If you follow my Twitter Account @JAWilsonDesign you may have noticed that my profile picture background has changed to promote the #timetotalk hashtag from the time to change campaign helping stop mental health discrimination.
I decided to become a time to change champion because I know what it is like to suffer with mental illness.
I have suffered quite badly over the last decade with severe mental illness but eventually, began to recover.
Why am I writing this post? I am writing this in the hope that my story might help others who are suffering with feelings of hopelessness, depression or/and anxiety to know that you can get better and things can improve. I am not trying to be presumptuous I just want others to know there is a way out of the dark place of depression and this is my story…
As a young man, 21 and feeling confident, I ventured to university after my art foundation, proud to know I was studying Architecture. It was the highlight of my life thus far, I now felt I was on the path to a successful and happy life as long as I could work hard and complete the degree… but then I met a young woman in the first two months of study and fell head over heels in love with them.
She was a nice girl, the same age as me only she was in her third year of education at university and I was just a freshers in my first.
The first year together , maybe the honeymoon period, was great, until she had an offer to work for Jim Henderson studio in the US…we were in love and she had always wanted love more than anything, so she gave it up just to stay with me, and so her her search for a career and home began.
Finding a new home
I suggested that she move in with my older sister… it seemed to be a good idea, close to family and cheap rent…but how wrong I was… it turned out to be a very very bad idea…they had a huge argument and never ever forgave each other.
I became the man in the middle, trying to keep the peace but never feeling content…loving both persons but neither feeling comfortable around one another ( and this was the case for me for over seven years. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I felt like Stretch Armstrong ).
After the argument had erupted and caused problems in the family we found a very small cheap 1 bed flat that was her very own and not sharing.
I was concerned for her living on her own as I would imagine her getting lonely, so I decided to live with her…it wasn’t the plan to live away from home for all years of my study as I knew I would get in debt but she had become very important to me, more important than money.
Negative Spiral Began
Her career she ended up with was working for a national banking corporation getting paid less than 10K a year as a front of desk cashier but they promised that with such a good degree a promotion would be easier and quicker than someone without.
It wasn’t the career path she had envisioned but with the promise of promotion up the career ladder with her 2:1 degree in hand she was positive.
The day came when she did try to promote. Those higher than her without degrees didn’t like it! They started to bully her and accuse her of theft…and this is where my problems began…
I was in my 2nd year of architecture, achieving first class designs at the start ( hard to achieve on an architecture degree ) when this first relationship problem occurred. She got signed off by the doctor with depression and then they even had the cheek to start visiting our home to see how she was recovering…adding pressure to her which also caused me distress to see her so upset.
Being in love, of course I stood by her, as anyone who truly cares about someone would, but it was starting to make my stressful and added to the pressure of completing my degree work to the best of my ability.
I felt a huge responsibility to look after her as she was in my hometown… she left her dream job opportunity for me & chose to live away from her parents. She had no friends left in the city ( due to them leaving university ) so I was her only real support, her only friend.
Death of my grandfather co-incides
With this all happening my mother’s father then passed away which was a huge blow for all the family.
I vowed to myself to complete the degree and become an architect in memory of him. He was very much an aspiring artist in his life, whenever he had spare time he would regularly paint for fun. I wanted to make him proud…
The effect of my then partner, the pressure to look after her, financially and emotionally, disagreeing with my sister as well as my grandfather passing away was all starting to see a knock on effect on my university work, my mind just couldn’t focus 100% where it should be.
I started to become unhappy in my home life because I was giving my everything to one person…in May of this year my ex partner and I travelled to Mexico to get away from it all for a little while… even though I was just a student I funded the experience from the money from my student loan and overdraft facility.
Even with the debt overhanging me it was worth it because it helped us both relax…for some time… but you have to come back to reality and reality hit with a bang!
Third year Architecture
In my final year of architecture my ex took a different route in her career and retrained as a secondary school teacher and she was definitely more suited to it. Unfortunately her school also expected her to get materials for students and she wanted me to come to town with her to get it.
It took an hour to get to town from my flat and again it was effecting my degree but I would feel guilty if I didn’t go with her and this continued to be the case all through my last 2 years of my degree, i would sacrifice my time so we could be together no matter the activity.
Her mother also changed direction at same time
Her mother had been living with a colostomy bag and hernia for around ten years and her body was in bad shape, she had had enough and I don’t blame her, it must have been a terrible living experience!
She had to go into hospital for an operation that had a 50/50 chance of survival but far far away from my university in Oxford but it was also co-coinciding with my major final architecture project…
Major project major operation
My major project was about to begin that was worth the most marks for my eventual qualification as an architect and I had spent a lot of time and money doing it.
