I have thought long and hard about writing this post, it’s been playing on my mind for a good few months, and today I’ve finally plucked up the courage to write and share this you.
My name, if any of you don’t already know is Matt; I’m 31, married, a father of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Amber, and 5 years ago I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder, acute paranoia and anger issues. The fact is, I had been suffering for years before hand but I never realised it.
Before the diagnosis I was living a normal life, or what was considered ‘Normal’ to me anyway, until one specific week where everything just ‘happened’, for some reason my whole world began to fragment. It started with anger issues, losing my temper at the smallest thing; it could be as stupid as the heating not coming on in time for a bath or someone asking me to do something. I found myself punching walls, kicking things, shouting at my nearest and dearest, I’d be so full of rage that I would just burst into tears…and I didn’t understand why.
I began to blame it on my childhood, I come from a broken family, my mum and dad got divorced when I was around 10 years old, My mum had been diagnosed with MS and steadily got worse leaving me as one of her main carers and we had a mixed relationship, this was no secret to my family and close friends, she was frustrated daily, and I’d often be on the receiving end of it and as a child and teenager I didn’t understand why, it was very hard and for years this is all I could remember of our relationship, I blamed my anger issues on this. My dad, if you can call him that, disappeared from my life when I was around 14-15, not his choice, but mine. He had no time for me, and years later it was thought he was dead in the Tsunami that hit Thailand, only for it to be revealed in the press/media that he had been picked up boarding the plane and arrested for a disgusting crime, it broke and shocked me.
I never really dealt with any of these issues, until that week where everything in my head just broke down, I began to question why this happened to me, this quickly spiralled into me questioning why anything was happening to me, whether it be an argument, a fight, losing money, anything that didn’t go my way I thought the world was against me.
This led to my depression, I began to question why I was even here and I made an attempt on my life, a few times. Thinking back, I doubt I would ever have gone fully through with it; it was more a cry for attention than anything else. Over the next few weeks things got worse, my weight plummeted, family and friends began to ask if I was ill, I would shrug it off and say I’m fine but inside my head was broken…I was broken, I had gone from 13st to 9st in a matter of weeks, but, my first beautiful daughter had arrived and I had to be strong for my wife and my daughter, so I put on a front. Then the anxiety and paranoia set in, sweat would pour from every part of me, I couldn’t walk to the shops or go anywhere without fear of someone attacking me or confronting me, in work I thought everyone was conspiring against me or talking about me, I couldn’t sleep, and then I would be over sleeping, I’d be happy some days, then extremely sad, angry, worried. My head began to get really busy, really fast, I couldn’t cope, I can only describe it as 100 people trying to talk to you at once…My motor was going at 1000% and I was about to burn out. I just wanted it all to STOP!!
This carried on for around 2 years, until my second beautiful daughter arrived, how I had managed to get this far was a miracle itself, and that’s when the moment of realisation set in, I couldn’t be like this anymore, I can’t keep going through life questioning everything, blaming my issues on everything that was happening around me, blaming it on my past…I was ill….Mentally ill, it was nobody’s fault. It sounds bad reading that doesn’t it, well its even worse having to admit that to yourself when you’re in denial, at least that’s what I was thinking at the time.
I decided, with the help of my wife, Mother and Mother-in-law I would go see a doctor. It took me a few days to pluck up the courage to ring them, my body sweating and heart racing but I did it, I made the appointment. To begin with I thought it would just be waste of time, until I attended the appointment. I sat in the waiting room, looking like I’d just ran a marathon, twitching, twisting, sitting up and down, heart racing, breathless, head going into over drive, a panic attack.
My name was called, it was called again, I couldn’t move, again my name was called, I got up and entered the room. ‘Hi Matthew, what’s the problem, how can I help ‘and at that point years of anger, sadness, worry and thoughts burst out of me in the form of uncontrollable crying, We spoke for what seemed like hours, or more like I spoke and he listened. He diagnosed me on the spot and referred me for counselling and anger management classes, I was also prescribed anti-depressants. I was also given a 6 month sick note from work, that’s when I knew it was bad, it was real.
