By Tom Flanagan
Hi, I’m Tom. I am a 20 year old English and Politics student here at Stirling, and I am living with depression and anxiety. For Brig’s mental health month I have decided to share my story with you.
I was always described as “an emotional child”; after my mum and dad separated when I was 8, I spent my days in tears more often than not, or at least that’s what my brain likes me to think. Some teachers at school would think I was difficult, and I was – I’d start crying at every opportunity through primary school.
I can’t say whether it was an attempt to escape the reality of my life, or just an attempt at attention, but either way I knew it couldn’t continue. That was when it started.
Every day since age 10 when I have left the house I have been putting on an act, pretending to be happy, laughing, and joking. Those of you who may know me may think that I’m an outgoing confident guy, but the truth is that just isn’t how I feel inside.
The feelings have ranged from moody teenager to wanting to die over the years in peaks and troughs, but the reality remains the same.
There are two Tom Flanagans. In school it was go to class have a laugh, be the class clown, then come home and spend hours either arguing with my mum or dad, or crying afterwards out of self-loathing.
Now I’m at university things are a little different. I leave the flat and I become Tom Flanagan, radio host, bartender, friendly neighbourhood communist. I come home to my flat and I sit in the dark for hours because I can’t cope with the reality of being alive.
I know what you’re thinking. “Tom, but how did this come about? Most kids nowadays have divorced parents, so that can’t be it!” You’re right. My situation moved from moody teenage to serious mental health problems in 2014 after the loss of my Nan.
As a teenager my problems were halved when I shared them with my Nan, she was my confidant; without her I simply didn’t have anyone I trusted enough to share information with. There lies the problem. Until very recently, every battle I had was fought in my own head, and when you fight with yourself you always lose.
This problem, coupled with the performance stress of A-Level exams, meant that I had serious anxiety. I would be terrified of leaving for school, opening a book, or going to work (issues that still persist today, except my mum isn’t in the flat to throw cold water on me to get me out of bed). This lack of studying due to anxiety forced me into a spiral of low self-worth and depression, to a point where I tried to take my own life.
Over that summer I improved, I managed to finish my A-Levels and get a place in Stirling. I felt more confident than I had ever been.
I’ve never been particularly great at being confident with talking to girls, but then the world was my oyster. I started talking to a girl from near Stirling on Twitter and we clicked more than a barber shop quartet.
Moving to uni was a novelty for a wide-eyed Yorkshire boy who’d never even contemplated moving further than the other end of Brinsworth until mere months before. Novelties however, make a habit of wearing off.
My relationship burned brightly and like the proverbial candle it faded just as fast. However in the months we were together she became the confidant that I had been missing, with me trusting her enough to open myself up and be vulnerable. With her gone however it was left to good ‘ol depression to take her place and possess my mind like Zeul in Ghostbusters.
As the second semester of first year kicked in so did the anxiety. I was locked under my duvet and couldn’t face class for fear of failure. My family have always expected that I was the wunderkind of the litter and I would go on to great things; however in my time at University I’ve felt more like Freddy Adu than Kieren Tierney.
My missed classes only made my grades worse, and I scraped through 1st year. Over the summer I was so incredibly lucky – I was given an inter-rail pass by my aunt to go see Europe. While I’m eternally grateful, my month alone in foreign nations with my harmful thoughts made for a very mixed experience, which made me even more self-loathing because I couldn’t even enjoy the wonderful trip of a lifetime.
Things got worse in second year as my performance anxiety rendered me even more housebound through much of the year, again to a detriment to my grades, which keeps me in bed longer with depression. I have tried to take my own life three times this year, as the idea of death seemed like a dreamy escape from Stirling life, but things are looking up.
After what seemed like years on a waiting list I’ve been seeing a lovely counsellor, I have opened up to my Mam about my mental health, who has been an absolute star, and I have started self CBT to help me keep the ‘ol brain in check (with help from 100mg of sertraline of course). I’m on my way. I’ve a long way to go, but I see light, which is a damn sight away from crying into my brother’s Christmas jumper.
Now I may well not recover, I may spiral back and be worse than ever, but the message I want to tell you Brig readers is that we’ve all got our problems, big and small, and we can fight them together. Share things, find someone you trust, find a counsellor or doctor and we will march into happiness and normality whether or not it takes years to fix, as none of this is worth dying for, however it may feel at the time.