Mental Illness Looks Like: Dan
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Do you struggle with mental illness? If so, what?
I developed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I had 'intrusive thoughts' at ten years old. I used to feel unable to share my mental burden. I couldn't even talk about it with my loving family. I was suicidal by the time I was 12. I was caught in a limbo between a connection to loved ones and wanting to die because of my terrifying thoughts. I remained silent, and my suffering worsened over 20 years. This led to an addiction to both alcohol and drugs
When did you first realize you struggled with mental illness?
I didn't get diagnosed with OCD until I was 31 years old. Of course, I knew I had something wrong with me, but I just thought I was the only person in the world who had these terrifying thoughts, and I also didn't know what I had done to deserve them. I wanted to tell people about what was going on with me, but I just couldn't. I grew up during the '90s and '00s, and there wasn't any social media or conversation around mental health like there is today.
How were you diagnosed?
I started to attend 12 Step meetings to address my problems with alcohol and drugs. It was during this process that I started to share snippets of what was going on with me with the men that were helping me. They pointed me to a psychiatrist that specialized in working with alcoholics and addicts. Dr. Ahmed was his name, and when I went to see him, I told him that I had these horrible thoughts and how they make me feel. I will be forever grateful to this man because he was humble enough to say that he wasn't the best person to help me. He pointed me to his colleague Dr. Monica who was a clinical consultant psychologist.
I went to see Dr. Monica, and for the very first time, I opened up and told her everything. When she told me that I was not a monster, nor was I the only person in the world to experience such thoughts, and that I was actually struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I was shocked. In fact, I remember telling her that I didn't agree. Of course, my knowledge of OCD was based on misinformation and stigma that surrounds OCD. It was a massive relief to learn about intrusive thoughts.
What does OCD feel like for you? Describe your symptoms.
OCD is kind of like having a horrible monster living rent-free inside your head 24/7. This monster feeds you petrifying fears, evil lies, and makes you question your own character and thoughts, nonstop, on a loop. I always say it felt like a prison sentence, and I was debilitated with the disorder. But the worst part was that I didn't know it was OCD until I was diagnosed when I was 31. I used alcohol and drugs to cope and turned into an alcoholic and addict. Then that lifestyle brings another level of pain and problems.
Is there a metaphor or an example you use to describe your mental illness?
I always like to remind myself that my brain is a computer similar to say my I-Phone. When my I-Phone gets a bit glitchy or starts to run slower or drains the battery faster than usual, then I need to run an UPDATE. I, therefore, need to do the same for my brain.
Do your friends and family know about your illness? If so, how did you tell them?
Brene Brown said, "If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive." In 2018, I shared my mental health story on INSTAGRAM for the very first time. Before this, I had only spoken about being in recovery from alcohol and drugs. But it was the love and support I received from my parents, grandparents, brothers and close friends that allowed me to find my voice. I was also boosted by the backing of the charities that I volunteer for.
Do you believe your illness has held you back in any way?
Ernest Hemmingway said, 'The world breaks everyone and then afterward some are stronger in the broken places". It certainly broke me and robbed me of so much. I had a life long dream of serving my country in the Royal Marines, That never happened. It also robbed me of reaching my potential in many areas of my life. But that said, it had made me into the man I am today. I REFUSE to let it hold me back anymore, and I am on a mission.
What have you been able to achieve in spite of your mental struggles?
I don't share this out of ego, but I do wish to motivate others when I say I have achieved a lot. Since coming into recovery I have raised over $100k by running 600km in 17 days through the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and 230km in 5 days through the Amazon Jungle of Peru. Today, I am building a movement, Male Anxiety Depression (MAD). A movement that normalizes the conversation around mental health. It provides guys with tools to tackle the modern-day stressful life we all live. I have become a motivational/keynote speaker and spoken on huge stages and podcasts. I also have several entrepreneurial projects that are growing fast.
Do you go to therapy?
Yes, I am a massive advocate of therapy. I have a Clinical Consultant Psychologist, and I just started EMDR with a trained practitioner. I also attend 12 step fellowships.
Do you take medication?
No, I don't and never have. I don't talk about this topic much because we live in a time where you can't even have an adult conversation around topics such as this without being labeled 'dangerous' or accused of bringing 'shame' on people who take it. I am not saying there is no space for medication, as there clearly is. What I am saying is that I have concerns about the manufacture, distribution, and education around antidepressant drugs. I read the research, looked into the pros and cons, listened to podcasts, read books, and then decided it was a road I did not want to travel.
Again, there is no shame in anyone who does take medication, and my Male Anxiety Depression brand prides itself on being all-inclusive. To me, it doesn't matter if you do or you don't. All of the lifestyle interventions we offer will benefit the person who applies them regardless.
Do you do anything besides therapy or medication to manage your symptoms?
Yes, I do a lot and take massive action every single day. My approach or the MAD approach isn't your mainstream mental health protocol. I focus on the four circles of mental health, which are Biology (Fitness and Nutrition), Psychology (Rewiring the Brain), Social (How do society and my current situation impact me), and Spiritual (Energy, Helping Others, Meditation, etc).
Right now, I love the teachings/work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, Dr. Bruce Lipton, and Greg Braden. I am also practicing something called the Silva Method.
Any stereotypes you'd like to address regarding the disorder?
Yes, there are no such things as a 'little OCD', and OCD is certainly not quirky. If you here anyone use such terms lightly, please don't get angry with them but instead chose to educate them.
I also want men to know that having problems such as anxiety/depression doesn't make you weak or any less of a man. I would argue it makes you a BADASS because if you can endure mental health, you can endure anything. It's the past struggles that have turned me into the Ultra Runner I am today.
Are you an advocate? If so, please tell us about your advocacy work.
I guess you could call me an advocate, but I prefer to be called a master motivator for those who struggle. You can check out my work on my Instagram accounts: @maleanxietydepression and @danwfurlong.
Any books, resources, or influencers that have helped you?
Thank god for the internet and this digital age we live in. I know it has its downsides, but personal development and continually seeking to learn has saved my bacon. I would be here all day listing the resources that I tap into, but I would suggest going to my @maleanxietydepression Instagram and check out the accounts I follow.
What do you want people to know about mental illness?
The conversation has to be changed around mental illness, and it needs to be treated no different from any other illness. I think we are doing a better job in terms of awareness, but the next challenge is how do we turn this into action?
I also believe that a growing number of mood disorders are situational. For example, the symptoms of depression are often due to depressing circumstances, not a disease. In other words, under certain circumstances, it makes sense to be depressed. The same goes for anxiety if a person is struggling to pay their bills each month and has very little in the way of job security then this will, of course, create an anxious state.
Regardless if the person is suffering from clinical or situational depression/anxiety, I really want to hammer home to people that there is a lot they can do to improve their situation. The way we live our lives and the choices we make will either help or hinder our happiness. The doctors know this but they simply do not have the time to investigate and teach their patients (the average appointment time in the United Kingdom is around 10 minutes) and we, therefore, need to take it upon ourselves to learn it.
If there is anyone who resonates with what I am saying or would simply like to learn more then I am launching a 30-day challenge called the Brain Upgrade. It will be hosted online and you will be able to follow along from home. The contributors are two awesome doctors who have a combined experience of over 50 years and then there will be me who will be kicking your BUTT daily.
I guess the final thing that I want you to know is that it can and will get better. The sun always precedes the rain, and this too shall pass. If you need a friendly pair of ears to listen then you can always reach out.
Use three words to describe your experience.
Struggle, Courage, and Compassion.