It is estimated that at least one in five of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetime. This interview series aims to open the discussion around mental health and to encourage people to share their stories in the hopes of helping others.
Steven Gannon is the drummer of Dublin band Kid Karate and founder of Feel Unreal.
Much like mental health, every story in this series is different with each person telling their tale having subjective experiences. One person’s way of coping is not the same as another’s. Consult your doctor or contact this list of organisations that can help: Pieta House, Aware, Samaritans, Console, Your Mental Health, Reach Out, SpunOut.
I sometimes get annoyed when people say I’ve had a shitty day; I’m depressed. There’s a difference between that feeling and the actual illness, whether it’s a chemical imbalance or just months and months of pent up bullshit going on in your brain.
I think everyone is prone to experiencing some kind of mental health issue at some point. I can’t speak for everyone but mine came from the inability to praise myself or give myself credit. I never achieved the insane standards that I set for myself and those feelings built up over the years into massive self-loathing. I wasn’t really aware there was a problem because it was always how I felt.
I was fucking miserable. I remember thinking I’m such a burden to my parents, I’m a burden to my friends and I felt like I was the dark cloud that hovers above people. I wasn’t seeing that it was a case of me not feeling great and needing to address certain things. I went to my doctor, told him how I was feeling and he said “you need anti-depressants.” I wasn’t sure about it and asked him why. He explained it by saying, “imagine you were trying to get over a wall and you couldn’t. You couldn’t get over it and this is just like a step ladder that helps you”. I trusted him so I tried them.
In retrospect it was actually a really, really good thing but it was a fucking horrible experience. I took Lexapro for nine months, I think. For the first six weeks I didn’t sleep and I was really tired all the time. We were touring with the band at the time. I remember we were in Paris playing a festival and we had the next day off. I’d never been before and the lads were showing me around all the sites but after twenty minutes I had to sit down and take a break. I was so drained and so exhausted.
The tiredness settled down after a couple of weeks but then I started to have a really weird reaction. I was hearing voices that weren’t mine and I just thought, what the fuck is going on? Luckily I had the awareness to know that this was just a reaction to whatever the fuck I was taking but it wasn’t a nice time. It was two weeks of this voice telling me to do mad shit to myself.
I went back to the doctor. My GP was on holidays and the replacement GP told me that this was a totally normal reaction. I was really disheartened by that advice but I knew I had to see out the course because if you come off them it can get worse.
I’m not saying anti-depressants are bad. There are some people who need them but they just didn’t suit me. It’s like taking a reel of film and cutting off the beginning and the end so your just left with this jumble in the middle. There’s no happiness and no sadness. You’re just drifting and you can’t really feel much.
It took about year after coming off them for all my emotions to come back and it was like this crazy, euphoric experience. I think that taking anti-depressants totally messed up my progress because I wasn’t dealing with the issue or what was making me unhappy. It was like taking a holiday from your brain and then you come back and all the stuff is still there. I had to address it now from the beginning. It was scary.
At that time there were so many people I knew socially or friends of friends going through the same thing and they were way too scared to talk about it. People would rather kill themselves than address an issue or admit to a problem. That’s so heartbreaking and so bizarre.
I decided to set up Feel Unreal. Essentially it’s a Facebook page where I have opened up on my experiences about mental health and people are encouraged to share their experiences and tips. It’s like a get it off your chest thing. I just thought, I know so many people going through this and I don’t give a fuck about talking about what’s going on with me, because if it helps one person it would be great. I put up a status and set up the page in 2015. The response has been really great.
I started looking into other ways of dealing with how I felt. I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly. I wasn’t sticking to a schedule. Exercise was the first thing that I found that was working. I was really taken aback by my bodies’ reaction to it. Like obviously after the first session I was very sore and I didn’t know what I was doing, but after a couple of sessions in the gym I realised that no one gives a fuck what anyone else is doing; they’re just there for themselves.
I started going to a gym in Ranelagh. There was a real community aspect and it gave me a big boost in confidence. I just thought I really enjoy this; this is my thing. People I knew were asking me for training advice so after a while I started doing a course. If people realise that there’s an alternative to prescription drugs they can reap the rewards. I try to exercise, sleep regularly, eat well, drink water and not have too much coffee. I drink alcohol the odd time. I wouldn’t say never drink but balance it. The main thing is moderation. I’ve got a really good, small group of friends that have been great with advice and guidance. I’ve learned to talk more. I’ve learned how to give myself a compliment and I realise now that you’re supposed to love yourself.
I think it’s important to think about the things that make you happy and start off with small goals. If you spend weeks at a time in bed try one day to get up, clean your room, change the sheets and just go from there. Fundamentally I think people need to try and eat a little bit better. I love takeaways, just not every day. Maybe go out for a walk to clear your head or any kind of thing that gets you off the couch and stops you from feeling down. Your brain can really fuck with you sometimes.
I’m going to start coaching people in the next couple of months. Specifically people with mental health issues but I’ll train anyone that wants to get fit and healthy. I think there’s a place for those 24-hour mega gyms but I want to help people who think that’s not for me. I’m thinking about starting some groups for jogging and I’m going to have a website up and running soon. It will be a resource base for things you can do to help you feel well and how to get in touch with me for online coaching or one to one training. I can come and meet you at your house or we can go to a gym.
For now people can send a message to my Instagram account. Even if they want to just use me as someone to listen. Obviously I’m not a counsellor but I would rather someone open up and talk to a person who has gone through similar stuff if they don’t want to talk to anyone else.
Remember, if you’ve had similar feelings to me you’re not alone in the way you feel. Whatever you’re going through a lot of people have felt the same away. Don’t judge yourself for feeling vulnerable or sad. It sounds a bit mad, but telling yourself that you love yourself is really important. A mate of mine told me a while ago to look in the mirror and keep saying it over and over again in different ways. I tried it for a week and I was pissing myself laughing but I felt the benefits. When you say something out loud your mind stores it as fact. You will feel silly but that’s OK! At the moment I feel as close to content as I ever have.
Follow Steven Gannon on Instagram. If you or someone you know is going through a tough time here is a list of organisations that can help: Pieta House, Aware, Samaritans, Console, Your Mental Health, Reach Out, SpunOut are just some of the sources that can help. If you would like to share your story please contact email@example.com