“I’d hit absolute bottom – but it was the catalyst to seek help”
My childhood was turbulent - I grew up witnessing domestic violence and abuse and, as the eldest sibling in the family, felt utterly helpless and unable to stop the pain and suffering my family was living with.
My mum showed tremendous courage in the end. I still remember the teacher calling my name and taking my hand in the school field, then getting into a car with my brother and sister - we were off to start a fresh life in a new part of the country.
But despite our new start, it turned out I hadn’t escaped my past mentally.
I drank alcohol from a young age and, by the time I was at university, I was drinking to blackout. I found I could be overwhelmed with incredible bouts of anger, depression and indescribable feelings.
I guess I always knew the cause deep down, but I was embarrassed and ashamed to reveal too much of my past or trust anyone enough to let them truly in.
I didn't really know who I was; my identity was just a mask. I convinced myself that a brief counselling spell had "cured" me - I was okay, I was strong, I could bury everything very deeply within.
I graduated, several years went by, I was able to live with a veneer of normality. I was in a stable relationship, away from the temptation of London, and beginning an exciting new surveying career.
Despite all of this, things quickly unravelled. Desperate to impress in my new role, I was unable to say "no" at work and I was terrified of asking for help or admitting I didn't know something. The stress intensified and I avoided talking to anyone about it - I started drinking more than was healthy as a way of helping me cope.
“The wake-up call that would change my life”
And then over a decade ago, I had the wake-up call which would change my life. I’d gone out with the intention of drinking until I could no longer feel anything. I have little recollection of events but, confronted by a group, I lashed out. The police were involved, and I was extremely lucky to have the support of my family, friends, and employer at the time. The incident was a real shock, and I was acutely aware how fortunate I was that things had not ended very differently.
I felt that I had hit the absolute bottom - but it made me realise I was loved and valued, and it was the catalyst that was needed for me to begin to acknowledge my issues and to ask for help.
It wasn't easy - it took some years with a counsellor - and I resisted at first, but gradually, I was able to unfurl the knot of feelings buried within me. I began to talk to trusted people, to identify when I was stressed or under pressure, and to manage my workload. It was a bumpy journey. I only accepted that I shouldn't drink alcohol when my partner and I discussed starting a family... I was absolutely determined to raise our child with a stable and present father.
I was - I still am - deeply ashamed by my past. I suffered for a long time thinking that I had to carry everything and that there was no answer. It's hard to open up and to admit vulnerability, and taking that first step is sometimes easier done with someone who isn't known to you, like a counsellor.
In truth, I still have ups and downs in terms of my feelings; I still feel anger and often immense sadness relating to my childhood. But the important thing is that I can now live with - and manage - it, and I don’t feel alone anymore.
I feel truly fortunate that despite my problems I have been able to move forward positively in both my professional and personal life.
I really believe that, with the right support, people can manage mental health issues and move on from a difficult past - getting professional help changed my life. It’s one of the reasons I have become involved with LionHeart as a mental health ambassador. I hope that by sharing my experiences, it will help other people who might be struggling to seek the support they need.
Kim Lydon is a chartered building surveyor based in south-west England and volunteers as a mental health ambassador for LionHeart.
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