Social Anxiety by Mike

1/3 “Looking back, I suffered from my mental health from my early teens, only that I could never articulate it because I didn’t know what it was. I always felt like the whole village was aware of me and I had this intense fear of people. I thought things would get better after I left school, but my paranoia and anxiety never left. In my teenage years, I started using alcohol as a temporary release. Of course, it made everything even worst. This soon became a spiral of losing hope and not knowing what to do with my life, to the point of being completely disappointed with who I was. I felt lost and hopeless… Then, because of an unexpected inheritance, I decided to leave everything behind and use the money to go travelling, hoping to find myself on the way.

 It felt like the opportunity for a new beginning. After eight months of travelling, I arrived in India. There, my paranoia became even more serious when I started using soft drugs. They must have triggered something and I began to hear voices and think that people were coming to get me all the time. The next few years of my life is a blur really. I kept running away from something and trying to find myself, but nothing really worked. The end of that period came when I met Fran. She was on her own journey. She was 18 at the time. She was hitchhiking back from India overland. I remember the first time I saw her she had no shoes. She studied French and philosophy when her hippie father returned after 15 years of not seeing her and told her that the only education she needed is the one from the yogis in India… So, she set off to India from her home in Holland on a bike at the age of 17. I fell in love with her and her story immediately. Because of Fran, I completely stopped taking drugs and I felt that my life was on track at last. Eventually, we returned and bought a farm in the West of Ireland. We were to create an alternative lifestyle and life was going to be perfect. It was going to be the happy ever after. But that rarely happens in real life, right?”

2/3 “After the birth of our son, Fran had her first real breakdown. After that, we had years of this nightmare of hospitals and medication and ECT treatments. My paranoia and anxiety, once again, went through the roof. That horrible period eventually led us to join Grow Mental Health. Joining Grow was something completely different from what we got accustomed to in terms of treatments. We felt that we were welcome and that we belonged from the first moment. The fact that people had their own mental health struggles made us able to put ourselves at ease. Fran, by this time, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and with bipolar disorder. She was not expected to get better. Nobody at that point expected her to get better. Except Grow. They kept saying that if we apply the wisdom of the Grow program to everyday life things will improve. Living a normal life at the point seemed like a distant memory, but we didn’t want to give up hope. Pretty soon, we began to experiment with taking up tasks. And step-by-step, we became more and more involved and seeing the rapid improvement, we decided to join many different groups and communities.”
“I was a person with a very serious social phobia, but eventually, I was able to join Toastmasters. I did a degree in Psychology, Fran and I joined dancing and art classes. I learned to play the tin whistle. Fran started working with the arts officer through CE schemes, then she did a course in horticulture. Later, she also did a caring course and she worked as a career until retirement. Her progression was unbelievable. I suppose the most amazing thing about our story is that after 15 years of being on up to 18 tablets a day and doctors saying that she had no hope to get better Fran was able to successfully stop taking medication with the blessing and support of her psychiatrist. Grow isn’t a self-help group. It’s a self-activation group through mutual help. The role of peer support plays a huge role in the recovery of any person struggling with mental health issues. In the last few years of my working years, I did a PhD in Trinity to research Grow and I had the opportunity to interview 26 people about how the program helped them to recover. To simply put the themes that emerged was that the recovery through Grow is a “re-enchantment with life”. It makes you realise from the inside that you have value, potential and that you belong. My research challenges the prevailing view that ‘mental illness’ primarily be treated within the boundaries of traditional mental health services. Medical treatment may be a valuable start to some peoples recovery, but I believe that mental health problems can also be resolved through everyday social interactions and through peer and community support.”
Mike often mentions a line given to him by someone in his Grow Mental Health peer support group. He found it so helpful and it helped him immensely. Just by accepting that he was just shy he began to become less shy. Acceptance allows us to face our fears and means in time they becoming less powerful.

“The thing you fear unreasonably is your master.”

– The Grow Program
Grow Mental Health’s requests for support have increased by more than 400% since the start of the pandemic. We need your support more than ever.
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