Sam O'Sullivan
Sam O'SullivanImage by: Movember
Sam O'Sullivan
27 September 2022

Family Man, Sam O’Sullivan from Essex, shares his mental health journey with Movember

5 minutes read time

Sam O’Sullivan is a 37-year-old father of 3. From Essex and working as a Project Manager, he takes time out to share his story with us

I have always been outwardly very confident. Looking back, it was the best way for me to disguise the low self-esteem that had haunted me since I was a kid. It was a ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude’ that never made it. On the outside I could appear bulletproof, but internally I couldn’t process or accept any uncomfortable, upsetting, or painful feelings.

A big problem for me was how I would validate myself through the relationships in my life, seeking approval and using other people to build my own identity. This meant I was actually quite fragile. Being made to feel embarrassed or put on the spot would knock my confidence very badly. I’d replay the situation and make it 100 times worse in my head. I was also naive in terms of the expectations I had of people. I’d take it very hard if someone let me down, or didn’t come through on something they said they would.

Breakups would devastate me. It’s taken me years to process the feelings of rejection and loss that I experienced from past relationships finishing. The constant reliving of these feelings kept me from building new healthy relationships. When friendships or relationships broke down, it felt like I had lost everything.

Not being able to process these emotions meant I never let anything go and it just ate away at me. I used to joke that I’d have anxiety for breakfast. It wasn’t actually funny but that’s how it was for me. My head was always doing overtime. “How am I going to pay the mortgage this month? Will the lads turn up on the job tomorrow? What bills are going to come up? Will my invoices get paid?” All I wanted to do was escape.

Hitting rock bottom didn’t happen quickly. I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the constant pain. I would turn to alcohol, food, impulse shopping, amongst other things for a quick feel-good fix. I’d head to the pub or meet people that enabled and supported this behaviour. As time went on, I became more secretive with my behaviour. I pulled away from the people in my life who could help; my wife, my family, my friends. It became a very toxic cycle, but I didn’t know any other way of coping.

" I used to joke that I’d have anxiety for breakfast. It wasn’t actually funny but that’s how it was for me. "

From the outside looking in, things appeared OK. I had a wonderful family, a nice home and a good job. I can remember sitting on the sofa one Sunday afternoon, my wife and boys were playing on the floor and I felt like they were in a glass box. I could see them. I could reach out and touch them. But I just couldn’t exist in that moment with them. I was surrounded by my loving family, but because of the pain I was in, I felt completely alone.

I eventually went into crisis – I couldn’t sleep without a drink but would have no quality rest because of the physiological effects of alcohol on my body. I was tired all the time. What had previously allowed me to escape reality became just as hellish. I was drinking more and more and feeling more and more depressed. I didn’t want to be here anymore, my relationship with my family was strained to its limit. I was at a point where I had to make changes or lose everything. I couldn’t recognise myself.

It was a sad and frightening time in my life. My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and I became a dad for the third time, but due to the circumstances surrounding the build-up to my breakdown, I failed to bond with her.

The past year has been a true journey from dark to light. There was no quick fix and the to-do list wasn’t an easy one. I looked for help and found it in the form of a 12-step programme, cold water therapy, meditation, and exercise. Each of these things connected me with people in a positive way. Everything became about calming my mind and looking after my physical health. I became surrounded by people who looked after themselves and spoke openly about their feelings and experiences. Reconnecting with the people in my life who cared about me, coincided with learning about myself. The crazy thing is that the people that cared for me never went away, it was me who pulled away from them and when I began to sort my life out, they were still there waiting to support me and love me. It has shocked me how many people have been through the same or similar emotions and experiences and since I have begun to talk about it more openly, more people have reached out because they’ve been in a similar situation or are currently fighting a similar battle.

Life for me 12 months later is very different.I experienced a massive loss of identity which made me feel very vulnerable but at the same time has allowed me to explore who I really am and develop myself as a man in a humble and positive way. I’ve had to learn to deal with life on life’s terms.

I’m actually shocked at the joy I now take from life on a daily basis. Reconnecting with my wife and my family has rekindled my love life. The joy I get from my kids is indescribable and I’m able to enjoy it as I’m present when I’m with them. I feel a lot of gratitude and I feel valuable because of what I am able to contribute to them now that I’m emotionally and mentally present. I’m no longer tortured by the past or fearful of the future. Just here now living with faith and gratitude.

I look back and see a frightened man trying to control the world around him. I’ve since learnt that we can’t control the world or the people around us. All we can do is learn to understand ourselves better. When we do that, we give ourselves choices. The new life will take you out of your comfort zone and there’s no faking it till you make it; you must face it, feel it and live it. Then comes the good stuff - no more looking over your shoulder. Having faith in yourself gives you faith in the future and access to the endless joy that is within your reach, all around you, right in front of you, no longer in a glass box.

Whatever place this message finds you in, I'd like to say it is amazing how much can change in one year. Maintain your friendships, connect with people, and look for help. It is there, and you are not alone. Don’t give up before the miracle happens.