I am writing this piece because it is something that I am not afraid to speak about and I feel it may be of benefit to somebody out there. I believe my story is extremely unique and if my story can help even one person in any way, shape or form… then it would take away some of the discomfort that I have looking back.
My mother and father separated when I was around 5 years old and I resided with my mother so I mainly relied on her for guidance in life. My Dad was somewhat an alcoholic and therefore I did not really have a good relationship with him so I have always lacked that fatherly guidance that most people are blessed with. My mother isn’t academically inclined in any way so for my guidance, I generally have to rely on my peers, lecturers, or even counsellors.
My background growing up was let’s put it…. rather unstable. My mum was in an unstable relationship and I would often end up in confrontation with her partner which would result in me staying with my Dad until he had enough of me and then I would go and live with my auntie or whoever else would take me in. I always had someone to look after me but growing up with this instability always had an effect on me and although I could have reacted to the situation differently, I feel like I was never given a fair chance in life.
In all fairness, I cannot really complain about my situation growing up. My mum used to work around 70 hours a week so she was never really around but I always had the material things I needed. My mum stacked up a lot of debt to provide everything she could for me and I will always be eternally grateful for it. I currently have one main ambition in life and that’s to earn enough money so my mum can retire early because I cannot stand back and watch her work herself into an early grave knowing that I have done nothing to help the situation.
Things really started going wrong for me when I was 15 years old and I ended up in a really unstable relationship of my own. I became emotionally attached to someone who was cheating on me and this really messed up my emotions until I ended up on anti-depressants and I stopped going to school. I was always an extremely intelligent boy in school and I advanced in mathematics at a rate much faster than my peers so I was able to get away with the poor attendance for a very long time, and it didn’t really flag up any alarm bells with anyone.
After several months of the darkness, I began using drugs to try and escape reality. I had started drinking heavy at first and it soon evolved into absolute chaos. I would take anything that was put in front of me just to escape reality for that little short period of time. Eventually things got on top of me and I dropped out of school without even sitting my Highers. At this point in my life I had never even considered university as an option and I remember people speaking about UCAS but I had no idea what it even was.
When I was 16 years old I decided that enough was enough and I wanted a fresh start so I moved to England to live with one of my siblings who I had only met for the first time the previous year. After a couple of months, I ended up moving back in with my mother but things hadn’t changed. I soon slipped back into the chaos of addiction and I ended up homeless 3 weeks after I moved back up to my beloved hometown of Thurso.
I was always fortunate that I was never physically homeless at any point in my life. I was fortunate enough (although I didn’t see it like that at the time) to stay in a hostel that catered for the homeless so I always had a roof over my head. Around this time, I got support from a charity who gave me a Housing Support Officer which was the greatest blessing I could have ever had! The transition of becoming completely independent at the age of 16 was something I was not prepared for mentality because I was so fragile at the time but the support from that charity is what got me though the most difficult and darkest period I will ever experience.
Around this time, I started to suffer from extreme Mental Health issues. I became extremely paranoid and used to take anxiety attacks on a regular basis (a lot of time and money was invested in me by the NHS around this point). I was a complete shell of a human being and by this point I was consuming drugs and alcohol every minute of every day. I am very surprised I never got sectioned under the Mental Health Act at this point in my life as I constantly had run-ins with CPN’s, Hospitals & even the Police. I eventually ended up with my own place and due to me being one of the only people in the town around my age with their own house, it ended up becoming a drinking den. It was around this time that I realised that there is a massive difference between a house and a home and I soon began to hate the “home” I stayed in.
I suffered from severe depression around this time and I was given extremely strong tablets from the doctors (which are also prescribed to people who have schizophrenia) and I truly believe it was the doctors medication was a major factor to my Mental Health declining at a rapid rate. I had tried everything I possibly could and I was screaming from the inside out but nobody was listening. Eventually on 13 September 2010, I had enough and I attempted to commit suicide by throwing myself off a cliff edge which resulted in me being in a coma for around a week, a broken hip, fractured skull and a fractured pelvis.
It is sad to say this but that event was the best thing that ever happened to me! Sometimes in life you have to hit rock bottom (excuse the pun) before your eyes are opened and that’s exactly what happened with me. The time I spent in hospital was invaluable and really gave me the opportunity to evaluate where I was at in life. After speaking to many doctors, psychologists & addiction workers, I agreed to sign myself up to an 18-week Rehab Programme.
I am honestly so grateful that I got given that opportunity to go to Rehab (there isn’t a lot of funding available through the NHS so it is difficult to get treatment) and I am just glad that my addiction worker seen something in me that was worthy of putting through the treatment. I was admitted to Castle Craig in March 2011 and ironically, I wasn’t even old enough to buy a drink at the time. I was very mature for my age and had gained lots of life experience so I adapted to it pretty quickly and fully engaged with the programme.
