Mental health advocate, campaigner, and writer Richard Taylor knows first-hand what it’s like to reach rock bottom, but he’s also come through it. Here he shares his insight and advice
Mental health matters to me because... we all have it. And yet, when you disclose to someone that you are living with a mental illness there is a noticeable shift in the air. I want to help create a world where this isn’t the case, and instead, a comforting arm is wrapped around those who live with torment in their minds.
Three things I would say to anyone struggling with their mental health are... that you are not alone, nor are you broken, damaged or deserve to be treated as such. Secondly, I would desperately encourage you to seek help – there are myriad services who will listen without judgement. Lastly, I want you to know that it is perfectly OK to give in, but please don’t give up. There is a fine line between living with hope and existing with despair. Hold on to that hope, because I won’t give up on you. I’ve been there before, I’ll likely be there again, and this is the battle we face together, but we are strong enough, even if our minds try to convince us otherwise.
If I could speak to my past self, I would say... that not everything you think is true. I would tell my teenage self, that you are worthy of love and care from yourself. People won’t judge you, and later in life you’ll find people who accept you just as you are.
The best lesson I’ve learned in life is... that you should never let anyone tell you how to live yours, just because it is different from how they would live theirs. When my best friend died at the age of 25, it helped me realise that life moves fast, and you shouldn’t keep putting off that thing you’ve always wanted to do.
The moment I felt most proud of myself was... when my writing was first commissioned by a major publication. Pride is an emotion I find incredibly difficult to connect with, and a lot of people tell me I should be proud of how far I’ve come. I remember sitting in a crumpled heap on the floor, and writing about how I wanted to die. Years later, I’m writing about the suicide of [Linkin Park vocalist] Chester Bennington for the Guardian when all I could think about was being trapped with my own suicidal thoughts. That makes me feel proud.
The main thing I want people to know about living with OCD is... that it does not make you a freak, or someone who doesn’t deserve to be happy. OCD can be – and often is, but not always – hell to live with. It makes you doubt your own mind, your family and friends, strangers, and pretty much everything around you. But it isn’t always this way, I promise.
One thing having OCD has taught me about myself is... that I’m a resilient bastard when I need to be, and I’m much stronger than I ever allowed myself to believe. You’ll learn to pick yourself up, and you do not need to define yourself by your OCD. It’s a fragment of what makes you a brilliantly kind person with a good heart, a wild imagination, a curiosity for life, and an empathy with those who know your pain.