Birds flying high you know how I feel. Sun in the sky you know how I feel…

I first started my training blog in February 2009.

Prior to that I had a blog on my own website that I had for a few years, mostly photography focused, but also with plenty of randomness inserted for good measure.

That is sadly lost… I think. I mean, I might have an archive of it somewhere, but it isn’t on here, sadly. I should track it down.

Regardless… I’ve been “blogging” (I hate that word) albeit sporadically, for maybe 7 or 8 years.

This blog post is the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever written.

It’s also the most personal.

I’ve always shared a great deal of myself on the blog, but you always hold some stuff back… right?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I am in any way dishonest, it’s more about what inspires me to write.

This tends to be about my training, my philosophical musings/ bullshitting, my writing, etc.

My personal life, however, is something that is… personal.

I’m sure if you go back through my posts you will find that I am married to a wonderful woman called Steph. I have two kids, Zane and Alexa. I live in Northern Ireland. In fact you can piece together far too much of my life from here.

OK… actually… slight tangent if you don’t mind bearing with me.

A few years back I remember there were a lot of people panicking over things like “privacy settings” on social networks. Well, I’ve always firmly believed that anything you put on twitter, Facebook, Instagram or a blog is freely accessible to the world. Thus, you either don’t use these things, or you allow your life to be an open book and accept is. I’ve tended to go with this latter approach.

Despite this there are, clearly things that you hold back.

In this post, I will talk about things that I am not comfortable talking about, but that I know will be of value to some of the readers.

I’ve alluded, in several posts, to having had some problems over the last year. In fact, again, I am pretty open about stuff like this; I’ve talked about some personal problems and family stresses and issues I’ve had with my weight. But today ‘m going to be even more open than I have before.

For the last few years, life hasn’t always been easy. No need to call the wahmbulance and this isn’t a pity party. I don’t want or need sympathy; I am presenting the following facts as explanations of what has happened. I have had problems with debt, family health, my own health and various other stresses and issues. I’ve always considered myself a really strong person primarily mentally, but let’s be honest, I’m a fairly big guy and I’m not exactly a physical weakling either. But being tough can only take you so far and sometimes life gets on top of everyone. Last year, after years of progressive problems building, things got too much for me.

I went to see a doctor, and a councillor. I was really on the verge of “losing the plot” as we so eloquently say here in Norn Iron. The doc listened patiently as I listed off the various stresses and issues and now and again he would say

“Anything else?”

And Id hesitate before saying

“Well… yeah.” and talk for another while.

One of the ways I deal with stress and problems is to try and ignore them. I know I’m not alone in this, and I do maintain that sometimes that works. Dwelling on things doesn’t help and when you can’t actually solve the problem, then sometimes ignoring is it the only way you can continue to function. Of course this doesn’t solve anything in any way whatsoever. It just helps you keep going. Once I laid things out the doctor straight up told me that he was astonished that I had taken so long to come and talk about this.

I am not trying to be all bullshitty and macho here; I’m not trying to say that my life was so tough that ANYONE would have crashed. The real point here is that I ignored so much for so long that it had really started taking a toll.

I’m not going to go into all the details, it’s boring and depressing. I suppose, though, that I should give some indication. We were living in a house we had outgrown and tried to sell 4 years previously. We could barely afford the mortgage on the place and had never intended to be there for more than two years. When we tried to sell it after two years, the housing market crashed.

We’d been there 6 years. The value of the house was less than half what we paid for it and the difference was… ummm… Well, that was one of the things I just had to ignore. Of course if we were happy to stay there the rest of our lives it wouldn’t have been too bad, but we had wanted to move for years. Oh… did I mention that the mortgage we could barely afford was an interest only one? Yeah. So after 25 years, we would still owe the full value of the house. A comforting thought.

We were always broke. Usually before the end of the month, and too many simple living expenses were going on the credit card. Which of course we weren’t paying off. Yeah… Debts. They suck and they had been growing for 5 years. Bankruptcy was looking like the only option. I was at a point where checking the post genuinely stressed and upset me as It was always bad. I’m not exaggerating this; I would go for weeks not checking the post-box because I didn’t want to face what may be in there.

Debt sucks, but there were lots of other things on top of that. We had health problems in the family. I had been in a motorbike crash a while back and this knocked me for six mentally and physically. The surgery to fix my wrist took ages to recover from and mentally it messed me up too. Steph’s dad nearly died. Steph herself was constantly ill and we didn’t know why. She’s since been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which is a tough thing to deal with/ live with, but it’s better than not knowing what is wrong with you despite constant pain and exhaustion and numerous other bizarre things like dermographism or “skinwriting”. This is a freaky condition which I will be using in a future horror story i have half written in my head.

