• Rachel Roussell

Men's mental health - my manic mind


Watch the men's mental health vlog, 'living with my manic mind' on YouTube.

Is your life like a rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs with very few periods of calm?

I would like to introduce George, George's life is exactly that.

George is a manic depressive and for the last 40 years, he has lived a life full of physical pain, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, mood swings, autism and had suicidal thoughts.

The insights that George has given me are valuable and could be life-saving for someone else who is suffering too. Someone who is questioning their existence and doesn’t know how to stop their downward spiral getting out of control.

George and I hope that this article helps someone.

This is George and his manic mind...

When I stepped out into the big wide world...

My issues started when I was 15 and I vividly remember standing on the path outside the main school back entrance and panic descended with the sudden realisation that I would very soon have to go into the big wide world and work, with no safety net and no support system.

In my early years, I was confident, even slightly cocky at times…

I was self-assured certainly and my rugby exploits had given me both confidence and respect from my peers. I was fearless and although scared of fighting, I would hit anything on the field, fairly but like a missile!

Those were the days.

My panic attacks...

My first real panic attack happened when I was around 18 years old, at work. I was in the toilets when suddenly I felt sweaty and clammy, then panic set in and I started to feel faint - I fell to the floor and was out cold.

I wasn’t too familiar with fainting but had experienced it once before during a music lesson when playing the flute! I just felt giddy after playing a difficult piece and next thing, I was waking up on the floor.

The panic attacks didn’t go away…

At 18, despite me becoming ever fitter through running half marathons, I still could build into a panic situation, simply by thinking I might faint. This became a habit in enclosed places or busy environments and one time, I had a panic attack in a pub but didn’t quite make the door and stumbled as I fainted. The door then swung back and hit me again – I came around finding myself in a pool of blood in a pub doorway, not really knowing what had happened.

A temporary loss of my memory...

Worse of all, I lost my memory of the past 2 years and this lasted for around 3 hours in a hospital. That particular panic attack was triggered by visiting a badly injured motorcycle racer friend in a hospital earlier and being squeamish meant I relived that moment over and over in my head and it was quite common for me to feel faint in hospitals when visiting.

I couldn’t cope feeling confined…

This fainting/panic attack went on for another 15 years approximately and haunted me every time I felt trapped in a place where such an attack would create problems and the cycle continued. It was a problem at work too and if I ever thought about the consequences of an attack, that was the trigger. I had to work really hard to avoid those thoughts and developed random distraction techniques to avoid drifting that way.

The focus was the key to avoidance...

I was so fit that I could run 90 minute half marathons yet I was often convinced I could feel palpitations which eventually led to a full ECG examination in hospital, where they declared “I was an athlete”. Physically I was very fit indeed. It was ridiculous, to be honest, and I did note I never had an attack whilst I was running or driving so I concluded that focus was the key to avoidance.

Depression and acceptance...

Eventually, the panic attacks died down but then I think my depression started to rear its ugly head. I never saw the panic attacks as linked to the depression but I recall one significant moment when I declared to a close friend that my job was making me depressed and manic, but he casually turned around and said, “No Paul, you have always been like that”. Being told that struck home really hard as he had known me since I was 12 years old and it took a long time to accept I was a manic and possibly depressive too.

The great escape…

At that time though, I still had ambitions and decided to up and leave where I was. Leaving to chase a fantasy job many miles away, working with race cars but sadly the mood swings followed me. I don’t think they were that prominent to start with although my partner described me as ‘coming and going’ but she was used to it and I dismissed these feelings as just normal emotions I think.

The emotions…

That said, I was always very emotional and deeply involved with relationships from an early age so perhaps the signs were there. Strangely, my parents never discussed emotions very much and I now suspect depression was present there somewhere in the family. Certainly, my eldest brother has issues too, though more autistic than depressive and even my younger brother struggles with stress-related gut problems so maybe we all get something of it.

Speed and motorcycles...

Motorcycles have always fascinated me and I got into them at an early age, thanks to the leniency of my parents. I always had motorbikes from 12 years old and I bought a steady stream of them until eventually getting my first car at 25. I had always enjoyed speed and music and in order to fuel the former, I started racing motorcycles and got the biggest high I have ever enjoyed. Winning or beating other riders was a massive buzz, which I don’t think I have ever matched since and it gave me great confidence. Luckily it wasn’t followed by a “down” but perhaps it masked the issue? Without realising it, at the same time, music became a bigger and bigger part of my life and I would drown myself in tunes which usually reflected my moods at the time, often accompanied by tears, such was the emotional effect.

