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Dying to Stay Alive!

Former Three Day Event rider, Tom Robinson, talks very honestly and openly about his major struggle with mental illness. This has led Tom to start a mental health support blog, ‘Dying to Stay Alive!’



Surviving the experience of a mental health catastrophe and why I feel compelled to help others

The topic of mental health is being widely broadcast at the current time, with the restrictions exacerbating the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Those that are nursing mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable right now, and I think it is especially important that people with lived experience of mental illness, do what they can to give support, hope and advice to others.

Throughout my childhood and the majority of my teenage years, I was happy and confident. I had a talent for riding and was keen to realise my full potential in the sport of three-day eventing. 

When I was seventeen and studying for my A-levels at Stowe, I won the Junior National Championships at Windsor three-day event, and later that summer won team Gold at the Junior European Championships at Blair Castle in Scotland.

This taste of success made me hungry for more, so with the support of my parents I started competing professionally after finishing school. 

Successes at the bigger three-day events followed, with placings at Bramham, Chatsworth and Blenheim as well as taking a national title at Gatcombe and completing my first Badminton. But while achieving all of this, I was battling my own mind, with my mood mimicking the ups and downs that so often go with the sport of horse trials. 

One autumn afternoon everything came to a head. I had been suffering from exhaustion for months, yet battling on regardless, determined to keep going and competing, mostly because I was terrified of admitting a problem and ashamed that I was feeling so down. I continued largely by beating myself over the back mentally with a stick, and faking being alright, until one day in September of that year I just couldn’t take it anymore and I completely broke down. I went to a doctor who diagnosed me with depression and prescribed me with antidepressants.

There began my psychiatric “safari” which would last twenty years and take every ounce of perseverance and resilience to survive. Competing became impossible and eventually I had to give up everything and go to bed in my parent’s house, completely dependent on them for everything and sleeping constantly to avoid the mental pain. 

My medical notes must read like a manual of psychiatry, my brain being subjected time and again to a barrage of medications all with unpronounceable names like Aripiprazole and Paliperidone.

These drugs either did nothing to alleviate my depression or made me go manic and out of control and they all came with horrific side-effects and complications. It is my belief that psychiatric medications are feeding the epidemics of mental illness particularly bipolar disorder as so many of them trigger the mania side of the illness and make the condition worse.

My story is convoluted and complicated but somehow and quite literally against the odds, I have survived. Quite how I have achieved this is nothing short of miraculous but the fact that I have, makes me feel compelled to not only speak out but to educate others through my lived experience. 

It has taken quite something to get here and has only been possible through grit and determination, a supportive family, working really hard on regaining my confidence and educating myself about my condition.

It turns out that I don’t need any of the drugs that I have been being prescribed for the last twenty years. The psychiatrist who has helped me to achieve remission from the illness treats bipolar patients in a novel way without adding any side-effects or complications to the equation.

I am now determined to help others through my experiences and write a daily blog post covering current mental health news and stories into which I thread my own experience and opinion, to make it as diverse and interesting as possible.

My writing focusses on education surrounding mental health so that I can reach not only sufferers but also their supporters, so that they can be better informed as to how to help us when we’re in mental crisis.

Every post has a message within it and I am hoping to increase my readership so that I can then campaign effectively for changes in psychiatric treatment and education.

I don’t want a Tom who is twenty now, and just starting to experience his first symptoms to have to go through the twenty-year horrific ordeal that I have. I want him to get the right support, education, insight into the condition and treatment immediately, so that he can avoid the destruction and lost opportunities that depression and bipolar bring with them.

I have also written a combined self-help and memoir which I hope will be published at some stage this year. It is a story of hope over adversity, of survival through perseverance and details the steps and strategies I took in order to steer myself out of the illness and reclaim my life.

I hope that when I have a big enough following I will be able to voice my opinions and make the changes that are so desperately needed in psychiatric treatment and care. Please take a look at what I am trying to achieve and do please let me know if you have any suggestions for what I should be writing about!

Thanks for reading,

Tom Robinson

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