David Leader – The greatest stigma I felt was from within myself


Through social media I meet some amazing people who have amazing stories about their lives. David is one of them. David’s story is not an easy one to read, hence the warning above and we do not give that lightly. Remember this is his truth, his life and he has made himself vulnerable by sharing it and removing his protective mask. David’s contact details are at the bottom of this blog if  you wish to contact him.

It always feels a bit strange when people ask me to write something for them, when I first started writing it was just my shouting into the wilderness. To understand why I started writing about my personal experience with mental illness I guess a bit of background is required. Like many people I never considered my self as having an illness, I guess I just looked at myself as being a bad person. I would have never believed how ill I was, even now it is hard to understand.

From an early age I felt there was something different about me, I grew up in a rural area so aside from school I had few friends. I spend a lot of my childhood on my own, I do not blame this but the isolation may have been a factor in my poor social skills by the time I left school. I spent a lot of time on a local farm, in doing so I found a ‘life mentor’ in a farm worker. This man was to become almost like an older brother to me, I worshiped him and in doing so tried to be like him.

I grew up on the stories of his love life, a complicated series of affairs with married women and others. To me this was how life was lived, drinking hard and finding pleasure where ever it was to be found. I found that I preferred the company of girls more than boys, I was never very good at sport and had no real interest in it. By mimicking the attitude of this older man I found that I could talk easily to girls and make them laugh.

The downside to this was when puberty hit and the hormones really started their work, girls soon became an object of desire. I would fall in love in an instant and handled rejection badly. It was not just my love life that was affected, any job that I had I attacked with a passion, I had to know everything, be perfect right away. I developed a cycle of about nine months to a year, I would start everything, as I said, with maniacal passion, this passion would peak and just when I reached a point where everything was going right, I would start to self destruct.

Self destruction let to many a phone call to the Samaritans, who probably saved my life on a few occasions. Suicide was attempted twice, both times by pills and drink. I would drink to excess, took drugs to excess, anything to take my mind off the fact my life was in pieces. In my early twenties I had an epileptic seizure, right at the time I had applied to join the Marines. That one seizure was to become a nightmare to be buried at all costs, I would get out of my mind on drugs and stare at nightclub strobe lights, daring it to happen again.

This cycle of maniacal passion through to complete destruction continued until the birth of my daughter. Her arrival gave me the complete attraction I had always sought. She was mine, nothing could ever change that. So for the next few years the cycle lessened, though changing jobs continued. I know now that the problem had not gone away, in fact it was building up inside me. My partner remarked many times in the twelve years we were together that I was unstable, I just put it down to work which was always either my main priority or my biggest problem depending where I was on my cycle.

There is a thread to this story that has been overlooked, partly on purpose until now. That piece of my life involves my real father. A man I loved and loathed so very much. An alcoholic all his life, he became my bogey man under the bed. I despised him so much that I neglected my grand parents, a thing that brings me shame and sorrow as they both passed never meeting their grandchild. I swore I would never be like him, but in reflection it would not surprise me to find out he suffered mental illness himself, all the signs were there. I will not go into the details of his passing, except to say that the last time I saw him he had been dead several days, the image burned deep into my mind. I never collected his ashes, they were placed in the crematorium gardens, I could not bring myself to do so.

With his passing I became the owner of my ancestral home, the very place he died. I then undertook the project of completely renovating the property, whilst also working full time. Funds soon dwindled and we had to move into this half completed building site, I had also changed jobs which required me to work from home. As you can imagine I attacked both renovation and job with total commitment but soon the pressure of both lit the fuse on the powder keg of emotions that had been stirring all these years.

One day I thought I was having a heart attack, after the trip to A&E I went to see my GP who prescribed me anti-depressants for anxiety and depression, although signed off work, I continued. The side effects from the SSRIs coupled with my growing stress soon started to crack me. One Friday I accidently scratched myself and I felt pain, strange that I would find this surprising but I had felt nothing but numbness for weeks. The pain was a relief, by the end of Saturday I started having to wear long sleeves to hide the deep scratches I had inflicted on my arms. By Sunday evening the plan to kill myself had been planned in detail, the need for pain meant that my back and both arms were now a patchwork of blooded scratch marks. I had reach the end.

The one caveat that I mad with myself was that I would go see my GP again and explain things, if, however nothing had changed by two pm I would end it all. Thankfully my GP is excellent and while I will not give the details of that day, I saw the clock strike two on the assessment ward of Whitchurch Hospital. That day I broke completely and sat in a little room with flowers painted on the walls by a previous occupant I finally felt safe, safe from myself. Those five days spent on the ward changed me forever. I found myself with others who in their own ways shared so much of my past, I started to accept I was ill. Whilst there I started to make notes of how I felt and what was going through my mind. By the time I was discharged the idea to tell my story was building inside me.

I had already set up a blog and twitter account a few months earlier, but then I had nothing to say. Now I had plenty to say, the word poured out of me with no thought that they would be read. I found a massive sense of relief just by getting my feelings out, I also started to seek out others like myself on forums and social media. So many people praised me for speaking out, I soon found myself looking into mental health myself. I received little help from the system, so I turned my attention to solving my own problems. As it stands now I have completed my classroom work for my diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, I have started my degree in Psychology and Counselling with the OU. I am also studying for my level 3 counselling and level 4 CBT which I hope to have achieved by October.

I do not know yet how I will achieve it, but my ambition is to help as many people as I can who suffer, help them to understand that hiding from illness like I did just ruins your life. I know now I am not alone, and as long as there are people out there who need help I will try my best to help. This is a fraction of my story, but now I see some good in the awful life I have led. I have so much experience in living the wrong way with mental illness, letting the stigma of it silence me, that I can now see things with much more clarity. The greatest stigma I have found with mental illness is that I held within myself, but I will hide no more and I hope to encourage others to do likewise. I am not my illness, I am just a person who has an illness, one I carry every day.




One comment on “David Leader – The greatest stigma I felt was from within myself

  1. I found this very moving. We see similar themes in these blogs – the inertia of communication where we only scream on the inside, fearing stigma if we’re honest. And the lacklustre efforts of some professionals. I’m glad you’re there for people now, David. It’s a better life with people like you in it.

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