My Mental Health Journey - by Rhys Williams-Way

When I say journey, that is exactly what this has been for me. From someone who was strong, pretty good at hiding emotion and never affected by any type  of mental health issues. To almost over night having to re-evaluate so many things in my life. Taking a step back, looking at my life and how a couple of significant life experiences affected me in such a big way.

I will start from the beginning. During the summer of 2020, not long after the first lockdown, due to COVID-19, I reconnected with a friend of nearly 20 years. A school friend that I had always stayed in touch with but had not seen in quite some time. But after meeting in person again, he broke to me that he was terminally ill. I visited him & his family in his home over the following summer months. Then the dreaded day came. At the time I was half way up Snowdon, when  I received the news. The news that I knew would eventually come, but was not prepared for. My friend had sadly lost his battle with cancer and had passed away. Due to the position I was in, I do not think it properly sunk in. Which I now believe, did not give me the opportunity to grieve.

Further to this, in September 2020, I witnessed something that really stuck with me and impacted me for some time. After spending the day in West Wales working, I was returning home via the M4, when I saw a road traffic collision involving a motorbike, where the motorcyclist had lost his life. After driving home and reading about the incident online, I struggled to sleep properly for over week.

Within two weeks I had experienced two tragic events. The loss of a great friend and witness to the loss of a person I had never even met. A few weeks past and I found myself starting to come to terms with the tragedy I had experienced. But this left me feeling anxious about a lot of situations. Not wanting to go out. Hoping the Government would put the country into another lockdown, the perfect excuse for not having to leave my house, without having to make excuses.

I found lots of situations stressful, whether in work or at home. I would feel a tightening in my chest,  where I felt as though I wanted to smash things up, almost like an unbelievable anger. During this period my head was all over the place, desperately trying to figure out what was wrong with me. So, I reached out to two of my closest friends and it almost felt like a weight had been lifted. Just talking to these friends really helped me. Explaining my feelings, what I was thinking and having them just listen to me really made a positive difference. As well as doing this, I started running at least 5 times a week. I found this was one of the best things for me, I was able to switch off for that 30 to 60 minutes a day and focus on something else.

However, almost a year later, after injuring my achilles, I was unable to run for a few months. Occasionally I could manage once or twice a week. I feel as though this was the start of possibly the darkest period for me, a time that I  probably felt at my lowest and worst.

Something that I didn't even realise was happening, had started, I was slipping into a depression. I had become extremely distant with my family, very short tempered and not very present, even when at home with them. I started to feel as though I did not want to be around them any more. I asked myself, would it be easier if I just walked away, live in my van and be on my own?

My wife started to notice that I was spending hours on end just scrolling through my phone on social media. Not engaging with her or anyone at home. When she would mention it, I would just snap at her. When one night we sat down and switched on a documentary about the England Rugby player Joe Marler, called ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’ (highly recommend). When he explained things he was and still is going through, my wife actually said that maybe I needed to speak to a professional about how I was feeling. Lots of the things and feelings he spoke about, felt very similar to what I was experiencing.

This is when I decided enough was enough, I had to speak to someone, a professional, someone who could diagnose me and help me get the support I needed. After speaking to my GP, explaining everything I had been through and the feelings I had, he diagnosed me with PTSD, depression and anxiety. All linked with the two life events that had happened just eighteen months prior. This was November 2021 and I am still well and truly going through this now.

This brings me on to Cold Water Therapy. Even though I am still balls deep (no pun intended) in what is going on in my mind, finding the Dawnstalkers and then the Brotectors has been the single best thing that has happened to me in a long time. Focussing my mind is really helping me to cope with the feelings I have been getting. Going down to the sea and having a swim in the cold water for a minimum of twice a week (more if my work location allows) really helps me. Not only by getting into the water, but the community on the shore. Talking, laughing, enjoying the sun rises and drinking coffee. Even talking complete nonsense about nothing at all, with people who have just experienced the same cold water I have and are going through a lot of their own issues!

Talking, cold water, nature, fresh air, sun rises, sunsets, walking & running. Trying to be mindful and present. All things that might sound cliche but are honestly the best things for the soul. Take an hour out of your day for yourself, whether that is walking in the rain with good music in your ears, getting up early to watch the sunrise or even just talking to a friend over the phone. Sometimes, on busy days in work, I just make a cup of tea, stand outside, breath in fresh air and just watch the world go by. Take the time for yourself. By doing that, you are a better person to those around you. I am still a work in progress, but every day I am trying my absolute best.