Finding hope in a battle that never stops.

James Dee was born in St Leonards and has spent his entire life growing up here. He went to school at West St Leonards Primary followed by Filsham Valley, Claverham and then Bexhill College.

He has always had a strong interest and devotion to his home town, wanting to always give something back. James has been active in local politics since he was 18. From working in the local MP’s office to running Amber Rudd’s re-election campaign in 2015, to now having stood for election himself in Hastings this spring.

James continues to fight for his home town, and to push for investment, opportunity and growth to help the most vulnerable and deprived people and communities. Some of the issues that matter most to James are tackling mental health, improving social mobility and ensuring there is great educational opportunities for every child.

Writing for Hastings In Focus James tells his own story, in his own words, of his daily struggle against what he describes as his ‘demons’.

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I suffer from a struggle with mental health challenges. This is my story of the battle I have with myself every day.

I hope by publishing this I can shed some light on what living with mental health conditions is like and also give hope and confidence to those living with it that you can still achieve your dreams, you can still have a bright future.

Every morning my alarm goes off at 4am, regular as clockwork. I get up, begin the daily routine of breakfast, showering, catching the latest news and getting my caffeine fix. This will all seem pretty usual to most – well perhaps not the crack of dawn alarm call – however, there’s an additional aspect to my morning routine I must go through, that most won’t.

Every morning I reach for a glass of water and one small tablet. That tablet is citalopram. An antidepressant, without which my day would be too tough to manage alone. It’s this one tablet that helps me to manage everyday activities like everybody else – with ease and poise.

Seven years ago I was sitting in a lecture hall at Canterbury Christ Church University, doing what every student has been through, struggling to deal with a hangover from the previous night’s pub crawl while trying to concentrate hard on the lecture examining the intricacies of utilitarianism.

During this lecture, I had an uncontrollable desire to leave the room, a desperation for fresh air, a feeling of entrapment and claustrophobia. Suddenly, I needed to do all I could to escape from where I was sitting. I instantly thought this was a reaction from my hangover and so I struggled my way through the next hour of political philosophy with the increasing need for escape growing and building within me.

What I came to realise over the coming weeks and months was this was no inability of mine to handle a night out with my friends, but instead a struggle within myself that went much deeper. It soon became a daily occurrence I had to deal with.

At the age of 22 I went to my GP and then subsequently on to a mental health specialist who diagnosed me with severe social anxiety. This in essence means I instinctively see the worse in every situation and ponder, not on what will go well but what the issues could be, the obstacles to overcome. I will find myself dwelling on irrational possibilities.

To put this into tangible everyday terms, at its height, before I sought help, I couldn’t sit and eat with other people in the room, I couldn’t get on a bus or train, I would avoid social occasions with friends, and soon used work as my comfort, keeping myself busy with my Monday-Friday day job becoming 24/7.

It became a daily battle to control my thoughts, feelings and physical appearances to ensure no one could see my struggle – my weakness.

This daily fight would take its toll, and become an all consuming preoccupation.

Citalopram became my crutch. It would help me to calm my irrational thoughts, to think more objectively and positively about situations and would soon increase my desire to fight rather than flee. However, to this day I still struggle.

The core function of anxiety never goes away. The demons are there, lingering in the background, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. Drop your guard and there they are causing the mayhem and panic you’ve been battling so long to prevent.

The moment they take control you have the toughest of times ahead, summoning the strength and will to take back control – to banish the demons to where they once lingered. The draining part of this battle is that you know it is one with no conclusion.

No matter how hard you fight, for how long you keep up your guard you know the demons will always be there, ever present, a threat always waiting to gain the upper hand.

For seven years I’ve been gripped in this battle, now able to maintain control and to keep the demons at bay. However, every now and then the battlements fail, the demons scale the walls and plant their flag on the highest turret in the deepest recesses of my mind. The constant fight between myself and them for control.

When they do gain the upper hand the world you thought was your friend becomes a place of dark unending struggle. Your body feels heavy; every activity too much trouble; companions – friends and family – are your enemies; the world is all against you. In this moment all you want to do is escape, from the people; from the room; from the world.

It is the eternal battle that makes the struggle with mental health so hard.

There is hope. Mental health has now become a policy priority for the Government; we have more people, in prominent positions, now speaking out about their struggles; and society is growing to realise the seriousness of this issue and how widespread it is.

The real key to tackling mental health challenges, as was the case with me, is to talk about it. To know you’re not alone, and that there are ways of equipping yourself with the tools to lead an ordinary lifestyle, that allows you to fulfil everyday activities.

Seven years ago, when I was diagnosed I never thought I would be commuting to London, in a job I love, with my own flat and having run for elected office. All of this seemed a distant and unachievable dream. But with the help and support of others I have got there. And crucially, sustaining my inner strength and not being afraid to accept and admit I need antidepressants for assistance. I have now found a way to live day to day with relative ease.

As I go to bed this evening I don’t know if it’s tomorrow that my guard will drop and the demons we take over, or if again, my inner strength prevails and I have day of relative calm.

What I do know for sure, is that every evening for the rest of my life, that uncertainty about tomorrow will always be there – that is the reality of struggling with mental health.

But, I also know that as I swallow that small tablet every morning, and walk out of my front door, to meet with friends, family and colleagues, I now have the tools to grow, prosper and live the life I want.

There is hope for everyone with mental health issues, but with all of us there is one common thread – The fight never stops.

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