An inspirational Catterick man is using his mental health experiences to support others – after finally seeking help for the anxiety which plagued him for decades.
Marc Blair, 48, battled “a constant background of anxiety” from childhood, which created problems at school, in the workplace and in his personal life.
Now, following treatment from NHS Talking Therapies North Yorkshire, he is looking forward to a brighter future – and has set up a support group for men in the same situation.
“It felt like I was standing at the gates of hell when I was first referred for treatment,” said Marc, from Catterick Garrison.
“It was a very tough time, but the therapy was amazing.
“I really appreciate the help I got from NHS Talking Therapies, and now I want to support others. I’m here for them all the way. Helping people helps my own wellbeing, but it also makes me happy.”
NHS Talking Therapies is part of Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. It provides a range of talking therapies designed for supporting people with symptoms of depression, panic, anxiety, stress, worry and scary thoughts.
Marc’s anxiety struggles first became apparent as a child, when he found sitting in large groups – such as in a classroom or assembly – overwhelming.
His need to “get up and escape” led to dozens of skipped lessons and, ultimately, Marc left school without any qualifications.
“I didn’t realise my feelings were caused by anxiety at the time – no one did. Back then, people didn’t really recognise the symptoms, they just thought I was disruptive,” he said.
Marc was determined to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining the army – and had a long-standing ambition of becoming a physical training instructor.
However, anxiety again became a barrier to success after he secured a place to study sport at college. Within months he had dropped out.
He then enlisted in the army at 17 but, after eight weeks of training, he discharged himself. It was a decision he blames on his anxiety as well – and which he immediately regretted.
A succession of jobs followed before Marc was eligible to re-enlist. This time it went well – at first. But difficulties started after he was posted to Germany, and he ended up going AWOL.
Marc later transferred to a different regiment and, after three years, left the army and joined the guard service with the Ministry of Defence.
He spent several happy years as a dog handler, among other roles, before becoming a truck driver for a new company. Sadly, his anxiety again caused problems.
“I found the job very, very stressful, and it was the first time since the army that I didn’t want to go to work,” he said.
The company was sympathetic to his struggles and offered Marc an alternative job as a groundworker, which he enjoyed. Then, in 2021, he moved to a similar role with the MoD.
Despite his initial happiness, his mental health started to deteriorate, so he switched jobs again – and went back to truck driving.
“Anxiety can make you make some very strange decisions,” he said. “I knew truck driving wasn’t for me, yet I did it again. I lasted about six weeks before the stress became too much.
“My anxiety really started to get the better of me around then. One night, while at an event with my wife and friends, I kept having to go outside. I felt so overwhelmed – like at school.”
With his anxiety “through the roof”, Marc sought medical help.
“I was very up and down at that time, which led to arguments with my wife, and then my mum died,” he said. “I lost my mum, then my marriage. I found myself in such a dark place.”
By the time Marc finally sought medical help, he felt as if he was “stood at the gates of hell.” Taking part in Talking Therapies, however, helped turn his life around.
Joe Greensmith, a psychological wellbeing practitioner, supported Marc through 12 weeks of specialist treatment – helping him to develop skills and techniques to manage his anxiety.
“I had tried to manage my anxiety with exercise, but I needed a structure to help me manage my anxiety. Joe helped so much. He was always there for me, always willing to listen to me.”
Marc is now keen to use his experience to help others – and recently set up a men’s mental health support group in Colburn with a friend.
The drop-in group, named Together Strong, is held in the village hall on the third Monday of every month from 7pm.
“One person’s mental health challenges can affect other people within their family and friends,” Marc said.
“I’m now at the point when I’m finally looking after my mental wellbeing properly. I use the advice Joe gave me to help not only the people in the group, but my friends and family too.”
Marc is planning to train as a mental health counsellor and, in the future, he may even re-take his GCSEs and go on to university.
“I can’t help every single person, but if I can make a difference to one person’s life, that would be good. Joe helped change my life, and I’d like to do the same for others,” he said.
Helen Dodd, the associate practitioner for North Yorkshire Talking Therapies, praised Marc’s work on the new group and said: “He is an inspiration to us all. Marc’s experience demonstrates the empowerment that learning to manage anxiety can bring.”
For more information on North Yorkshire Talking Therapies, visit https://northyorkshiretalkingtherapies.co.uk