Monday, 10 October 2016

My Mental Health Story - #WorldMentalHealthDay.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues, improving education and allowing people the opportunity to speak about their experiences. This year's theme relates to the idea of psychological First Aid - hoping to make it easier for sufferers to ask for help, and give support to those who want to help them. I feel really grateful for having somewhere like this blog to talk about my mental health, so today I'm going to share my experiences with you.
(TW: there are a few self destructive behavioural patterns in here that you may not want to read about!)

I was always an emotional child. I used to have the worst temper tantrums, and was a little brat most of the time. I think this was particularly true after my parents separated - I was probably around seven at the time and I just remember being unable to put my feelings into words so just lashing out instead. I feel sorry for my little brother who probably got kicked a few times while I was overreacting.

At the age of around 13, I just remember being overwhelmed. I really felt everything, everything became a huge drama or like the world was ending. I felt like no one was really listening to what I was trying to say, but I also knew I couldn't articulate how I was feeling in a way that made sense. I felt like I was bursting at the seams with just pure frustration, and that's when I started self-harming. The first time I cut my arms with a razor, I could feel the frustration ebb away as the stinging sensation intensified. It made me feel peaceful. It felt like a way to escape the noise in my head.

For the next couple of years I was hanging out with a group of 'emo kids' who all liked to think of themselves as loners. Even then, talking about self harm was difficult. I told one of my 'friends' (let's call her Sarah) who swore not to discuss it. Another friend then showed me a note Sarah had written, calling me an attention seeker and saying she hoped I got septicaemia from it to teach me a lesson. Another time I had to face the indignity of a swimming-based P.E. lesson two days after I'd cut myself. Wish I'd thought that through, the stares in the showers were awkward!

My self harming wasn't ever that intense, I did it mainly at the tops of my arms and the cuts were shallow, but I scar pretty easily. I have four small scars on my right hand from pressing a lit cigarette into it, and occasionally I'd scratch the same part of my wrist repeatedly until it bled. I just felt better when I did it. Honestly, I'd never really been taught anything about mental health so I didn't have any clue of who or what could help me.

Things were still sometimes hard, but they got better in my last couple of years of high school. In fact it wasn't until the end of my second year of university that it all got too much. There'd been a difficult period in my personal life, and it just started affecting everything. I couldn't see the point of getting out of bed, university didn't seem worth it at all, and I was spending whole days asleep. I felt hollow, like there wasn't a thing anyone could do to me that I'd care about. I would open up Word documents to start university assignments and just burst into tears. Nothing felt interesting, I could barely maintain conversations with my friends because honestly I just wasn't listening. I didn't want to do anything except lie in bed and cry.

I was a couple of weeks away from dramatically failing my exams and dropping out of uni when I finally went to see my GP. Luckily for me, she turned out to have a personal interest in Mental Health, and she was amazing. She listened to everything I had to say, and diagnosed me with depression. I was put onto Escitalopram and every 4 weeks I got to go see this wonderful woman, and openly discuss how I felt. She honestly changed my life.

(Source for this has now deleted their site - if you know who to credit, please let me know!)

Once I was on the antidepressants I felt like I had a much clearer view of my own behaviour, and now that I'd taken a step forward I kept going. I went back to this wonderful GP and discussed my destructive behaviours with her. The whole concept of 'I hate you - don't leave me!' summed me up perfectly. I was acting really, really irrationally, particularly with my boyfriend, and I'd heard about Borderline Personality Disorder at one of my Psychology lectures. I couldn't believe how accurately it described me: the mood swings, the dissociation, the fear of abandonment. I used to feel like I loved someone one minute, but hated them the next. I couldn't find a middle ground for anything, all my thoughts and opinions were very black and white. If I was in one of my 'episodes' I'd do anything to feel better, it wouldn't matter who's feelings I was hurting. I'd felt like I was just evil, but now I had a name for what I was going through. I was put on a waiting list for counselling, but for one reason or another that never happened. 