I struggled over the next few months, I’d still have moments of anger and sadness, highs and lows, and having a better understanding of it didn’t always help the situation. Even with the help and understanding of those closest to me I still needed something, I needed to preoccupy my mind, I needed an outlet, I needed something to do, and that’s when the photography started.
I’d had a camera for a few months, but not really done anything with it, I decided I’d do some research and found a great photography forum called ‘talk photography’ aptly named as I needed to talk and learn photography. I put my first post up introducing myself as a newb and was greeted with a warm friendly welcome. It was easy as I was talking to people but not actually face to face. I’ve always had a keen interest in the natural world from being a small boy, I used to collect a weekly dinosaur magazine where you could build your own T-Rex model, I’d collect different gems and stones, even wildlife cards from sweets and other magazines, this passion that had lay dormant started to erupt back to life, and erupted life back into me. I began to attend some photography meet ups, I met some really nice people, and it got me out and about socialising with a group of people I would never had socialised with before. I started to get better at photography, staying up at night watching youtube videos or asking for advice on the forum and reading photography magazines. I couldn’t get enough of it.
I dabbled in every genre I could, learning and progressing myself. I entered a few competitions in magazines and won a few, I gained confidence in my work and myself as a result. One genre in particular I loved, Macro photography, Looking through that lens gave me insight into a small world, a new world, a world where all my worries and stresses went away, they didn’t exist here and I loved it, with each shot everything would stand still, just me and the subject in front of me, the only noise was my breath slowing as I began to focus and concentrate, composing, waiting for the right moment to capture, and then the elation of looking back at the moment I had just captured.
Photography has not only helped me through my depression, stress and anxiety, it has opened new doors, a new way of life, and it helped me survive.
5 years on, I’m still here, but a better version of myself. I’ve both gained and lost things. My Mum passed away in 2014, The last few years I had with my beautiful Mum before she passed away in her sleep were some of the best, reminiscent of my childhood when I was a small boy, I’m glad that she seen me come through my depression and grow into the man I am today, she seen me get married, she had time with both of my daughters who miss her dearly, she loved how I was becoming known as a photographer, being published in magazines and appearing on BBC Autumnwatch, she would show off to anyone who visited the house.
My wife and my two girls are my world, everything I want and need. They get me through when everything else fails, including photography.
I’m going from strength to strength and recently I even had an exclusive gallery of my work with National Geographic, from being suicidal to this, the pinnacle of my photography. I would never have thought it possible. In 3 years I have completely transformed my life, and my attitude towards life. I’ve created a conservation group with a bunch of fantastic inspiring people aimed at getting young children and families to do more for our natural environment and wildlife. If you would of introduced the current me to the me of 5 years ago, I would have laughed at him, mocked him, now I see things very differently, we can all change, we can all be who we want to be.
I will never be free from depression, I still have high and low days like anyone else, but that’s all they are ‘Days’ , every one of them is different, and I can accept that. I can lock it behind a door and get on with my life.
There are a few reasons in which I’ve decided to write this blog, first and foremost for myself, one last bit of therapy and acceptance of who I am and what I am, and I’m proud of that, and if you are reading this going through similar, then you should also be proud of who you are. I have also recently been inspired by the likes of Chris Packham and Wentworth Miller for speaking out about Mental Health. If they can be open and tell their story to inspire and help, then so can I.
The society we live in is improving in terms of mental health awareness. Mental health is being shoved more and more into the limelight, and as a consequence lot’s more people are getting the confidence to get the help they need. I hope this helps you too!
There are people close to me who are going through a tough time right now, and I hope, after reading this, you will see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Many of you don’t know this story, my story; you only see the smiling face, but now you know.
I hope you have read this with an open mind, and try not to look at me with the stigma that still surrounds mental health. I’m still me, still Matt.
If you would like to follow me on my photographic journey then check out my facebook page.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, a master calls a butterfly” – Richard Bach