I've always wanted to write something for World Mental Health Day, but until this year, I've always failed to do so for two rea...

I've always wanted to write something for World Mental Health Day, but until this year, I've always failed to do so for two reasons.

The first is that most years, I never know the date on which World Mental Health Day falls, until it has already fallen. 

The second is the same reason I'm always having ideas for stories, but rarely writing them down. Why I've spent years writing novels, and I've only ever released one: I'm not really sure that I have anything worthwhile to say.

Most people will be impacted by mental heath issues at some point. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6 people in the past week will have experienced a mental health problem. So what could I, an exceedingly average hobbyist writer who hardly ever posts on his blog and has never really written any non-fiction about mental health, add to the conversation? When there are so many bloggers, journalists and intelligent scienticians writing useful pieces on mental health all the time, I fear not much.

But this year, I know the date. So I thought: fuck it. I'll write something to get it out there, and even if it doesn't bring anything new to the table, at least it might give someone a good laugh.

My major mental health episodes began after I left university. I had spent the last year of uni bitter and twisted, mainly just working to get the degree done and staying in at the weekends, because I'd alienated most of my friends by lashing out after a bad breakup and treating everyone like a total dickbag (an episode which fills me with so much regret that I wrote another article about it to post today, which my wife rightly advised that I should think twice about publishing, because she said it read like I was trying to humiliate myself as punishment for my sins... which I probably was). 

But I was getting over that, and love life aside, things were looking pretty good. I was on a good graduate scheme, I had a laid back lifestyle and a small circle of close friends, and I was saving up for my first car. 

I had to do a fair bit of growing up pretty quickly - at university, I had been waking up in the afternoon and going to bed in the early hours of the morning. In the third year, I hardly ever turned up to lectures, because all the notes were online and I was doing well enough without going in. When I did go in, I tended to sit with my friends, making jokes at the expense of the lecturers. But now I was an adult with a real job, so I had to go to bed at a sensible time and get up as soon as my alarm went off. When I was at work, I had to be sober, properly dressed and civil to my peers and my boss. It was a real shock to the system.

But I coped (brave of me, I know), and pretty soon I had enough money to buy my first car. A flashy convertible one, with only three previous hairdressing owners.

That's when the trouble began. After a couple of months of owning it, something strange happened in my brainbox. I started to worry that I would hit someone or something with my lovely new car - despite the fact that I’ve always been a very sensible (slow) driver - and leave terrible destruction in my wake, without even realising it. 

Which made me want to drive it less, just in case my worries came true.

I didn’t drive it less, because I still wanted to get where I was going, and the worry wasn't crippling yet. But over the course of a few weeks, that niggling doubt blossomed into an intense paranoia. And very suddenly, it got to the point where I would complete a journey in my car, then spend the rest of the night worried sick (literally, so worried that I felt physically sick) that I had hit someone on the way, and driven on obliviously. 

I knew that I would have heard the crash, felt the bump of the collision; but my brain wasn’t interested in reason or logical thought. In those moments, I would genuinely believe that I had killed a pedestrian with my car, and my memory had erased it; and I would spend hours expecting the police to knock on my door and bring me the justice I deserved.

Sometimes, the paranoia was so convincing that I would have to get back in my car and drive the same route again, to check that there was no debris in the road, no police cordon around the dead body I’d left on the tarmac. Which, of course, would give me a new journey to worry about. And the cycle continued.

Whatever was happening in my head wasn't content, however, with just ruining my driving experience. It escalated very quickly, and within probably less than a month, I had become paranoid not only about driving, but about everything. 

A stranger glancing at me strangely as we waited for a bus together probably shot me that look because he wanted to kill me, and was planning to do so within the next few days. If a friend said something strange or out of character, it must be because I had mortally offended them and destroyed the friendship, and no amount of apologies would make it better now, because they were out to get me.

News stories about war or climate change or pretty much any volatile situation (so, really, any news story) filled me with a dread that we didn’t have much time left, that the end times were coming.

Everything in the world was out to destroy me. How arrogant is that? 

Quite arrogant. But also very terrifying. If you haven’t experienced paranoia like this before, I fear that I am probably not a skilful enough writer to communicate effectively just how all-consuming these fears were. They ate away at me constantly, all day every day, and I would feel physically queasy most of the time, worrying about whichever small event I had chosen at the time which - in my imagination, at least - would inevitably spiral out of control and end in my demise.

When I say everything, by the way, I really mean everything. I was scared that people I knew would overhear me saying bad things about them in my flat, when I wasn’t saying bad things about them at all, and even if I was, I knew they were miles away. 

When I donated old books to a charity shop, I would spend a couple of the following days worried that someone would buy it, find some kind of offensive note or a pamphlet for an extremist organisation enclosed inside, and hunt me down for the hateful views I didn't even hold. I’m not a member of any groups which would hand out pamphlets, let alone the kind of insane ones I was imagining.

If you’re laughing incredulously at how crazy I went, know that I don't blame you. I’m just an average man who has lived a relatively comfortable life. The fact that this kind of issue can come out of nowhere and completely take over my life is mystifying. Laughable! 

But, obviously, I wasn’t laughing at the time; all this fear changed me completely. I went from being very confident and outgoing - arrogant, perhaps - to feeling like a pathetic loser, cowering in my room and never wanting to interact with the scary world outside. I had no desire to talk to strangers, no matter how friendly they were (after all, if they were being so friendly, what were they up to?), and if I could help it, I didn’t really want to leave my flat.

