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Mental health and growing up after losing a loved one to a brain tumour – Guest post by Ed Ryan

Ed, one of our Young Ambassadors, explains how losing his mum following her brain tumour diagnosis affected his mental health.

A young mother holds her baby on the paddle steamer at Disneyland Paris. The baby, Ed, now an adult, struggles with mental health challenges after losing his mother to a brain tumour

My mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2006 and she passed away just two years later. This had a lasting impact on my life in many ways, one of the biggest being my mental health.

There are many painful memories that have stuck with me from this time. The confusion of seeing my mum ‘asleep’ on the kitchen floor (she was actually having a seizure) and not being able to wake her up – even when I jumped on her. Visiting her in hospital. The shock of seeing her wear a wig for the first time. Then, towards the end of my mum’s life, seeing her confined to bed, unable to speak or move. And eventually passing away. 

These events not only took a toll on my mental health as a shy, emotional, young boy, but well into my teenage years. As well as having to transition into adulthood and all the things that come with that, I had to process my life without my mum who I wanted and needed there through it all.

Mental health struggles after my mum passed away

Losing my mum when I was eight impacted me greatly at the time, but I did eventually grow and adapt. I became a lot more outgoing as I got older, compared to being shy in primary school. 

As I started achieving more at school and in my hobbies, I became more aware that my mum was missing all of it. I started thinking about everything she endured between her diagnosis and her passing. This caused me to become very down and withdrawn, as my mental health declined. The more I felt that way, the more I felt I needed my mum to comfort me. It became an awful cycle. 

I think young children often don’t properly realise or process all the traumatic things they see. As they grow up and start to understand the world more, they understand their own past more. This can lead to the type of struggle I went through.

These feelings went on for months and my mental health struggles started to impact my relationships, school and hobbies. Really, it affected my whole life. After an emotional conversation with my dad, we went to my GP where I got referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for depression and anxiety.

They helped me better understand my thoughts and feelings. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) taught me to process them in a healthy way, instead of letting them ruminate and have a negative impact. 

I soon started to bounce back and feel like myself again. Despite losing my mum I had a vital support system around me – great friends and an amazing family that always put me and my brother first. I got back into my hobbies, including running. I didn’t realise it at the time but exercise is so important to mental health.

Experiencing further mental health struggles as a young adult

After finishing college and moving away from home, I had some further mental health struggles. This was caused by a mix of things, including being away from my support system, not being as active and new feelings of not having my mum.

I had a few support sessions and started using the skills learnt from CBT again. This has helped me process my emotions more healthily. I’m now able to put the negativity of my mum’s passing behind me. While I miss her, it doesn’t hold me back like it did before.

Since then, I’ve been able to deal with negative emotions better. I process them and let them go, instead of ruminating on the negative thoughts. This helped me focus on the life I was building for myself.

Finding ways to care for your mental health

From my own experiences and listening to other people, I know that doing something you’re passionate about and socialising can be key to healthy mental well-being. I’ve found my career, volunteering and exercise have all been important in maintaining my positive mental health.

Volunteering has really helped turn something negative into something positive. I’ve been volunteering since I was 15 for various organisations. But volunteering for cancer-related charities have helped build a healthier outlook on everything my mum went through. It’s great to support people who are going through what she went through and their loved ones. It’s especially amazing to help a cause so close to my heart by becoming a Young Ambassador for The Brain Tumour Charity. Exercise is one of the most important aspects of my life. Even if it’s just going for a short walk, I make sure I do something active every day. I remember when I had no motivation during my mental health struggles and just wanting to go to bed. I wish I knew back then how much better exercise makes me feel. Even if I’m super tired or in a terrible mood, I do some exercise because I know how good I’ll feel afterwards.

Support from The Brain Tumour Charity

Despite all the hardships and mental health struggles over the years, I’ve come out of it stronger, more confident, capable and loving life. I’m doing my best to make my mum proud. While I do have my bad days, I’m now well equipped to deal with them.

The Brain Tumour Charity didn’t even exist when my mum passed away, so it’s great to see how far things have come. There are so many resources available to people affected by a brain tumour, especially the mental health support that’s available. It’s amazing to see The Brain Tumour Charity now facilitating professional counselling for those who need it.