I’m Dave Vaughan.
I am many things. A dad, a son, a brother, a friend. I run a charity supporting people with addiction. I live with depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
I’ve experienced bouts of depression for about 27 years (I’m 43) which I managed, probably quite badly in retrospect, using medication and blindly trying to ignore the issue. Unsurprisingly, this proved ineffective, as I spent years, decades in fact, in various “depths” of depression. Sometimes this would manifest itself as an extreme sadness, hopelessness and lack of self-worth and they were the good days. At its worst it was a mental AND physical pain that I can only liken to a bout of flu, when every movement requires a force of will and the only aim each day was getting through it, so I could go back to bed.
All this time I worked, I trained, I put on a mask for the world. At times I’m not sure how I functioned, but I did. What surprises me now is that, when I mention this to people that I knew at the time they are, without exception, surprised to hear that this was happening to me. I became very accomplished at presenting a public face that seemed professional, happy and content, but keeping up this pretence was exhausting and why was I doing it? Why wasn’t I honest? If I had been then I could have gotten the support I so clearly needed far sooner.
Because things started to get better when I started to talk.
I spoke to a close friend, who listened. They didn’t do anything other than that, but now someone else knew what was going on in my head and they didn’t laugh, run away or try to solve my problems. So, I spoke to more people; my GP, my family. In fact, I haven’t stopped talking since.
Eight years ago, after particularly bad period of poor mental health, I was finally diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, something which helped to bring sense to many of the irrational thoughts that have plagued me for years. The more I investigated this condition, the more I read that being completely present in the moment and letting these anxiety-provoking thoughts drift from view, could ultimately help reduce my symptoms. I had been relatively active all my life, competing in trail runs, the odd Ultra Marathon here and there, but now I started to there could be benefits to my mental as well as physical health. Running (along with mindful meditation. Not something I ever thought you’d catch me doing) provided me with the opportunity to connect with my environment, look up at the world instead of down at my feet, listen to the sounds of nature happening all around me (haven’t run with headphones in since), fill my lungs with air and appreciate the life I’ve been blessed with. Sounds corny but it’s true.
Whilst I still run, injury (and old age 😊) has curbed the extent and intensity to which I can train. However, as an alternative, I joined the gym at Edge Hill Sport and nervously stepped into a new world for me. I’ve never been one for team sports, so thought that solo training was attractive (in hindsight I was probably still isolating myself a little), but the companionship and connectedness I have found from sharing experiences with good friends I’ve met there, who know me warts and all, is something I am forever grateful for. I may have found this through some other hobby or pursuit, but I found it training. Whether it be a circuit, spin or HIIT class, of lifting weights with a personal trainer who knows my limits better than I do, my mind is always clearer for having put in the effort. I don’t always want to go, and often the hardest part of any workout is lacing up my trainers, but I’ve yet to finish a session and regretted it; I doubt I ever will.
If you’ve taken the time to read all the way to the end of this piece – thank you. If you feel unwell yourself, tell someone. In general, people are kind and want to help. You’ll be surprised how much talking helps.
All the best, Dave.
It’s Saturday morning, not just any Saturday morning but World Mental Health day. I sit here with a coffee and an inspirational chocolate biscuit (my excuse anyway) to sit and try to fathom the changes within my family over the last ten years.
It seems such a long time ago, I had a happy family or so I thought, and mental health was something that happened to other people.
It came as a slow realisation as I watched my happy, carefree, beautiful daughter change, and not just physically as the eating disorder took hold.
I was always brought up as a child with “what happens in the family is private, you don’t talk about it, you just get on with it” which works for some things, but others such as this you are totally out of your depth, you hope it’s just a phase and they will snap out of it. When they don’t, what’s plan B?
There are no rehearsals for parenthood and I still feel like I have a large L plate on my back, especially as we now have the massive negative impact that Social Media can create. I never had anything like that to deal with as an adolescent. Having once tried to transfer my data from a Samsung to an iPhone (an event when recalled can still produce a cold, shuddering sweat!) I realise that the whole concept is beyond me.
The youth of today are bombarded with images of the perfect person, the perfect life, the perfect job and if you don’t measure up you’re worthless.
Any parent who has arrived at work unknowingly sporting baby sick down their back, hair dishevelled, make up on one eye only and if you’re mornings gone well matching shoes can only stare at the manicured celebrities with two matching designer dressed children paraded out for the paparazzi.
