When I was growing up, I was a stereotypical young man. I was a good footballer; I was on the rugby team. We – me, my mum and my brother – had a generally happy life.
But when I was eleven, things started to change. I began experiencing some very strange symptoms: My legs started to wobble. I was sick – a lot. My vision became blurry. Eventually, after falling in to a wall at school, my Mum took me to see the GP.
From the doctor’s surgery, I was immediately whizzed up to the hospital, lights blazing and sirens going: nee naw nee naw.
I was diagnosed in July, a few months before my 12th birthday in October. It was a brain tumour. A huge shock.
I knew I was very ill – I was in hospital for quite a while. My brother was eight years old at the time; it affected my family hugely. I saw my Granddad cry and he never did that. My family were used to me being this sporty, fit young man and seeing me laid up in a hospital bed was hard.
The doctors did their best to save my sight. But within six weeks of the GP appointment, I completely lost my vision.
I came out of hospital about three times my original body weight. Before then, I was very sporty, very fit, quite happy in life. I was popular with the girls.
I was now just a fat boy in a wheelchair. But I was fine.
Chemotherapy makes you feel quite weak but I did start walking again, and eventually went back into mainstream school.
At this point, I was down about my situation. What was I going to do with my life? I was only 12, but a very deep thinker. I was a perfectionist; everything had to be 100%. That part of me had to change because I was going to get lots of things wrong. I learnt braille. It’s very difficult. It’s like learning another language! I can’t stand the stuff. Pointless dots if you ask me.
Because of my illness, I missed a lot of education and couldn’t go back into mainstream school straight away, so I dropped down a year.
It was difficult. There were accessibility issues. The school realised that it couldn’t accommodate my educational needs. They couldn’t adapt quickly enough. Everyone was very supportive though.
I visited a vision impaired school, a residential college. It was very, very good. I ended up going there from year nine onwards.
My mental health wasn’t great. I was feeling more and more down and upset about my situation. What was I going to do after school? I was feeling so down that I was starting to not enjoy going to school. I didn’t like other things I would usually enjoy. I didn’t speak up because I was scared of being told: come on Jake you’re a 15 year old lad, man up. This fear of being ridiculed prevented me from coming out about my mental health.
By the time I was 17, I was having dark thoughts and my energy levels were low. I hadn’t managed to shift any weight. I was blind. And helpless in my own situation. I suffered for about three years before I managed to overcome these barriers and stereotypes and explain how I was feeling.
My Mum is my rock. She was the first person I spoke to about it. I do love my Mum; she’s awesome. My mum and my grandma were really supportive.
What I needed was a platform to voice how I was feeling. I needed someone to talk to about it. It ended up being my Mum but it could have been my counsellor or anyone else. I just needed help with how I was thinking and feeling. And it really really helped. It was the turning point, really.
Which is why my advice for young people experiencing low mental health is to talk about how you feel. Talk and talk and talk till you’ve unburdened yourself. I believe a problem shared is a problem halved. There are still the idiots who tell you to man up or grow up, which can be hard. I advise young people to use mental health support, to use Kooth. What I love about Kooth is the anonymity, so there’s no fear of being teased or judged.
I’m 23 now and I couldn’t be happier. I’m in my 3rd year of university, studying health and social care. I have some really good friends. It’s good to have friends who are sighted who understand what I’m going through.
I want to be involved in mental health; I want to help others who are in my situation. I’ve always had this passion for helping people when they’re in trouble or feeling down and that’s what I want to do.
Sometimes me and my Mum look back and see how far I’ve come. I’m living by myself. I’m doing my dissertation – on stereotypical masculinity, actually! I’m in such a lucky situation now, it’s hard to believe I deserve it. I think everyone deserves the happiness I’ve found.