Living with Mental Health Problems – Ryan’s Story

Living with Mental Health: Ryan’s Story

By Ryan Dack, pictured at his graduation, with 2:1 Hons.

Before we get started. I want to make it clear that things improved – I got “better”. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of and we should normalise talking about it. Here’s my story.

My struggles with mental health started midway through college.

In 2011 I was heading back from a day trip to York with the hospice I’d use for respite. I felt fine and was happily listening to Bowling for Soup’s “Trucker Hat” on my IPod shuffle. 

I remember suddenly feeling light headed, having sweaty palms, a dry mouth and being unable to swallow. I was unknowingly having a panic attack.

These panic attacks continued for years. I wasn’t what I’d consider over them until I reached the age of 21 (bearing in mind they started when I was 16). Five years of my life was taken over by these panic attacks, I had to drop out of University, I couldn’t attend family gatherings, at one point I couldn’t even leave the house without having a panic attack. 

During this five year period I tried many things to overcome my panic attacks. I attended counselling for the better part of a year, tried meditation, read self help books, and even resorted to hypnotherapy – all to no avail. 

Medication was the last thing I considered or even wanted to consider. It was, and still is, a taboo subject that I wanted no part of. Eventually I convinced myself to get some beta blockers prescribed. They helped and soon became a safety blanket, I couldn’t (or rather wouldn’t) leave the house without a foil of beta blockers in my pocket. Although they helped I still wasn’t “over” my panic attacks and would quite often need to escape situations to avoid having a panic attack (something the self help books called “the fight or flight response”). 

I decided to revisit my GP and discuss my progress, or lack thereof, and other explorable options. We eventually came to the conclusion that it was time to try antidepressant medication. I was prescribed 100mg of Sertraline daily, it was like a miracle cure. My panic attacks slowly started getting less and less regular and before I knew it I couldn’t remember (and still can’t) the last time I had a panic attack. 

Five years of my social life were taken from me, the final six months of college were spent working from home (amazingly I still graduated with a triple grade distinction), my 18th birthday family meal was cut short as I had to leave 10 minutes in, I had to leave university after only months of studying, I left university again after getting through the first year. Everything in my life was controlled by panic attacks. 

This thing (antidepressant medication) that was a taboo subject, something you felt obliged to hide, had given me my social life back. I was able to attend and graduate university with a degree in journalism, whilst enjoying the “uni life”. I was able to enjoy nights out with friends, concerts, family meals, and generally just come out of my shell. Antidepressants gave me my life back. 

I was finally able to watch The 1975 in concert.

Fast forward to 2021 and all is well – I’m still taking 100mg of Sertraline daily which is doing the trick.

Despite Covid19 rearing it’s ugly head things have really started to come together – I volunteer for Pathfinders, I have plans to move to Norwich to be with my girlfriend and I look forward to what the years ahead bring my way.

My life is moving forward, the panic attacks that once plagued me have dissipated. My point? Life gets better, things improve and you move on with your life. Take it in your stride, roll with the punches and remember – “It can’t rain all the time”.

Maybe you have a mental health experience that you’d like to share with the Pathfinders community?

Email – to find out more!