Mental Health Awareness Week UK, 2021
I first posted this three years ago, and I received so many kind messages from people saying it had helped them, that I've decided to share it again.
If you can spare 5 minutes, PLEASE read this. It might be important for you or for someone you know.
There’s a man I know whose social anxiety is often so bad that he can’t even answer the door to his own home, even though he knows it’s just the nice kid from across the street simply collecting the trash. He would shake with fear, and become so agitated he would drop things and sometimes hide in the bathroom. When he tried to speak, he could hardly form a sentence.
There was also a time when he once spent 3 hours building up the courage to walk to the shop in a small village, a place where he didn’t know anybody. Along the road some stranger in a car honked and waved, and his anxiety became so bad in that moment that he had to hide in a bush and wait for his panic attack to stop. The result was that he missed a good friend’s 40th birthday party that night as he was too afraid to leave the house. That kind of anxiety can stay with him for weeks, sometimes months at a time.
Each time this kind of issue happens — there have been thousands of incidents over the 27 years he’s suffered with it, more if you count his extreme awkward shyness at school — the man is consumed with burning skin, intense itching so bad he regularly draws blood. The bouts can last for many agonising minutes, and there are often tears. This is a very rare and very unfortunate by-product of his anxiety, and it can be a humiliating experience. It is a fear of these physical attacks that sometimes start the anxiety off in the first place. Other times it is in reverse. He’s not sure which is more powerful, but they both are crippling.
The only way he has really managed to control this anxiety, that comes and goes in weeks, months or even years-long spells, is by using alcohol to kill those feelings. The drinking had become so bad at times over the years that he was often consuming a bottle of gin some mornings before work or university. Professional help didn’t actually help at all, and the drinking had for a long time threatened to destroy him. Thankfully he has managed to claw back some control over that darkness, and in good spells can now drink for enjoyment. Other times it is still necessary. This guy knows that many of his friends won’t believe his story of alcohol abuse. It doesn’t matter. Most addicts are masters of disguise.
He isn’t sure what first caused this extreme form of social anxiety, but it was his social anxiety that caused the drinking, combined with a couple of heartbreaking incidents in his younger years, and the drinking in turn later caused him to do some things he will always regret. It has cost him friends and loved ones. It has cost him job opportunities and other life experiences. It has affected both his mental and physical health. When he’s enduring a spell of continued anxiety attacks, he cannot exercise for months, which worsens his physical condition, and thus, his state of mind. It’s a vicious cycle. Put simply, it has dominated his life for at least two and a half decades, and there have even been times when he thought he simply couldn’t take it any more.
Luckily, it never reached that extreme low point, and thanks to a select few people who didn’t judge him and loved him regardless of his weird, sometimes embarrassing situations, not to mention the mood swings and bouts of often unreasonable behaviour, he still loves life and is excited about his future.
He suffered in silence for so long because he didn’t want to burden people with his struggles, didn’t want to make them uncomfortable and feel sorry for him. He has been missing in action at times others thought he shouldn’t have been, and other times when he felt better he would make up for it, often to the extreme. It has caused him fights and fallouts, and periods of depression he found hard to shake. He has even neglected visiting some of his family members in recent years. It was simply too stressful, and it was made worse that he wasn’t able to explain to them why. He knows he has been considered aloof and in some cases rude, even arrogant. He has been ashamed about many things for many, many years. He hopes this post helps explain a few of those things.
Mercifully in his thirties there was a spell of close to 8 years in which his anxiety departed, and in that time he was able to get a university degree, live abroad and teach English — both things he could never have imagined in those darker times — and he has even appeared on an international TV show and had a couple of public book launch events.
It was a terrible day indeed when, a couple of years ago, out of the blue after those 8 or so anxiety-free years, the anxiety came back with a vengeance. It was heartbreaking. It still is.
Yes, that guy was me. It is still me. Steven Moore. That apparently brave and confident guy you thought you knew.
I continue to suffer from episodic bouts of extreme social anxiety, and if you’re reading this and have ever met me in person, you have probably spoken to me without having a clue of what I go through on a daily basis, and was probably going through then. I am good at hiding it. Too good, I guess. I have suffered largely in silence for the reasons stated above.
But it is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Because I’m happy today, and because I feel it is a good time to once more come-out-of-my-mental-health closet, and because the sun is shining here in Mexico... I’m sharing this with you now.
Why? Because there have been times when I didn’t truly understand my own situation, and personally denied that I had mental health problems, and then judged other people for theirs.
In the last few years, several people I have known... many of you will have known them too, or someone like them... have taken their own lives. I never saw it coming. I doubt you did either. More importantly, there is a chance they themselves didn’t know it would get to such a tragic point.
People need to talk about their issues and share their burdens, but it is very difficult, almost impossible for some people. It was impossible for me for so long.
We as humans need to continue removing the stigma of mental health and open up to ourselves and to one another. It is the only way.
I am lucky. I have an extremely supportive wife who understands me and has always supported me. We all need to be as supportive as she has been.
Most of us cannot do it alone.
The next time you see someone who appears to be struggling mentally, give them your time, or if need be, a shoulder to cry on. Don’t judge them, for none of us know what each other is going through mentally at any given time. It can be so many different things, or it could be just one thing.
Spare a thought for them, especially in these crazy and difficult times.
One day it might be you!