Mike was pointed towards my blog by a mutual friend of ours. He’d been having a tough time recently so we started talking online together. Mike seemed very in tune with what was going on with himself which was a positive sign. He also started his own blog (My Magnificent Obsession) around this time balancing his past experiences and history with his present work as a physical fitness instructor, in a way to confront the illness that was trying to control his life. Mike’s blog was fairly brutal at times in its honesty, not intending to romanticise or glamorise the past but in an effort to remove the stigma that has followed him. After spending some time talking to him you get to understand more about him and his love for his family and the compassion he feels for others. He’s quick to apologise if he feels like he has upset someone with his passionate heartfelt views. Here is the email chat I had with Mike.
Okay Mike, do you want to tell us a few things about yourself?
Where to start?? 31 years young, but with a collection of memoirs that most people in the retirement home you would be shocked to hear about. I’ll start from the beginning and surmise as best I can. Born in 1984 to Monica & Michael Clark and with two brothers, Matt & Jason, 14 & 16 years older than me. When I was born my mother had for several years’ prior already been displaying mental health symptoms and depressive tendencies. Couple this with the Diabetes that ultimately many years would kill her, it was a tempestuous household. My ‘dad’ (and I use that word very loosely) was an alcoholic and I have no memories of him as a child. He left very soon after me being born and didn’t resurface in my life until I was 18 and he was in prison in the UAE (United Arab Emirates).
My Mum did the best with what she had available to her. She worked at times 3 jobs whilst raising my brothers and I, and her love for us couldn’t be questioned. However the daily systematic abuse, both physically and mentally by her, made us question how her love was directed to us at times. Due to her illness deteriorating and the age gap between my brothers and I, when they moved out of home, Jason to become a Vicar at London Bible College & Matt went off to Corfu and Italy as a 18/30’s club rep (two extremes I know!), I became my mothers full time carer. First time that I called an ambulance I was 3 years old, and I remember it like it was yesterday, the most vivid memory that I possess in my mind.
The years went on, and her health got worse, the abuse continued and I stayed where I was, being her carer and trying to be a kid at the same time. Things were hard and I remember for a long period only living off of toast, plain pasta and occasionally some cheese which to this day is still my favourite treat. The relationship I had with Mum was twofold, she was the most loving, caring devoted mother 40% of the day but the slightest thing would cause her to go into a furious rage and me being the only person in the house, of course it would be directed at me. I in turn in later years became a product of my own environment, and violence was all I knew and would be my go to reaction in most situations.
As I got in to adolescence and grew from the scrawny kid I was, I started to rebel, started to push the boundaries and fight back. This resulted in my relationship with the police from a relatively young age, and a few cautions for incidents with my Mum.
At the age of 15 my life was saved however, my eldest son Jamie was conceived and if it wasn’t for him I would be dead or in prison by now. I truly believe that everyone comes into your life for a reason and that boy gave me focus and a reason to live and concentrate again. The following 11 years I still led a double life. I was holding down a 6 figure job in the corporate world for BT and Vodafone amongst others, but of an evening and weekend my life was violence, drugs, partying and women, but one thing I never did was stop being a father. When it was my time to have Jamie I was there no matter what.
In 2011 finally my Mothers MH issues broke her and she committed suicide on the 20th June, and again it was me that found her, it was me that made the call to the authorities and family etc. But again a month and 11 days removed from her passing I was blessed with the second of my children coming into my life, the amazing Alfie Clark. The minute I held him in the hospital the anger, pain everything dissipated and there was a moment of clarity that I had never had before and I swore on his and Jamie’s life that everything stopped there and then, and it did. I threw my mobile away, cut ties with everyone and that was that. If Jamie saved my life, Alfie was the moment that I became the man I am now. I can never thank my kids enough for what they have done for me.
Over the next few years I channeled my emotions into something more positive than chemicals and going out, and walked into a gym about 2 weeks after Alfie was born, and I have never left. In fact, now I have made a career out of it with a blossoming Personal Training business and try to impart on people how medicinal exercise can be especially with my experience dealing with my own MH issues.
When did you feel like you were developing signs of mental illness?
Honestly Scott, as far back as I can remember. I have always been the square peg in a round hole when it comes to my friends and social gatherings. At school I was always the odd one out and I put that down to my mother (its easier to blame someone else rather than yourself isn’t it?) My anger issues started early, dozens of times I can document where I reacted in a way that even someone who is deemed as ‘well’ wouldn’t of reacted in the same way. I have always had anxiety and been conscious of myself compared to everyone else and now I know what they are. I had my first panic attacks when I was a child walking through the local Arndale centre and dozens of times when I was at home and the abuse was occurring with Mum.
I know from what you’ve said that you’ve only recently been diagnosed properly with depression and anxiety. Why do you think it took until now? Do you think you were reticent to be told you were suffering from something?
You hit the nail very much on the head with the second part of question. After witnessing depression and anxiety for all those years and then subsequently seeing my brothers fight their own demons, depression with both of them and addiction as well, I was very reticent to be ‘tarred’ with the MH brush so to speak. Yet I always knew deep down that I suffered from something. When the doctors diagnosed me with C-PTSD, depression and anxiety it was one of the most redemptive things that has ever happened to me. Now I knew why I behaved in certain ways at certain times. It doesn’t make right the multitude of wrongs that I have committed in my years but now I know why some if not most of what I did growing up has happened.
