Today is world mental health day. And what better day to write about my own mental health journey than today. I feel like amongst the blogging community we are relatively open when it comes to talking about mental health, perhaps because many of us struggle on a daily basis with our own mental health battles. Well I want to tell you about mine. I want to say there was a specific time that induced my mental illnesses, but the truth is far less black and white. I was born into it I suppose. But at 10 years old my boat was rocked, and this catapulted me and my brain into a frenzy.
At age 10 I was sent to my first ever therapist. It was a relatively typical back story, child is experiencing trauma due to parents’ ugly divorce. The reason for the ugly divorce? Well that is also an unfortunately common occurrence these days. Domestic violence. I’d grown up thinking everything I’d ever seen, everything I’d ever had done to me, and everything I’d ever been told was okay. It was normal. Not until the police informed us that it wasn’t did I even think twice. It was, after all, all I’d ever known. So sat in the therapists room, at ten years old, surrounded by toys and that ominous healthcare smell all Drs offices seem to have I was encouraged to talk about my problems. About the nightmares, about the emotional bruises, about the dangerous environments I’d been placed in and about how that had made me feel. I was to then spend the next year talking about how we were abandoned by pretty much all of our friends, how they all took his side, how we were ostracized in our church and why that made me sad. So, after a year of having someone I could trust, someone I could tell anything to and not feel threatened, or scared in doing so, my time was up and my therapist was leaving her job. She thought I was doing very well and didn’t need any more counselling for the time being so I left. For a little while it was okay, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t okay anymore.
All that time, I wasn’t just battling with my outer demons, the person who would show up at my house in the middle of the night, or watch me from his car as I walked to school. No, I was also battling many inner demons, that all had names of their own. My inner demons were called Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures. To name a few. They were relentless, all consuming and terrifying beings to a child. I had never been exposed to anybody with mental health problems before my own. I had very rarely encountered anyone outside of school who wasn’t from my religious background, because they were the bad guys, they were evil. And when my health problems took over my life and were so loud I couldn’t ignore them anymore I became the bad guy.
How many times have we (the ones suffering with mental illnesses) been told it was all in our heads. Been told to just stop, or to snap out of it. Because we hadn’t thought of that. I have sat in many a doctor’s waiting room, just to have a 2 minute appointment and be told there is nothing they can do for me. I have literally been ushered out of a doctor’s office and told that they don’t have the time for this. Well pardon me “Mr. I’m too busy to actually take care of my patients”, but one of these days you are going to have to wake up and smell to coffee. We are becoming much more than a minority. We are the 1 in 4 here in the UK, and numbers are rising. Anyone who thinks that people with mental illness choose this life are deluding themselves. They are sinking their heads in the sand because they don’t want to deal with the reality. People are suffering, and they’re not just suffering, they’re doing it in silence.
Well I want to break some of my own silence.
My Mental Health
My anxiety would paralyze me with fear. Not the kind of fear you feel when you don’t want to dive off the diving board at swim class, the kind of fear where you are curled up in a corner pulling out your own hair. Literally. Because to feel physical pain must be easier than feeling crippled by anxiety.
My PTSD was a constant replay of events in my head, like watching an old movie reel on repeat, seeing the same horror story unfold day in day out. Even crossing over into my dreams at night. Not even my dreams were safe. But the sad part was it wasn’t a horror story, it was my life, and they were all things I’d seen, things I’d heard, things I’d experienced. And they never left me.
My seizures were a form of torture. Their physical pain was brushed off, because it stopped after half an hour, or a couple of hours depending on how bad the episode was and how long it lasted. But the emotional pain as a result of my non epileptic seizures will stay with me forever. I was terrified to leave to house, for fear another attack would happen to me in public again. After episodes in restaurants, at birthday party, and in the doctors waiting room I was afraid of the world. I didn’t want people to see me drooling, struggling to breathe, having fits, banging my head and in pain. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. It was bad enough that it was happening but I wasn’t about to make myself a spectacle because of it. So I shut myself away from the rest of the world. I was put on a medication that nearly cost me my life by suicide, that made me have hallucinations, heart palpitations, caused my memory to not function properly, made me weak and dizzy all the time and never be fully present.
My Depression was manic. One minute I was a fully functioning pre-teen who had endless possibilities and hopes for her future, and the next I was knee deep in my own tears, with my brain sending absurd messages to me like ‘you know everybody would be better off if you just died’ ‘even your own parent doesn’t love you’ ‘everyone you thought cared about you is leaving you, why do you think that is?’ ‘Just kill yourself’. And after a while of this on again off again psychological torture I started to believe it.
