Paramedic says mental breakdown was 'best thing to happen in the worst possible way'
A Norwich paramedic is "celebrating" nine years since he had the first symptoms of anxiety, which led to a breakdown, as he said it forced him to make a change.
David Hawkins, 43, was working as a manager at Tesco in 2010 when a spasm tensed every muscle in his body, causing him to fall to the floor and curl up in agony.
He had suffered a panic attack, caused by extreme anxiety and it led to a mental breakdown.
But Mr Hawkins, from Hethersett, said: "People still find it strange when I use words like celebrate to describe one of the worst times in my life. However, I stand by the statement that it was the best thing to happen to me in the worst possible way. I see it as an enabler, it forced me to review my life and make change."
Speaking at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which begins on Monday, Mr Hawkins said: "I celebrate my mental health problems because it began a journey for me that this year saw me register as a paramedic, a pathway that I would have never imagined whilst working as a senior manager for a major food retailer.
"Well paid, but the reality was that I hated my job, I'd become a clone of the manager that placed profits above people. Looking back on decisions I made, the people whose lives I put pressure on in pursuit of ever narrowing margins, I lived with regret about the person I had become at that time.
"But coupled with the extreme work pressure and my one-year-old son becoming unwell, my life simply collapsed."
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Mr Hawkins said looking back now, it was clear something had to give, but with his breakdown came stigma.
He said: "Many close friends have come and gone over the years, struggling with the changes in both mine and their own lives. But I now live an amazing life with my partner and our four children, working together to overcome life's pressures and to make sure we bring love and laughter to each other's lives.
"I am now in a fortunate position to give back to others, some of what I have experienced, in my role both as a paramedic and second job as a mental health support worker. But I haven't got all the answers, just some personal experience."
Mr Hawkins praised his GP at Hethersett Surgery, and said: "One of my missions is to try and help with demystifying the stigma around the term mental health.
"If we saw someone with a broken leg with a cast on it, people would easily identify that they had a significant injury. It would be very obvious, they would know what to say or do to help. Would someone walk up to them and try to compare that injury to a time when they stubbed their own toe? A pain that we can all relate to, but a pain that only lasts for a short time.
"In the same way, we all have times in our lives when we suffer anxious thoughts and can feel low. This is human nature. However, someone who lives with a clinical diagnosis of anxiety and / or depression spends their whole lives trying and often failing to manage symptoms from one moment to the next."
He added: "Be kind to others, show respect and try to give something back. Talk about mental health as you would physical health. We don't get a choice in being ill, but we can all work together to support better outcomes for each other."