MyStory – Finlay Games

Introducing a truly honest and heartfelt interview from the fantastically talented Finlay Games – YouTuber, self styled ‘creatorpreneur’ and author.

“My mental health challenges, my transgender history, my recovery, are no longer a burden, they are a gift.”

Finlay Games

Tell us a little about yourself? Who are you and where are you from?
Hello! My name is Finlay Games, but I’m known as Finn. I’m 46 years young, and I live in East Sussex in the UK. I describe myself as a freelance creatorpreneur, which basically means I make various kinds of content, about mental health, recovery and LGBT lifestyle, on multiple platforms.  I host a YouTube channel and accompanying blog under the name of FinnTheInFinncible. I am also a freelance writer and am currently writing my first memoir about my gender transition which is due for publication early in 2021.

You’ve talked on your website, blog and social media about your struggles with mental health, tell us a little about your journey?
I have had mental health challenges for as long as I can remember. As a young child I would describe myself as worrying more than my peers about absolutely everything. I had a mind that would constantly churn over everything that was happening in my life and in the world. This early worry got worse to become full blown anxiety by my teenage years. The constant anxiety was exhausting, and depression soon followed. I would then go on to struggle with severe episodes of depression throughout my life. Unfortunately, I turned to unhelpful behaviours to cope, such as restricting food, self-harming, and abusing alcohol and drugs.

You’ve spoken about how you’ve struggled with addiction, what was that like and how did you take control?
Living with unexplained constant anxiety was incredibly painful. Unfortunately, I discovered that alcohol would help to numb that anxiety and quieten my mind. Initially, I would just drink occasionally, to have a ‘head holiday’ from that anxiety. But, as time went on, drinking became a permanent way to escape from feelings and thoughts that I couldn’t handle. 

For many years I was what is often described as a functioning alcoholic. I kept my drinking hidden, lying about it to myself any everyone around me. But, in 2007 the mask began to slip, and I lost control of everything. I was no longer able to hide. I was drinking to black out every day and self-harming to dangerous levels. I would often wander off and have to be returned by the police or taken to hospital. Luckily, I had a conversation with a wise psychiatrist who convinced me to try an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. In the rooms of AA, one day at a time I began to stop drinking. 

For me, there is no middle road. I tried to control my drinking for years and failed. Complete sobriety is the only way for me. In early days I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol. But, by only looking at one day at a time, gradually my sober days began to add up. I learned that not only could I live without alcohol, but that life without it was far richer than I could ever have imagined. With the support of the AA fellowship and program of recovery, I began to learn how to live with anxiety, without the need to numb myself with alcohol. Importantly, with a sober head I also was able to get to the route of some of the anxiety and discover I was transgender. It was because of my recovery that I finally found the truth of who I am and found the courage to go through gender transition. 

Your website and social media channels have been a light in a very dark place for many people who are transgender, how did it help you deal with the becoming the person you are today by speaking out about it?
That is such a lovely thing to hear, thank you! 

Sharing my life as publicly as I do was never my intention. I first began sharing about my mental health issues, back in the days of Myspace. I was sick and tired of feeling ashamed and so I decided to take control by talking about it myself. I had a similar feeling when I realised that I was transgender. The stigma in being trans is enormous. I decided that if I was open about it, that would leave little room for people to gossip behind my back.

Sharing transparently about my life has helped me greatly over the years. Initially, as I shared about my mental health challenges, it was wonderful to connect with so many people who had similar issues. It helped a great deal to know I wasn’t alone and that having mental health issues is nothing to feel ashamed about. As I then began to share more, about myself as a trans man and going trough transition, the acceptance from other people, in turn helped me to accept myself more. 

The most wonderful thing about sharing publicly, is that it has made me proud of my journey. To know that I help so many people, makes everything I have been though, feel like it has a positive purpose. My mental health challenges, my transgender history, my recovery, are no longer a burden, they are a gift.

How was your life growing up with anxiety and depression? When were you diagnosed with these as mental health issues?
Growing up with anxiety and depression was hell. I was envious of my peers who seemed free to make friends, laugh and generally enjoy life. I was far too anxious to make friends and the world weighed down on me too much for me to smile. I felt fundamentally flawed in some way, that life for me didn’t feel enjoyable. I spent most of my early life fantasising about ways to exit life. 

