22 → London, UK → Writer & Activist → Anxiety & Depression → CBT, Meditation, Medication, Diet, Exercise.
R: Hi George, tell us a little bit about yourself…Who are you and where are you from?
G: I’m a twenty-two year old University of Southampton History graduate turned writer from London currently living/travelling in Asia. London will always be my home but I’m enjoying not being robbed blind by London prices for a few months!
R: What do you do?
G: I freelance write for all kinds of clients for blogs, websites, magazines, research papers or just whatever else the client needs! I also write specifically about Mental Health Issues for my own blogs and others, as well as the Huffington Post.
R: How long have you been doing it?
G: I’ve always had a passion for writing, and I’ve been running my blog on Mental Health (livingmentallywell.org) for over a year now. I started that to help others but also myself as I find writing about my issues (of which there were quite a lot!) quite therapeutic. I’ve only been freelance writing for clients since October 2015, but I’m almost at the point where I’m having to turn work down so it’s going well.
R: What did you do before and did you enjoy it?
G: Before this I worked for former Dragon’s Den Dragon James Caan, which was an awesome opportunity but it wasn’t really for me. I ended up quitting due to my Mental Health; I was in a pretty bad way. I quit in January 2015 and February 2015 was the worst month of my mental health struggles, and my life, but it was March 2015 onwards where I made a commitment to getting better. This was also the month I set up my blog.
R: When did your anxiety begin?
G: My anxiety began in October 2013 while I was still at University and was only twenty at the time.
R: Were there symptoms earlier?
G: I’ve always been an over-thinker with absolutely everything, does that count as anxiety? Probably. If there’s one group more susceptible than others for anxiety I feel like it’s us over-thinkers. We’re the sensitive sorts!
“For about a year it was just small anxieties, nothing too serious, just things like jelly legs. Then before I knew it I was too scared to leave the house or get on buses”
R: Has it got worse over time? or better?
G: It definitely got a whole lot worse before it got better. For about a year it was just small anxieties, nothing too serious, just things like jelly legs. Then before I knew it I was too scared to leave the house or get on buses and at one point I thought I was in my own version of the Truman show which was pretty scary. I’ve heard of this symptom a few times though so I guess it’s quite common – it definitely didn’t help that I’d only watched the Truman Show for the first time a month earlier! Now, I get the odd niggle of anxiety but for the most part I’d say I’m recovered.
R: How would you describe being anxious?
G: It’s one of the absolute worst feeling that gets in the way of everything. Every plane you’re on you think you’re going to crash, every piece of work you do you’re convinced it’s terrible, every love interest you have you’re convinced they’ll find something wrong with you, every person you catch eyes with you’re convinced is thinking the worst possible thoughts about you and the way you look. It strips away your ability to just relax and enjoy life.
R: What made you see a doctor?
G: I was in a complete mess. I’d kept it a secret for over 10 months and then eventually opened up to what was my then girlfriend who was great, she forced me to go down to the doctors. I probably wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t have made me.
R: Were you an anxious child?
G: Not really, but like I said, I’m definitely the over-thinking, sensitive type so I guess that counts. I’m generally an outgoing and confident person, the anxiety has only really been a problem for me the last couple of years but I feel a lot better now.
R: How does Anxiety affect your normal day?
G: Like I mentioned earlier, it stopped me functioning at all. I couldn’t really leave the house and I stuttered all the time. It pretty much put my life on hold for a year, I hardly saw my friends and I never went out, a drop of alcohol would send me in a downward spiral so for a year I was a bit of a recluse. It doesn’t really affect me too much now, I still occasionally get it into my head that someone on the street is about to whip out a gun on me, but that’s about as bad as it gets. If I feel anxious about something I prefer to just go ahead and do it anyway to show the anxiety who’s boss!
R: Have you found any positive aspects of Anxiety?
G: Not in anxiety specifically, but the anxiety/depression cocktail I’ve been through over the last couple of years has completely made me reassess life and what I want from it – it’s made me travel the world and earn money doing something I love which I just don’t think I would have done if I hadn’t suffered at first.
R: If you had the option to lose your anxiety would you?
G: Right now yes, but I wouldn’t want to lose the last couple of years, like I said above it’s easily been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
R: Does Anxiety keep you awake at night?
G: My over-thinking brain definitely does occasionally so yes!
