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David's Story - International Men's Day

David opens up about how he has struggled with his mental health and how taking that first step to getting help is so important.

Trigger warning: Reference to body dysmorphic disorder, self harm and suicide

Mental health has been a huge part of my life ever since my mid-teens. I am now 33, and only in the last 2 years I have got to a place where I can manage my illness, enabling me to live the life I want to.

Looking back to the years my mental illness severely impacted my ability to function, I can highlight a number of factors which stopped me getting the help and support I needed. Shame, embarrassment and fear being three major ones.

I knew no other men who had suffered with their mental health, I didn’t want to appear weak or be judged.

I felt others would think I am strange and not understand if I told them how much distress I was in.

Over the years I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, ocd and body dysmorphic disorder. Being a man and having bdd is something that is not very well known, body image is historically what women worry about, I was always of the thought that men shouldn’t care about these kinds of issues, that caused me to feel even more different and confused.

Around my mid to late teens I started to constantly think I was ugly and abnormal looking, and I was sure others thought the same. This carried on for the next 10 years. My focus was on my face. I spent hours looking in the mirror, at any reflective surface if I was out, making lists of all my facial features I hated and comparing them to others. The anxiety this caused was overwhelming and I couldn’t find any rest from my destructive thoughts in relation to my appearance. I would scratch and claw my face, punch myself repeatedly until my face was bruised and swollen. 

I felt I was a freak and let out my anger on what caused me so much hurt.

I didn’t feel comfortable in social situations so I would drink heavily to gain confidence, when I was drunk my thoughts and feelings would reduce, though this just masked the problem momentarily, a vicious cycle which ultimately made me worse.

I knew the preoccupation with my appearance was not normal, I knew it wasn’t out of vanity, but I was afraid what others would think of me. I thought everyone would think I am silly, like it was easy just to stop worrying what I looked like. I didn’t know it was mental illness I was suffering from for a long time. My depression became more severe which led to a suicide attempt, which became the catalyst for my recovery.

Being open and honest, getting the right information, help and support, cognitive behaviour therapy, the Recovery College, and making positive lifestyle changes has made an enormous difference to me. Anyone suffering on their own needs to know there are people who can help, no matter how difficult life seems at the moment.

Being male does not make you any less deserving of support, its not weak to be open that you are struggling, It’s a strength, and the first step to get better.

No one chooses to be mentally unwell, and mental health doesn’t discriminate based on gender. I know how difficult it can be to have that first initial conversation or attend the first appointment, but in doing so you are taking control of your life, a life worth living to the full.

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