HUMAN: James Tomlinson
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Having battled with depression and anxiety from a young age, James experienced some traumatic milestones at vulnerable times, all of which led him to a very dark place. James shows, in his story, that at the times where we feel our weakest - we really are our strongest. With pure will and a little glimmer of hope, James turned it all around to create an amazing life for himself.
Name: James Tomlinson
Occupation: Marketing Manager at a Winery & Vineyard in Shropshire, England.
My name is James - I have suffered from anxiety and depression since the age of 11 and only at the age of 42 have I finally been able to make a breakthrough, here is my story. My goal is that if just one person reads it and is able to turn their life around then it will have been worth sharing.
WHO ARE YOU “BEHIND THE SCENES” & OUTSIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA?
I’m a shy person at heart but someone who would do anything for anyone if they ever needed help. I have a good sense of humour and really just try to have a laugh. Work takes up a lot of time as do the kids and family. I do enjoy films and find that going off to the cinema (normally on my own) is my way of escapism. I also write a lot (including film reviews) and I’m currently working through a criminal psychology course which I am hoping will help with my book. I also love to cook.
TELL ME YOUR STORY
I had a normal upbringing and came from a loving family home where I was taught to be respectful to others. My parents were strict but I understood why, and just like any other child, I had my fair share of tantrums and trauma. But it was the trauma that was to plague me for the next three decades.
Bullying wasn’t uncommon at school and sadly I was an easy target. I didn’t fight back and would cry if picked on, this carried on pretty much all the way through my school years, although the crying was done where no one could see. I did have friends but I never felt like I was accepted - always watching from the outside in. I can’t remember my parents ever fighting or raising their voices to each other, but they did. In 1990 after I left for secondary school we emigrated to Perth, Western Australia. It was a chance for my parents to start afresh somewhere else, a new canvas to paint on. Sadly for me, it didn’t work out that way, and so began the real problems with my anxiety and depression.
When I arrived in high school, kids my age were halfway through their first school year and so they had made all of their friends. Once again I was left on the outside looking in. So when this pasty-faced white English kid turns up I became yet another target for bullying. I get angry when I think about all the times I didn’t stand up for myself, all the times I wanted to hit back. Sometimes I wish I could go back and speak to my 13-year-old self, maybe things would be different now. Sadly, there was no Doc Brown and no Delorean to hop into.
My Dad hadn't settled very well... one day he said he was going back to the UK for a brief holiday... He never returned.
High school continued in the same vein, I almost felt like one of the inbetweeners. Not popular enough to hang out with the year group elite, but just enough to keep my head above the social parapet. Back home and things hadn’t got any better between my parents, my Dad hadn’t settled very well and missed his own family and friends. And so one day he said he was going back to the UK for a brief holiday, in order to take his Mother back who had herself been out in Australia on holiday. He never returned. Even today I haven’t forgiven him for that, leaving my Mum to raise two kids, one of which was an adolescent teenager with major anxiety issues - I was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
When I finally left high school and had an idea of a career the bullying stopped. I met some close friends, just a few, but enough to be able to enjoy life. I started to interact with girls, which as one chapter of anxious pain ended - the bullying - another began. I had a habit of falling too hard for girls I met. I’d like to think I was a good looking guy but I was single for quite some time. When I did have a relationship, they left. I never cheated on them and treated them as any girl deserved to be, like a princess. But sometimes, as I worked out, girls just wanted the bad boy which was something I couldn’t be, it wasn’t in my personality. Two long-standing relationships in Australia ended with them leaving, echoing the words “I just don’t love you anymore?” - like a dagger through the heart. I could no longer trust people and didn’t want to let anyone get close to me. It’s in part why I don’t really like to cuddle people, or hold hands. It’s almost a phobia.
Prior to this, I had gone back to the UK for a year to work as a chef in 1996. There I met a waitress as is common in the hospitality industry and lost my virginity, late, I might add, at the ripe old age of 20! It was my first serious relationship so I was very much a fish out of water. When I went back to Australia we were apart for four months as she was going to come out to see me on a year working visa. The plan was to travel and then head back to the UK. To cut a long story short, I discovered some letters she had been writing to my so-called best friend at the time, hidden down the back of the bookcase, saying how she was sorry they had slept together. This made me physically sick and a total shock. This is why I had severe trust and jealousy issues later on, but can you blame me?