The day of her operation came and it didn’t go well, she was in a very bad way.
My ex went down to Oxford to support her as she remained in intensive care for over four months, exactly the same time as I should be 100% focused on the most important part of my degree so far.
My ex was desperate for me to come down south but I knew that her mother wanted me to do well on my degree so I could hopefully become an Architect and give her daughter a good life…it was that or go down and support her emotionally again.
My head was all over the place, I didn’t know what the hell to do but in the end I decided to stay up and try to complete the course as well as I could.
In the end it seemed I made the wrong choice as I couldn’t focus and I only just scrapped a pass mark…very much gutted.
The lecturers knew I had done quite a few good projects and the low mark was very out of character for me, they discovered what was going on in my personal life and so gave me a second chance to resit the following year so gladly and relieved I accepted.
Unfortunately my ex’s mother passed away that summer after 6 months in intensive care.
2nd Chance, work twice as hard
Now I had made the decision to stay away I decided to try and do as well as I could on my degree I knew the pressure was on to make sure I became an Architect not only for my Grandad but for my partners mother and my partner, so i undertook a 2nd course in 3dsmax 9 giving me an extra advantage when I graduated that summer, so i thought.
Hard work hard time
2007/08 i worked hard on improving my abilities in architectural programs, autocad, 3dsmax 9 and model making.
I was definitely a much improved part 1 Architect than I was the previous year and I got a much better grade to show for my efforts. I also gained an extra qualification in 3ds max 9, I felt I must be able to get a job as a part 1 architect now!
2008 Graduation & 2008 Recession
May 2008 , the date I graduated and the date one of the worst global economic recessions that occurred in the history of the world, although at the time my ex didn’t know that…she thought I wasn’t trying to get a job ( note: 1 month after graduation ) and said “if i didn’t get a job she would leave me”.
I was very shocked when she said that to me and extremely heart broken…I had supported her through her problems with the bank and disagreements with my family and a month after graduating she was lacking support for me.
I tried for another month to find work but didn’t succeed, with my ex being a teacher she suggested I try teaching…I never in my wildest dreams thought I would suit being a teacher but I felt my options where limited after look at the architectural positions market in the northwest and when she said to me “i gave up my dream to stay with you” it confirmed, I would give it a go.
I attended a 2 year PGCE in IT because I was retraining my degree field from Architecture to IT. I had to learn the programs I would be teaching. My IT skills were quite good already but some things like databases and spreadsheet formulas were quite new.
Graphics, presentation & media programs on the other hand, where very much my specialty from doing the art foundation and as a general hobby, I really enjoyed these elements of the degree course.
When I eventually got into the school I enjoyed helping the young people learn but I didn’t enjoy the politics of staff rooms. I would hear people bitching about other teachers and segregating themselves into different fields on different tables when in staff meetings. I noticed there was no sense of team work in any of the schools I attended and it was nothing like when I had worked as a builder or a cocktail barman. It wasn’t a nice environment, not at all!
Sent to a school shutting down
My 2nd placement I was meant to go to my old secondary school but when the university tutor found out it was the school I went to as a child he took me away from it and sent me to a school that was shutting down instead.
In this school I met two of the most unfriendly, unhelpful and unprofessional people I have ever met in my life…this was the place where I had my first real mental breakdown.
In this school I was made to create 3 brand new units of work with no guidance because my mentor at the school couldn’t be bothered to help me and even said “don’t expect me to help you”, I’ve no idea what she was getting paid for?! I wouldn’t mind but my fellow students where only creating one unit of work, she told me to create 3.
She then became very unprofessional telling me to shout at the children, to lie to them ( i don’t lie to ANYONE! ) and even made me stand in the room whilst I was made aware by her that one of my 16 year old students fancied me! Working with this woman was one of the worst experiences of my life.
She then emailed my university saying I wasn’t keeping up with my work when in actual fact I was doing three times as much as I should be, the pupils enjoyed my units of work and I was gaining respect without having to shout at people. Even so, she attacked my mind and made me feel worthless.
Not being able to become an architect which was my dream and now she was telling me I couldn’t be a teacher either, I felt worthless.
When back at home I broke down and went to a nearby park not knowing what to do with my life, i was broken, rocking back and forth and tears falling from my face. Life began to feel pointless but although I complained to the university it was the end of the semester so i had to time to “recover” my mental health over the summer holiday.
Not only was mental health and my career cracking at the seams but my bank account was being hard hit too. After 5 years in university i already owed the government over £20k and my overdraft was nearly at its limit at £2000. I felt like everything was falling apart, I’d made too many bad choices.
