Star & Crescent Contributing Editor Rikki May remembers the first time he ever spoke publicly about his mental illness at a University of Portsmouth event – and how it helped him no end.
For the past five years I’ve worked for the University of Portsmouth’s Sport and Recreation department. One morning in February 2014, I received an all-staff email asking for volunteers for an upcoming University-wide Mental Health and Wellbeing Day. I re-read the email a few times and thought, ‘OK, this is it.’ Like 25% of us in the UK, I’d been suffering from mental illness for some time and had always wanted to try and reduce the stigma attached to it somehow, some way.
I barely slept that night. I wanted to get involved in the event, but how? I finally plucked up the courage to attend a meeting and agreed to share my experiences, holding nothing back. I could be a part of something positive that could encourage others to discuss mental health more openly, an opportunity to provide hope that recovery is possible.
Approaching the day of my talk, I felt a kind of tranquil excitement. There was no fear. I maintained an inner confidence and believed however the day went – I’d ‘made it’ regardless. Today, finally, I could make use of my long period of misery and use it positively to help others.
After a heartfelt contribution from a gentleman documenting his depression and how he overcame it, it was my turn next to speak. There were three of us speaking individually. I felt like everything that happened to me over recent years was leading up to this dreary February afternoon in 2014.
I had only 10 minutes. I left nothing out. Time went quickly and despite my having a bit of a dry mouth, it couldn’t have gone better.
I discussed my early adolescence, when I was an entirely different person. Until I was around 20, anxiety consumed my life. I never thought it would go away. The worst point was when I had to take nine months off work and could barely leave the house. If I even tried to go out, I’d sweat profusely and feel horribly faint. Any day I wasn’t physically sick was a good day. Avoidance of social situations only made the anxiety worse.
When I was 19, I tried to take my own life. Two years later, I voluntarily spent three weeks on a psychiatric unit.
I told the audience that there’s no real triumph without hardship. You can’t give in to fear, anxiety or despair. I didn’t and I’m now fully healed. Talking about my negative experiences made me feel even better, like I’d finally regained my freedom.
A round of applause closed a 10 minute summary of a life I’ve finally left behind. I recommend doing it to anyone who, like me, has suffered so badly.
Photography by Moshe Tasky.