Peter Shaw: How I’ve Taken Back Control of My Story

Learning to describe and share your feelings can be a great tool in managing mental distress. Peter explains how reflection and honesty have been key when speaking about his experiences and have helped him to take ownership of his mental illness. Sharing with others can be daunting, but here the author inspires us to write our own stories.

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Having struggled with both social anxiety disorder and depression for many years without being properly diagnosed and therefore not understanding what I was going through; I have only recently become aware of the need to have control over my story of mental illness. I now know how great it can feel to be in a position where you understand your mind and mental health better than before and can share what you’re going through with others.

Starting around three years ago when I attended university for the second time (as a postgraduate student), I started to understand my mental illness better. This was through socialising a little bit more with people on my course, opening up about how I was feeling and getting the feeling of acceptance that comes from having friends who understood me and didn’t judge me. However, it wasn’t until after I left, when I decided to take the plunge and apply for a volunteering position with Time to Change, that my journey to take control over my mental illness and my story really began.

Going down to London for the Time to Change Young Champions training, my eyes were opened to how many people had so much in common with me – whether they had a similar diagnosis or not. We had all faced stigmatisation around our mental illness and wanted to help change society’s views of mental illness. I felt that over the next two years as a Young Champion, I was with a group of people who understood mental illness and understood what I was going through.

Time to Change allowed me to share my story in public for the first time ever, which was a bit of a horrifying prospect at first for someone who hated speaking in public about anything. But in writing my testimony, a story of my mental illness and what I would want to change for future generations, I felt a great sense of relief from finally being able to talk and share how I was feeling. I later learned in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) that writing down how I felt when feeling anxious or depressed is a great way of letting out some of my emotions in a positive way. This allows me to reflect back on how I was during those moments later on when I am feeling better.

This all allowed me to start taking back control of my mental illness. Sharing my story with others was the key to it all. Without being given this opportunity by Time to Change, I never would have felt able to pursue medication and an official diagnosis of depression from the doctors. I never would have been able to talk to my mum and get her to understand what I had been through in the past and what I was going through now. But most importantly, I never would have been able to understand why my mental illnesses deserved treatment and support, and how important being able to talk about how I feel on a day-to-day basis can be for tackling my illnesses.

Every time I post about how I’m feeling online or tell my mum I’m having a tough day with anxiety, or even writing a post like this, I am telling my mental illness that I am not going to let it beat me. I am not going to hide in the shadows anymore with it and be ashamed of something I shouldn’t be. Instead, I am taking back control of my story and sharing the honesty of how I really feel, whether it’s good or bad. Honesty is always the best policy for me.

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