Bad idea to teacher train
I started to think to myself “why the hell was I teacher training?”, seeing teachers bitch about one another and how the last mentor was had put me off the profession in the UK for life!
All I felt was I had made a lot of mistakes in a short space of time about my career path and I was getting punished for trying to better myself. My attitudes and belief about myself from when I first started Architecture to where I was at this point had totally changed, I felt worthless, depressed and totally lost in my life.
Back into the dragons lair
Probably one of the hardest things I had to do was go back into an environment similar to that that had made me have the breakdown, it wasn’t the same school but it was the same situation that had made me think about that experience. I went to a new school that had great mentors but due to no fault of the mentor, I broke down again because when I had a bad lesson I remembered how I got to be made to me feel worthless and on my way back to the school the next day I felt the lowest I’d EVER felt and I didn’t want to be on the planet any-more…it was my lowest point in my life.
I went to my parents and got signed off for 6 months. In this moment I also started tuning into my true calling, to be creative, and painted a painting for the John Moores painting prize 2010 see info about it here.
I wasn’t going to let this woman who made me feel so bad,beat me! The one who made me feel so worthless was not going to win and take me away from gaining this qualification I had started doing and I was given another school to attend by the university.
It wasn’t easy going back to the classroom, every day my heart would pound very fast and hard, I would be afraid and uncomfortable of being back in a school but I am a stubborn man that won’t let nasty people get the upper hand.
This school was the best school I had attended. A private school and the support was immense but I still felt terrible inside, I had to imagine myself as the Gladiator about to enter the arena every single morning and every time I managed to get through a day it was like a battle won!
What would the gladiator do?
Imagining myself as the gladiator helped me a great deal get through the placement and the hard feelings I was experiencing successfully and as a result I completed the degree….a degree I didn’t want or need for my career but I completed it out of principle of never letting a bullying person win.
Mental Fatigue & Collapse
Like in the film Gladiator he eventually collapsed after his biggest fight…that also happened to me too.
I had done 2 degrees, gained 30k of debt owed to government, 3k to banks and no closer to having a career, I lay shivering on the floor rocking, sweating and saying to god “I want to die and start my life again”. Doing teaching had just deepened my financial wounds.
Closest I had been to Suicide
This truly was the feeling of wanting to take my own life. My heart was very heavy and I couldn’t see any hope in my life…even my relationship wasn’t great either so nothing was working out for me.
I phoned my parents and told them how I was feeling and they made an appointment for the doctor.
The doctor asked questions about how I was feeling, ticking boxes on a point scale for suicide watch and I was very near the top of the scale, ready to kill myself.
I had got so bad I had even started thinking about how I could end it all and the most effective way to make an impression if I was to do it.
The doctor gave me 40gm of Citalopram and made an appointment to see a psychiatric nurse asap. I was diagnosed with severe depression ( although I kind of knew that already ) and i was told to get some CBT ( Cognitive Behaviour Therapy ).
Kept a journal of thoughts
My mother suggested to keep a diary of my progress and what I was thinking so as I improved I could look back and see what I was thinking about in the past.
I still have these journals and I may make them public in the future if I believe it could help those suffering with similar things.
Each day from when I graduated from teaching in 2011 to Christmas the same year I was sleeping a lot.. .most of the day in fact I spent asleep. My mind was totally exhausted and I moved back home to my parents so that my family could look after me whilst I recovered.
One pressure of looking after my partner had gone, she was self supportive now as a teacher and with a car, her situation was much improved than before but she didn’t like me being back at my parents whilst I was trying to get well…
Whilst at home I just wanted to be invisible to the world, the world to me seemed so cruel and I felt I had been lied to by the ones selling the degrees to me, the government and the educational establishment.
Strangely, an opportunity came up to live in my old secondary school for very cheap rate so my partner moved in…it was a great space but quite bizarre to sleeping where I was educated a long time ago…
(I went to my graphics room where my passion for design started and I took a door from the space…this would be the canvas of my 2012 John Moores Painting Prize entry, you can read about it here.)
Harry the Westie
After my education I no longer wanted to be a pat of this world, to me all that was positive in it was my family and the family pet, Harry.
I’d stopped going out, I didn’t want to be in the world anymore, it had all gone wrong for me. I wanted to stay in the comfort of my childhood home. When I did go out I would wear a very big jumper and a large grey woollen hat that covered most of my face. I no longer wanted to be a part of this place called earth and I didn’t want people to look at me.
Harry had other ideas.
Harry is a Westland Terrier. Total innocence, friendly, fun & loving, the kind of person you want to be around.
