My Secret Fight Against Anxiety by Chrisopher Pepper

Guest Post: My Secret Fight Against Anxiety
By Christopher Pepper

In April 2014 I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is one of the most common health conditions in Australia. For men, anxiety is even more common than depression – 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some point (source: Beyondblue)

For those who know me this might shock you as I seem to be a person who always likes a laugh, a good time and making a fool of myself.  That in itself is entirely true and one of the traits that makes me the person I am today.

But there was a side of me that not many people knew existed except my close family and friends.  The mood swings, the feeling of nothing is going well for me even though I have a amazing wife and two kids I adore.  I would distance myself from my friends and instead of going out or away with the boys I would prefer to be at home on the couch.  It was extremely hard not having as much social interaction after I finished playing Aussie Rules at the end of the 2012 season.

Ask me why at the time and I couldn’t tell you my reasoning behind it.  All I know is that I felt pretty average and flat about things.

Around the same time, AFL footballer Mitch Clark retired from the game due to a mental illness (in his case depression) after two years of constant foot injuries and the weight of not being able to fulfil the massive contract with the Demons on his shoulders.  The people in the media and society either praised Clarke for his courage to give the game up due to his illness or told him to suck it up as he was on a big wage and playing AFL couldn’t be that hard on him.  It was the first time a professional footballer in the AFL had to give up the game due to an illness that couldn’t be seen like glandular fever or a physical injury such as a broken leg.  People were divided and I was one of them.

On the weekend after the announcement, former Victorian Premier and now Chairman of Beyondblue, Jeff Kennett, spoke to SEN1116 and praised Clarke for raising the awareness of mental illness within the footballing community with his announcement.  As Kennett was rolling through a number of the signs and symptoms of mental illness I was starting to relate to a number of the stages he was describing including;

  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • irritable
  • frustrated
  • lacking in confidence
  • unhappy
  • indecisive
  • disappointed
  • feeling tired all the time

It was this moment I headed over to the Beyondblue website to see the full list and how closely it matched to my feelings and emotions.  For a long time I knew something wasn’t right with how I reacted to situations: up one minute and loving life, the next I would rather be on the couch with the blinds closed watching TV by myself.   For too long it was affecting my relationships with my wife, family and friends and I had to see if if Beyondblue could help by just listening to me and hopefully give me some guidance.

I made the choice right then to check my ego at the door and Beyondblue a call.

Not going into the specifics but picking up the phone and making the call felt like a huge weight was being lifted off my shoulders.  It was the first (yet a small one) step in getting the part of my life that was holding me back and addressing the possible causes head-on.  With Beyondblue’s help they reassured me that what I was feeling and going through was and illness exactly like having a sore throat or common cold; you go to your GP and tell them your symptoms and they will prescribe you with some medication make you feel better.

My GP was amazing.  He explained how mental illnesses can occur in people when their brain doesn’t produce sufficient levels of serotonin, a chemical which regulates moods in the human body.  He then prescribed me a trial of some medication I needed to take daily to see if there was a change in my emotion and in turn my interactions with people.  The medication has made such a difference I still take one a day to keep myself in check.  Will I ever need to get off them? Maybe, but if everything at home and work is so much better being on the medication that being off it why would I?

It has been almost a year since I was first diagnosed and it has been a continual healing process.  Over time I have let relationships slip with mates I played footy with for over 20 years and slowly I am trying to rekindle them (guys if you are reading this and you know who you are then I hope this provides some clarity why I have been distant).  There will be some close friends and family who are finding out about this for the first time and I hope you understand why I have kept this quiet. What I do know is when people find out they have been uber-supportive and want to help out any way they can.

Having avenues of support is vital when dealing with anxiety and I am very luck to have a network of family and friends who have been there whenever I was having one of my moments.  Finally, thanks to my amazing wife Narelle for her support throughout our 19 years together, especially during the last 12 months.  You are my best friend and soul-mate.

I am not looking for sympathy.  I just want to raise the awareness that there are people you know that may be hiding their mental illness from you and eventually they will let you know about it.  If they are like me they will probably just want someone to talk to like I did.


Christopher Pepper
About the Author: Christopher Pepper

You know what? Living the life of  two wonderful kids and an incredible wife in Melbourne, Australia has its ups and downs and most of the time it isn’t because of them. My daughter Maya and son Noah light up my life but being a father has its challenges. Whether it is putting them to bed, feeding them or even taking them to the shops can be either a walk in the park or World War 3. You can be like Leonardo and be ‘on top of the world’ one minute and then feelings like you are in The Abyss the next.

I have decided to share my experiences with the world for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it gives me a chance to brag or vent depending on the situation to you all about being a dad. Secondly, it might help any potential, new or existing dads know that there is someone who is going through what they are and that they are not alone. Thirdly, I reckon I have a few things on my mind that a few of you out there is thinking but have never had the outlet to say so. Now you do.

Think of it as the Top Gear of Dads! If I have something positive to say about an experience, product or process I will praise it to high heaven. On the other hand, if it has left a negative impact on me you will know as well. I am going to be as genuine and honest as I can be because if I’m not it won’t help you and then you won’t come back to read more.

I’m Christopher Pepper and you can find me at ‘The Pep Talk’!  I encourage you to add your two cents by commenting on any of the posts, sharing the site with others, and most importantly getting involved!

You can contact Christopher via his website and follow him on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

 

3 Comments

Betty

great article what meds are you on i have tried too many they sides effects are awful still trying to find one or combo

Reply
Elizabeth Conrad

I think this is a great article and I thank you for sharing your story! xx

Reply
Peter Ayre

Well done Christopher, I took the hard road and thankfully came out all right after a few years, but I don’t recommend it. Talk to your doctor, you wouldn’t try to fix a broken leg yourself…

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This