MY STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH – PART 4

TRANSITION AND A STEPPING STONE

I would like to start by apologising. Some weeks have passed since the release of my last article, and this is not the norm. To be honest, I just felt I had to step away for a bit and rest my mind. The hardest challenge within the mental health struggle is, for me at least, realizing when the time is right for a break. I am better at it feeling the moment these days, and thankfully I was able to take action before things became overwhelming.

Me opening up about my mental health has been a truly satisfying experience. The strategic release of many years of burden has been important, any form of self healing is always encouraged. However, this has paled in comparison to the immense emotions I have experienced from the overwhelming response. My motivation was to allow others like me to realise they are not alone and it seems so far at least, I have been successful.

Unfortunately, to a certain extent this has come at a slight cost, as emotions both negative and positive can become overwhelming to the depression and anxiety sufferer. Thus the need to recuperate. I tell you this not to garner sympathy, honestly I hate people feeling sorry for me. No, I only offer an explanation to the processes that occur within my realm in the hope that one can understand more.

Anyway, enough of that now. Let’s get back to the journey. So where did we leave off? Oh yes, the development of my temper. The next chapter of my story is probably the most critical one in terms of reaching the climax of my challenges. And it happened to coincide with the ten years following my relocation to Malta. Which happened in 1992.

Leaving Australia at the age of 19 was a desperately difficult thing to do. But for me it was absolutely necessary. My life was going nowhere, fast. Even though I was a clever adolescent, my difficult circumstances unfortunately gave me little chance of achieving anywhere near my potential. Don’t get me wrong, I left high school with the Australian equivalent of 6 A levels ranging from very average to good marks. Sadly, most of my educators felt there was much more to achieve. But I didn’t have it in me.

They say that moving home is one of the most stressful things that can happen in your life. I could quote all the research, but if you are really interested in the facts, you can look it up for yourself. My family did it several times when I was a kid, so I kind of got used to it. But moving country is a whole different kettle of fish. To leave everything you have known, your friends, your culture and move to the opposite side of the world, I can attest is difficult.

There was a certain amount of the relief that came with it though. In my mind there was a belief that I would be leaving all my emotional baggage behind and starting a fresh. It sounded right at the time, but in reality it doesn’t really work that way. Arriving in Malta was interesting. For the first time in my life I had cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents. For the longest time it had just been my mother, siblings and I. It was surreal.

But it wasn’t long before that initial excitement wore off and the realisation hit me. I had to rebuild a whole new life. At first it was really difficult. I didn’t know the language, didn’t have any friends and had to rely on interaction with my newly found family. Thankfully however, that didn’t last long. And I will admit from now, I got lucky. A decision was made that I would enroll at the University of Malta and study architecture.

On paper, my marks weren’t exactly up to scratch to qualify, but some smooth talking got me into the course. And it was there, studying architecture, that I found my first friends. One of them you will all know, and another you will not. But to both of them I am eternally grateful. They took pity on a relatively uncomfortable, slightly chunky, new Australian fresh off the boat and made him feel at home. Thankfully, the one attribute I always had that I could rely on was character. I had it in abundance and it always drew people to me. At this juncture, a very special thank you to Gianni Zammit and Mark Azzopardi, for taking me under your wing. Without the two of you my life could have turned out so much differently. And as I said previously, I will forever be grateful.

Falling in with the right crowd was fantastic for me. Through my two new friends, I met many, many other people. And started to get a proper understanding of Maltese culture and how connected everyone is. It was a fantastic time in my life. Goes with out saying that falling in with this crowd I ended up doing a lot of partying. This is Malta after all and I had never seen anything like Paceville before.

My studies became non existent. I was having way too much fun. If I am honest with you, I was never meant to be an architect. It was one of those things that was drummed into me from a young age, that I was going to be an architect. Not sure why exactly, one of my mothers many visions let’s say, and I bought into it. In reality, I really didn’t like the course. Besides the technical drawing aspect, which I was pretty good at, the rest was boring as hell. So I lost interest pretty quickly and after one failed year and a couple of repeat months I decided to throw in the towel.

It was ok though. I was happy with the decision. I had been working a couple of seasons in the summer as a group leader, ushering around foreign language students. This was a great time in my life, loads of fun and partying. I would love to tell you loads of stories from that time, but you know how it is, what happens between group leaders, stays between group leaders. :-p

It was during this period as well that I found radio. Which would end up being my calling in life. So all in all life was great. I was partying, meeting loads of people, having a load of fun and started getting a career up and running. And I was turning into a pretty popular guy. You would think this would all be a recipe for happiness right? In a perfect world absolutely. But my world was not perfect at all. And there was still a lot of stuff brewing under the surface.

There was still a lot of problems at home. I was still living with my mother, and there was still alcohol and abuse at home. I did everything in my power to stay away from home as much as possible. For me, home meant sadness, anxiety, constantly being on edge. When was the next episode going to happen? Surely it was just around the corner. And it always was. If not daily, these episodes, highly emotional exchanges, were all too frequent in our household for nearly all my life, until I managed to escape it. I absolutely hated it. It made me feel so small and helpless. At times I just wanted to curl up in a ball and shut the world out. There were also times that I admittedly had dark thoughts about “the end”.

At times I wanted to cry my eyes out, but for some reason I couldn’t. I had a habit of bottling it all up. You see, I was taught that men are not supposed to cry, which is the biggest pile of bullshit ever. I was taught it was a sign of weakness. Utter rubbish. I put me not releasing my emotions back then as one of the key factors in me developing some of the mental challenges I face today.

While everything was going really well in my private life, my family life was a disaster. A constant source of fear and stress. And it was at this time in my life my anxieties and depression really started to take a hold of me. I had experienced both of them in the past over the years, but now they were starting to become a regular feature. It was almost like seeing a dark cloud in the distance and it’s heading towards you. You’re running to get away from it, but it is catching you rapidly. That is how it felt for me.

And unbeknownst to me it was really only the beginning…

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