I was a teenager in the 1980’s when there wasn’t much awareness of mental health issues. I was often bullied and there was very little intervention. Most of the time I was seen as a problematic teen. I used drink and drugs and would bunk off school. These were really a symptom of what was going on inside me but unfortunately these were all missed. I grew up to believe I was trouble, broken, and would not amount to much of anything.

I didn’t get any formal diagnosis until I was 17. After a suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. They also questioned if I had manic depression as it was called then. However, they didn’t want to make a diagnosis until I was older.

I then lost touch with any mental health teams, until I was in my 30’s. Then, I was diagnosed initially with bipolar disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. After the diagnosis, I spent 26 months in a therapeutic community and there my bipolar diagnosis was revised, and I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I also received a new diagnosis of anxious avoidant personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. 

How do you deal with your mental health battles on a daily basis?
Since I entered recovery from alcoholism and addiction, I have dealt with my mental health challenges very differently. Before recovery, I very much blamed the world for all my problems and desperately wanted someone to rescue me. Now, I see that while the world and people do of course affect me, it is always in my control how I respond to what happens. Taking responsibility in this way has been empowering and has helped me to learn to use healthy tools to manage my ongoing mental health challenges. 

Mindfulness meditation has been the biggest help, in managing my anxiety and preventing panic attacks in public. Mindfulness also helps me to be aware of my thoughts and notice when I am overthinking and worrying. Developing self-awareness in this way, means I can quickly notice when I am getting overwhelmed and when I need to practice some self-care. 

Discovering ways to bring flexibility into my life, has also been incredibly important. Because my anxiety and mood can fluctuate, some days are better than others. Having a fluctuating condition, can make life very challenging. For years this stopped me from working, studying, or achieving anything. Now, I use flexibility in all I do. I am a distance learner with The Open University and because of that flexibility, I have been able to complete a degree and am due to graduate this year. I started my own business as a freelance content creator, for the same reasons. Working from home allows me the flexibility I need to adapt daily, depending on my mood and level of anxiety. Flexibility has allowed me to be successful for the first time in my life. 

The biggest difference in how I deal with my mental health challenges, is that I have stopped trying to get rid of my anxiety and depression. For some reason, my mental health problems persist no matter what I do, especially my anxiety. For a long time, this held me back. I would tell myself that when I was ‘well enough’ I would do XYZ. But I never reached that magical ‘well enough’ place. I had an epiphany where I realised that I was seeing myself as broken. I am not broken; I am just wired up differently, and that’s OK.  With this new insight, I began to see that recovery isn’t about being symptom free, but rather about finding ways to live a happy, productive life, regardless of the issues we might face. This is now my underlying message in everything I share.

Do you have any advice for anyone going through a similar experience? With regards to mental illness, addiction and transitioning?
My biggest advice, to anyone facing a struggle of any kind, is to approach it one day at a time. When we have mental health challenges, when we are in the thick of addiction, or when we are first discovering ourselves to be transgender, the road ahead can feel too overwhelming to even start.  Don’t look at the top of the mountain, look at the ground beneath your feet. Even what feels like the smallest steps we take; on a daily basis those steps will get us to the top of that mountain. Everyone starts at the beginning. Change and recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It is much easier to start if you are just keeping it in the day.

Find a community, trying to change or manage on our own is difficult and lonely and it doesn’t have to be like that. There are so many support groups, online and face to face. Connecting with people who understand our journey and struggles, helps so much to reassure us we are not alone and remind us that there are indeed better times ahead.

How do you feel about mental health first aid training? Do you wish they’d had this in previous workplaces? Have you ever taken part in the training?
Mental health first aid training is vital. If I’d had access to this at previous workplaces, my work history would have been very different. I had a lot of time off sick and was often penalised. If work could have been made more flexible, if there had been more awareness of how mental ill health affects work, then I might have been able to stay employed. 

Business and companies need to see that people with mental health need accessibility assistance in the same way that someone with a wheelchair might. I gave a TEDx talk about this recently. If measures such as flexibility were put into place, this would help people with mental ill-health to keep working and stay in employment. 

TEDx Talk:

If you’d like to know more about Finn and his journey, you can find him on the following media channels…

Thanks so much Finn for taking the time to talk to us about your life and your journey, best of luck with the book in 2021!