Trigger warnings: Panic attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts
I am 31 years old. I live in downtown Gothenburg (Sweden), have a good life and work with my hobby (hockey). I have a lot of friends, a wonderful family, traveled the world and lived abroad for almost ten years.
Sounds like a dream, right? I’m going to tell you how I really feel, what my day looks like when I get home from a long day at the rink, a day filled with joy for so many. I’ll tell you about how I was denied help from Swedish psychiatry when I needed it the most, and how it finally almost cost me my life.
I remember it like it was yesterday, my first panic attack. The pounding chest, not being able to breathe, and not knowing what was going on. It was a horrible experience, and I didn’t understand what it was until a friend told me she suffered the same thing and that it most likely was a panic attack. I ignored it. Instead, I chose to believe that something else was triggering the attack. Maybe I slept badly or something. It just couldn’t be a panic attack. That wouldn’t happen to me… hell, I’m supposed to be strong! Boy, was I wrong.
After that first attack, they escalated. They happened in different situations. I sometimes woke up from sleeping with the feeling of not being able to breathe, I had attacks at the grocery store for no reason, that forced me to just abandon my shopping basket and run out of the store for air. I had attacks when I was out for a walk, and after I met my friends, and when I was out partying. They happened anywhere at any time.
In addition to the attacks I felt very sad and worthless, and I worried about being a burden and being in the way of others. I don’t think the people around me noticed, I became pretty good at hiding my real feelings, my real me. I played a role in my own life.
What I’ve learned from my anxiety is that it never truly goes away. It just shows up with different intensity. But I’ve learned how to manage it. I can sense when there’s a big storm coming, and when the anxiety is just manageable wind puffs. I know what to do to handle it when it occurs. I go out for fresh air, listen to soft music, call a friend and talk about anything and everything. I found my methods.
After a day at work, or at the rink, or after a family dinner or whatever else, and I come home, take my coat off and hang it on a hook in the entrance – I hang my disguise there too. At home I don’t have to pretend to be happy anymore, I don’t have to act like I’m someone I’m not. How awful it may sound, I’ve learned to live with it.
However, my depression still requires a lot of work. A doctor, after confirming my diagnosis, prescribed me the appropriate medication, to make sure I’m able to get through my days and nights. But before I got that help, I was feeling so bad I reached out to the psych ward at the “Östra sjukhuset” hospital in Gothenburg. I was afraid of what I might do to myself, my suicidal thoughts were very vivid and real, and I was stuck in bad habits. They rejected me before I even got to see a doctor. They said I didn’t have a problem, I had job security, an apartment, and they advised me that if it got worse I should come back. Imagine that experience, after you finally gathered the courage to ask for help. It was hard, I tell you. And I never did that again, I figured I just had to keep living with the demons and scary thoughts constantly in my head.
After a couple of months, I got my dream job. It felt so right, I felt that was my chance to start over. And it was great! I had almost two years free from the thoughts of killing myself. I still had panic attacks from time to tome, and my anxiety was still there, but I accepted them and learned to live with them.
But one day, out of the blue, that damn demon was back. He sat on my shoulder and told me every day about how useless I was, that I wasn’t worth that new start, that I should give up, go home, quit my job. He convinced me nobody liked me, nobody needed me. I believed him and went into another dark depression that lasted over a year. You probably understand me when I tell you I didn’t ask for help, after that first rejection. It was me against the world, the toughest fight I ever had to fight. And I lost.
I was a beautiful day, I remember every detail but I won’t tell them here. It is too painful, and probably will be for a while. For the third time, I tried to take my own life. The first two times I kind of knew that I wouldn’t succeed, and those times left me broken afterward. I managed to clean up all the “evidence” and went back to acting, playing the role of myself again. Everybody in my surroundings knew me as the “cool, fun and nice guy”, the guy who never had any problems and always took care of others. But one day, when my mind was made up, I met with the people I wanted to meet, I called the people I wanted to talk to. I didn’t reveal what I was about to do, every conversation ended with a smile. After that there’s was only one thing left to do. I tried to numb my anxiety with alcohol and pain killers, and then I did what I had planned.
I failed. I SURVIVED. And I was lucky enough to have loving support from my family and friends, doctors and psychologists to recover.
It took me almost all the way to the end of the tunnel to get help. I’ve learned not to keep it inside, that it’s important to talk about it. I know it’s hard, that’s why I want to be anonymous here. I’m scared of what people around me, at work or people in hockey, would think and say about me and what I did. That I’m living with anxiety and depression. I want to believe that the hockey clubs don’t look down on somebody with an illness like that. Because it is an illness. A disease. And we have to get better at treating it as such.
Lastly, I want to quote Robin Lehner. Not only because he is a great guy, but because he really is right.
“I’m mentally ill, it doesn’t mean that I’m mentally weak.”
Male, 31, elite youth coach