Mental Health Awareness Week: James' story

Written by James Hollens, 14 May

Mental health just like physical health needs to be taken care of and maintained. James Hollens, having struggled through it all his life, writes about how his 2nd arthritic diagnosis helped save his mental health.

Mental health is something I’ve battled with throughout my life and having an arthritic condition definitely adds an extra bit of spice to the mix.

Weirdly enough my 2nd arthritic diagnosis actually in a way saved my mental health.

Prior to my diagnosis I was in pain which I assumed was due to my RA but I was also in a bad way mentally. I spent a few weeks feeling anxious and depressed, partly due to these new pains in my back added on to a few things going on in my personal life too.
Then one day I woke up in absolute agony and was unable to move. After a few weeks lying in a hospital bed I finally found out that it was something called Ankylosing Spondylitis that was causing my body to decide to stop working.

At first this news slumped my mental health to an all time low. I felt frustrated that this was happening to me and my lack of knowledge of the condition made me feel like I was the only unlucky young person going through this.
At first I reacted like a typical toxic male. I shut myself off from people and hid my true feelings. When I was alone my wall took a fair few punches that were accompanied with a side dish of swearing.

But one day I had an epiphany that this childish behaviour wasn’t going to help me at all.

I decided to transfer all the negative energy I had into doing things that would benefit my recovery.

Instead of getting angry at my inflamed joints I would put this energy into looking up stretches and healthy recipes that could help with the inflammation while I waited for my medication to be sorted.

I know it makes me sound like such a hippy talking about transferring energy but I think it helps so much, even in other situations not caused by flare ups.
I used the same formula to get me through shielding for the last year, by channelling my frustrations about being alone and stuck inside into doing things that make me feel like I'm being productive with my time and most importantly happy.
Another thing that has really helped me is talking about my journey with chronic illness. After seeing a whole online community of young people with arthritis exists, I've felt more comfortable and less embarrassed about my conditions.

I started posting about my conditions to raise awareness but it has also been therapeutic for me. Although I often joke around when I do it, it really helps me get things off my chest and is really relieving to see that it isn’t just me that goes through these things.

Although arthritis affects our joints we have to try hard to make sure it doesn’t affect our minds too.

Of course this is all easier said than done, but just know that you are not alone. Don’t ever feel like you can’t ask for help if you need it.

Living with Arthritis or any chronic illness is so hard, it’s an amazing achievement getting up every day to face the world despite it all. I promise you are stronger than you think, but we all need help sometimes.

So if you are feeling down there are plenty of amazing people in this online community willing to listen and help so don’t be afraid to reach out.

Our bodies may be trying to attack themselves but if we try to stay positive and stick together, they’ll have a real fight on their hands.

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