Depression and anxiety are not new to me. From the age of 12, I started to suffer from depression and anxiety. At the time, I didn’t really understand why I had these feelings, it just wasn’t spoken about and certainly wasn’t something that you had. I knew something was wrong with me. I just didn’t know what.
Suppression – one simple word with such big consequences. Suppression is just what I did. It was the only way I knew how to cope – carrying on with day-to-day life, suppressing my emotions. The problem is there is only so long you can do that. I developed periods of very low moods, hard to talk about even now. It came to crisis points where I started to have suicidal thoughts and self-harming impulses; and this made it even more difficult to talk about and to know where to start to get help.
When you read stories about these subjects you often hear someone say ‘attention-seeking’ or ‘melodramatic’ or ‘what do you have to be upset about?’. It just felt too difficult to talk about how I was feeling to anyone (even my family) it was like these feelings were stuck inside me with nowhere to go. I started to self-harm in places where no one would see, so it would not raise any suspicion with my wife or family. I started to disappear into myself to try and cope, self-harm was the only way I could cope.
Then tragedy struck and we lost our beloved daughter Oakley. My depression spiralled and I got to the stage where I was waking up and just not wanting to live anymore. Compounded by terrible grief I did not know who I was or who I wanted to be and I felt an emptiness inside me. For anybody who has experienced it, it is hard to explain just how empty you can feel. We just don’t talk about it, it is bleak, painful and you just feel devoid of all energy. I had a job I enjoyed, a house, a car, a loving family yet I was still empty, suffocating with my own feelings. I just didn’t belong and, what made it worse, was the hatred I had for myself for feeling this way.
If you don’t break the cycle, it becomes repetitive and futile and cannot get better on its own. What is worse is that each cycle becomes more difficult, that much worse and recovery so much harder.
After years of trying to self-manage, after breaking down again and again, I found the strength to get professional help. I hadn’t felt able to do this before, nor indeed, known where to start. A new journey began and I spent three years trying to find a therapist I felt I could trust, and then the hard work to get better began and my hope for a better future with it.
What surprised me was that fixing my mind wasn’t enough. From all the research I had done I knew that I also had to overhaul what I was putting in my body. I spent a lot of time finding out what nutrition would help my body recover and thrive, and I discovered that there are a lot of natural products that help massively, but that involved taking separate supplements. However, I didn’t want to feel I was taking yet more tablets, I wanted to feel I was consuming the right blend of vitamins and minerals in a way that felt more organic, more positive and healthy.
I decided that I was going to make a drink that improves the health of the mind just as much as the body. After lots of experimentation and research, the Feel Good Factor range of drinks was created. My goal was simple: I wanted to provide a daily dose of vitamins and minerals that are needed to help fuel a healthy mind and a healthy body.
Sometimes it’s the small steps we take that can shift how we feel, which can be the start of finding strength to get better. I was amazed at the impact nutrition and talking properly had on how I felt. My mental health was not fixed overnight and I have accepted that it is something that I will need to address long-term, but it really helped. I decided then and there, that even if I could help just one person ease that soul-destroying emptiness, I would do all I could.
I can’t wave a magic wand to solve the challenges we all face when struggling with mental health issues, but here are the practices I have put in place on my own road to recovery.
Take your mental health seriously
As we know, our mental health influences how we think, feel and behave in daily life. It also affects our ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s setbacks and hardships. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or frightened. Most of the time these feelings pass, sometimes they develop into a more serious problem and that could happen to any one of us. Our mental health state has been challenged still further with the stress and strain of living through the global pandemic. What is not helping is the stigma attached to mental health problems and the lack of awareness. This means that people often feel uncomfortable and just not able to talk about how they feel.
It is often hard to know where to start, hard to find resources that feel relatable and honest. As part of the Feel Good Initiative, we have built a Resources Hub of inspiring stories and practical tools to give some support to the different mental health challenges that are being faced. We have focused on packing it full of interviews with people who understand how you feel, positive stories to inspire you, and access to mentors and coaches to support you: our goal is to provide you with a toolkit to help you on your journey promoting good mental health for yourself and others, and it is all free and readily available for you.
It is a word that is banded around so freely. But talking (which is something so simple) can often be so difficult. Meaningless chat can often isolate when somebody is already feeling isolated enough to start with. Our message is clear: talk, but really talk. It can be so hard to start or to take that first step, but once you do, each step further forward becomes that tiny bit easier. We know that finding the right resource is really hard – it took me three years to find the right therapist for myself. Motivated by this, we have created a program for employers and employees to take into the workplace that focuses on opening up the dialogue to mental wellness, which will help individuals deal with stress, depression and anxiety.
My amazing therapist (link to Melanie blog) is heavily involved in this program of education. She is running workshops and providing support for organisations who sign up to the Feel Good Initiative. Our mission with the Feel Good Initiative is to raise awareness and encourage people to open up, to speak to friends, family and colleagues, to find ways to help themselves or be aware that it is OK to seek help.
Feed your mind as well as your body
Lastly, really stop and think about what you are putting into your body. It is unbelievable that the scientific link between poor nutrition and how we feel is not better documented. The Feel Good Factor range of drinks was created to provide the daily dose of the mix of vitamins and minerals needed to fuel a healthy mind and a healthy body. Teams of NHS workers report the uplifting effects of the drink; the armed forces are helping us to promote the drink to servicemen and women; and a number of professional sportsmen are helping us to push the message far and wide. We are so grateful for their support and are just focused on our mission to help everybody feel better one step at a time.
Today, I am focused on moving forward, though I know that the mental health challenge I face is ongoing. I still struggle, but I try to stay positive and do everything in my power to promote my own wellness while focusing on the coping mechanisms I have put in place to help me stay on that path. Even now, I am still faced every day with challenges and decisions that threaten to knock me off course, but I focus on turning my experiences into lessons that I can use to confront new challenges in a more positive way – even painful experiences bestow on us positive lessons to help move forward in the future.
I hope me sharing my story helps you feel that defeating your inner demons is possible. Above all else, I want to say to those of you feeling that life is empty, I understand. Together, by putting out first foot forward, by talking, by sharing our experience, we can tackle the biggest challenge we all face and that is the impact on poor mental health.
Connor Smith is the founder of the Feel Good Factor. You can connect with them on Instagram.