I was in two minds as to whether writing about Curtis as a ‘Humans of Clevedon’ feature was the best thing to do, because the important thing for Curtis is people hearing his message about mental health, and ‘Humans of Clevedon’ tends to be very much about the person. I toyed with the idea of doing a straight piece on mental health, but in the end decided to pursue the original idea because I feel that ‘Humans of Clevedon’ features, which are always an honour to do, are more personal, authentic and meaningful, an apt description of the videos that Curtis made and put on to social media during lockdown.
‘This video is not about me and my experiences, but about YOU guys out there watching this who are struggling daily…. I hope that knowing someone who has been in the same situation and has come out of it will give you a bit more of a positive outlook on it.’
Curtis has suffered with mental health problems related to past traumas for some years but with the help of a therapist had managed to control them. Sadly with lockdown he felt his world closing in on him again, he likened it to a massive explosion in his head and of all things, he blamed himself for the lockdown. It was this blame that culminated in him doing something which he describes as really stupid and caused him to end up in hospital. His therapist heard what had happened and got in touch immediately.
Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. Data published in November 2019 from the Office for National Statistic’s found that 17.5 million working days were lost the previous year due to mental health-related sickness absence. So why are people still afraid to talk about it?
Curtis isn’t afraid to talk about it and has done so very publicly. His videos, the number of people who have viewed them (currently 5000+) and their warm response to him will have been of great comfort to people who are struggling, because not being able to talk about it is one of the worst parts of what they’re going through. Talking about mental health means we can start to break down stereotypes, improve relationships, increase access to support and remove the stigma.
So what are these strategies?
Talking would be Curtis’ number one strategy and he urges us not to feel guilty, embarrassed or ashamed about asking for help when we feel the weight of what we are carrying around is too much to bear. People who love you are always happy to help. You are not a burden. You are never a burden. Even if you confide in someone you don’t know particularly well, they are not going to refuse – like myself Curtis has a very optimistic view of people and could never envisage a situation where help of some sort would be refused.
But let’s say for the sake of argument, that there is someone who really feels they have no-one, then they could turn to wonderful organisations such as the Samaritans https://www.samaritans.org whose number 116 123 is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. (You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call)
If your friend, family member or co-worker does decide to open up to you, then I would suggest having a look at the SHUSH guidelines for good listening tips that are recommended for use when someone is in this situation.
Talking not just to family and friends but to a professional has also been critical for Curtis’ recovery. He started at a group session but didn’t find these helpful, whereas after one session working on a one to one basis he felt some immediate alleviation of his symptoms.
Curtis went as far as to say his therapist had saved his life. They established a trusting, working relationship very quickly and he felt as though he could be open and honest with her from the outset. She helped him to explore his feelings, view his situation differently and change his thought processes.
Curtis saw his therapist weekly during lockdown, this then reduced to fortnightly, then monthly until he felt he was back on track. If he feels as though he needs that extra support now he can text her.
Staying connected was also something that Curtis felt had helped him on his journey but he acknowledged that it wasn’t always easy to do. When you’re feeling vulnerable, anxious and unmotivated, it’s much easier to cut yourself off from those around you and avoid social interactions which in turn can so easily erode your self-esteem and confidence and make everything seem unattainable. Curtis was adamant that keeping in touch with people, although it felt overwhelming at the start, had been an important part of his recovery and he now has a great support network for when he is feeling things are getting on top of him, which is not often these days. Keeping in touch with friends and family means you have someone to talk to when you do feel you are ready and it was Curtis’ friends and his girlfriend who noticed that he had become very snappy and negative, they also noticed that he was drinking very, very heavily. When he did eventually open up about how low he was feeling they were of course, like true friends, tremendously supportive.
Surround yourself with positive people – Curtis felt that the positivity of his friends on his depression was significant. I think it’s an idea we can all relate to, if you surround yourself with positive, upbeat people you can become more cheerful yourself. Happiness is contagious!
He particularly valued the help of friends who supported his goals and dreams; friends who ‘ignited his spark’ who encouraged him and gently pushed him to where he wanted to be.
These same friends recognised and acknowledged his achievements which is hugely important because when you are feeling low it is sometimes hard to see your own progress. Curtis’ felt that his friends helped him feel proud of himself again.
Music – I think the idea of music and mood being interrelated is well documented and is indeed very complex, but it was interesting what Curtis said about music and how he has found it helpful to listen to happier, more positive music.
A lot of the music Curtis used to listen to was full of dark lyrics about violence, despair and grief. Singing along to such music and letting the lyrics sink into your brain without really processing what is being said will of course affect your mood in a negative way. It will intensify negative emotions and make you feel irritable and anxious, such music can haunt you for days and validate your negative emotions whereas more upbeat, happy music can have a very calming impact or can be very re-energising. Curtis felt that his change in music listening habits has definitely boosted his mood and reduced his anxiety.
Exercise – At the time of the re-occurrence of Curtis’ mental health problems he was on furlough from a very popular gym in Clevedon where he still works very happily. He also does some personal training in other gyms in Clevedon.
He loves his work at the gym and his work as a Personal Trainer – both are very satisfying. For Curtis, the personal training role is his ‘perfect job’ because he’s keen to help people achieve their goals. Helping others and making a difference is extremely important to Curtis as it is to most of us, our greatest successes in life are often found in helping others succeed.
The lockdown of course changed all that and Curtis went from this vibrant, structured day to doing a couple of sessions a day and eventually to nothing. At an intellectual level, he knew of course that this was disastrous but emotionally he could do nothing about it, he totally lost motivation.
Returning to regular exercise which Curtis says his body craves has of course been an integral part of his recovery. We all know that exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety and that it helps to increase endorphin levels but Curtis could actually feel the exercise working its magic as soon as he got back into his regular routine. He also started to sleep better, he had more energy and felt better able to cope. His reliance on alcohol ceased.
We find ourselves in very stressful times – we are surrounded by illness, financial anxiety, poverty, social inequality, the list is endless. We are missing friends and family, missing our daily routine and faced with some sort lockdown for an unknown length of time. All of this makes us feel anxious and vulnerable – never have we needed to be in better physical and mental health.
Curtis knows this and feeling overwhelmed with the level of support that he has experienced, wants in turn to give back, to his friends, his family and his community. He has shared his story in the hope that it might just help one person who is experiencing what he felt.
His strategies worked for him and may well work for you: talking was his number 1 strategy – talking to friends, his family, his community, a therapist; staying connected; surrounding himself with positive people; paying attention to the kind of music he listened to and exercise. His advice is very practical and would be easy to implement.
It was a pleasure talking to Curtis and I chose to publish this on International Men’s Day, a day which is an opportunity for people everywhere to appreciate and celebrate the men and boys in their lives and the contribution they make to society for the greater good of all.
Curtis’ contribution is enormous, he has spoken out publicly about his mental health problems, he is instrumental in creating a culture where issues related to mental health are aired, shared, commented on and liked.
The more people who raise their hands and say they’ve experienced depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders, the less fear someone else will have to admit they need help and start on the road to recovery.
Well done Curtis.