Mental illness is a war that is lived with, from the day of diagnosis it’s a fight, a battle of wits with your own mind. Since my diagnosis, I’ve tried many things to manage and keep my mental health under control but it was a chance visit to my local bouldering centre that would be the unlikely culprit for the beginning of my mental health management. I always thought that I was in for the rough ride where nothing would even come close to alleviating my symptoms but thankfully, I was wrong.
I remember walking up to the wall, I felt physically terrible, mentally worse but willing to try; I grabbed the holds, stepped on and started to work moves. I got to the top of a few beginner problems and then tried the grade up, it didn’t take me long before I was hooked and having legitimate, honest fun. For a very long time, I never really allowed my guard to be let down around people but something about climbing really disarmed me and made me want to participate, get stuck in; whatever you want to call it, I was engaging with people on a level I hadn’t for a long time.
From that keenness, not very long after initially receiving my diagnoses, I was able to start making friends and found my voice. Admittedly, I needed a lot of practice when it came to ‘chatting’ but from that I have a close group of friends, a team that I can rely on just as much as they can rely on me and I have more of a future now than I did before I found climbing.
One thing I promised myself when things got bad was that I would try anything, anything to improve my quality of life and pull me out of the hole I was in; even if it was the most terrifying thing possible I was going to do whatever it took to hold my Black Dog at bay. I sit here now, almost five years after I started on my adventure pulling on rock, fighting back the shadows in my head and satisfied that I am finally in a position where I can hold off my invisible enemy. I’m here because I decided that I had had enough of my health dominating my life. It’s terrifying fighting against an invisible enemy while trying your best to smile away the day and make nice to people, it’s exhausting having to contend with social strictures when all you want to do is hide away but I say stand and face the scary things, look the panic and anxiety square in the eye ‘til it looks away; shrug off the gripping fingers of depression as you walk out of the front door because none of these things, can hold you back from being whatever you want to be. Your challenge is to keep the fight going for as long as it takes to drive back the darkness.
If you take anything out of this, know that you are stronger and much more capable of fighting back than you may think, my story is one of many out there but the more stories are told, the more we spread that awareness and reduce that stigma. Together, we can show the world that mental illness, regardless of what form it takes is not the end, it’s just the beginning.