This post is a little off colour from my normal repertoire – and to be perfectly honest was really hard for me to write. I have wanted to write something about this for a while now but I’ve never really pulled up the courage before. When I saw Time to Change’s new year campaign ‘Time to Talk’ I knew this was an opportunity to talk frankly and openly about my experiences with mental illness in a way that I’ve never managed to do so before. I wrote this post back in January and moved it immediately into my scheduled blog posts so that I couldn’t back down from sharing this with you. Both writing it and posting it have been hard – getting me to talk about myself is comparable to getting blood out of a stone when it’s been sat in a freezer for two weeks. One thing I try to remember is that “life begins outside of your comfort zone.” I am well and truly away from my comfort zone with this post!
In the past I’ve always admire those who can blog and share their experiences of mental health so openly on such a wide platform as Youtube, Wordpress or Blogger. It truly amazes me how you wonderful people can share experiences that are so internally painful with grace and ease; it’s something I’ve never ever been able to do, even as a child. In fact, as a kid my common response to pain or embarrassment was to run away from everyone until I got over it. Growing up this response just got stronger and stronger until I couldn’t cope with the pressure and strain of it any more. I still turn and run from difficult situations and would rather ignore something distressing than deal with it.
This is my story.
I’m going to throw a trigger warning in here. From here on it, it gets a bit gritty. Stay with me if you can.
I had a pretty good childhood, all things considered. My parents are still together, and I have a wonderfully loving sister who has always been by my side. At school, I got average grades for my school, but for the real world, pretty good results. After GCSE, I stopped caring. I didn’t attend most of my AS level classes and consequently I flunked out hard in my exams. I fought to retain my place in the sixth form and realigned my life plans because I had nothing else.
I started self-harming at the age of 15. Initially it was just a scratch here, easily covered by a watch or bracelet. Then it was sneaking into the bathroom at 2am at night to grab a razor to pull apart. Self-harm is one of the most backwards coping mechanisms ever that might actually make a lick of sense. Research tells us that the physical pain is so much easier to cope with mentally than emotional pain. You can block out physical pain with some will power, or treat it with painkillers, TCP or a pressure bandage. You can’t bandage over emotional pain, you have to deal with it. I hid it well for years; I didn’t tell anyone until I was 19. I should stress here again that you need to remember my first instinct to something horrible is to run from it and hide away. So I ran. I spent four years running from myself and my family when I should have been turning to them. When I first told my friend, he did the best he could do. He took me to the doctors and then to the pharmacy to fill in my anti-depressant prescription. Anti-depressants aren’t fun, and they have some pretty nasty side effects, but they do work for some people. Unfortunately I’m not one of them. One of the side effects of the medication I was on was an increase in suicidal ideation (that is, thoughts of suicide with intent). Within in three weeks I was in A+E having attempted to take my life.
I was lucky. My friends and family both realised that something was wrong, and managed to track me down. I owe my life to them, because I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t taken the time to search for me. I will be forever grateful to them all because on that day they didn’t only physically save my life, they reminded me why I’m here and why I need to be around. No matter how far away they are, I know that they will be there for me whenever I need them. I don’t have to carry this alone. I don’t have to hide my scars around them and be afraid of their looks. They don’t judge me. I feel shame when I think of that time; shame that I could leave my family and friends so prematurely when so many others don't get the choice, and guilt that I put the people I love the most through hell.
Three and a half years later, I can’t lie and say that everything is better. Some days are like swimming upstream through treacle. I can be the worst person to live with at times – I don’t know how my parents put up with me so long, or how my loving other half puts up with it now if I’m honest – because some days I am an ogre. Little things can become a massive deal when I’m in a low mood. I cry at everything. When it’s really bad, I sit on my sofa and don’t move for hours. Making a cup of tea is the biggest effort in the world; and showering is out of the question. Luckily it’s not been that bad for a while. I think it’s important for anyone struggling with a mental health issue to remember that it’s ok to have a bad day, but it’s not ok to let that bad day become bigger than that. It’s the same as if you broke your arm. Some days, it’s going to ache and hurt more than other days, but it won’t last forever.
Nothing however will ever change if you don’t let it. You have to open up and reach out to others and allow them to support you through this difficult time. If you’re reading this and you’re worried about someone you love – then help take the burden from them. Talk to them. Find out what’s going on inside their head, because it is the loneliest and coldest place to be when you feel like you’re trapped alone with your thoughts and no-one to turn to. No-one is ever alone.
To end, a quote from the wonderful Stephen Fry -
To end, a quote from the wonderful Stephen Fry -
"Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation, depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they're going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed but it's one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do."