R: Do friends or colleagues notice you’re anxious?
G: No – people don’t understand it if they haven’t been through it, and even if they have they don’t know what makes you in particular feel anxious. I think they forget quite easily that I’m prone to anxiety or depression, but that’s understandable, everyone has their own problems!
R: Does it affect your relationship with them?
G: No – I’m good at dealing with and thinking through problems on my own so I don’t rely on them too much when it comes to dealing with my Mental Health struggles. They had a hard time understanding why I wasn’t coming out with them anymore, but when I explained the situation they were more than understanding.
R: Do you think your life would be different without anxiety?
G: In some small ways yes – I’m too anxious about doing things like skydiving or bungee jumping, but that’s about it really, I don’t feel that it holds me back in too many areas, but that’s because I refuse to give in most the time. I do get anxious with a lot of what I do but I just think “f*ck it” and it definitely helps to knock the anxiety down a peg or two.
R: Anxiety & alcohol often go hand in hand, do you drink? And if so, in moderation? If not, how do you keep it under control?
G: I was having a mix of alcohol and recreational drugs back during my worst period – more for a release to escape from my struggles to be honest. Alcohol became a bit of an addiction for a couple of months before I shook it off, it was never a good idea and I always crashed twice as hard the next day, but it was nice to feel ‘normal’ even for just a few hours. I can drink now, it does make me feel a little bit anxious but that’s more when I’m left on my own to think, if I’m with people it doesn’t get in the way.
R: How did you get started?
G: I’ve always loved writing, I feel you can kind of just do what you want with it, there’s no limit to the imagination. I started my Mental Health blog because I found that there wasn’t enough useful information on the internet all in one place, so I tried to create something that could genuinely help people. I then started doing a bit of freelancing before realising how much I enjoyed it so it’s all worked out quite well!
R: Where can we read your writing?
G: You can read my blog here and be sure to follow me on the Huffington Post here. I’ve only just gone live there but I’m planning on posting regular content. I’m also Co-Editor at the Artistic Collaborative, where we’re trying to pull together different people’s life stories from around the world. That’s where I first went ‘public’ about my Mental Health and the response has been great. We also welcome contributions from anyone if anyone has a story they’d like to tell!
— George Bell (@GeorgeBell01) February 5, 2016
R: Have you received any great feedback / response?
G: The feedback on all areas of my work has been awesome – I still maintain a perfect 100% review rating on my freelance profile, but the thing that’s really important to me is just hearing from people that have suffered telling me a piece of mine meant something to them in some way. I find that infinitely more valuable than anything a client could say to me and so much more rewarding.
R: How does anxiety interfere with the writing process?
G: I constantly tell myself my writing is awful and the client will send it back but I make sure to write even more pieces to prove the anxiety wrong.
R: How do you manage the anxiety whilst writing?
G: It’s not while writing that’s a problem – it’s always after when I have time to think that I start to think the work might be terrible. I just proofread, changing very little, and send it off, regardless of what is going on in my head, and wait for the feedback. I’ve never had negative feedback, it’s only every been minor tweaks, but that’s only happened a couple of times, so I feel the anxiety is starting to lessen.
R: Do you use your mental health experiences as material for writing?
G: It’s my favourite topic to write about; they (whoever they are) always say you should write about your own experiences and I’m hugely passionate about mental health; it’s a terribly stigmatised topic and I like to think I can make a difference with my writing.
R: Does your depression also interfere and how do you overcome it?
G: I haven’t had any inference in the last few months but there were times last year when I’d planned to put a post up but depression left me with no energy. Unfortunately I couldn’t even muster the energy to get out of bed so writing a post was out of the question! It was just a case of being patient and knowing it’ll pass but also trying to not give in. I could have stayed in bed forever but there would come a day when I’d have to force myself out, force myself to write and publish, but feel like I’d accomplished something after. Having a small purpose or making small accomplishments like that is one of the best tools I’ve found for reducing depression.
R: What does it feel like to be in the middle of a depressive episode?
G: Anxiety is one of the absolute worst feelings in the world, but a real deep depressive episode trumps this by a mile. It’s horrible, it’s dark and it’s shit-scary. The days when I was a bit depressed were bad enough, but the ones where I was physically unable to get out of bed thinking of nothing else other than suicide are the ones that have really stuck with me. I’ve been unhappy before but I never knew it was possible to feel as terrible as depression can make you feel. It scared the hell out of me back then and it still scares me now just thinking about it.
