Five ways I’ve changed since winning my mental health battle

Nearly two years after taking The Thrive Programme for depression and anxiety, Ben reveals the five ways in which it’s changed his life for good. 

MEDICATION FREE
After three or four weeks of following The Thrive Programme, I had developed enough confidence in my own coping skills and felt mentally well enough to stop taking my medication (an SSRI antidepressant and mood stabiliser).

I had been prescribed the medication for long-term depression and anxiety but after some careful consideration I felt that I didn’t need them anymore – I knew I could cope. This was incredibly empowering and showed that I had shifted my locus of control from an external basis – relying on medication to get by – to an internal focus where I was in control of my mental health.

After tolerating the side-effects of my meds for a while – weight gain, poor sleep and rashes – it felt great to ditch them and was a landmark moment in overcoming my poor mental health. Of course, we would never recommend you stop taking medication without talking to a medical professional first.

Living medication free is a big benefit to being mentally healthy

RELATIONSHIPS
Let’s be honest: who wants to date someone who suffers from depression? In an ideal world, things like this wouldn’t matter when it comes to finding true love but in reality, having a relationship with someone suffering from low self-esteem, low confidence and depressive episodes isn’t what we all dream of.

There are practical issues when it comes to having great relationships with someone suffering from poor mental health – for example, I avoided some social situations when I was feeling down and no doubt missed out on some great nights out or a fun date. When you’re getting to know someone, this is a problem. As is having a quite negative outlook on life.

However, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I met my wife around the time I beat depression and that I was able to form a positive, happy and long-term relationship with her soon after. I’ve learnt that positivity, a good attitude and a happy demeanour naturally disposes you to meeting and engaging with someone with similar traits.

A good illustration of how far I’d come in terms of my ability to connect with others was a comment made by a teacher at an evening class I’d started soon after finishing the programme: “You’re the most positive, happy person I know…” he said for no particular reason. I was shocked – nobody had ever described me as either of these things before, but he’d only known me for a few weeks and he was commenting on the person he saw before him, not the person I was before.

SLEEP
A lack of sleep is one of the biggest factors when it comes to managing your mental health on a daily basis. Feeling tired and lacking in energy makes massively reduces your coping skills and makes you vulnerable to diving headfirst into a mire of unhelpful thinking styles and behaviours.

But someone amazing happened when I learned how to manage my mental health – I started sleeping properly too. No more laying in bed, brooding unhelpfully over the day ahead or just gone – instead I fell asleep thinking positively about my achievements that day or those that lay ahead.

After suffering from really poor sleep since I was a teeanger, being able to get a full night’s rest made a huge difference and I had the energy to do more things, which in turn added to my self-esteem and confidence.

COPING SKILLS
I’ve already touched upon how improving my coping skills made managing my mental health so much easier, and a good practical example of this is overcoming my long-term fear of going to the dentist.

For more than a decade, the thought of going to the dentist filled me with fear, dread and anxiety. I couldn’t imagine coping with the sounds, sensations and stress that this might cause.

Great coping skills have made trips to the dentist a doddle

But with my newfound confidence and belief in my ability to cope with adverse situations – I’d overcome years of depression, so why not beat my fear of dentists too? I was actually looking forward to walking out of the dentist with immaculate teeth. And that’s exactly what I thought about during the few minutes of discomfort and when someone complimented me on my smile soon after.

A combination of altering my perspective on something that I felt anxious about before and building my confidence in my ability to cope has made trips to the dentist as easy as going to the supermarket or GP for a routine appointment.

SOCIAL ANXIETY
Everyone has some degree of social anxiety – and mine was quite high due to a variety of unhelpful thinking styles and patterns around how I thought people might see me. I wasn’t kind to myself, either, and was my own worst critic. This makes you build coping mechanisms around such feelings – and I wouldn’t, for example, enjoy public speaking or drawing attention to myself.

However, with my confidence levels now at their highest ever, my social anxiety is now minimal and I now see public events as a challenge to look forward to. My perspective has fundamentally altered.

In the past 18 months, I’ve regularly talked about my mental health story in front of a crowd with zero anxiety and my friends were a little disappointed at their attempts to humiliate me on my stag do. I just wasn’t embarrassed to wear rubber waders and a red string vest at a public race course.

Having low social anxiety makes lots of things much easier – particularly when it comes to work and big life events. You’re able to focus on the positives and appreciate the moment rather than being caught up in anxious thoughts and avoidance tactics.

Find out more about The Thrive Programme and buy the main workbook – the same one Ben used to overcome his depression and anxiety.