My OCD was probably the biggest bully of all. She, and I refer to her as a she, was one of the meanest things I have ever encountered. She started as a friend. At first, it was comforting to have things to take control over in my chaotic, uncontrollable childhood. So by taking control of who could or couldn’t move my toothbrush, I was in control of that one little thing that every morning and every night brought me some comfort. Having small things I could control released a lot of tension, and for a moment I felt calm. But this soon changes. And I was no longer in control of it, it was in control of me. “Who sat there? You cant sit there because you see that minuscule stain on the chair that is full of all sorts of bacteria and diseases and could make you sick and kill you, as your looking at it now you can see it spreading through each weave in the fabric of the chair can’t you. You know I’m right. You can’t sit there unless you want to die. Maybe you should, because you know you don’t want to be here anymore. Go on, sit on that chair and die. I dare you. DON’T YOU DARE SIT THERE.” The endless 24/7 monologue of everything I did or didn’t do. It drove me insane, and it wasn’t just effecting me anymore, it was effecting my family. My three to four hour showering, my strict rules about what wan mine, where people couldn’t sit on the sofa, what clothes I could and couldn’t where when people were over, the fact that I couldn’t use the same cutlery as everyone else, I had to have my own special plate and cup and knife and fork and toothpaste and chair and my clothes had to be washed separate from everyone else’s and everywhere had to be hoovered and cleaned anytime anyone came over. If anything got moved, got touched, wasn’t done right, I went into full-blown mental breakdown mode. I’ve screamed (not because I was being spoiled, but because the emotional pain and the voices were too overwhelming), I’ve hit myself against things before, I’ve shook with fear and panic, I’ve thrown up. It was everywhere. My OCD was everywhere and in everything I did. There came a time after some CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other mental health input I realized I had to take back control. It’s taken a lot of years, and a lot of support. But I’m now in control most of the time. I wouldn’t like to ever think of myself as a bully, but in this situation I had to be. When I was being told how worthless I am by my OCD, or how nobody gives a crap about me, because I can’t do anything right I became angry at the fact she was questioning my worth and instead of crying or feeling overwhelmed I just became a bit angry, and occasionally my mum would find me in the bathroom glancing in the mirror and telling myself to piss off. After seeing me do it a few time she confronted me and asked why on earth I was saying these things to myself. I had to explain I wasn’t saying it to myself, I was saying it to my OCD. It was her I was talking to. I just turned around one day in a mood at how fed up I was at being bossed around and told her, and I quote, “would you just piss off, you and I both know it’s not me people in this family hate.” And it felt so good. So it just seemed to stick, and that was one of my coping mechanisms.
Today I am in the best place I’ve ever been, but I have a long way to go. I still have days that can be crippling, I still have to manage my problems because they’re still very real. I’m currently weaning off of my anti-depressants after being on them nearly seven years. My OCD knows I’m the boss, and only tries to take back control occasionally on bad days. I’m nearly 8 months seizure free, but the doctors have told me to be careful because they could come back at any stressful time in my life, and I know this as I almost had a relapse last week after experiencing a lot of stress recently. My anxiety is still there, but I have learned a lot of new coping strategies that really help. My PTSD has pretty much gone, thank god. I put in a lot of hard work and it seems to be paying off. My problems can all flare up, and I have bad days and good days, but I am especially grateful for the good days. I have received a lot of support, from my mum, my CAHMS team, some of my amazing family that I’m close to, from ODC Action, and even from a couple of people I used to call my best friends. It does get better. It can get better. It just takes time. I don’t want to sugar coat it for you, because mental health is rough, it’s probably the toughest thing you’ll ever have to experience. But I also want to give you hope. Because right now is not the end; you have so much to live for. You are loved, perhaps not by the people you want to be loved by, or in the way you want to be loved, but you are SO loved. Good things are waiting for you, and when you get to the happy chapters of your life you will be a much better person than you were before. I just hope you know it.
Where To Find Help
Being A Friend To Someone With Mental Health Issues by Amelia Littlejohn (Nourishing Amelia)
It’s okay to be a glowstick; sometimes we need to break before we shine. – Unknown
From the outside looking in it’s hard to understand. From the inside looking out it’s hard to explain. – Uknown
And here you are, living, despite it all – Rupi Kaur
Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘WE’ illness becomes wellness – Shannon L. Alder
I know you’re sad, so I wont tell you to have a good day. Instead, I advise you to simply have a day. Stay alive, feed yourself well, wear comfortable clothes and don’t give up on yourself just yet. It’ll get better. Until then, just have a day. – Unknown