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“My anxiety showed me I’m stronger than I thought I was"

After being mugged age 16, Andy experienced depression and anxiety for the first time. A decade later, he shares what he's overcome - and why MQ makes him hopeful. 

When I was 16, I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was walking to a friend's house and passed a few guys on the street who looked pretty intimidating.

One of them - a local guy I’d grown up with – came forward and asked for my phone, my wallet and everything I had on me. When I tried to refuse, he picked me up and threw me across the fence.

I managed to get up, grab my stuff and run away. But as I ran, he shouted that if I ever told anyone, he would kill me. I completely believed him.

I was fine for a few days and, although I had no desire to, my family called the police. But then I started to receive messages from his friends asking me to stand up in court and say he hadn’t done anything. I considered retracting my statement, but my family told me not to – that if he’d done this to me, he could do it to someone else.

When I told his friends this, they turned the tables. They said that if I didn’t lie for him in court, they would kill me – that I would be found in a ditch, that my family would have to bury me. It was complete intimidation. 

Suddenly, everything really hit home. I realised I wasn’t as fine as I thought I was and started to panic.

Over the next year and a half, I slowly became a recluse.

I didn’t go out and see my friends – I’d make excuses every time. It got to the point where my dad would take me to the restaurant I worked in as a kitchen assistant and wait outside to pick me up at the end of the day. I felt like I couldn’t allow myself any freedom.

I knew I was stuck but didn’t want to admit I had a problem. I didn’t associate my change of behaviour with the incident. I just accepted it and thought, “This is me now”.

On top of feeling depressed and anxious, I also had physical symptoms.

I got to the point where I thought that something was seriously wrong with me, googling my symptoms and convincing myself it was the worst-case scenario. I couldn’t breathe properly or go five minutes without having a serious headache or heart palpitations. 

After almost two years, my friends and family persuaded me to see my GP. But it didn’t help – I felt like I was put in a box, told I was overly anxious and given an antidepressant – which I went away with and accepted for a while. Until I suddenly thought, “I don't want to rely on a pill”.

I went back to my GP, this time with more confidence, and told him I needed help.

I was referred to a therapist, which I was sceptical about. But after a few weeks, I started letting all my problems out. It felt amazing to open up; like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. After therapy, I had a round of CBT which was also unbelievably helpful.

When I had another bout of depression and anxiety a few years later, it hit even harder. Once again, I had CBT but this time the self-doubt was so strong that I was struggling to change my mindset. When my sister suggested I tried hypnotherapy I was sceptical once again – how can someone go inside your brain and just re-wire it without your say so? 

I only remember 10 minutes of the hour and a half session, which was very strange. And, although it sounds incredibly cliché, I remember walking down the street afterwards and seeing that the trees were as green as they could possibly be, the sky was vividly blue. Everything felt so much more colourful and vibrant. I felt incredible.

I don't put my recovery down to the hypnotherapy or the CBT – but more to the fact that I needed someone to say to me that it was okay to not be okay, I’m stronger than I thought I was and that there’s help out there to overcome my anxiety.

I’m 26 now, but when this all started 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you two things about mental health.

Since then, mental health awareness has really progressed and there are charities like MQ doing amazing work. But there’s still a stigma that’s attached to mental illness, particularly with young men. The fact that suicide is the biggest killer in young men and women is absolutely crazy to think about.

If I could sit in a room with one of MQ’s researchers, I’d ask how they see their work really changing the lives of people affected by mental illness – and how can people like me, who have direct experience, help to influence future research?

I’d also love to find out more about how my anxiety translated into these physical symptoms.

How do our bodies and minds affect each other? And how can your thoughts snowball so quickly from ‘I’ve got a headache’ to ‘I must have a brain tumour or a stroke’? 

The guy who attacked me all those years ago plead guilty and went to prison for a few months. He’s been in and out of prison since and, although sometimes it takes me a while to relax when I’m out, I now feel safe walking around which is a huge relief. 

I’m also been promoted to a chef and find that putting my emotions into cooking can really help me express myself. I always try to adopt the thought that people come into the restaurant to get away from whatever it is that's going on in their lives – be it mental illness, relationship problems, or a million different reasons.

Whatever it is, I always try to make sure they have the best experience possible.

Last updated: 25 June 2019

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