I graduated from university in Australia in 2004 and went back to the UK to look for work. It was there I met my now-wife of 15 years and the only person who has stood by me through thick and thin. Suzi has put up with a lot. I had no idea about anxiety or depression but I was always down and regularly had mood swings, over the years and through my career in marketing it only got worse. At the time I didn’t know what anxiety even was! All I know is that I had consistent nausea and panic attacks. Depression took the form of no motivation and shutting myself away from everyone. I had a brief stint with group counselling but it didn’t help. The staff, while caring and understanding, just sent you away with some photocopied fact sheets about anxiety and expected that everything was going to be alright - which it wasn’t.
I knew I had to do something to pull myself out of the hole I was in and no one was going to be able to help me but myself.
* Trigger Warning for upcoming paragraphs: Suicide *
Everything came to a head when I finally decided that I couldn’t stand the constant pain that I was suffering. And so had planned to kill myself. I knew how and where I was going to do it and was fully prepared to go through with it. At this point, you don’t think clearly and you have no thoughts of what and who you are going to leave behind? People that say those who commit suicide are selfish need to take a good long look at themselves. To take your own life, while incredibly sad and heartbreaking for loved ones, is not a decision that is ever made easily.
* Hey guys - Jess here: I felt like I just needed to step in and mention that if you feel overwhelmed by this story, particularly the last paragraph - please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. I wanted to talk about the last sentence. People take their lives because they feel it is a "last resort". I know, I've been there a few times in my life when I thought there was no way things could get better - I told myself I was "weak" for not doing it. But in reality, I was so much stronger for pushing through it, just like James in this story. I can assure you now I am SO SO grateful I didn't end my life at any of the points that I wanted to, when I thought there was no way out. Because life is beautiful, and it was hard but it got easier, sometimes we just need to weather the storm. Taking your life is seen as a way of ending the pain, it not only passes on that pain to your loved ones, but it robs you of a happy future that is waiting for you. I am proof of that, and so is James.
I'll let you get back to his story now - I just wanted to add in my piece. James, myself and countless others got to this point and then made some changes to turn things around, read on to hear what James did! *
A friend at work knew something was wrong and upon chatting to her in the staff kitchen, I broke down in tears. I felt like the little boy at school again, hiding away from the bullies. It was then that I knew I had to do something to pull myself out of the hole I was in and no one was going to be able to help me but myself.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE?
The hardest thing was battling my own thoughts. When you worry about what other people think of you or you play out the worst-case scenario whether it is at work or socially it is debilitating. No amount of reassurance from anyone can cure the feeling of anxiety. It is physically draining. I would come home from work shattered, not having the motivation to get up and do anything. Just sitting in silence and ignoring everything and everyone around you. When you have a wife and kids who love you, it is hard to know what they must have thought, that their Dad and husband was just an empty shell.
[I] vowed that I wasn't going to be bullied anymore, not by anxiety and not by depression. I had too much to live for.
WHAT MOMENT WAS THE TURNING POINT FOR YOU?
Despite my good friend being there at the right moment the thoughts of suicide still lingered. I remember one day when I was tidying the bedroom I found my pocket knife in the bedside drawer. I opened up the blade and stared at it for what seemed like a lifetime. I rested the blade on my wrist, the cold steel drove into my subconscious. I remember hearing a voice “do it, end the pain now, you’ll never suffer again”. And just like that, I snapped the blade shut and vowed that I wasn’t going to be bullied anymore, not by anxiety and not by depression. I had too much to live for.
So I went on social media and explained my situation, I was as open as I could be in a brief amount of time. But I had so much support from people that just didn’t realise I was going through an incredibly tough time. It was overwhelming really that people assumed I was this confident guy with a loving family, a nice house and a good job. And herein lies the problem. While things might look fine on the outside it’s not until you scratch beneath the surface that the real story is there for all to see. Which is why mental illness is unrelenting and vicious.
HOW DID YOU TURN THINGS AROUND?
Straight away I put myself on the list for therapy, I couldn’t afford to go private and I was now taking Sertraline to help combat the anxiety and depression, something which I used as a last resort. Then I found a psychologist in Shrewsbury, it was a self-funded practice and the fee for an hour consultation wasn’t going to break the bank. So I went in the summer of 2019 - it was the best thing I ever did. I connected with the psychologist and he opened my eyes to myself. He put it in a context as in, ‘What would James think of James as an 11-year old and what would he say to him?’ He made everything seem clear.
