Crazy in Croydon

By - Tuesday 3rd December, 2013

Croydon resident Jake Papas opens up about his problems with mental health, and how a Croydon support agency helped him turn things around

Image by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, used under Creative Commons licence.

Let’s talk about mental health.

Or: how I would likely be dead right now if it wasn’t for volunteers at Off The Record Croydon. And even then it was a close call.

Let’s rewind a little bit to 2008, where I was a socially awkward teenager generally making the world a worse place for my having been there. I was attending Trinity School, where people will likely remember me as an unusual, frustrating individual with no clue how to act or interact with others. I manipulated other people around me into getting what I wanted, and when it frequently failed, I was prone to outbursts of aggression or grief. Sometimes both. I spent most of my time terrified – terrified of my schoolwork, my peers, even of my friends. More potently, though, I was terrified of – and disgusted by – myself.

When I came to university in 2009, things were not much better. I developed a serious problem with alcohol, and attended no more than, I estimate, six weeks worth of classes in three years of tuition. I spent a lot of money I didn’t have whilst alienating my new-found and hard-won friends. I broke up with my girlfriend and entered a string of damaging, unhealthy and – ultimately – short relationships.

A friend of mine, concerned for my well-being, handed me a card for Croydon Off The Record – A volunteer counselling organisation for 16-25s in Croydon.

I was terrified of – and disgusted by – myself

I had tried counselling before, at university, with mixed results, and I was sceptical at first. But the first six weekly sessions I had completely changed things. The provision of an environment in which I could fully and safely explore myself – and my mistakes – laid the foundation for my recovery. As a result of my counselling there, and a further six weeks several months later, I formally ended my study at university, secured full-time employment in their IT department, and began a course of antidepressants.

I wish the sad story could have ended there, but in May of this year, nine months after first seeing a counsellor, I had a near-miss with suicide on my way into work. In the intervening six months I have been heavily involved in mental health treatments where I currently live, in Greenwich. Fortunately, things have been improving. I have a loving relationship with my partner of nearly three years, I am taking six pills a day to keep me on a more even kilter, and I am tentatively looking to rehabilitate myself into more social environments and maybe even employment.

The last several years, to say the least, have been a pretty rough ride. The question remains for me though – if I had not been to see the counsellors at Croydon Off The Record, and in doing so, started fully exploring the possibility that I am mentally ill, would I still be here today? And how much trouble could have been avoided if I’d sought out their services sooner?

 The provision of an environment in which I could fully and safely explore myself – and my mistakes – laid the foundation for my recovery

Off The Record offer many services, but the central role they offer is counselling. You are provided with six, weekly, hour-long sessions on the time and day of your choice. You sit down in a comfortable chair opposite your counsellor. He or she will close the door behind you, and for the next hour, you have carte blanche – a blank canvas, a sand-pit in which you can explore any aspect of yourself, any troubling facet of your life. It seemed to me that the simple act of articulating my feelings, by necessity transforming thoughts and concepts into words and sentences, focused them in my head. If you are explaining your feelings to someone else, then you learn to express your feelings in a way they can understand – by extension, simply by explaining your troubles to somebody else, you have wrangled the previously nebulous facts, thoughts and feelings in your mind into a form that both the counsellor and you, yourself, can better understand. The counsellors will help you to get a grip on the contents of your own mind, and when you have started on that path to understanding, your problems start to seem less insurmountable.

I cannot implore you enough to contact them, whether you are a young person having problems, or simply interested in volunteering as a counsellor. You might not think your problems are serious enough to worth bothering other people about, but when you have the environment Off The Record provide for you, then you might be surprised at what you find out about yourself – and how much better you can feel for having shared it with them. Not many organisations can legitimately claim that they can change your life. But the patient, helpful and accommodating staff at Off The Record changed mine for the better.

Off the Record can be contacted by telephone on 020 8251 0251.

Jake Papas

Jake Papas

Jake Papas is a former pupil at Trinity School but has completed no formal education since then, other than that provided by several years of poor decision making. After brief sojourns elsewhere in London, he has returned to his native Croydon. He counts tabletop roleplaying, juggling, and fighting against mental health discrimination among his chief interests.

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  • Anne Giles

    Wonderful article. Good of you to share this with us all. I wish you all the very best. Take care.

  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Thanks for your piece, Jake. Let me assure you that years of poor decision-making can be one of the finest teachers you can have :) and you have listened to them very young.

    For what it’s worth, I think very few people indeed are really crazy. The norms of the world we live in, and one’s own individual environment in childhood too, can be both crazy-making and beyond one’s control. I read somewhere once that recovery means taking responsibility for what isn’t your fault, and I think that’s very true. Very best wishes to you.