Along with my family he was one of the ones to help me begin to heal. I would take him out around the local neighbourhood block for 5 minutes then as I got more comfortable and confident walking the little guy I would go further and further out for longer walks until I was going for long one to two hour walks three times a day. I seemed to be improving.
A psychic EFT practioner and a friend
Whilst I had was walking harry I also knew of a man who did EFT and psychic readings. I asked for his services to try and help me get on the road to recovery as I did want to get well.
He helped me release some emotional problems from my childhood and to my surprise … from my relationship…
To begin EFT you have to empty your head of your worries, fears and all negative things so you can work on them, a lo of the thoughts related to my ex.
I want my partner to be happy, i want her to have everything she wants in life, I want her to do a job she loves, I want her to feel loved etc…
It was obvious I was being sacrificial in the relationship and that was more important than getting the perfect job, although having a good career had always been quite important to me.
The psychic needed a new website and knowing I had been advancing my skills in web and graphic design ( and as a hobby when I had free time ) he allowed me to redevelop his website.
Unfortunately, itt was more challenging to focus on this task at the time as my mind wasn’t 100% healthy and I was still recovering so the work wasn’t where I would have liked it to be but it did help me.
Boxing Day Knockout
As Christmas approached my younger sister had also suffered a breakdown as she was being badly bullied at the school she was at so was also away from school at exactly the same time I had my breakdown.
She didn’t want my then partner at our home at Christmas and as spoken about earlier my older sister certainly didn’t so we had Christmas apart. She spent it with her half brothers and her step dad whilst I stayed in my family home.
My ex felt excluded from the family not being allowed to come around to the family home and also the fact I was now recovering better in my family home than if I was living with her she couldn’t understand or take it any more and on boxing day, chose to leave me.
A shock but due to all the problems I had been experiencing in my 20’s life I was quite indifferent to the news. Just another black mark to add to the others.
Whilst laying on the sofa one day it started occurring to me that maybe there were opportunities for my skills in the USA or South America and maybe leaving where my problems had happened to me might help in gaining my health again so I started to learn Spanish independently.
When I started learning Spanish I used an on-line language program and got speaking to a Colombian lady that was living in the UK to study.
After a while of talking she suggested that we meet up, which I agreed to & we met. Thing was she was in London and I had never been to the capital and remember, I was barely walking around my neighbourhood but it was oen of the best days I had had in a long long time!
She made me feel alive and appreciated again…something I hadn’t felt in a long while.
Unfortunately for me, the day I met her was also the last day of her visa, she was on her way back to Colombia.
We were both quite upset by this as we both got on so well and she was such an attractive, kind girl, we really connected, another spanner had been thrown into the works but my stubborn side came out again! The night she had to leave I promised that we would see each other again, offered my scarf as a promise to come and get it and this was the catalyst for positive change in my life!
Got rid of my past in a constructive way
I was broke, unemployed, still recovering from severe depression and anxiety yet I was determined to see the Colombian girl again. I sat in my room and looked at all my possessions i had gained over 7 years of further education…
Lots of teaching books ( never going to use ), old gifts from my ex, dvds I never watched…I must have had at least £700 worth of possessions I no longer had a use for so I got on Ebay and Amazon and began selling everything I no longer wanted or needed. (Read the article “ebay saved my life“).
Week after week I would sit and list hundreds of items, wrap them up, take them to the post and office and repeat the process week after week.
Removing connections to my negative past
I sold birthday presents my ex had given me, teaching and architecture books that no longer served a purpose to me other than to collect dust. ( I wasn’t going to become an architect and teaching just brought some of my worst memories of people’s bad nature to the surface. )
Within a couple of months I had gathered enough money to buy a ticket to Colombia so…I did!
Towards the end of March
Strange to think just six months earlier I had had a severe breakdown and now I was about to travel to other side of the world on my own t0 ( according to some government stats ) one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Being close to suicide and feeling low also had the impact of making me fearless of the danger of being in a dangerous place on my own.
Life was short so why become fearful of what others tell you. I wanted to experience new cultures and be with this amazing girl, this was my chance and I was taking it with both hands.
People are beautiful colours
My journey to Colombia consisted of three flights.
Manchester to Madrid, Madrid to Bogota, Bogota to Medellin but in between those journeys I met some very interesting and colourful characters. On my way from Manchester to Madrid a South African man, possibly around his late 60s talked to me about how in his youth he played semi-pro football, escaped a burglar trying to murder him through strangulation and his high flying career position of a radio manufacturing company that made elements of a radio before the computer became the technology that every business must have.