When I went to the first session I filled in an anxiety and depression questionnaire. I scored very high. When I finally decided to stop the sessions (and this was something I had to do, the therapist never set a deadline on the number of sessions we would need - not like the group therapy I had years ago did. It was down to me.) I completed the same questionnaire again and scored a six. Instantly I was hit by a wave of emotion, was I finally cured? It almost felt too good to be true, but I left almost a new person and, as cheesy as it is to say, reborn.
HOW DID YOU ALTER YOUR MINDSET?
I have always been a glass half empty, I still am now and again. But I tried to think positively, I followed people on social media who were going through the same and took inspiration from their stories and personal struggles and how they overcame them. I’ve never really had an idol but I certainly look to British Heavy Weight Champion Tyson Fury. He has come back from the absolute brink to become a true champion, which shows it can be done, and anxiety and depression can be defeated.
Another reason for the turnaround was the job. I work for a family-run vineyard and winery. The people here are great and really appreciated what it is that I do. In my work, like I have been criticised and knocked down, not all bosses did this but one or two stand out. When you are suffering from your mental health these people are poison and their feedback only pours petrol on the fire which is threatening to get out of control.
HOW ARE YOU NOW?
I’m a lot better. I still take the sertraline and at some point, I would like to come off the medication, but for now, it is like my security blanket. I’m more positive and try not to get myself worked up about situations that I cannot control, whatever will be will be. I have set myself some small goals, going to the gym regularly, reading more books and finding a hobby. Something that keeps the mind active and not dwelling on insignificant things. I can’t remember the last time I had a panic or anxiety attack and I haven’t felt low for some time.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE GOING THROUGH A SIMILAR SITUATION?
First and foremost, you have to face all your demons. This might not be something that you want to do right away but running from them is not going to help you or those around you - take them head-on. Be open, talking to someone, even if it is as simple as someone at the bus stop will help get things out in the open. No one is going to judge you and if they do then they’re simply not worth having in your life. When I opened up I was getting messages from those I never expected to on social media. Sure, we were friends, but Facebook friends and actual friends are completely different things.
I remember going through all my social media channels and culling those who I’d had no contact with - it was a shame as some people I thought I was close to. I think my Facebook friends went from 500 or so down to 200. It felt satisfying knowing that those left were genuine and I could count on them in hard times. If you haven’t already sought professional help, psychologists certainly won’t judge you and you’ll be surprised at how well they are able to delve into your past and help you to make sense of those issues or emotions that are causing the most grief. It really is an eye-opening experience. You might think you know yourself, but do you really?
Finally, take heart and inspiration from others. Everyone suffering with mental health might have a different story as to how they got to where they are, but at the end of the day we’re all in it together and therefore should be able to help each other.
HOW I FOUND JAMES:
James would often reply to certain things I posted on my story with some really great insight. You know how some people just say certain things and you KNOW there is a story behind that wisdom? Some people have a certain kind of compassion that only grows through battling hardships.
After launching the Human Series, I put out a call for people wanting to share their stories and James put his hand up to share his. I actually had no idea what his story was until I read his responses. I love that, even though he has been in some of the darkest places, he still continues to inspire and uplift others. It is honestly amazing when people are willing to be so open and vulnerable, and give their time to detail how they got through the hardest moments - in order to help give others hope. And that is exactly what the human project is about.
So I hope that if your story is similar to James' - you found a little bit of hope. The idea that people like James (and myself) and so many others can be right there at the brink, but bring it all back and create a good life for themselves... well, it means you can too.
I hope you enjoyed this article!
The HUMAN Series
I started this series because, in a world where we all put on happy faces online and in-person, it is very easy to feel alone and isolated when we are struggling. Purely because it looks like no one else is.
I want to show you that every person has a story. Every single person on this earth has struggles and has STRUGGLED in the past. Even the happiest people have had to overcome physical/mindset hardships to get where they are in the present.
I want to hear their stories, and I want to share their stories.
I studied psychology because I wanted to help people. When I was going through a difficult time during my teenage years, I just wanted someone to say “hey, I went through that, it was really hard but I’m still here. Life gets better, it did for me and it will for you”
So, I want to bring to light the experiences of others, their struggles, how they got through it and their advice for anyone in the same (or similar) situation. As they say hindsight is 2020, when we work together and support one another, things can be more manageable.
If you think of someone who has a story that needs to be shared - please DM me on instagram (instagram.com/jessnugent1).
Love & strength,