What challenge does this story focus on?

The challenges of growing up neurodiverse, with ADHD, and how the ripple effects of this led to accumulating traumas and additional mental health concerns that ultimately led to the darkest moment of my life. My almost end, which in turn became my new beginning.

How has this challenge affected you?

Being born with ADHD, I was always misunderstood, especially back when I was growing up. I struggled in school, with social relationships, my behaviour and more. The impact of this was hard to bear. People developed false views of me, views I was expected to accept as the truth. Views that I was naughty, that I wasn’t trying, that I was just a troublemaker.

These views evolved further throughout my life, and became harder to swallow, being seen as broken, and unfixable, too complex, not worth the hassle. As I grew up my peers to the left and right collected achievements, qualifications and praise, but me? I collected negative labels, unfair punishments and severe traumas. Over time I therefore developed more mental health challenges, including Social Anxiety Disorder, and most notably, Complex PTSD, though because I always struggled to talk, no one knew what I was going through.

It all bubbled away in the background, getting worse and worse, until finally it came to a head when I turned 31. I suffered a major relationship breakdown, got made homeless. I was more lost than I had ever been before. This led to the darkest moment of my life, when I felt like there was nothing worth living for anymore, and I tried to take my own life. Part of me died that day, but what was left of me found purpose, slowly, and a drive to turn thing around.

What has or is helping you to move forward with this challenge?

My Auntie’s words were a huge turning point at that point in my life. She said, that people can say anything they like, but it is our actions that define us. That really struck a cord with me, and so I felt my inner defiance take over. I wanted to prove everyone wrong, myself included. I wanted to fight to accept and love myself at last, and become the person and the father that I’d always wanted to be.

I started with exercise and motivational videos, something just for me, and then I began to share how I was feeling with friends and family. They helped me reach out to my GP and to Adult Social Care. From there I then referred myself to other services to help address my challenges, most notably Inclusion for my drug dependency, MIND for educational courses on mental health, and START (formally RASAC) to start addressing my trauma.

I also got accepted for supported housing, which gave me a roof over my head, a place to feel heard, and the foundation I needed to approach these services and get what I needed from them to move on with my life. This also opened so many doors for me, to involvement opportunities, to online gaming, and to peer support. The latter has been the most amazing of these gifts, receiving peer support from others, which inspired me to set up my own online gaming community built around peer support: DistortedMinds Gaming. My way of giving back, while continuing to work on myself.

What have you learnt as a result of this challenge?

That I am capable of so much more than I ever realised. All I needed was the right support, and the right adaptations and suddenly my challenges didn’t seem impossible to fight anymore. I was able to start seeing successes in my life, for the very first time.

I was able to feel confidence in myself, and my ability to speak out. I formed my online peer support gaming community and I watched how kindness became as contagious as humour. People came together to help one another, to help me, and so I could help them.

The empowerment from this was massive. I learnt that I truly did have something to give all along, and that my experiences, as horrible as they had been, had helped me to become the person that someone else needed, the person I never had. That showed me the truth. It showed me the light that has been hidden in my darkness all along, the light I always wanted to find.

How do you use this learning in your life now?

I continue my live gaming experiences, promoting mental health awareness at every turn. I’ve developed the confidence to seek out voluntary work as a Peer Support Worker, I completed a qualification as well, which I never thought I’d say!

I’ve got involved in storytelling events and done speeches for several charities to their service users, directors, fundraisers and more. I’ve sat on recruitment panels for new support workers, I’ve helped design a ‘Customer Report’ for a national organisation, and I’ve been hand picked to join a round table discussion with the House of Lords about integrated healthcare and housing, scheduled for later this year.

My learning has shown that I am capable of so much more than I ever dreamed, and I’m getting the opportunity to put this into practice every day. To become more than just words. To let my actions speak for me, like my Auntie said they would, and they are speaking loud and proud now.

What positive message would you like the reader to go away with?

Never underestimate how far you can go in this life. I’ve learned through my support that the doors ahead of me weren’t closed and locked like I always thought, I just had to be brave enough to knock…

Thank you.

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