As part of Men’s Health Week, Danny Bowes, military veteran and learning & development specialist, shares his very personal experience of living with a disability and tackling mental health, and what it means to be part of the McKesson UK Mental Health and Disability Steering Group.
I think most people would admit to having their mental health challenged by the ramifications of the pandemic. We’ve been in completely unknown territory and the last year has thrown obstacles at us that we weren’t prepared for, and that’s exactly what happened to me when my journey with my own mental health began.
I’d wanted to join the army for as long as I can remember so when I was medically discharged after sustaining an injury during active duty in Afghanistan, it felt like my world was falling to pieces. In the blink of any eye I lost my hearing and my dream job. I suddenly had to wear hearing aids, forge a new career path for myself and, unknowingly at the time, contend with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As I tried to settle into post-army life, I knew something wasn’t quite right. It felt like I was living in a hamster wheel. My mind was constantly racing – there was never any rest – and things just kept on going around and around in my head. I tried to get help but that’s not easy when you don’t understand the cause. I was prescribed antidepressants by my GP and attended counselling sessions – but they only ever took the edge off. The worst moment for me was sitting in front of a psychiatrist who asked me, “other than the two of us, is there anybody else in the room?”. That question left me thinking to myself that people must think I’m crazy.
When I was finally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by a psychiatrist and psychologist who specialised in treating veterans, it felt very surreal but like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I left that consultation room finally understanding what the problem was and feeling like I could move on with my life – although it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Living with hearing loss took time to come to terms with, as it would with any disability.
The biggest challenge for me was, and still is, when I’m in a group situation. When there are multiple conversations being had or large amounts of background noise I simply can’t hear or understand what is being said. That can be quite a frustrating and lonely experience. But that said, one on one conversations are fine and I’m grateful to have partial hearing. That’s why I try to appreciate the small things in life as much as possible, while I still can. I enjoy silence now more than I ever did before, and strangely the sound of bird song – something so simple but a sound I know one day I may no longer be able to hear anymore.
One thing I’ve learnt through my experience is that physical and mental health go hand in hand. I’m no expert, but I believe that if you put good things into your body, you will feel good in return. For me, if I eat healthy food, I feel good in both my body and mind. Physical exercise is the thing that really keeps me going. I find that running especially allows me to separate my work and home life and gives me time to think about and process anything that is on my mind. Often when I’m out running, I can find solutions to any problems I have, and I find running in the rain really therapeutic. It might sound strange but pounding the pavement while the rain falls on me makes me feel like my troubles are being washed away.
Having been through what I have, my advice to anyone struggling with their mental health would be not to keep it to yourself and instead to speak to someone. If you don’t, it will just get worse, so it’s important to reach out to those around you or to utilise any resources available to you. We’re lucky to have our own mental health first aiders and an Employee Assistance Programme at McKesson UK, but you can also seek help from your GP.
Talking about our mental health is something we still seem to find difficult, and there is unfortunately still a particular stigma attached to males asking for help. But there is honestly no shame in admitting that you’re not okay. Opening up and talking about how you are feeling is nothing short of courageous in my eyes. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the McKesson Mental Health and Disability Steering Group. When I was at my lowest, I didn’t know where to turn to or who talk to – I have friends of course, but no one could relate. I hope by being part of this network I can help make McKesson UK a safer place for other colleagues to be able to openly talk about mental health and disability and help squash the stigma.
After the year we’ve all endured, it feels more important than ever to raise the subject of mental health during this year’s Men’s Health Week. Campaigns like this can help encourage more people to take better care of their physical health and speak more honestly about their mental health. And it’s more of those types of conversations that I hope I can encourage, not just during Men’s Health Week, but all year round, now I’ve been given a platform to share my lived experience with others and an opportunity to help break down barriers.