I couldn't leave work in the evening without double, triple and quadruple checking my Sent folder in Outlook, to ensure that I hadn't called anyone a cunt in an e-mail and forgotten all about it.

And to add to all of this, I had a voice inside me the whole time, telling me that I deserved to feel this way. I had treated people like shit at university - especially my ex - and throughout my teens I had disregarded people's feelings as if they didn't even matter; so this must have been my punishment, and it was fair, so I would just have to take it.

I'm sure my mum wouldn't have agreed. I had talked about some of what was going on in my head to my family and a couple of close friends, and while it helped to get the little things off my chest, I didn't want to burden them with it all, and I needed to let the rest out before I became a hermit, locked indoors for fear of immediate destruction if I ever left the house. 

So, my mum found me a counsellor, who I began to see once a week, just to talk through my issues. 

And she was brilliant - exactly the person I needed. She made me think about things differently, showed me where I might be going wrong in my thought processes and taught me new ways to look at the things I was imagining and making real in my temporarily twisted head.

Not that time with her was a magical instant cure. It was a long process, and it was often painful and scary and sometimes I couldn't even face going to see her, because I just wanted to hide away and not talk to anyone about my problems, even someone who wanted to help. And nor was it a permanent remedy - over the course of about five years, I went back three times, for a few months of weekly sessions at a time, because those fears just kept slipping back. 

But it was worth it - I would have done anything, paid any amount, for my life to just return to normal. And mostly, it did.

Today, I can get through most days without feeling like someone is going to bug my home, or like I’m going to crash my car and drive away obliviously. Most of the time, I'm pretty much fine. 

But the fear isn’t completely gone. Promoting my books online always fills me with a little bit of paranoia, because it involves something as personal as my written words and ideas, and a lot of strangers who might be offended enough by them that they want to hunt me down and destroy me. 

Sometimes, when I’m tired, I still have to ask my wife if my driving was alright, at the end of a long journey. That there weren't any incidents that I missed. Perhaps even that’s not healthy, but if it keeps away bigger fears, then it’s a small price to pay.

I don’t watch or read the news at all now. It’s the one thing I’d recommend to everyone, whether they’re having mental health problems or not. 99% of the content of the average news broadcast is not directly relevant to your life, and 100% of it is designed to make you feel anxious and worried, so that you’ll keep watching and waiting for that sweet reassurance that everything will be okay, which will never come. But that’s a rant for another time.

I might never be as confident, loud and outgoing as I used to be, and there might be small fears that niggle at me for the rest of my life. But all of that is okay; I know I can get through it all, because I have before. And in one way, this strange chapter in my life did me a favour, by forcing me out of the brash and overconfident habits and personality traits which made me feel like I deserved those issues in the first place (and caused that nasty breakup I mentioned, and all the other things I hate about the person I was before my mid-twenties).

I couldn't have got through it all without the support of my loved ones and counsellor.

So, if you’re feeling sad, or strange, or scared, and you feel trapped and don’t know what to do, my amateur advice is: talk to someone. Anyone. A family member, a friend, a therapist. Just get it off your chest. It will suddenly become a lot lighter, when you let it out. It might not solve the problem, but it will probably become a lot easier to deal with, when you hear the issue out loud and realise that it’s not as big and terrifying as it has become in your head.

You can do it.

Epictetus said: 'Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.' It might not be that simple in every case, but for me, it was just as clear as that. Any anxieties my mind creates, my mind can discard, if only I choose to let it.


1. If, having read this, you've suddenly realised that all my strangest stories aren’t as creative as you thought, because they’re all just expressions of my own real life paranoias and fears, you’re absolutely right. A lot of the time when I’m writing, I’m just working out my issues. Writing is a form of therapy for me - when I feel scared, I write a little story, and I make my fears smaller by putting them on the screen of a laptop, and suddenly they’re not towering over me anymore. Even this article is probably just another attempt to exorcise a demon (although publishing it will almost certainly make me feel a bit scared). Try it yourself - paint or sing or write or dance your problems away. I can’t promise it will cure you, but it might help.

2. If you're feeling fine, but you want to know how best to support a loved one who's going through a hard time, then I can only speak from my own experience, but my best advice is simply: Listen. Don't judge, don't laugh, don't say, 'Oh my days, you're getting so weird!' Just hear them out, let them talk it through, then tell them how you see it. Sometimes, all I needed was a calm, rational perspective to help me see just how - for want of a better word - weird I was being.

This year, the theme for World Mental Health Day is "suicide prevention". 
The following links will take you to websites for organisations who know a lot more than I do, and can provide a lot more help and information than I ever could. 

Have you been waiting for the very cheapest day to start reading the books everyone* is talking about? Are you stuck in the middle of a...

Have you been waiting for the very cheapest day to start reading the books everyone* is talking about? Are you stuck in the middle of a literary funk, desperately searching for a new favourite author to read every day**?

Well, today is your lucky day! It's my 30th birthday, so I've started a Kindle Countdown deal which means you could grab all of my books for as little as 99p on Amazon.co.uk and 99c on Amazon.com! The price will gradually rise until May 3rd, so click here to go and download your copy now!

Now, excuse me, while I sulk about aging just as fast as my grandparents said I would...

* or at least, I am talking about...
** for about a week, maybe less if you're a really fast reader.

Look, there I am leaning against a tree in fancy clothes. But that's not the only place I've been this week. I've also b...

Look, there I am leaning against a tree in fancy clothes.

But that's not the only place I've been this week. I've also been on Amy's Bookshelf, answering questions about books and inspiration and a few things in between.

That's all I wanted to say. Aaron out.