Suicidal thoughts…

Following that time, I had a tragic year which really pushed me down into a deep depression and I did seriously contemplate taking my own life. My Mum died the same week my son was born and I had spent the previous year watching one of my closest friends dying of cancer.

Cancer and loss...

My friend Mark was a gem and we clicked the instant we met, so to lose him hurt more than I can ever say. I guess that’s when I realised just how bad my depression was and I had to find a way to survive, mainly for my family.

Complications and affairs...

To further complicate the situation, my wife and I weren’t happy and we both went off the rails, with affairs. I’m not proud of myself but I was suicidal, as was the lady in question, the ex-wife of my friend Mark who died the year before. We kept each other alive and went out drinking dancing and listening to music for relief.

Life changing events…

Eventually, my wife and I realised we couldn’t go on and that’s when my life changed totally for the better. We had sold the house down South and I had a job in the Yorkshire Dales where I planned to live. I had it all set up when she dropped the bombshell she was leaving, BUT, without the kids! She didn’t want them.

At first, I couldn’t believe it but then gradually after speaking to people around us, I realised this was actually happening and I hastily changed plans to move to the Midlands, where I had friends and support.

A revelation…

My emotions were running riot and I vividly recall taking the children in the car up the M1 and I cried all the way, but this was a Godsend for me. What I realised was, whilst the situation was dire, it gave me a focus, a reason to live and love and I really needed that to survive. The next 22 years are history now and without doubt, the kids are the best thing that ever happened to me and probably the only reason I survived.

My children…

They are brilliant, my lifesavers and centre of my universe and since they grew up, I do think I have lost my raison d’etre, even though I tried hard not to become dependent on them.

Work issues…

Work has always been the source of much anxiety and stress and probably the single greatest influence of my moods and feelings of insecurity. Ironic then that I worked in sales all my life really where rejection and pressure are rife. Certainly, I have experienced many emotions and even depression as a result of work and a feeling of inadequacy that accompanies failure to achieve my own goals. I know what I am capable of, in theory – I got 10 O levels and am not thick but can’t seem to reconcile my intellect with emotions and control, leaving me desperately dissatisfied with virtually everything I’ve done – apart from bringing up the kids that is.

Escape…

I guess I was around 40 when I noticed a worsening of the depression and whilst I could have extreme highs, without drugs, I could also get a month a year where I was low, where I would just shut down and take myself away. Sometimes even to a remote place in the hills where I could collect myself. At these times though, I would always turn to music for sanctuary, though I had to be careful what I listened to and when. I did read Cognitive behaviour books and they did help a bit, though my cynical brain always thought they were based on common sense and then I would feel stupid for not knowing this anyway without the book. Ridiculous expectations of myself as usual!

Sport – my saviour...

Sport has played a big part in my life and from the early days of Rugby through to later life, I have enjoyed all forms of physical sport. I love contact and it was a big relief to play the game. It seemed to take away a lot of anxiety and stopped a lot of mood swings.

What the professionals said…

About the same time, I visited my doctor, explaining how I was sleeping in the day and concerned about my health. As it was, I got another significant notification about my mental state. I read his notes upside down and saw “has manic tendencies” on the page. He was a brilliant Doctor and simply told me, I could ‘have some drugs or do more sport?’. So I chose sport and ran, cycled, skied, snowboarded and played all sorts to keep my mind in check.

I get massive relief from taking part in sports and no matter how painful the session, I always feel better physically and mentally afterwards. It is with this in mind that I maintain a regular training regime and I know how effective it is.

The injuries...

However, there is also a downside to sports activities and this is in the lap of the gods – injuries.

I was injury free for many years, through racing, motorcycling, biking and all activities, then in quick succession, I suffered several injuries, one of which probably has a huge bearing on my health, even 20 years later. I dislocated my shoulder whilst mountain biking in the Alps (crashing actually) then 6 months later dislocated my AC joint on the other side whilst snowboarding (crashing actually again). Both were painful and I still suffer greatly with stiffness and pain at times.

Without a doubt though, the worst injury was the neck compression of C4, 5 and 6 in rugby during a game where I met an immovable object head-on. That was a big impact and totally underestimated at the time. I say that now because 25 years later, I suffer dreadfully with it and 2 MRI scans have confirmed the extent of the injury and I should have had an operation at the time. Every night I get pain all over my neck and back, waking up shaking most mornings. I often have months where all the muscles in my neck and shoulders seize up, creating a lot of pain and headaches. Sometimes these are so intense that I can’t function and they can last for several days at worst, like a migraine. The main issue here though is how it affects my periods of sleep and rest because I learned with having children that sleep deprivation was absolutely the worst thing for my mania. I had to stop getting up in the night with the children after a while as I couldn’t function, despite my activities.