Where do you get help, support, ideas? Your GP? An already overwhelmed NHS? A safe space to compare experiences is a big start, there are others like me out there who have come through this and their help and experience is a massive light at the end of the tunnel.
Well done VocalMinds! Watch this space.
Hello! My name is Libbie, I’m 20 years old and even though my mental health has been a big part of my life for nearly 7 years, it’s still really hard to talk about. But I feel this is such an important thing to do and to speak about.
I wanted to start by saying thank you so much to Alex for giving me this safe space to share my experiences. I’ve never done anything like this before and she’s created this safe and caring environment for people like myself to be able to open up about different mental health struggles, and I feel that what she’s doing is so important.
So I of course have to start this by saying a huge thank you to her.
My, I’m going to call it journey, with my mental health started when I was 14. I was in the middle of high school and finding things really difficult. I had low self-esteem, not many friends, and when I went home – I felt really lonely. I had absolutely no reason to feel lonely. I had a loving family and people around me that sincerely cared for me, but I had this overwhelming feeling of loneliness and sadness from within myself.
I have always been in a constant battle with myself over my appearance, my weight and my body image, and going through puberty and teenage years, that struggle was really heightened.
I became involved with a group online which I thought would be a positive, understanding safe space. However, this was probably the start of a really dark period.
The group was toxic and had a toxic mentality towards mental health – Self-harm was encouraged, suicide was also encouraged and the people who I then started to surround myself with became very destructive to not only themselves, but also to me. It became apparent that nobody in this group cared for me – unless I was causing myself harm.
I then found myself in a relationship with someone that I met in this group. He also struggled with depression however used this to emotionally manipulate me. This experience brought out all the insecurities and anxieties I had about myself and made me feel ashamed and worthless.
My overwhelming feelings of loneliness and worthlessness started to take over my life.
I began to self-harm regularly – and a lot of people who self-harm will say this, (and it is 100% true) but it felt like at the time, self-harm was the only thing that was in my control. The world around me: my school, the people I was involved with… I felt trapped. And self-harm was the only thing in my life that I could do on my own and have full control over.
It was a release of all the negative energy, thoughts, anxieties… and it was my way of coping with all these feelings I had never experienced before or felt I knew anything about.
I also developed an unhealthy relationship with food – I would either go on a complete binge, eating all the wrong things, or I wouldn’t eat at all. And there was no in-between.
When I was 15, I stopped going to school.
I was heavily depressed and let it control me. I couldn’t get out of bed anymore, I couldn’t eat and all I wanted to do was sleep. I can only describe the feeling as <strong>numb</strong> – having not even the energy to cry.
I was in a really dark place mentally and physically with no energy to think about taking care of myself. No energy to brush my hair, brush my teeth, or even get in the shower. Everything felt like a momentous event that I just couldn’t push myself to do.
Things started to turn around for me when I actually stopped and had the conversation with my mum about what I was doing, and how I was feeling. It was only then that I realised just how deep into this hole I had gotten myself, and how much I needed help.
The thing is – when you’re in that situation, you believe there is no way out. When in reality, speaking about it to someone you trust can lift so much of that monuments weight that you carry around all by yourself. I’m not going to lie; it was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had, but my life is so much better for it now.
I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)* therapy for 2 years and it gave me the strategies I needed to be able to cope, and process the thoughts and feelings I’d been having but never really understood why (or how) they’d found their way into my head.
I learned more about my triggers and discovered things about myself that I didn’t even know – things I wasn’t aware I did – self-sabotaging and destructive things.
I cannot stress enough just how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. VocalMinds brings like-minded people together, who are going through the same difficulties and creates a positive, safe environment which I personally think is the most amazing thing.
When Alex first told me about the app I couldn’t help thinking to myself, if VocalMinds had been around when I first started my struggle, how things could have been so different.
I hope VocalMinds can help people avoid the negative stigma and conversation around mental health, and instead create clarity and understanding, as it really is so important to talk about. Everyone should be aware of their own mental health, and not be afraid to ask for help.
I still to this day struggle with my depression and I still have anxiety attacks, however I have the best support bubble and no matter what, no matter how difficult things get, I know it can always, always get better. There is always a positive to be had – even on the darkest of days. And I can’t stress enough just how important VocalMinds is and how amazing this app is to people like me.
If you are struggling with your mental health just know how strong, courageous and amazing you are. To battle with your own mind every day is such a hard and tiring thing to do. But remember, talking about your mental health is not a weakness – it takes strength and courage to speak out.
<em>*</em> <em>Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems. [Source: NHS.uk]</em>