(Please note, parts of this post are kind of heavy and may contain triggers for some people. If you’re not doing great, give Lifeline a call on 13 11 14, reach out to a friend or book in to see your GP, get a mental health plan and start seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. Get help. Life’s pretty fucking incredible and worth the discomfort of confronting your demons to make the most of this little adventure we get in existence)
Hi, my name is Khan and this is the story of a boy and his brain.
For as long as I can remember I haven’t felt completely comfortable in my own head. The constant whirring of worried thoughts. Anxiety; every possible worst case scenario playing on loop, analysing everything and everyone around me. The extremes with which I feel many emotions, often at completely inappropriate times. The awkwardness I find with many basic human functions; conversation, being quiet, stillness, making eye contact, just being a person. The never ending voice in my head, picking myself apart, telling me I‘m bad, I can’t, no body likes me and I’m not good enough.
The noise. Constant noise, humming, whirring and often screaming.
A noise inside me, I’ve tried (ineffectively) to deal with by creating as much noise outside in the world around me.
Over the years I’ve tried to deal with these thoughts and feelings in a variety of ways. Destructive behaviours; binge drinking, sex, an eating disorder, obsessing over various self-help methods, relying on external validation to tell me I’m ok, social media, temporary distractions, people pleasing and various other forms of trying to drown out the noise. There have also been some positive coping strategies I’ve developed, such as fitness (which has been such an incredible, real and empowering part of who I am), study and learning and writing and other creative outlets. But of course, it’s the former list that’s brought me here.
Though I genuinely can’t remember a time where I didn’t have the above thoughts and feelings rolling around in the old noggin, it wasn’t until 2015, 4 years ago, that I first considered I may have an actual mental health problem.
In early 2015 things got dark. I (ashamedly) wrote a series of notes addressed to the people I cared about, attempting to justify why, if I were to end my own life it would be for the best and in fact their lives and the world would be better for it.
I don’t think I was genuinely considering suicide, nor was I planning on giving the notes to anyone. I think in that moment it was just cathartic exploring the possibility of finally silencing the noise in my head, by ceasing to exist all together. Someone found the notes in my phone and told my best mate, who told my ex and they told my parents.
They all freaked out. I freaked out that I‘d freaked them out and it was decided that I would go and get some help.
The world is fucking incredible, the people in my life are fucking incredible. The simple joys of the first sip of coffee on a cold morning, or a cold beer on a hot summer’s afternoon. Curling up on the couch with Jem and watching a movie. Laughing to the point of tears, carrying on with my mates. Deep, loud and passionate conversations with my family. The feeling of stillness and complete connection to the present moment I get when I’m competing. The ocean. Mountains. When my mate Seany shows us “the look” he used to give women to seduce them. Life is full of simple, incredible moments. Here, now, I look at the times I’ve considered leaving all those things a possibility, with such contempt.
But it’s all a part of my story and that story did and does go on, so let’s get back to 2015. It was time for my first attempt at “getting help”. Searching around online, Dr Google told me that I may be exhibiting some signs of bipolar, so I found a GP who cleverly labeled himself as a “mental health specialist”. I told him my thoughts on bipolar and he promptly confirmed this (mis)diagnosis, prescribed me anti-psychotic and mood stabilising medication and sent me off to get therapy.
Note: a GP should NOT be diagnosing you with mental health disorders, especially ones as serious as bipolar. I learnt this lesson the hard way.
For about 6 months I tried to take the meds but they weren’t doing anything noticeable and the side effects were horrid. I took them sporadically and when I asked the doctor to change them, he said I just needed to take them more consistently and if they still didn’t work, I could up the dosage.
The psychologist he referred me to was a nice enough bloke but the sessions seemed a bit sterile. We didn’t really click. It was awkward (I am awkward) and I was busy and wasn’t making much money. The sessions became stressful and I used that as an excuse to stop. Besides I was “killing it” 🙄 as I’d been crowned the fittest man in the Pacific (the week I was diagnosed with bipolar) and was off to my second CrossFit Games. Everything was awesome. Or so I tried to convince myself (and the rest of the world).
Fast forward two years of trying to self-help (cough* a huge part of why I went back to uni to do a psychology degree) and distract myself by constantly doing anything and EVERYTHING to try and drown out all the noise. My mental state deteriorated again and my new partner (Jem) urged me to get help once more.
This time I went to a psychiatrist, who was great but charged $400 a session, so that was never going to last. In my first session however, he quickly informed me that I was definitely not bipolar and instead suffered from extremely bad anxiety (no surprises there), episodic depression and likely ADHD (however this would need to be, and was, confirmed by a different psychiatrist) along with a bunch of emotional and self esteem issues.
I lasted two sessions with this fella and was given a new type of medication to try (Sertraline). I couldn’t get an immediate appointment with the ADHD specialist and then took off overseas and so once again I let life take priority over continuing to try and work out my shit.
