becomes an endless cycle.
For me, drugs were a big part of the problem.
Do you think the cocaine was the start of your mental health issues or do you think the cocaine exacerbated the underlying issues you already had and made them worse?
When I first started doing it, there were no consequences because I didn’t know the side-effects or what happens when you take too much.
I didn’t know that you had ‘comedowns’ the day after doing them. When I started having comedowns, it played on my mind all the time.
Did the cocaine have a negative effect on your mental health?
I had to go into rehab for my cocaine habit. It was that bad that I said to my mum “look I need to be taken away somewhere so I can get better and sort this out”.
I was getting paranoid everywhere I went and I wasn’t enjoying going on nights out. It was killing me.
I’ve got a really addictive personality so I don’t like change. Even simple things can really affect me. For example, I went into Tesco’s one day and they had moved one of the aisles. Something like that shouldn’t affect anyone in this world but for some reason it bothered me.
It got to a stage where I was looking at the people I was taking the cocaine with and thinking “I don’t want to know this person”.
I was shitting myself over sending text messages and I got so anxious over answering a text. I just didn’t know what was going on.
Do you think you had those mental health issues back in school or did they develop recently?
I truly believe that some of these issues were always locked away in me somewhere but everyone’s different.
If you went back to primary school and had to pick out a child from my class you’d say he might have anxiety or depression etc. I don’t think you’d pick me because I was always a ‘cheeky chappy’ and quite confident.
No one has a clue what’s going on inside your head.
I’ve noticed now with some of my friends, I’d like to have a chat with them about it but when they don’t have what you have, they think you’re talking a load of bollocks.
I go to a lot of AA meetings with my mum because unfortunately, she’s an alcoholic. I go with her to support her but also to hear some of the stories and listen to other people’s experiences.
When you speak to people who have the exact same issues as you, it opens your eyes and makes you realise you’re not alone in what you’re going through.
Could you give some examples in your day-to-day life about how your mental health affects you? So, for example, in my experience I get a lot of anxiety over sending text messages to people.
That definitely affects me as well. Whenever I send a text message where it might seem a bit abrupt, blunt or confrontational, I’m waiting for the reply from the other person and I get really anxious thinking about how they might respond.
Sometimes it affects me when I’m around my mates. For example, someone might have a dig at me in a friendly way but I might end up going over what they said to me for three or four days.
I know when someone’s having banter and when someone’s being spiteful or being mean so it does affect me when someone oversteps the mark.
Have you told anyone close to you about your mental health issues and have you asked for support from them?
I’ve got a counsellor now that I was given when I went into rehab. They’re called a ‘sponsor’ and they’re just someone I can check in with when I need their support. For example, say I was going on a night out, I would ring him just before I went to the club or left the party I was at to get a bit of reassurance and to be strong if anyone tried to offer me anything.
He reminds me of the bad times and those times when I was in a dark place and to make sure I never go back to that place again.
When I would go on coke binges, sometimes for two days straight, my comedowns would be horrendous so he just reminds me how far I’ve come and how I’m better for giving it all up.
Whenever one of my mates does well in something, I am genuinely so happy for them but a lot of my pals wouldn’t do the same for me.
I feel like I put myself out there a lot for my friends but I don’t feel like I get the same level of treatment back.
If my friends are low on confidence or self-esteem, I try and be that person to raise them up and help them feel better.
I would go that extra mile for my friends but they don’t really reciprocate it.
I went to several secondary schools when I was growing up. I was expelled from one, joined another school for a year and then left education altogether to take up coaching as a profession.
When I left the East London social groups I was in and started hanging out with groups from Essex, that changed me completely. It was a different world.
Do you feel like that changed you in any way as a person or had a negative effect on you?
At the time it was good but then I got introduced to a lot of bad people. When I was working, my whole objective was to attract clients and you have to have a bit of swagger about you.
For me, it all started changing from that point onwards. I was introduced to cocaine and it spiralled out of control.
What frustrates me to this day were the people around me who were doing the cocaine with me.
They used to say “go on mate, do it” because they knew I’d power on through and keep going. They’d all be laughing and giggling at me taking this drug to complete excess.
I look back and think “no, that’s not acceptable behaviour”.
I feel like one of them should have stepped up and said “No, don’t do it, you’re too young and it’ll be bad for you”.
If you’re egging your mate on to drink a ‘Jaeger-bomb’ for example, it isn’t the end of the world but we’re talking about hard drugs that are addictive and potentially damaging for someone like me who has an addictive personality.
I feel like we are the people our parents warned us about.
To be honest mate, it’s all about learning from your mistakes and carving your own path. You can have all the advice in the world about what to do and what not to do but at the end of the day, it’s up to you to make those decisions and learn about yourself.
You haven’t let anyone down and you have to just live your life how you see it. You’ve asked for help, you’re making positive changes to your life and you’re a credit to yourself.
Thanks mate. It’s just the little things which get to me. We don’t really speak regularly do we Fred? I don’t ever speak to you that often in fact but within 20 minutes of talking to you, we’ve covered more than friendships I’ve had for 8-10 years.
With one of my mates, when he’s got a problem, he sorts it himself but I’ll always offer a hand. When it’s the other way around he’ll say “that’s your problem, not mine”.
You don’t have to take crap from people like that mate. All that says to me is that they just think about themselves and nothing else.
With this friend I have, he has this selfish tendency. I might not see you for six years Fred but if you rung me up at 2 in the morning and said “I’m in a really bad state mate”, of course I’d come and help you. That’s how it should be.
What tools and methods do you find useful in helping you manage your mental health or mental health issues?
I utilise my memories to help me mate. I think back to how angry I was and think “I can’t go back to that”.
Do you think the conversation around mental health is changing, especially amongst boys and if so, in what way?
The suicide rate amongst men is diabolical. What makes me sad is looking at people who have tried to take their own life or have done it. I’ve never gotten to a stage where I wanted to take my own life, although I can’t rule anything out in the future.
I think to myself “how awful must they be feeling that they get to that point?”.
How do you think we break the stigma amongst boys that it’s okay for us to talk about our mental health and it doesn’t make us less of a man?
The age bracket of 18-21 is such an important time for boys. At that age, the pressure is unbelievable. The pressure to have muscles, to have money and similar things like that is just huge.
The world is a scary place and it’s so easy for a boy to be manipulated at that age into doing things they shouldn’t be or go down the wrong path. It’s such a vulnerable age.
You’re trying to figure out who you are as a man.
This interview was published anonymously.
Check out more pieces like this in our ‘Just Checking In’ section.