The best day of my life and the worst day of my life are the same day. I realised that day has over time become the advent of my true self-awareness and the very beginning of my journey into the counselling world.
At 16 I was care-free, confident, and had no problems. Without me knowing it, that was the problem!
Whilst in the local park after high school during exam season I was walking the girl I was obsessed with home. I encountered a boy like me, stood on the bridge blocking the way I needed to go, it was like an old western.
He wanted to fight me for no apparent reason, I told the girl I was with to carry on without me. I said I didn’t want to fight and that I had never been in a fight. As I turned away to make my way home I received a punch that connected with my cheek bone and sent me into the side of a parked car. I didn’t feel the rest of the punches just a feeling of powerlessness and confusion as I curled up into a ball and waited for the nightmare to be over. I ran home as fast as I could when it was over and felt numb.
The next day I remember being afraid of leaving the house, “go outside back into the world” was the advice I was given by my family which seemed sound, unfortunately fishing at the park was where I experienced my first anxiety attack as I witnessed my attacker from the day before walk past me and stare as I dropped my rod onto the floor.
'I kept the truth of the thoughts running through my mind on daily basis to myself because I didn’t think that anyone would understand or even care.'
Weeks blended into months as the summer of fear had meant I spent a lot of time in my room avoiding any time out of the house that I could. Eventually I took a trip out to the city which is next to the town I live in, I couldn’t drive at the time and so took the train.
I will never forget being at the train station and feeling sick, having sweaty palms, feeling like there is electricity and magma running through the veins in my arms as the anxiety flourished in my system at the threats of youths with BMX’s and the sight of anyone with a hoody or tracksuit.
No words can describe the loneliness I felt, I remember telling myself that I was broken and everyone else was normal and I was not. For this reason I kept the truth of the thoughts running through my mind on daily basis to myself because I didn’t think that anyone would understand or even care.
When the anxiety struck it would hijack my brain, turn me into the worst version of myself. I would leave house parties without saying a word, vanish on a shopping trip at the sign of something dodgy looking, change conversations when I felt conflict brewing. So the guilt of being a burden soon arrived along with the self-loathing of being what I felt was a freak of nature.
Two years of college flew by where I had increasingly become an absentee because of my lack of interest in education and the anxiety of leaving college for the day at the same time as everyone else and being caught up in such a big crowd of people which would trigger me in a bad way.
Results day came and I was devasted to read the piece of paper handed to me by a teacher which read 3 U’s and 1 D at A-level which meant that I wasn’t going to any University. At this point I remember not wanting to talk about my mental health out of a sense of pride that I would be letting people down, I had a duty as a man not to show any signs of weakness, and to accept help from anyone would mean that I was weak.
Next I started to flourish in work as I had accepted an apprenticeship in Business and IT and found an outlet for all of the pain and frustration on the inside, the most amazing thing for me was that I had found something I was good at. I could learn quickly and turn my hand to most tasks that my mentor would set me which gave me a sense of confidence.
I felt proud to be walking in my fathers footsteps, to work in the corporate world. The job was situated in a converted barn in a village 3 miles from where I lived, there were no buses that ran that way and to be honest if there were I would never have gotten on them because it would trigger me into anxiety.
Keeping up appearances that I was fine and didn’t need help naturally I decided to get taxis every day to and from work. 3 miles both ways. On a £500 a month pay cheque. As the retainer I had opened up began to spiral out of control I began collecting more debt in the form of Pay Day loans to tide me over until the next pay day, until I was in the thousands with debt and no quick way on the horizon to pay it off.
Denial is a great defence mechanism until the work phone rings and the boss’s wife passes the phone over to let you know that the debt collectors want their money back. By the way they know where you work, just because you put the fax number as your work phone number doesn’t mean we won’t find out where you work smart arse. I got lucky and managed to consolidate the debt to pay it off, which took me two years by the way. I didn’t tell anyone this for years because I couldn’t let anyone down. It seemed the only person I was letting down was myself so far.
'Serendipity struck not long after the intrusive thoughts began, a weekend seeing my dad led to what was probably a conversation that saved my life.'
I moved onto my next workplace to a more corporate environment where there was over 400 staff at the office with lots of customers on a busy software support helpdesk. I had suicidal thoughts which were infrequent up to the point of being around 6 months into my new job and then they began to occupy any moments where I would be free to think.
When my best friend would drive to my house in the morning to pick me up for work I would have thoughts of running in front of his car and letting that be the end. When the thoughts become a regular re-run in your mental projector like Comedy Central do with episodes of Friends you can see how taking your life can even become an option. I wanted to run away from it all, I didn’t want any of this to be my problem. Why me? Why now? And so the spiral continues.
Serendipity struck not long after the intrusive thoughts began, a weekend seeing my dad led to what was probably a conversation that saved my life. He told me that I was slipping away and I didn’t seem to be myself anymore, he said that there was something different about me and he said that seeing a therapist might help. Naturally I ignored his benevolence, even more accurate I was offended! “How dare he think that I’ve got problems” which stings a little when I think back to it but I’m glad about what happened next.
It was a busier day than usual on the helpdesk and my queue of tickets was spilling out of the computer screen onto my desk it was that long, I was having a bad day mentally too, I still had debt companies chasing me for money, I could feel a band stretching across my forehead that felt like it was going to snap. With tears building up around my eyes I walked to the bike shed outside the offices and remembered what my dad had said to me, I made a decision in that moment to take control at all costs of what was happening. I found a counsellor on a counselling directory that looked like she would look after me, I made the call and we organised our first session.
'The experience that I have had with counselling has been so powerful and life-changing that I feel as though I want to give back and help others overcome adversity in their lives.'
It’s so interesting to me the layers upon layers of different things that can prevent a person talking about their mental health problems. For me it was pride, Ego, Shame, and a feeling of powerlessness. I’m very fortunate that I have someone around me that had the congruency to tell me how it was, he could see right through the walls that I had put up to keep everyone out, and said the right thing at the right time.
It won’t be the same for everyone, sometimes when we wear the mask that shouts out the world “I’m ok” most people listen, so for me it really has become about being aware of what I see and saying something because if I don’t then who will. I look at mental health in the same way as I do about everything else, you have to “Be the change that you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi.
The experience that I have had with counselling has been so powerful and life-changing that I feel as though I want to give back and help others overcome adversity in their lives by understanding the emotional landscape inside of them so they can navigate through life towards fulfilment.
Listening, Empathy, Congruence, observational skills, emotional stability, non-judgementalism and compassion are all things that I have discovered and thrived with during my personal therapy. They feel like my super powers. So now I am starting my own journey to become a counsellor so I can do for others what I had done for me. I work as an advocate for mental health and like to raise awareness on my podcast with practical tips and strategies I have learnt along the way to help out any other people that are suffering in silence like I was.
This article isn’t just for counsellors or individuals in the industry, if you think the story might help someone you know that has had something similar happen or you have noticed has slipped away then feel free to pass on. It would mean the world to me.
Dan Udale is a 25-year-old trainee-counsellor living in the West Midlands, in his spare time he hosts a Podcast focussed around mental and self development called 'Know Yourself', Dan creates awareness around anxiety and PTSD which he has suffered with in order to help others improve their lives.
Catch up with Daniels podcast here