Feel the music…

All along the way through, I have always used music as an outlet and relief, with expensive Hi-Fi systems which I love listening to. I saw a program once with James Bolam and Zoe Wannamaker where she asked him if he was going to ‘listen to his beloved Jazz’ and he snapped back, “You don’t listen to music – You feel it”. That rang so true with me and still does. It’s clear it is a stimulus and prop for me, which I use to both express and enhance my moods. Trouble is, the wrong music at the wrong time can be damaging so no Muse or Radiohead for me when I’m depressed.

Contradictory mind…

Another eye-opening moment along the way occurred when talking to a psychiatrist (not a psychologist) at the rugby club where I coached kids. Coaching rugby was a fantastic period when I found a truly wonderful vocation of helping kids learn and grow up with the sport I loved so much. I reflect on this time with pride and the kids, now 24, often remind me of what fun they had and how they enjoyed my unorthodox “get stuck in” approach. The psychiatrist talked to me about life and I explained my predicament and she casually remarked that I was always likely to have issues because I have a split brain with contrary behaviours. One part, the engineer is organised and seeking perfection, yet the other side, my creative part was at odds with this behaviour. She said it was very unusual to find someone with these two traits together and that would explain some of my feelings. Not comfortable to hear you are a mess, but it did give me another insight into my own mind and maybe helped explain why I feel so mixed up. However, knowing it and being able to make changes are two very different things, as I well know by now.

Guitar heaven…

2 ½ years ago, having realised music was so influential in my life, I decided I needed to extend the interest, so took the plunge and bought a guitar, like so many men it seems – Acoustic at first, two in fact. Man can never have too many toys and I dreamt of playing/singing at the same time! Now, I love it and the guitar is a big part of my life and I can even sing and play to a basic level, though I’m clearly never going to be Eric Clapton. For me, playing/singing is therapy and takes my mind off things, so every day I try to play something. Of course, not everyone loves my music and to my chagrin, my daughter and last partner both hate it, which is a bit upsetting, but deep down, I know I’m OK. Since then I also recently bought an electric guitar too and trying to learn that as well, mainly for ‘Blues music’ not heavy metal, but you probably knew that…..

Where now?

So where does that leave me? My kids have grown up independently as I intended and don’t really need me anymore. I have had a succession of girl/lady friends and failed to keep any relationship going long – usually finding faults and panicking, then imploding and running away. I figure this may be because I really can’t cope with the commitment, despite pining for a life partner to share life’s adventures with. My autistic side kicks in part way through any relationship and I hit blind panic, then run away it seems. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t found the right person yet? I do love romance and hate hurting people so find it very traumatic when things go wrong. To be honest I have virtually given up and the strain of my mind is making the physical side very difficult and embarrassing to the point I would rather abstain.

Work and insecurity continue to be the bane of my life and after many financial hiccups, investing badly in people (partners mainly) and houses, I now feel very nervous about my financial future and well-being. Living on my own, with kids, with other family dependents has drained my income and whilst I see friends retiring with big pensions, I look on with despair realising I have no such option and the prospect of working until the end also doesn’t appeal.

I had hoped I would meet someone, who was an equal and not a financial drain for once, but it hasn’t happened and I have to admit, I take great pleasure in sharing what I have so maybe the spending is my fault really. This isn’t about self-pity, it’s a story of what has happened along the way and how I have survived, trying desperately to understand myself better, so that I can continue to manage my pain and contain my overactive mind.

There is no doubt, keeping my mind occupied does help contain wayward thoughts so I have developed various mechanisms and coping strategies to manage my overactive brain. However, even now there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t have some pain and struggle. Regular trips to the chiropractor and lately acupuncturist are the norm, but despite some real lows and the suffering, I have survived and coped.

Not always well I add, but people, music and sport have kept me going and taken my mind away from negativity and gloom, keeping in a world where I really want to live for most of the time at least.

Thank you George for letting us into your mind...

George has been through a lot and the best thing is, he is willing and able to share what he is going through, his coping strategies and his concerns. He told us that it really helped him going through this experience with me - the fact that he had to write things down and read them made him learn a lot more about himself.

Writing is great therapy...

** The content on this site should not be used as medical advice, we are giving our readers information and insights. If you are concerned about your health or need medical advice please see your doctor. If you are struggling with any issues please talk to someone - don't suffer in silence. **

#mentalhealth #mensmentalhealth

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Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom - 07800887857 rachel.roussell@gmail.com

Copyright Rachel Roussell 2020