My personal experiences of mental health

Joe Fautley, an associate working with the Information, Advice and Support Services Network and the Council for Disabled Children, describes coming to terms with the mental health challenges he has faced since childhood.

For me personally, I have faced extensive challenges with mental health throughout my life.

At different stages between the ages of 9 and 17, I received support from psychologists due to the severe stress and anxiety I encountered frequently during my school days. Many psychologists who I saw always tried to encourage the use of medication in order to help with my severe anxiety. However, my parents always declined this because they believed that medication was not the appropriate way forward and a more natural treatment would be much more beneficial for me.

The alternative option was for me to receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is a type of talking treatment which focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems. The typical length of time for someone to complete CBT is around 6 to 8 weeks. However, due to the severity of my mental health, it carried on for 18 months until I completed the process. Looking back, although it was stressful at times and it lasted for much longer than expected, CBT was definitely the right decision for me.

For many years, I have struggled with negative thoughts in my mind which impacted significantly on my personal confidence and self-esteem. At the time, I struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) behaviours that were directly linked with my ongoing anxiety. I worked with a CBT therapist to identify and challenge negative thinking patterns. In turn, this helped me to gradually change the way I felt about stressful situations and enabled me to learn coping techniques to better manage my anxiety and negative emotions.

I encounter anxiety on a daily basis and it continuously impacts on my everyday life. Anxiety stops me from doing many things that neuro-typical people can do. For example, I have a fear of crossing roads and separating from the person I’m with when out.

I am currently not able to travel anywhere on my own and always require someone who I feel comfortable with to support me throughout all journeys.

I become very anxious when in crowded environments. My anxiety at times leads to extreme tiredness. When I become highly anxious, I always need time and a quiet space where I can calm myself and de-stress, which helps me to be more prepared for future situations. If I’m unable to have sufficient time and space to de-stress, my anxiety will increase and cause a sensory overload experience.

Being able to de-stress is essential for Autistic people. My favourite ways to relax include visiting places of nature and at home listening to nature sounds and calming music on my iPod.

Managing fatigue can be a difficult process especially when I have had a stressful day. I can suddenly run out of steam and my body can often shut down. An interesting way of how I describe my fatigue is the ‘cup of water’ analogy. I picture my energy as a cup of water that I carry all day. At the start of the day, the cup is full, but as I move through the day, the water in the cup gradually splashes and spills until eventually every drop is gone. When it’s gone, it’s gone. There is no way to fill up the cup again. I have to wait for the start of the next day when my cup of energy will be full again.

Joe Fautley is featured in the Council for Disabled Children’s publication, ‘Tomorrows Leaders - A World Beyond Disability’.