Stories of Hope: An Interview with Ben Scanlan
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked Ben Scanlan about his history of mental health challenges and about some of his current activities. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
BS: Mental health difficulties had been around between the ages of 17 and 24, but I’d managed to move to London and get by, and have a certain amount of success for four years. 2013 was a difficult year; I entered an abusive relationship that really wasn’t helpful, my Mum and my grandmother were both in hospital, and I took a new job which gave no sense of achievement or purpose. I moved rugby clubs as a coach and that didn’t work out and I started counselling to try and deal with my father’s suicide when I was 17. And then the abusive relationship ended and I found a lump on one of my testicles.
I just couldn’t cope. Nothing seemed to be going my way. I’d tried to be positive and where had it taken me? I had isolated myself, very successfully, was drinking quite heavily and was really angry, really really angry all of the time. Yet so, so sad.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
BS: I didn’t really want to see help. It was more foisted upon me. Several times. After an almost suicide attempt, I lived with friends for a couple of weeks, to make sure that I wasn’t on my own. From there I went to Maytree (where people in crisis can go) to stay for a week, more to give my friends a break. Then I went and saw a psychiatrist and was basically given a choice of voluntary admission to a psychiatric hospital, The Priory, or being sectioned (admitted involuntarily), and I was there for seven weeks. Then I had some time living a ‘normal life’ but going to therapy every day, before going back to work. I lasted three days there before trying to take my life before a housemate came home and had me taken to hospital.
From there I was readmitted to The Priory and that was the real turning point. I realised that while I’d learnt some things before, I’d not really embodied it, or really taken it forward. I stopped socialising for the sake of socialising and really tried to spend time on my own, irrespective of how uncomfortable it was. I worked with literature for several sources, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, as a framework for really examining how my life had affected others, and what I could do about it. Taking ownership really happened at this point, and my sense of ownership has increased ever since.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
BS: It’s taken on many forms. I currently see a therapist once a week for individual, integrative psychotherapy. This is really the foundation stone which everything else works off. I had a really tough time at the end of 2014 which coincided with changing therapists and a gap which really brought home how intrinsic individual therapy is for me.
I’ve done a wide range of different therapies; CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), dance movement, art, drama, guided imagery and music, and they’ve all given me something that I carry today.
Probably the biggest support, from a therapy perspective, is my men’s group, run by Jerry Hyde. I joined not long after the group started, and have been going for two years. We’re a real cross section of situations and experiences, but there’s a creative thread running through us all. We meet for three hours every fortnight and just being with others, in a safe space where you really can speak of anything is really relieving.
Trying to manage my tendency to become a workaholic is a big thing, but one that I need to really stay on top of. I have tried to create a lifestyle that’s quite portfolio-like so my energies get put into different things, rather than all my eggs in one basket. This helps mitigate any rejections or failures that crop up.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
BS: I’d love to say it was all wonderful but I don’t think it is and ever can be. Nor do I want it to be. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that happiness is a fleeting state and its unrealistic to want and expect to be happy all of the time. On a theoretical level, it’s really obvious to me, as if you exist at this high state, then it will wear off and just become the norm, so you need to have the lows to get a rounded view of yourself.
Practically I try and make time to spend with my girlfriend who is wonderfully supportive, and challenging, as well as things that maybe don’t achieve anything except being something. Going away and not trying to do anything apart from being is something very new and very scary for me, but it’s value is so, so important.
DS: Tell us about your current work and/or involvement in mental health activities.
BS: It’s quite extensive as I’m training to be a psychotherapist which means I’m studying one day a week, and working on placement for a couple of days seeing clients through the National Health Service. I also volunteer at Maytree (www.maytree.org.uk) one day a week and work there as an assistant coordinator working with people who are in suicidal crisis in what I think is a unique environment anywhere in the world.
I think there is a need for people to share and talk about their experiences, in order to lessen the stigma that still surrounds mental health difficulties. Personally however, I do think there’s a juxtaposition between wanting to share and being seen as preachy. I’ve been lucky enough to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and to be on a documentary with Professor Green, speaking about my story. There is so much opportunity to try and share experiences, and give through that and it’s something that I really enjoy and take value from.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
BS: I think that there are two main points; firstly, nothing is forever and whatever is happening will pass, while secondly you have to take ownership and responsibility.
I have a tattoo on my arm of the phrase ‘amor fati’ which means love your fate, but not as in give everything up to the Gods as it’s all decided. It means, to me at least, that my fate is the product of how I live my life, the way I am in the world and the decisions I make.
Ben Scanlan is 31 and lives in London with his girlfriend Sara (pictured with Ben). He is training to be a psychotherapist and works on placements in two NHS services. He also works and volunteers at Maytree, where people in suicidal crisis can go for respite. Away from mental health, he works as a communication coach helping people improve how they communicate with themselves and others when in pressured situations. He enjoys, and tries to find time for, painting, spending time with friends and dogs in the country and coaching rugby, which he has done for the past decade. You can connect with Ben on LinkedIn, Twitter, or via his website.
Thanks so much to Ben Scanlan for sharing his terrific story of hope!
Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!