As Sirens Fall’s Mikey Lord On Mental Health: “I want to start a conversation”
As part of our ongoing partnership with YoungMinds we’re chatting to some of our favourite people about their mental health experiences. Today, As Sirens Fall man Mikey Lord shares his story, detailing his personal issues and how he’s doing something to try to help others.
Mikey Lord wants to see a change in the world. The As Sirens Fall vocalist has suffered with depression and anxiety since he was a teenager. At first, he suffered in silence, but after finding the courage to get help he set his sights on ending the stigma of mental illness.
In July of this year, Mikey founded We Are Not Dead Yet (or WANDY, for short) – a campaign which aims to start conversations about mental health and raise money to help those who are suffering. Kerrang! hopped on the phone with him to discuss his experiences, and what he wants to achieve with WANDY.
At what point in your life did you first experience symptoms of mental illness?
I was 15 when depressive thoughts first entered my head. At that age, you’ve got all sorts of strange things happening to you that have never happened before, so balancing your mental health with just being a teenager is difficult – you question how much of what you’re feeling is normal, so my depression went ignored for a number of years. My first panic attack and symptoms of anxiety came when I was 18.
Was there a specific moment when you realised you had a problem?
Yes. I was 18 and in a relationship at the time, and there was an occasion when I drove to pick up my girlfriend from college. I picked her up, and she asked me if we could drop a couple of her friends off on the way home. At the time, I had a four -seat car, and she rocked up with four of her friends. I said, ‘It’s an hour’s drive, I haven’t got enough seatbelts, and I only passed my test two months ago – don’t make me do this.’ Long story short, we managed to get all of her friends in, and I was trying to be cool about it because I was meeting a couple of them for the first time and I didn’t want to get in trouble with the missus.
As we were driving, I had these visions in my head of everything going wrong: there was this onslaught of all these feelings happening at once. My chest went tight, my stomach felt like it was on fire, and there was all of a sudden this impending sense of doom. I’d never felt anything like it before – it was the most terrifying experience of my life. It felt like it lasted forever, but then it went away as quickly as it came. I looked over to my girlfriend, hoping that she’d noticed something had happened to me, and she hadn’t. That was my first experience of an anxiety attack, and it took me two years from that point to speak to someone about it.
When you did speak to someone, how did diagnosis help you?
Before I was diagnosed, I was scared of myself, and I was scared of talking to anyone about it, because that made it real. I’d known I had a problem with depression for years, but anxiety was a whole different ball game – I’d never talked to anyone about anxiety, even a girlfriend I was with for a number of years. I thought I’d deal with it in my own way, and I researched it online, and that is probably the worst thing you can do when you’re ill. No matter what it is, the internet will tell you it’s bad – you could stub a toe and have it go a funny colour, and the internet will tell you it’s cancer!
I Googled walk-in sessions at the GP where I was registered, and I’d regularly drive over and get there 10 minutes before the session, sit in my car, and watch the clock go round. Eventually, the session would finish and I’d think, ‘Oh well, I’ve missed it – I’ll just go home.’ I did that week in week out, and eventually I plucked up the courage to walk inside to make an appointment… and then I’d sit in my car and chicken out again. That went on for months. I was 20 when I first got diagnosed, and it had got to a point where I was having darker thoughts than I’d ever had before – it was so out of character, so strange and so brutal. I was terrified of myself – I thought I was going to snap. I was looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘What is wrong with you?’
Those feelings were what did it for me – I got up at 8AM the next day to get an appointment, and I made myself go. I was terrified, but the woman I spoke to was really nice. I walked out of the room with a diagnosis of clinical depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and it was like ripping off a plaster – it wasn’t so bad, really. I knew the name of the monster on my back, and it suddenly felt a lot easier to deal with, because up until that point I had no real understanding of it. In hindsight, if I hadn’t gone to see the GP when I did, I probably wouldn’t be here now – the fact that I left it so late was really dangerous. Getting help was the best thing I did – it allowed me to envision what was going on and figure it out. It took a hell of a lot out of me, but I did it, and I’ve got a lot of respect and admiration for anyone else that does the same.
Tell us about We Are Not Dead Yet – what is it, and how did the idea come about?
WANDY has been in my mind for a very long time – the idea being that I want to start conversations about mental health. A lot of people say it’s great that I’m raising awareness, but that’s not what I’m doing – a lot of people are aware of mental illness. I’m ‘aware’ of many issues in the world, but I don’t claim to understand them all – and that’s what WANDY is about. It’s about getting into the details of it and peoples’ real life experiences, in order to start conversations so that mental illness is much more widely understood.
It’s terrifying how much of a problem it is, and it’s not being talked about enough. People don’t feel comfortable sharing their experiences, for fear of repercussions and being judged, and they shouldn’t be – mental illness is the same as any other illness. There’s no difference, but for some reason it’s seen as embarrassing and it gets swept under the rug, and that’s why WANDY is there – to shove it out into the open.
The things that people have shared on the website have been incredible, and I’ve had some amazing conversations off the back of WANDY just existing. Things like this, what we are doing right now, are exactly what the world needs. Hopefully, WANDY can help contribute to that.
What does WANDY do to raise awareness about mental illness?
WANDY regularly makes appearances at shows, the idea being that there’s a spot at the gig that’s a safe space and where there’s somebody to talk to. I’ve had some amazing pieces submitted to the website, too – there was a beautiful one that went out recently called Bombs And Bipolar. It’s a brilliant description of bipolar disorder – it wasn’t careful and it didn’t pussyfoot around the topic – it was straight in there and talking about it in an open and honest way, without fear of any repercussions.
Sounds awesome. Finally, what would your advice be to anyone struggling with their mental health?
Get help – go speak to somebody. I’m not an authority on mental health – I don’t have any qualifications in it – I’m just somebody who has experienced it. And in my experience, talking to someone helped me, and made me realise that mental illness was a lot more normal than I thought. It made me comfortable with feeling the way I was, and I realised there was nothing to worry about and it wasn’t going to kill me – I just had to learn to ride it, and I did. Every person is beautiful in their own way, no matter how damaged they might think they are. It would be amazing for everyone to have an eternal well of hope inside themselves, but unfortunately, sometimes people decide to give up, and that’s what I want to stop.
Words by Jake Richardson. You can follow Jake on Twitter @JakeRichardso17