— Serginio Prince (@SerginioPrince) January 11, 2016
R: How do you get yourself out? If you can
G: I’d always go for a run every day, and then it was about keeping busy, having a purpose, even if just a small one, and eating regularly throughout the day. These small things couldn’t bring me out of an episode, only time and patience seemed to really do the trick with that, but they all helped.
R: Have you been officially diagnosed by a health professional?
G: Yes, the official term I got diagnosed with was ‘Major Depressive Disorder’, which I think was just because at one point it was really bad, but I don’t really like that term, it all sounds too serious. I just stick to ‘Depression’.
R: What made you see a doctor?
G: The same as before – my ex-girlfriend forced me down.
R: Did they prescribe medication?
G: Yes – I was on two different types of anti-depressant as well as anxiety tablets and sleeping pills.
R: Do you / Did you take medication?
G: Personally, I hated all of the medication so I came off it, much to the disagreement of my doctors, but I feel I made the right choice. I don’t feel the medication ever really did anything for me other than making me really emotionally ‘flat’.
R: How do you best manage depression? (medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines, or something else)
G: As I said above – exercise, keeping busy, eating regularly and patience.
R: Did any treatments work?
G: I found Cognitive Behavioural Therapy enormously useful, but I’ve also tried Hypnotherapy, Meditation, Medication, Psychotherapy, and pills I ordered off the internet (which I shouldn’t have done but I was desperate), all of which I found didn’t help me at all.
R: Do you feel as if you’re in control now?
G: Yes I definitely do – I’m aware that I may always be susceptible to depression but now I’ve been through the worst of it I know how to manage it much better if it comes back.
R: Have you seen a therapist?
G: In total I saw about 8 or 9 therapists/counsellors/psychologists.
R: Did any health professionals explain where your Anxiety originated?
G: Sort of, but my CBT therapist was great at not focusing on the past too much and instead focusing on the present which I felt helped a lot.
R: Or depression?
G: The depression was a by-product of my anxiety and didn’t start until about 7 months after the anxiety first started.
R: Do family members have Anxiety?
R: Anxiety can result from a difficult childhood. Did you experience trauma as a child?
R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues that you have anxiety or depression?
G: Yes I’m completely open about my struggles, and will be to any employers I interview with. No-one agrees with me on this front but I’d rather not work somewhere where I have to lie about my struggles, because what’s the point if you have to change your fundamental principles to impress someone you’ve never met? With friends and family I’ve had nothing but support from them.
R: Do you know others with anxiety or depression?
G: Yeah, since going ‘public’ messages have poured in which has been awesome, I Iove trying to help people going through similar things to me.
R: How do you educate yourself on management and resources? Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?
G: The Depression Learning Path is a good place to start for depression, other than that I try not to read too much – too many conflicting views isn’t good for a depression sufferer. Just stick to what you know is safe!
R: Have you read any great books about anxiety or depression?
G: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig and Dear Stranger from MIND the Charity are awesome books on depression, and Self-help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes became my bedside Bible on how to manage my anxiety – I couldn’t recommend this book enough. It only cost me £6 on Amazon but I would have paid ten times that for the help it gave me on my anxiety.
R: Can you recommend any therapists / doctors / specialists / coaches / mentors / clinics / foundations?
G: I saw far too many therapists who did nothing other than take my money and offer no real help, but the last person I saw, Roger Mills in London, was brilliant and really kickstarted my recovery. He’s a CBT therapist, and I always recommend him now whenever anyone asks.
I’m also always available for a chat if someone needs it, my email is [email protected] and I read everything that comes through my mailbox!
R: What’s on your horizon for 2016?
G: I’m travelling around Asia, Europe and the US for the rest of 2016 while building up my writing portfolio. It’s already been a pretty hectic year and we’re only a month in so I’ll see what the rest of the year has to bring!
R: What next for your depression & anxiety?
G: Hopefully, nothing. It’s driven me on to achieve more than I thought I could, and it’s inspired me to try and help people going through similar things, but I hope to have seen the back of it for myself. But, if it comes back, I’ll be ready for it!
R: Any thing else you’d like to add?
R: Thanks George.
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with George Bell
Cover Photo supplied by George Bell