David Liddell

Riding For Mental Health Awareness


I am David Liddell, and this is my story.

HEART ATTACK! is what I thought as I drove down through the dip just past the Wanaka airport. I pulled to the side of the road and locked the chair back as Steph (my partner at the time) tried to console me. I thought I was dying but from her own experience she knew exactly what was happening, it was a panic attack. Something that at the time I didn’t know much about and unknowingly would be something that I would become very familiar with. It was the 15th of April 2017, the day before Steph’s sister’s wedding which I was very excited about because they were also good friends of mine and lots of other good friends were going to be there. After the panic started to subside Steph and I carried on to our Hotel but for some reason a lingering sense of dread remained well into the afternoon, I thought what I needed was a big sleep and I would be fine. The next morning it was all go getting ready for the wedding and initially I was feeling quite good about everything, but as the day progressed that same feeling came back. I didn’t quite know what to make of it at the time as I had never experienced a feeling like it, but I boxed on and had a great time regardless.

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and months turned into years. The feeling of dread had made itself at home in my head, the relentless feeling of hopelessness, fainting, hyperventilation, vertigo, numbness, heart palpitations, shaking, tiredness and the intense feeling of imminent death was there at every moment of every day. I visited the doctor several times in pursuit of what was wrong, in the end the conclusion was that I had developed what is called a Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t believe her because I didn’t think, and I still don’t think of my self as an anxious person. I still believe my anxiety is something that is unrelated to my natural train of thought which is normally a relaxed and easy-going person. It felt like an illness…. a mental illness.

Apart from talking to friends and family who were very helpful and understanding of what was happening (and for that I am forever grateful), the easiest way in those early days seemed to be to box on and try to ignore what was happening to me, I can assure you this was the wrong way to deal with it. I started to deniably medicate with alcohol and developed erratic and irritable behaviour. I started to neglect Steph who at the time was pregnant with our first child Harriett, 4 months after she was born Steph and I had to break up because of the stress I was causing our wee family. We promised to keep things on good terms which we have done well at and in some ways, we have become best friends through our journey together. Despite that things were going well between us while being separated the problems remained and the self-medication only got worse.

At this stage I had just finished studying and was about to start my new job for Calder Stewart Construction which I was very excited about. I thought that getting back into work would help provide relief which it did at first but once again, after a few weeks it was back to the same old horrible feeling. At this point I was at my wits end and the anxiety started to turn into major depression which quite frankly nearly drove me to the brink of disaster. I believe this has a lot to do with putting too much pressure on believing going back to work would solve a lot of my problems, which it didn’t. I started to realise that the issue lay internally and wouldn’t be changed by external forces.

10 weeks ago from writing this (21st of June 2019) I decided that it was time to reassess what I was doing and how I could make the right changes to get my mental state back on track. The first thing I did was I came out about my anxiety problems and told the people who were important to me in the work place about the struggles I was facing. This provided an immediate sense of relief as it was met with kindness from my colleagues and bosses from all around the office which helped improve my work life. The mental fog and lack of concentration was starting to lift. Outside of work I quit drinking which gave me more motivation and from this I started to exercise A LOT, initially this had a detrimental effect because the stress I was putting on my body was having a direct effect on how I felt mentally but I stuck with it and as a gain fitness the better I started to feel. My irritability and agitation have gone away completely, my sense of calm has returned, and my sleeping has improved a lot. Although what was already quite a good relationship, my situation with Steph and Harriett has also improved., This is because I am happier and feel I can be proud of myself as a father through the hard work I am doing for myself, which reflects though my relationships with my family.

Before all this happened, I was a hypocrite of these types of illnesses and very much embraced the “harden up attitude”, I too was part of the stigma. Some sceptics would argue fighting for a cause I have become familiar with would be somewhat hypocritical in its self, but I would like to take a more positive note and describe it as enlightening. Over the last few years through research and my own self-discovery I have learnt a lot about what a mental illness really means. I want the stigma to be broken around the “harden up attitude” toward anxiety and depression because living with a mental illness makes you tougher and more resilient than you ever were before and this should be used as a positive deminer about how strong you can be through extremely difficult times. I also want to address the issues faced around medication relief for mental illness. Over the last few years I had refused to take medication because I had the feeling that if I did take them, I had given up. After getting over this stigma it has provided me assistance to achieve the things I have done and hope to do in the future. I now believe that taking medication is not a weakness and for some people can be vital in their recovery. Through my own struggle I think this journey has also helped me become a better person as I now put more emphasis on appreciating the good times and embrace a waste no time attitude. I have become more empathetic person towards other people and spend more times in consideration of the impact of human behaviour on one another and society as a whole. I want to use my experience to show other people who suffer from the same or similar condition that there is a way through. For me this was exercise, it won’t be the same method for everyone, but I think working hard to get back into a routine doing things you love is important.  

Because of this I want to openly, outwardly, loudly proudly ride The Motatapu Bike Challenge in the name of mental health awareness in the hope to change minds around this condition and what it means in our society. And by raising money for Life Matters and the Suicide Prevention program I hope that people who are the worst effected by this condition can get help.