For the next year at Gymbox, Mental Health will be at the centre of all our charity initiatives.
YoungMinds will be the first charity we're lending our support to and to launch the collaboration we caught up with George Hodgson, a YoungMinds ambassador and founder of Maison de Choup, to find out more about his brand and to hear his story.
When did you first realise you had anxiety?
I’d always had anxiety as a young person. It was fine through secondary school, as I had a big friendship group and was busy all the time. Then at the end of secondary school, I finished my GCSE’s and went and celebrated at a festival and took drugs: MDMA . I didn’t really enjoy it, but tried it again at a party because I thought that I’d have a better time…but I tried it again and thought I was dying. I came off it, didn’t think much of it and left.
About three weeks later I started feeling really hot, sweating, getting tunnel vision, and I thought “oh my God, I’m back on the drug”. So I told my parents, and they said “sit down, we need to go through this.” At this point I’m running around like a headless chicken; I can’t relax, I think I’m going to die, and I’m blacking out. Turns out, I was having a panic attack. It lasted around 40 minutes.
We called the NHS out-of-hours service, and they said “you’re having a panic attack” and we made an appointment to go to my GP. But by the time the GP appointment comes around, I’m having a panic attack every day. The GP told me “you might have anxiety disorder, so I’m going to refer you to CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services]. The initial assessment for CAMHS is about two weeks from the GP date, but during those two weeks I severely deteriorated; the panic attacks got worse, and I was washing my hands 50 times a day because anything I touched I thought had drugs on it. It was almost like a psychosis. I was having suicidal thoughts, and that’s when I really began to realise that I desperately needed help.
I left college, and went to CAMHS. They said “we can help and you’ll be fine – there’s only a 40 week waiting list”. I felt far worse leaving than I did when I went in. I was scared, and my parents were scared. So we went back to the GP and the GP said “can you afford to go privately”, and so that’s what we did.
What happened after you finally managed to go and see somebody. Did it help immediately, or did it take a while?
It took a while. I had a private psychiatrist doing hypnotherapy with me. He started putting me through the sensations of having panic attacks in the unconscious mind, which is super cool, but quite scary!
I had about a year and a half of that, and then my psychiatrist deemed me well enough to go to CBT [cognitive behavioural therapist] who taught me coping mechanism to help me deal with the OCD and the obsessions. We just talked about anxiety generally, and that’s when I realised talking about it really helped me.
When did you find out about YoungMinds?
It was when I was first in the throws of my illness, and I started Googling my symptoms - which is obviously a terrible idea, everyone knows that! I came across the YoungMinds website, and it outlined what I was going through. I thought “oh my God, I’m not the only one going through this!”. It was really helpful, and I began to refer to it every now and then.
I remembered them when I launched the brand, and I wanted to give back to the charity, especially as they help young people specifically with mental health problems. I wanted to help them because they help those who aren’t in so fortunate a position to seek help privately.
That’s where our partnership came from! I’m now also an ambassador and an advisor for them.
When did you come up with the idea of setting up a clothing brand?
It was a happy accident really! I was studying photography with the intention of doing it at university, but I obviously couldn’t do that because I was hindered by my illness.
When I was sick, I couldn’t really express what I was going through, so I used to write down and draw my thoughts and feelings in notebooks. I had loads of them! As I started getting better, I thought maybe I could use them for something: I thought maybe I could create a t-shirt. I bought myself a screen printing kit, set it up really nicely and got really excited…and then it all went horribly wrong! I got paint everywhere, the exposure was ruined, and I thought “I can’t do this”.
But then I had a project, and I told my psychiatrist about it. He told me to go for it as it’s good to keep the mind occupied. I set about coming up with these designs and took them along to a printer, and it began to grow from there!
What are your goals for Maison de Choup over the next year?
We’re working on releasing some new designs - we don’t tend to do collections, instead we drop and drip-feed different products. We’re also working on pop-up shops around different areas of the country to create a cult following; areas like Bristol, Manchester and London (eventually), as these are cool areas to raise awareness for the brand. I’ll be doing that, and continuing to do my work for charity.
I really love all of your designs - they’re subtle, but also convey the message very clearly.
That’s the mission! All of the designs have stories about mental health, and they’re non-triggering. You wouldn’t know what they were about unless you asked about it, and that’s the idea – when someone says “I love that shirt”, you can tell them about the brand, and then you’re starting the conversation about mental health in a subtle way.
What tips would you give to people who think they’re experiencing anxiety and aren’t sure what to do?
I think the first thing to do is find someone you love and trust who you can talk to about it, because there’s nothing worse than being in it alone. Find someone who you can talk to, and then go from there and find some help. Don’t Google symptoms, and don’t go to any forums! Reach out to people. If you are going through it, and you don’t think there’s hope, just keep going – there is hope, and you will get there!
YoungMinds are really helpful. They have guides on what you’re suffering with, and explain what you might be experiencing. They also have a parent’s helpline which parents can call if they need help and support, and they can direct you to other routes to get help as well.