Was that it all? No. There were other issues. But you get the idea.

Are any of those issues alone enough to drive someone a bit nuts? I dunno. All of it combined along with a lot of denial and ignoring problems for years just caught up with me…. And I decided I needed some medical help.

Why did I need this? Well, this is the point of why I am writing this, it’s in the hope it will help some people. Mental health issues still have such a stigma attached to them in our society. I was having mental health issues and these were leading to physical health issues. I was having weight problems, insomnia, occasional bouts of depression and probably worst of all, panic/ anxiety attacks.

If you’ve never had one of these, you can’t understand. If you have, you have my sympathy and I know I have yours.

Anxiety attacks have overwhelming physical symptoms. You can tell someone it’s all in their head, but when you are sweating, your heart is racing, you are struggling to breathe and it feels like there is a very real possibility you are dying… Well, it’s not like you can flick a switch and just stop it. Insomnia, weight issues, and fatigue are things you can struggle on with. Depression and anxiety are pretty fucking debilitating. Hence my final conclusion that I needed medical help.

The doctor prescribed me a drug which was a pretty heavy anti-anxiolytic and anti-depressant. Let me be clear on this, the doc didn’t do so flippantly. He talked openly to me about other ways of managing stress, such as exercise and meditation, but I do exercise and I do (occasionally) meditate. In terms of exercise, I had been training for and racing half Ironman races less than a year before. I had a few months previously training for the white collar boxing and got in the ring for a fight. Even after that, I was still running and had started training at the dojo. The exercise and mediation alone were just not enough.

I started taking the medication and I won’t lie, it wasn’t pleasant. The first few days I took it I genuinely felt like a vegetable. But it knocked me out at night and I slept and the anxiety was, not gone, but made manageable.

If you’ve never taken a drug like this, or any psychoactive drug, it’s hard to describe its affects. It basically messes with your brain chemistry and changes your outlook on life. It levels you out… Not really in a good way, but in a way that works and is necessary. You feel somewhat unconnected to the problems but you are full aware they are there. It doesn’t solve anything, but the anxiety attacks stop, the insomnia is sorted and you sleep. This is a big step forward. The problem is that you’re not just disconnected from your problems; you’re kinda disconnected from everything.

In my head, this was about six months ago. I’ve just looked back and discovered that it is now over a year ago.

Fuck.

I hadn’t realised it was that long. I’m genuinely surprised by this.

In this last year a lot has happened. We moved house and are now in a rented house that we love. That was the first step towards actually dealing with some of the multitude of problems. I’ve worked with some debt management people and things are slowly improving.

Over the last six months, I’ve made a concerted and conscientious effort to get better. For the detail of this you can just read back over my last few months of blog posts. I’ve trained harder, I’ve run a marathon and I’ve started to try and take the martial arts training a little more seriously. In the last 3 months, I’ve made even more effort to make myself better and to also help Steph too. She trains with me now and we’re both seeing big improvements. We’ve both lost weight, gained strength and physically got better. In the last month or so, I’ve even started focusing on my diet, something I’ve never previously done. I’ve tried to tune in to what I’m eating and to try and perceive the affects it has on me. As a result of this I am becoming increasingly fascinated with diet as it relates to physical and mental health. I’m mostly eating clean and healthy and even taking some supplements, beyond my usual daily multivitamin. I’m trying to take a balanced approach though, I’ve been super-clean and healthy all week but tonight I’m probably going to drink wine and eat pizza… Balance kids… balance.

Probably most importantly, about two months ago i started weaning myself off the medication. Yeah, it took time. I didn’t rush it or go “cold turkey”.

I ran out of a prescription once, a while back, and missed two days and I felt like I was going completely insane and at this point I tealised that slowly weaning off through dose reduction was the only way. I took my time doing so and after an initial halfing of my dose, for the last few weeks I was taking a reduced dose every other day before stopping completely. I am now at a point where it’s completely out of my system. For these last few weeks I feel like I have transformed. Seriously. It’s like coming out from under a psychological duvet. It’s as though I’ve stripped away a bunch of cotton wool that my brain was wrapped in. And I feel good. I feel like me again.

I am having more fun with my kids. I’m more talkative, more enthusiastic and more passionate about things. You can probably even see changes in the last number of blog posts I’ve written which I think have been more thoughtful and more creative. My brain feels like it’s actually firing properly again. We had a family holiday and it was just FUN. I wasn’t stressed or angry or pissed off. I just enjoyed myself.

Today was a major step forward. I signed the contract for the sale of my house.

