The first blog is an explanation of my personal experience with mental health, and must unfortunately come with a trigger warning for references to suicide and depression.
For someone that has suffered from severe social anxiety and depression for their entire teenage and adult life, the idea of writing a blog post about mental health fills me with what can only be described as sheer terror. So, whatever you make of the following blog post, or the social media and website content I hope follows, I am incredibly proud of myself for sharing this intimate post with the world.
As a teenager in school, I was incredibly quiet. In fact, I would only ever talk to my closest friends and family and would be practically mute in class and in other social situations. This was something that the people around me were aware of, and although I do not blame them in any way for acknowledging this, as they didn’t understand the impact it did and would have on me mentally, people’s constant reminder of my inherent shyness certainly didn’t help the scenario.
After leaving school, my anxiety improved somewhat, as I took a year out to travel, having some incredible experiences, growing closer with friends from school, both those who I had been friends with for years and those I didn’t know very well at the time but who I am proud to call some of my closest friends to this day. I also met some incredible people along the way, and developing these new friendships was a massive step in improving my social anxiety.
After returning from my travels, I attended University College London. My accommodation was Ramsay Hall, known for being one of the more sociable halls, which I thought would allow me to meet more people. However, when I arrived, I was in a corridor of roughly twenty people, none of whom seemed to have any interest in meeting others, and I was still not confident enough to initiate a conversation with people who seemed so disinterested in getting to know me.
The best way to meet people in my halls was in a large common room, where there were around a hundred students clustered in groups. For someone with social anxiety, this situation is a nightmare. The idea of going up to a group that already seemed cliquey and introducing myself seemed impossible. As a result, my fresher’s week was filled with lonely nights watching Netflix, and the occasional attempt at integrating myself into social groups with the help of some Dutch courage. These attempts solved little for me, as I continued to struggle to meet people and became more and more lonely. As the weeks and months went by, this situation worsened as I struggled to meet people on my course. With the exception of two friends, one of whom I am still friends with today, my course mates proved if anything more difficult to socialise with. I do not mean this as an insult or jab at these individuals, as I am sure they are lovely people, but the enviroment that UCL created for me greatly increased my anxiety and loneliness by making it practically impossible for me to meet people without pushing my confidence to levels I was simply not ready for.
As my loneliness continued over the coming months, as hard as it is for me to admit this, I made the choice to take my own life. I will not list the details as I feel this is already personal, all I will say is that I am grateful every day that I was unsuccessful. From this point, I decided I needed to get help. I began counselling at UCL, and began a course of antidepressants, both of which, frankly, saved my life. After several months pushing myself to keep giving UCL another go, I made the decision to leave, and it was the best decision I have ever made.
In September of the same year, I began University in Birmingham. I instantly became close friends with my flatmates, whilst also making friendships with many others in my halls. My confidence boosted, and my depression improved massively. This is not to say that my anxiety and depression were completely cured. I’ll admit my social anxiety meant I struggled to make friends on my course, and subsequently have very few. I have also had recurring bouts of depression, most recently six months ago as a result of university academic stress, which resulted unfortunately in more suicidal thoughts. This time, however, these were a result of a too rapid adjustment to my antidepressants. It was at this point I realized that as important as antidepressants can be for some people, helping save my life at one point, I did not want to become reliant on a drug that could have such severe repercussions if dealt with in the wrong manner. Moreover, in my experience, the antidepressants covered up the symptoms of my social anxiety and depression but did not allow me to explore their causes and thus work toward their solution.
Thus, today, I begin to come off my antidepressants, whilst also making the necessary lifestyle changes I know will improve my mental health, particularly if I wish to challenge my social anxiety and never return to a place where I feel the need to take my own life. I know I must challenge my unhealthy eating and drinking habits, and replace these with a nutritional plan shown to improve depression and anxiety. I must begin cardiovascular exercise, despite my long standing hatred of running, whilst also learning the mental health benefits associated with other sports I do love, from the benefits of five a side football as a team sport, to the progression and mental challenges of bouldering, to the philosophy of going with the flow behind surfing. I must improve my sleep by challenging my addiction to checking social media and watching Netflix late into the night, and even attempt yoga, meditation and breathing techniques despite my reservations.
Alongside my close friend, Sam Gibson, who after recently completing his undergraduate degree in Psychology has far more knowledge of mental health than I do, I would like to take you on this journey with me, trying out natural solutions to mental health problems. We also hope to learn from people far more knowledgeable than us in areas such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, and the potential positive and negative impact of drugs and alcohol and share their knowledge with you. We hope that this can include both experts in the United Kingdom, but also people from different cultures around the world who often have far more effective coping strategies for mental health than we do. I hope this has the added benefit of challenging any prejudices that some people may have towards those of a different culture, religion, or race. Thank you all for reading, and I hope you join us on this journey, diving HeadFirst into the many natural solutions to mental health.
All my love, Loz Xxx
Party Fear-Raleigh Ritchie- very accurate representation of social anxiety by Greyworm himself- enjoy x
Samaritans– Whatever you are going through they are here to listen 24/7 365 days a year. Call 116 123.
Mind– A Mental Health charity with lots of great resources and support.