Being on the road and keeping myself overly busy, I only took the medication sporadically again, so fuck knows if it did anything to actually help. I did notice some side effects again though, which were annoying and reason again to justify stopping.
Fast forward another two years of the same shit, to a few weeks ago in a hotel room in Barcelona. Painfully hungover (as I’m sure so many of these journeys towards recovery begin), anxious, depressed and acutely self aware.
More noise, more frustration at not finding an answer amidst the chaos (or at the bottom of a bottle).
More erratic and destructive attempts at trying to deal with the whirring in my head.
I had reached breaking point.
I had broken in some ways.
But in that moment of brokenness, I found an odd sense of clarity. I booked a flight home (two weeks earlier than planned) and began the process of getting help.
I went and saw a doctor who put me on a “mental health plan” and found a new psychologist who I’ve seen a few times and has been incredible, so much so, I dead set look forward to our sessions all week!
I also finally went to a psychiatric hospital for an ADHD assessment, which turned out a resounding “yep, we’ve finally fucking figured this out” result, which, despite being delivered by a frustratingly calm, yet cranky doctor, was news worthy of leaping out of my seat to hug him… That didn’t actually happen, but I fist bumped him on the way out, it was a mental hospital after all and I wanted to try and fit in.
Finally having a conclusive ADHD diagnosis opened me up to a whole new world of treatment options, as a ADHD is a neurological disorder, rather than psychiatric or behavioural as much of the noise in my head had been assumed to be in the past. Obviously I would (and will) still need psychiatric treatment for the sever anxiety, self esteem and emotional affective issues that accompany my ADHD, but having a new range of treatment options available has been an incredible relief. Relief that’s taken 4 years of “getting help” to come to… so keep that in mind ye who enter the wild world of recovery; it can take time AND commitment.
I’m also beginning the process of stepping back from things which are adding more stress and chaos to my already crowded mental bandwidth and feel genuinely happy with the direction things are headed.
It’s early days and this isn’t the first time I’ve “gotten help” but there’s lots of things that feel very different, including the openness with which I’m sharing this story. I guess it’s more real now and that’s how I want to live my life moving forward.
During all of this I also deactivated my Instagram account.
It’s crazy, I knew I wasted so much time on social media and it was definitely something I’d misused. Firstly as a means of trying to escape from the real world and secondly to convince myself (and others) that everything was ok. I didn’t realise just how good it would feel being away from it.
However, Instagram is part of my job, so I knew it would only be a brief departure. But In that time, I was able to create a plan (with some help) for how I could engage with the platform on my return, in a healthier, happier, more authentic way.
I believe social media can have a huge impact on our mental health. It’s a world of smoke and mirrors, highlight reels, judgement, comparison, escape and distraction.
Online, mental health is almost in-vogue at the moment, but I feel like their are few people with a platform truly opening up about exactly what they’re going through and how they’re dealing with it, especially when it comes to blokes. This can make the journey towards recovery seem pretty lonely and the “would-be-recoverer” feel like even more of a weirdo than they probably already do. I want to break away from the highlight reels and start contributing to the change I believe this space needs, especially when it comes to understanding the true nature of mental health.
Full disclosure: I’m terrified of what people will think reading or hearing about this. As a bloke, there is also a hell of a lot of shame and embarrassment in any weakness this shows and at the incompetence I feel for letting things get to this point without being able to help myself. However, there is also a sense of freedom and empowerment in this openness and if I’m to be judged for my story then I have to accept that as a part of this journey. At the end of the day I am so lucky to have so many incredible people around me supporting me through this and that’s what truly counts.
Anyways, it’s been one hell of an effort to try and sum up 29 years of being a complete fruit-cake into one post, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty more stories to share on here moving forward.
Writing has always been a powerful tool for me to explore some of my darker thoughts and feelings, as well as celebrate the good times and things I love.
I’m not sure when I’ll post again or how often, but I’ll endeavour to try and share as much of this new journey as I can through this blog.
Whilst I think it’s awesome that when I’ve talked about mental health stuff in the past I’ve received some beautiful messages from people opening up about their own struggles, I kindly ask that, rather than contact me you reach out to a friend or family member. I’m not qualified, capable or in a place to be able to help anyone, other than by sharing my own story. I won’t be responding to DMs etc. I’m very sorry and thanks for understanding.
But please if this does hit close to home, do something about it. Book in to see your GP, tell them what’s going on and let them help you create a mental health plan (in Aus that is 10 subsidised psychologist appointments if you are current Medicare member). Be ready to shop around for the right psych. Find a recovery support group, or start one yourself. If you open up, you’ll be surprised how many people are going through the same shit you are.
There are no quick fixes, no magic moments of instant recovery. It’s a journey, but all journeys need to start somewhere.
You can’t change your life in an instant, but you can change its direction…
With much love.