Tim is a Case Lead at the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and a Mental Health First Aider.
You may wonder why I became a Mental Health First Aider. When I was in my early 20s I never really focussed on my career; I worked in the gay village in Manchester as a waiter and enjoyed my social life. On approaching my late 20s I thought I should grow up a bit and get a ‘proper job’ so I found a job at a retail bank.
I progressed in my career at the bank much quicker than I had ever imagined. I quickly moved up pay grades into a role on a new project. I used to spend a lot of time with my friends and family, enjoyed keeping myself fit and working on my house that I had bought with my boyfriend. I was very proud to have got the role but I stopped spending time on the things I enjoyed and put all my focus into my work. I started working from 7 till 7 in the week and continued working at the weekends. This certainly took its toll on me and started to impact on my mental health.
I had never really thought about my mental health before. I thought I was invincible. I was beaten up by a group of men for being gay, I went to a school where it was a massive deal to be gay and I was brought up being the minister’s son of a Pentecostal church which made it challenging to come out to my parents. Despite all this, I had always been able to keep myself in the main part ‘happy’. I always had a release to the stresses I had to deal with in my life.
The project that I worked on at the bank did not go well. I really wanted the project to be a success and I put the success of the project on my own shoulders. I took responsibility for things at work that I was not responsible for, to try and ensure success. I became very anxious about the work I was doing and I could not let it out of my mind. I would come home from work still thinking about the work. I would eat my tea and not realise what I was eating because I was thinking about work. I would try and go to sleep and not sleep because I was thinking about work. I felt like I didn’t sleep for 3 months.
My boyfriend told me that I needed to stop working so much, and that it was making me ill but I didn’t listen. One weekend I was working, I thought what I had written was not worth the paper it was written on so I threw my work notes across the room. After working relentlessly for months, without sleep, I was no longer able to function properly or think clearly. My mind had become so blurred and I became really confused. My boyfriend came into the room and said, ‘You are not going to work tomorrow’, so I didn’t.
I went to the doctors and I got a sick note. At this point, I really felt that I had failed, I felt worthless, and that I was no good to anyone. My anxiety had also hit the roof. I thought my manager would come round to my house and force me back into work. I tried to use my bank card and it was declined, I thought this was because the bank had blocked my card but it was because I was so anxious, I put the pin in wrong. I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, pacing around rooms and not remembering to eat. I couldn’t focus on anything or enjoy anything.
A quick internet search will show you that mental health illness impacts significantly more people in the LGBT+ community than the general population. People have said to me before they don’t understand why. To me it is simple, I was brought up to become something that I am not. I have been told so many times that who I am is wrong or I am someone who should be ashamed of myself. It is not all bad though, it is also the reason why I am who I am today.
I got better from my mental health problem quickly. At the time, I thought there was no hope, I would never feel like me again, and wouldn’t be able to enjoy the things that I used to. I had to re-build myself after hitting rock bottom.
So how did I get better? I talked a lot. I reached out to people to talk about my feelings and allowed them to help me. Talking really helped and help my mind come back to reality. I also learnt about mindfulness, yoga and meditation. This helped me to sleep again and taught me how to turn my mind off.
I will never take my mental health for granted again. I have a few rules to keep my mind back in the right mindset. I try to stay present. People talk about mindfulness and ‘being present’ a lot these days. So, what does it mean to me? When I was ill, I was not present at all, I was stuck in my head. Being present is about focussing on what you are doing in that moment. Whether that is listening to the birds when you are outside, enjoying the beats and lyrics of music, or concentrating on the taste and textures of food.
Being present to me is also about, not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, not worrying about things outside my control and not worrying about expectations. These are expectations I put on myself, expectations I put on others, and expectations that others put on me. This helps me to appreciate the things others do for me, have an open mind, and ignore expectations others put on me, allowing me to be myself.
I became ill because I did not allow myself time to do the things I enjoy or keep myself healthy. Now, I make sure that I give myself time and focus on the beauty in life. Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.
I became a mental health first aider because I want to help others who may also be struggling with their mental health. I am here to listen without judgement, offer hope and direct people to the relevant resources.
Mental Health First Aiders are trained and accredited by MHFA England. You can find out more about their work here. Training is delivered at departmental level in the Civil Service. If you’re interested in reaching out to, or training to be, a Mental Health First Aider, please contact your local HR.