I'd have to say that my BPD diagnosis is the one I'm most reluctant to talk about. I think perhaps because this is such an outwardly focused illness, in that it has a direct affect on other people, it's really stigmatised, and that's why I don't discuss it much. When I was first diagnosed I did a lot of research into it, and time and again I'd stumble across websites where men swapped stories about how "manipulative and emotionally abusive" their partners were or had been. I've seen women (it's always women) with BPD described as 'emotional terrorists', 'poisonous' and 'professional victims'. I found this so disheartening. It felt like I'd been given a label proclaiming that I was one of the worst types of people. This stigma surrounding personality disorders, and the misinformation that runs rife, has even put me off wanting to have children - it won't take you long to find articles about mothers who ruined their children's lives due to BPD (there's literally a website called My Life With Crazy). It wasn't healthy for me to be looking at this kind of thing, but I did, repeatedly. It still sticks in the back of my mind, and when I'm feeling particularly low I can start to believe that all of this is what I'm doomed to be. 

But deep down I know that isn't true. I can feel myself taking control of this illness - yes, I still 'slip up' from time to time and end up following old behaviour patterns, but I am getting stronger. I refuse to become someone's 'horror story', and I refuse to allow a mental illness to dictate the path my life will take.

Anyway, eventually I came off of the Escitalopram, as they were giving me a weird 'numb' feeling like I couldn't feel emotion even when I should have done, and also they were giving me really intense nightmares on a daily basis (my sleep issues are a whole other post!). It was only after I'd dealt with my depression that I started realising how strongly anxiety had taken hold. 

Even as a teenager I'd been introverted, and been 'flakey' - always bailing on social events at the last minute. Then I started feeling like I just couldn't go even if I wanted to. The thought of being in public started giving me panic attacks, and I'd suffer with strong feelings of anxiety even just when I was at home. I'd panic even around people I knew, I'd panic on public transport, I'd panic for no good reason at all. It got to the point where I didn't want to leave the house at all (this is still pretty true today!) GP Queen diagnosed me with General Anxiety and Social Anxiety disorders, but the anti-anxiety meds gave me the same side effects as the anti-depressants (being basically the same drug!) as well as increased migraines. I still suffer badly with anxiety and panic attacks, but I am hopeful that I will overcome it and I take some joy in every little step forward.

I haven't yet found a cure for my mental illnesses, but taking that step to reach out and ask for help is without a doubt the best thing I ever did. It's probably the scariest thing I've ever done, but it probably saved my life. I understand that I was unbelievably lucky to find a doctor who took me seriously from the start (really though, we need to get this whole 'completely inadequate treatment of mental health by medical professionals' things sorted ASAP) but please don't let anyone put you off getting the help you deserve. If one person won't listen to you, find someone else who will. You are worth it and you deserve to reach your full potential. 

In the many years I've been dealing with this, I've heard everything: I'm a liar, I'm an attention seeker, I'm lazy, I'm selfish, I'm just making excuses, it's all in my head, everyone feels sad/anxious sometimes, I don't look like I'm ill, self harming is a trend, etc. It's time that people realised that a mental illness is just as valid and real as a physical one. We need to work together to end the stigma and shame surrounding mental health issues. We need to educate people so that they won't continue believing the lies and the misinformation. We need to teach people how to ask for help, and how to support their loved ones who might be struggling. It's a dream of mine to be able to tell someone that I can't come to something because I've had a panic attack, and have it treated the same way as saying I've got a cold or been sick. I truly believe that opening up about our own experiences with mental health is a crucial part of changing public perception of them - if you have any experiences you'd like to share please feel free to comment below, or leave a link to a blog post!

Here are a few resources you can use if you need more information on where to get help, or how to be a support to someone who needs help:



  1. Thankyou so much for sharing this. I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia this year and totally understand what you mean about BPD having such awful names attached to it. Bipolar Disorder is often treated similarly :( If you ever want to chat about it you know where I am :) much love x

  2. having read this in university I think I need to go home, and re-read this afternoon, it's such an amazing post, really proud that you shared it xx

  3. Hey, this is a really insightful and informing post. You are brave to be sharing stories like this, I can kinda relate. The info graphics were really helpful too, I feel much more informed. x


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