It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK at the time of writing. I’ve noticed many people posting bravely on social media about their struggles. I have mixed feelings about what I see. Sometimes I read with admiration at what is being revealed, and sometimes I judge people as attention seekers or as not really having mental health problems. “They’re just feeling a bit sad!” I say inside my head.
My judgements are based largely I’m sure on my own subjective experiences and prejudices so try not to take them too seriously if you think me harsh. Any negativity I have towards people talking so openly I’m sure has a lot to do with a time when I was very open about my mental state in public at a time when I really shouldn’t have been. In other words, I’m being triggered.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t well, and talking about it was needed, but trying to deal with it by advising the world on what is best for their mental health when I was struggling with a serious addiction issue and the associated complications did end up being a little embarrassing for me.
Nevertheless, because it’s Mental Health Week I’ve decided to open up, once again, about it. Partly because my addiction issues are behind me (apart from Coffee, Jiu Jitsu and birdwatching) and my life is largely in order since the rather serious mental breakdown I suffered. But also, because very recently, certain reflections and realisations have led me to a much greater understanding of why I found myself in that place (realisations I’ve had whilst putting the finishing touches to my soon to be released book about what happened to me). I’d like to share with anyone who’d like to know, what my most important realisation has been.
Firstly, for those who don’t know much about my story, I’ll explain a little more to give a bit of context. In 2016, whilst preparing Olympic level athletes for the Rio Games I experienced psychosis and a schizophrenic type episode. I say “experienced” and not “suffered” because my experience of that mental health episode is that it brought about a deep and beautiful change in me and brought me many gifts. It is a strong belief of mine that if the world of mental health treatment embraced these episodes from a position that the person going through it can learn and become a better person through it, our treatment of the mentally ill would be both kinder and more effective.
Many decisions, some bad ones, took me into drug addiction and to the consequences involved, but I believe that the conditions were set for me to make the choices I did long before I ever smoked that first bit of weed.
These conditions include mistakes made in my upbringing, a traumatic birth, some shockingly bad teachers who contributed to low self-esteem, and shame over things I did in my past. These all made me liable to want to escape my reality.
What I see as being the ultimate precondition to my addiction and therefore my psychosis and schizophrenia is what I saw myself as, and as such, a total misunderstanding as to who I really am.
As a young, talented and ambitious athlete and coach I subconsciously went about creating an identity fit for the life I wanted. I was a winner. I was strong. I was big. I was a leader. I was successful. I was a maverick. I was tough. I was, I was, I was.
Every single thing I was, relied on a condition on the outside of myself. To be a winner I had to win a race. To be me, I had to win a race. To be strong I had to lift heavy weights. To be me I had to lift heavy weights. To be me I had to be a leader. To be me I had to be successful.
This is fine, as long as you can maintain these things constantly. Which you can’t. You’ll lose races. You get older and your muscles get weaker. Not everyone will want to follow you. You can’t always be successful. So what happens then? You stop being you! You get lost!
In 2016, what I believed happened, is that somewhere deep inside me, I recognised that the fight was coming to an end. I hadn’t found me in any of those things. My competitive career was dead. My coaching career was dead. Therefore, I was dying and drugs became the only relief from it. A mind totally fatigued. Broken and lost. The confusing and terrible place I found myself was the result of following a path for my whole life that ended in a brutal dead end.
The paradox of the situation, for me, is that in really losing myself, I was able to find myself. Again for those who don’t know, I live a rich and fulfilled life with a beautiful family and with many amazing passions I would never have imagined would have grabbed me so firmly during my darker days of 2016 and 2017.
The lesson is, you aren’t the things you have in your life. If you are, they have you. You are something far greater than that!
I believe that realisation is for each individual to reach for themselves so I won’t spoil it for you. To help you on your way, what I’d advise you to do is this. Go somewhere peaceful. Close your eyes, and imagine the worst thing you could think of for yourself in your life. Live it and feel it in your mind. It’s not pleasant. If that were to happen, what are you left with? The thing that you find there, that’s the thing you’ve always been looking for.
Good Luck, and Happy Mental Health Week.
If you’d like to find out more about Dan’s story please watch the All The Way To The Finish Line documentary here.
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