I had spoken to Careers Scotland before I left to go to Castle Craig and I decided that I would go back and study my Highers when I finished the programme so that was my main focus and drive. I actually came out of my rehabilitation programme 2 weeks early because one of my childhood friends had died and I wanted to attend his funeral. I very quickly slipped back into old circles and relapsed pretty quickly but life is a learning curve and I soon learned to ditch my old friends who I used to use drugs with.
I then took on the task of studying 3 Scottish Highers by myself at home which took a lot of self-discipline. After achieving my 3 Highers, I opted to take an Accounting course in the college. I realised that I wanted to go to university and actually release the potential I was blessed with. It’s a shame that you don’t realise what you have until you’ve lost it in life and at this point, I wish I had just took the standard path and done my Highers when I should have done them and left for university with all my classmates.
I applied for university whilst in college and that was my first real exposure to the fact that my actions in the past were going to have a considerable effect on my future. I ticked the box for criminal convictions (which unfortunately I picked up when suffering at the hands of alcoholism) and very quickly I received 3 rejections. Out of the blue, a woman from Heriot-Watt phoned me up and told me they were very interested in me. I am very grateful to Heriot-Watt for their policy on taking people from a diverse background because I am not sure where I would be if they never gave me that initial opportunity.
I have engaged a lot with my studies at Heriot-Watt and I am generally someone who goes the extra mile with regards to their studies because I am determined to make the most of this second chance I have been given in life. I let studying be my new addiction and in my third year I literally spent every single day from 8am to 10pm in the university studying or building relationships with my peers. I have had to isolate myself away from the world in order to protect myself and I do not even go to my hometown anymore to visit friends & family because I just want to cut myself off from the past and give myself a completely fresh start.
So where am I now? I still suffer from mental health issues and I believe they are something that I will live with for the rest of my life. I always look back and wonder if things had played out differently… would my head be in a better place? I genuinely believe it is just genetics and I have come to accept that mental health issues are something I always have but I have learned ways to work around it. Will I ever be normal? What is normal at the end of the day? I have my good days and my bad days. When my good days are good… it is extremely good. When my bad days are bad… it is extremely bad. The thing I have learned is that the feelings pass. Sometimes you have to take each day at a time, each hour at a time… sometimes even each minute at a time! Life isn’t going to be perfect and sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad.
I endured a very tough year for my third year and getting through that year has proved to me that I can deal with anything that life throws at me now and not have to result in turning to drugs, or alcohol. One of my close friends at university and my Grandma died in the same week, right at the start of the semester, which was a very difficult time for me…. and when I normally would have used that as an excuse to drink myself into oblivion… I opted not to. My saving grace was that I was too engaged with my course at the time to process these emotions and I knew I just had to soldier on with things and not let it consume me. I dealt with these issues by myself without turning to drugs, alcohol, or even doctors.
My major point is that there are always ways of working round things and if I can do it then anybody can! When I get bad anxiety, I go for a long shower. When I feel depressed I try and speak to people. I believe people just need to find something that works for them! Go the gym, read a book, play the playstation – the list is endless. I have found that doing things like voluntary work has helped me enormously as giving back to society makes you feel really good and It has also helped me boost my CV and open some doors which is an added bonus.
I have opted to take on several voluntary positions that deal with issues that are really close to my heart like Miricyl. I believe that tablets seemed to be the only solution the doctors had for me which didn’t really help the underlying problem. I still suffer on a daily basis and I really wish that there was an easy cure to this problem. There is a sort of stigma in society against Mental Health issues and not even doctors wanted to accept the fact that I was suffering mentally. After several years… not much has changed mentally for me. I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere in society anymore and feel extremely isolated. I feel like the only way for me not to make mistakes in life is to lock myself away but this fuels my depression. It is a vicious circle and sometimes I feel like I’m in a battle that I will never win.
I personally like to keep busy at all times because if not then I start looking backwards! I think this is the only recipe I have to keep me away from the darkness and I’ve got to say that it seems to be paying off for me. I have always been sceptical about my past being a hindrance to my future and I thought the light at the end of the tunnel had burned out but eventfully my hard work has paid off and I have now been blessed with an amazing second chance in life. I am like a cat in many ways: I have 9 lives & I always seem to land on my feet!
I have been so fortunate that society has invested a lot in me and helped aid me through the struggle. Mental health is real and effects more people than you would like to think. If you are suffering then speak out as there are always ears out there willing to listen!