Have my problems gone away? Hell no. I was in so much negative equity that I still owe the mortgage company more money than I will ever be able to pay. More, in fact, than the house sold for. More than the value of a new house. To be honest, I have accepted that I will never own a home again and I am OK with this. There are still plenty more things I will have to deal with, but the truth is that I am feeling good again. I am feeling like myself again.

Why have I written all this?

Why have I bared my soul in such a candid and painful manner?

Well, I wanted to get something across….

Depressions, anxiety, stress… They can kill you.

They can drive you crazy and ruin your life. They can stop you from enjoying your life and seeing the value in what is around you… your friends, your partner and even your kids.

One of the reasons it was so hard to write this is, as I mentioned earlier, that there is still a stigma about this, but I know for a fact that there are also lots of people like me out there who have this shit in their lives and are just ignoring it or refusing to accept it.

You’re too bad-ass to be depressed or suffer from anxiety… right?

Most of my best friends have at some stage been, or still are, on antidepressants. I know I’ve made medication sound like a shitty option, but please don’t feel that I am in any way trying to discourage it. You can only manage so much with meditation and exercise and sometimes things just get too fucked up and you need chemical intervention. I certainly did and if I hadn’t done so, I’m not sure how I would have ended up.

If you’re having a tough time, it’s OK to admit it.

It’s OK to tell your friends or talk to your doctor

IT’S OK TO TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANTS IF YOU NEED THEM.

But it’s also not just OK but important.. No… Imperative, that you take responsibility for yourself and do everything you can to make yourself better.

Get help if you need it.

Ask for advice if you need it.

Train, eat well, meditate, do yoga, read books, do things you enjoy.

We only have one life. We have to enjoy it.

When I look back at what I now know to be the last year, I know that I haven’t really been myself. I was me, but with the volume turned down and the colour, contrast and brightness on low. I know that life may beat the shit out of me again tomorrow… but for today.

I’m feeling good.

15 thoughts on Birds flying high you know how I feel. Sun in the sky you know how I feel…

  1. Austin – thank you. For your candour. For your bravery at showing your full colours. Being ‘angry, stressed and pissed off’ – that side of the see-saw resonates. ‘Having the volume on me turned down’ – the other familiar side of the see-saw. It’s good to know there’s life beyond the sodding see-saw!! It’s a new dawn in the Tanney home – enjoy the sun on your faces xx

  2. Mate, shocked by your honesty, it’s amazing how we miss these things, I’ve seen mates suffering and stressing (never been as far down the rabbit hole myself as you but have been low and clawed back)

    It’s a hidden one, it’s rife in the industry I work in, and it’s scary that drugs are seen as the answer rather than support.

    Hats off to you mate for opening up, appreciate it must of been hard

    • Cheers Alan. Truth is that shit happens to everyone and sometimes it builds up and becomes more than we can deal with. I just wanted to openly state this in the hope that it would resonate with other people who are struggling. From the messages I’ve received it seems it has :-)

  3. Mate I’m with you. Been on AD’s for 6 years now, any attempt to go off them and I’m back in the dark hole 😉 The thing with the meds is they take away the dark thoughts, mostly, but they take away the light as well. You end up in a sort of twilight state with no real highs or lows. I think this will be my life for the rest of it. Off the meds, suicide occupies my thoughts daily and constantly.
    I’m glad you are winning your battle, you are young and it is neccesary that you do. Me, I’m settling for this, it’s better than the alternative :)

    • Mike, that’s exactly it man. I can completely see what you’re saying. There is no doubt that in many cases ADs are needed. I needed them for a good period of time and I think, and hope, that time of need is past. I’m not so naive as to be sure of this but I hope so. Hugs to you mate.

  4. Wow. Impressive post. And you’re STILL. A bad-ass.

    Crap, it’s too early in AM for algebra CAPTCHA’s apparently… Of course I know 8-6 is 2, took me 15 secs to get my head around the answer.

  5. Great blog post Austin, thanks for sharing. Since my breakdown about 2 months ago I’ve been overwhelmed with nearly everyone I know telling me of their experience with depression &/or anxiety. Yet, you’re right, there is still such a stigma surrounding mental health issues. I for one think it should be talked about openly. Just because it isn’t automatically visible doesn’t mean it should be treated any differently than any other illness. I’ve been very fortunate to have great family, friends & colleagues who have all been fantastically supportive. I’m glad to see you’re coming our the other end, I can only hope I’m at that point when I’m ready, going on the meds was insane & your description is perfect…my volume is definitely still turned to low but I try to think, at least I’m still playing. xo

    • Very well said Leah. I’m glad you’re getting through it OK. As you say, you may be at low volume but you’re still playing and that’s the really important thing. X

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