A very interesting guy that had led a colourful life and I was very grateful to listen to…
…he made me think a little…his life had been so colourful and rich. Is life really so terrible or do some of us hold on to the terrible memories that hurt us and ruin the time we have on earth?
This man won’t know it but he did effect my life in a positive way (thus why he gets a mention! ) he helped me see how life can be an amazing story if you allow it to be. Close one bad door, learn from it and move on.
German in Bogota
I also met a guy who looked similar to Shaggy Doo from Germany on the Bogota airport bus.
Very chatty and again living his life to the full. Travelling the world as an entertainer, putting smiles on peoples faces, what a rewarding life! It was a brief meeting but a nice conversation between two lonely travellers.
26 hours later I eventually landed in Medellin with no sleep but to be greeted by the smiling face of the Colombian girl and her mother. Her mother was one of the kindest ladies I have met. She spoke no english but fortunately I had been studying Spanish for 4 months so I had a basic grasp of espanol fortunately.
I lived with the family for two weeks and really got to appreciate and know the girl and her family so much better.
They were a very family orientated family and very close unit. One night I remember all the family gathering in the apartment to sing songs and play music with their aunts, uncles and grandparents. I became particularly moved when the grandfather gave me one of his favourite books by Oscar Wilde wrote in spanish and told me to take it so I could learn the language.
As time moved on it got closer to me leaving Medellin…I didn’t want to return to my home country, I had got so close to the family and it was quite an emotional departure.
Colombia didn’t feel dangerous and actually I quite liked it there and more importantly I liked the girl I had connected with..I had no choice though, I had to return back.
It was a tearful goodbye but I promised her we would find a way of us being together whether me moving to Colombia or her back to the UK. I was still unemployed but this was the trigger I needed to get me motivated to stop letting the depression control me and get back into work to make my new romance happen and start using my skills I had gained.
Time to move away
I was a new man when I returned from Colombia. I was prepared to work anywhere in the world, but after persuasion by my family…I started applying for jobs in the UK first…all over the UK in fact, I didn’t care where I just wanted to work again. I was taking back control of my life as I had gained so many qualifications that I felt were beginning to be wasted…
Within a week of applying for jobs I got a job interview and also..got the job!
I couldn’t believe it and I was on the phone to my Colombian girlfriend straight away to tell her the good news. I couldn’t believe my luck, had the wheel of fortune at last turned in my favour?!
Things do improve
Within three months of working in my new job the Colombian girl and I had been struggling with the long distance relationship, arguing every day and decided to call it a day.
…living far away from everything and everyone I knew with no friends I had to do things on my own so I started visiting art galleries like the National Gallery in London and the Tate on my own when I met a woman, a kind, good hearted and beautiful Asian woman who took away all my anxieties, depression and unhappiness, I was happy again!
Working also helped the recovery
It can’t be denied that the fact someone saw a talent in me that few others had recognised was a blessing and what I had seeked for over four years.
Being in the workplace again, meeting new people and feeling appreciated also helped me to heal.
Things are better but social anxiety remains
Three years earlier I was on the highest dosage of Citalopram for depression and now I had decided to come off it. Before doing this I did have a meeting with a mental health nurse for a diagnose of my condition. Taking tablets is difficult and knowing you are putting chemicals into your body did not make me feel happy…
Although I have made vast improvements I still suffer sometimes with social anxiety and feeling low ( which makes me think I may be bi-polar ) but I push myself to do things I feel uncomfortable doing as most of the time it is always works out at being a good experience when I do it.
So why a champion?
As you can see from this post I had a lot of negative experiences that led to me becoming depressed and extremely socially anxious in some situations.
I know what it is like to feel like there is no hope, no hope of improvement and feeling suicidal but I also know that there is a way to heal yourself, then you can recover and improve how you are experiencing life whilst you have the chance…we are here to enjoy life not endure it!
Why I wrote about my past
I have written about my experiences so you know my back story and also as the first step for YOU to take too!
The best thing you can do is write down your feelings of why you are depressed, anxious or low and then keep it in an envelope or book locked away, by doing this you are emptying your head of your thoughts and you can start to self analyse a bit easier why you are the way you are .You can also take this to your doctor so they can see exactly how you are thinking which is very beneficial to psychologists and mental health practitioners and also one day…when you get well…you can look back and say you won, you got through that dark period of your life!
Future self help techniques
I plan to continue by writing about techniques to overcome depression and social anxiety and how I overcame my own problems and continue to do so. I will not only share what worked for me but other recommended methods to getting well as we are all different, different things will work better for different people.
You can improve your situation no matter how bleak or terrible it feels right now. I truly believe we can all change our situation if we allow ourselves to accept that we have the capability to do it.