I'm 24. A PhD student, spending every day doing research I love, and in the evening I chat to friends, watch Netflix, skype my wonderful girlfriend Ciara, or go out for a walk on the seafront. Sounds pretty perfect, right? What could I have to feel down about?
Three years ago my mental health was deteriorating rapidly. I was about a month and a half froom being diagnosed with severe depression. But my situation then wasn't too different, on the face of things. Good friends, good course at uni, I was even a lot fitter and stronger, even winning trophies and stuff. So why was I in such a desperate situation back then?
The answer is that depression doesn't care. It doesn't matter how happy you 'should' be, or how great things seem on the surface, because depression doesn't care about the surface, or about rational evaluations of how good things seem. It is not sadness. sadness is a response to negative things happening. Depression makes everything in the world seem negative, twisting reality into a hideous dark version of itself where the idea that happiness could ever happen again seems impossible. And that is terrifying. A pit of despair with no light at the top or any visible way to climb out.
Anyway, the point of me saying all this, is that there is a way out. Not a quick one, or an easy one. My diagnosis was nearly three years ago, when it actually started is closer to ten years ago, and I'm still not 100% yet. But it can get better. Friends and family can help you find handholds in the wall of the pit. Medicine and counselling sheds light on the path and slows your fall. And my beautiful cat, who is sat on my knee right now, made the pit feel less lonely.
I'm nearly back to the surface now, and light is shining in. I can see the handholds for myself now, and my friends, family, Ciara, and Hollie the cat are waiting at the top encouraging me onwards. I'm nearly there, which makes me so proud.
One in four people experiences mental health difficulties in any given year. One in four. I am going to do everything I can to help those people. I went through a horrendous time. But if I can help others get through the same or similar things, then it will have been worth it.
Tomorrow I'm off to Oxford to the Student Minds Story Sessions training day for Press Ambassadors. I'm going to start on a new path, to using my experiences to promote awareness, fight stigma, and most importantly help other people who are going through their own mental health struggles. I'm scared, it's a big thing, but I honestly can't wait to get started.