Trigger warning: suicidal ideation and psychosis.
Ryan Ridgway, Director of Mind Health Solutions, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). After years of battling his condition he found an unusual coping mechanism - boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). This is his story of beginning his path to recovery and going on to teach Mental Health First Aid England training as an MHFA England Instructor Member.
When I was young, I began to hear voices.
They would tell me that I needed to complete tasks such as ‘turn the light switch on and off twenty times or your parents will die’ or ‘blink fifteen times or you’ll stop breathing’.
This caused me intense emotional and psychological pain, and I would spend hours in my room trying to understand what these voices in my head meant, and how I could make them stop. One day, they were so overwhelming that I forced myself to complete sit ups for eight hours by way of self-punishment. This resulted in me having two weeks off school as I had pulled every muscle in my abdomen.
I assumed that I had grown out of this for a short time, but as I reached my early teens the obsessive behaviour returned and manifested itself in a number of other ways. Alongside my obsessive and compulsive behaviour, I began to experience depression and psychotic episodes, which I hid from everyone around me as best I could.
These years were the most difficult I have ever experienced. I came close to attempting suicide, to the extent I made a plan several times. I remember incidents such as being dropped off outside a psychiatric hospital by an ex-girlfriend who said she ‘couldn’t deal with me’ and running off to Spain trying to escape the impossible – my own mind. I’d have to listen to loud music at night in bed just to quieten the voices enough for me to attempt to get some sleep.
My delusions and obsessive thoughts convinced me that I was going to contract HIV, and despite not being in a high-risk group, I had nine tests in twelve months. Some of the tests were just because I had cut my hand whilst using a knife, but my mind convinced me that if it had been used by someone before me and hadn’t been cleaned properly, then I surely would had contracted the virus. Eventually I was told I couldn’t take any more tests – something that made my mental health worse, as I felt I had lost all control.
Thankfully, I discovered training, boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). This was my personal kind of therapy, and I have since gone on to have two professional cage fights. Over time I have learned to manage my mental health condition in a number of ways, as well as make a few mistakes along the way.
There’s no magic pill or one solution and I know my condition will always be a part of who I am, but I have found ways that work best for me to manage the symptoms.
My journey wasn’t easy, but having now taught MHFA England courses as a Mental Health First Aid England Instructor Member, I can see that my journey could have been made easier. I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder three years ago, but had I received some of the support that a Mental Health First Aider can provide, I feel I would have been better placed to manage my symptoms and at less risk of developing depression, anxiety, or having suicidal thoughts.
Having Mental Health First Aid training as a part of your organisation’s mental health and wellbeing programme move the odds in your favour. Making it a legislative requirement in every workplace will only increase the likelihood that anyone who is experiencing mental ill health, like I was, can receive the support they need and get on their path to recovery.
At my next fight, I'll be using it to raise awareness and money for a charity called Trident Reach where I work as a Specialist Support Worker in mental health when not delivering training. I'm particularly passionate about challenging the 'alpha male' population to start talking about their mental health.
Being strong doesn't mean being silent - there is no health without mental health.
Interested in becoming an MHFA England Instructor Member? Check out what the programme contains.