Talking about mental health was never easy for me even at the best of times.
When I was in School in the 80’s I learnt very early on how much discrimination of mental health in embedded into the culture at the time.
I found school extremely difficult, not only where there many learning barriers due to being dyslexic but I also found myself being victimized on a daily basis because I was overweight.
These two factors plus being an Atheist at a Church of England School caused not only depression but also extreme frustration. It was due to this frustration that I would find myself in fights or ‘acting out’ as my teachers would put it. Of course the build up to this ‘acting out’, the name calling, the social isolation from other children my age and the lack of the specialist teaching I needed, was totally ignored. I was the problem for defending myself and unable to cope in an environment that was belittling and hostile.
On one occasion things got so bad I was dragged by my left arm and thrown across the cloakroom by my school headmaster. After a couple more smacks across the head he screamed at me that if I didn’t stop acting like a ‘bloody psychopath’ that I would end up in Tone Vale- a well-known local psychiatric hospital which closed down in 1995 and eventually demolished.
During the build up to this particular insistent I had, as encouraged, spoken to my teacher about being bullied by my classmates but it had fallen on deaf ears. I was told to ‘stand up for myself’, ‘fight my own battles’ and to simply ignore them. Unfortunately ignoring them turned the taunting into a game: How much can Marc take before he starts acting ‘crazy’?
It was after this that the depression and anxiety took hold. I was already a shy kid in the first place but my abuse at the hands of my headmaster made it even worse and my depression was exacerbated by the fact I was in an abusive environment and unable to do anything about it.
Years went by and I became more insular. I spent most of my childhood alone. My few escapes where my love of computers, comics (I became a keen collector of both the Beano & the Dandy) and television shows such as The A-Team and movies. My school work also suffered because of this and I resigned myself to being the ‘thick kid’ as well as being the ‘fat kid’ and the ‘mental kid’.
It wasn’t until 2010 I started on my road to recovery. The decades since the abuse at the hands of my headmaster and various other teachers had fertilized my depression and anxiety and I found myself unable to go to work. I simply couldn’t leave the house and even if I could I couldn’t bear to see or speak to other people. I was mentally exhausted. I eventually lost my Job.
Lying on the sofa wasn’t doing it for me. I needed a purpose and I needed a job. I fell into volunteering for an emotional support helpline for a couple of evenings a week. I was under qualified in most areas in life but felt I really needed my negative life experiences to work in my favor. I couldn’t let 30 years of my life be for nothing.
It was the first time I had spoken to people at length about mental health and it was a huge relief to finally be in a non-toxic environment with people who understood mental health and saw the good in me that I had difficulties seeing in myself.
Through this I started working on the Time to Change funded project, Brolly Talk. I was surprised how open people where to listening to my experiences which in turn lead them to opening up about their own issues. I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done so far with the project which has not only changed people’s perceptions of mental health but has been a huge boost in my own mental wellbeing and personal development. I am now able to have very personal conversations with complete strangers and talk in front of 100’s of people at seminars and meetings which I was never able to before.
Also it’s very therapeutic to be able to work with volunteers who all have varied mental health problems and assist them in removing barriers between them and good mental wellbeing.
Although I still have bad days and the thought of relapsing in to poor mental health is a big fear of mine I am in a very good place and it is in part to the therapeutic nature of the Time to Change conversations and being around others that share similar experiences.
Marc currently works a Volunteer Coordinator for the Time To Change funded project Brolly Talk and runs a peer support group for those in long term unemployment through Mind In Taunton & West Somerset.
He is available to talk about his experiences with mental health and bullying at Schools, Colleges and workplaces. MarcLewis@Mindtws.org.uk