chicken pox 1

My First Mental Health School Talk

rich

Richard

It took me 8 years until I could face my past, but it was worth it in the end!

When I was 17, the world was well and truly my oyster. I was the Head Boy at my sixth form, I was one of the few students who could drive (and I didn’t brag about it, I swear) and I really believed that my life couldn’t get any better. My studies were going well, I was on track for a couple of A grades and I had an unconditional place lined up at my university of choice.

Then I got chicken pox.

It wasn’t any ordinary chicken pox though; it was a mutated, infected version that ended up with me wrapped in bandages like Tutankhamen in hospital and then sofa-bound for a week. Now, as you can imagine, for someone who (at the time) majorly struggled if they were deprived of a shower at least once a day, this period sent me into a deep spiral of despair and hopelessness. I was utterly convinced I had caught the pox from my sixth form so my OCD (un)naturally told me that I couldn’t go back there again, touch the doors, use the computers (yes, back then tablets weren’t a thing and laptops were only used if all the computers were taken) or take the coursework home.

As a result, I lost my place as Head Boy because of my lack of attendance, I fell way behind with my work and exam preparation and it was only due to the determination of a few tutors (you know who you are) that I was able to complete my exams and coursework and pass my three subjects. Unfortunately, the lasting effects on my mental health as a result of my experience in my last year of sixth form stayed with me for years.

However, in May of 2018, almost 8 years after completing my A levels, I returned to my sixth form to give a talk to the students about my mental health ‘journey’ and the insights, coping strategies and knowledge I’ve gained in my time since then.

I spoke about my time at the school, the difficulties I faced as a result of my mental illness that I had been keeping hidden, the pressure I felt to put on a brave face and battle through the tough times and the overwhelming sense of shame and embarrassment I experienced in trying to carry out my compulsions and behaviours in as secret a way as possible. I went on to say how vital it was that I could speak to a few select tutors (some of whom were still at the school) and that there is no shame in admitting when you’re feeling depressed, suicidal, sad or anxious (amongst many other things).

It was great to see the students listening so intently and with an open mind and I felt a great sense of pride and closure after I gave the talk. Pride not only in myself, but in my old sixth form that they were providing the time and space for important conversations like this in the educational arena. It’s so vital to know when you’re at an age where so much pressure is being piled upon you that it’s okay to take a time out, to acknowledge things going on in your life and to be able to talk to people about them.

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