How are you coping with things at the moment? Do you find some things work better than others? What are you finding helpful?
I have my ups & downs as does every one, but, hand on heart, I am now in a place that I have never been before. I am genuinely for the first time in my life happy in my own skin. As I mentioned in the FB group a few months ago I decided to be ‘warts and all’ with everyone in my life or new to my life, instead of telling them what I wanted them to hear about me and it has paid dividends, tenfold. My eldest son lives with me full time, I have 50% custody of my youngest, work is growing daily in the gym and my online stuff I do, there may or may not be a young lady in my life… Just by being honest with myself and others I have found that that has been the biggest help for me with myself & others. Of course secondary to being ‘honest’ is the gym and exercise, I cannot extol the virtues of it enough. The physiological difference in someone that comes into a gym when covered with a wave of depression compared to when they leave is exponential. The hormonal releases your body creates when you exercise is par for and if not better than any drug that I have ever taken. I have counselled and worked with a lot of guys and girls that suffer from various MH issues and every single one of them has come out the back of a 12, 20 week block and never looked back. They now take on life with this bounce in their step that was missing before.
If you are feeling upset? Go to the gym, pick something heavy up, put it down, rinse and repeat. Simple as that.
I know you’ve recently started a blog which covers a lot of subjects, from fitness to a history of what’s happened to you. Do you want to give us a shortened version of it?
The blog is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, I started it for two reasons. The first part is it’s medicinal for me, my brain is hypersensitive to a lot of things so I write A LOT. The blog is my way of just putting my thoughts out there. I will quite often write upwards of 2000 words in a day very easily, 95% of the time they never see the light of day, sometimes that 5% is something that I think other people would benefit from. That is the scond part of why I started it. When I was blogging via my FB page I would get messages from not just friends and family about my writing and thanking me as the article in question resonated with them, but I was also getting messages from America to Australia and everywhere in between. If through my experiences I can help one person get through the day, whether that be with MH or with my knowledge and career as a PT with my writing, then as far as I am concerned those hours on the laptop suddenly become worth more than any money that I could be paid for my time.
In your blog you’ve described how your mother suffered from mental illnesses. How do you think this has affected you? Do you think it gave you a better understanding of how you are now or has it made you reluctant to explore it?
As I said earlier on bud, you become a product of your environment. I was raised in a violent household and was exposed to things that not just a child but anyone should ever see. Now I have been diagnosed and know what is what with regards to me and my condition I truly have a better idea of what is right and what is wrong. I now know that anger isn’t always a bad thing, its just when to channel it and where to channel it. Also due to the nature of my upbringing it has given me a perfect blueprint of how to be a father to my two boys. My old man left, I know what that does to a young man growing up, not having daddy there at your first football game and watching the rugby with him, or going to the cinema or park, so I swore from the moment Jamie was born in 2000 that no matter whether they wanted me there or not, I would ALWAYS be there for them. And from my Mum and her issues of course there is a massive take home message for me, especially with regards to violence and anger. Yes I have lost my temper in front of them, and yes my temper is worse than say yours, but I would and have never hurt them. Even in my darkest and deepest hours they are always the one thing that I think about or look at and they snap me right out of where I am in my mind.
So, how are things going at the moment? Are you having more good days than bad?
Definitely! Nearly 32 years old and I feel better now than when I was 21. I love my life. Its tough at times but instead of waking with pessimism in my eyes, I have nothing but optimism. Even with my anxiety and depression, by looking at it from above instead of the centre, I have started to use it to help people understand MH and other sufferers. I look forward to the week ahead now, instead of taking so many drugs that I would not be able to remember it.
In closing, have you got any last words you’d like to share with people?
Yes, I have only scratched the surface on my issues above, as I didn’t want to fact dump and bore people too much, but someone that I saw speak at a church in London said this to me “you WILL be OK” – And you know what? Its true. It may only be 4 words but they are the truest words that I have ever heard. Yes when you are in the middle of depression or you are having your 4th panic attack of the day you think that this will never end, but you WILL get better. It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next week, but eventually the pain does and will subside. Lastly and something that I live by now and something I heard when doing the rounds on YouTube is “If there is no enemy within, then the enemy outside can do you no harm” – an old African proverb that means so much to so many people.
Lastly thank-you all for reading, can’t wait to get the next bits started and over to you Scott and thank-you for having me on your blog. Anyone that wishes to speak with me direct can do so by emailing me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Again thank you all!
I’d like to thank Mike for taking his time to talk to me, but also in being so honest and open with his answers. You can read his blog over at My Magnificent Obsession.
As always, if you’d like to chat to me you can drop me an email at email@example.com and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. If you suffer from mental illness, would like to get a better understanding of it or are trying to support someone who suffers, we’ve set up a closed Facebook group that acts as a support network also called The Order Of The Dog. It’s closed group so nobody other than members can see or reply to what gets posted there. Finally, please feel free to share this blog with anyone and anywhere where you think it might help.
The Order Of The Dog