2013 was the year everything changed. It was dark time in my life a few years ago when everything familiar to me was changing—a period I can only describe as a complete breakdown of my mentality. So much had happened all at once. My heart was broken for the first time, I had just finished my GCSEs and left school with the obscure challenge of college looming. My Nan was ill and my mental health was rapidly declining—all of this at that frustrating age where you’re expected to act like an adult whilst still being treated like a child.
I was diagnosed with OCD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and severe depression with psychotic tendencies. I spiraled into a deep, overwhelming darkness and all the colour in my life turned to black. I shut myself away from the outside world, rejecting my friends and worrying my family. My weight dropped massively and I regularly hurt myself because, quite frankly, I had lost the will to live. Fast forward two years and I had lost most of my friends, failed my A level exam, and my low college attendance nearly got me kicked out of college simply because I could not summon the strength or courage to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t see the point.
I’m not going to go into all the gory details of how my OCD and Psychotic Depression manifested themselves, my introduction to medication that saved me, or about the night I tried to take my own life, otherwise this short post will turn into an essay. However, you can read all about it on my blog—bekindtoyourmind.org. Instead, I want to talk about why I’m writing this.
I share my story because mental illness is like a dirty little secret that everyone is aware of, but nobody openly acknowledges. So many are suffering in silence, feeling utterly hopeless and totally alone; the overpowering feeling of being furious with the world for not understanding your pain or simply recognising it; the fear of being labelled and judged by an ignorant and under-educated society who seem to think that our "crazy" is contagious; the awkward frustration of hearing your diagnosis used as a punchline. I get all of this. I’ve been there. It is forgotten that there are many types of complex mental disorders with different levels of severity from person to person. Instead, we are all painted by the same brush.
There always seems to be the need for justification and evidence that someone with a mental illness is unwell. We are pinned down with a spotlight shone in our faces and told that we “don’t look sick” and “you were fine yesterday.” This is especially true for those who suffer at the grips of their mental health but are also "high-functioning" and are still able to sustain an active life that seems somewhat "normal." We are told we are negative and lazy; we should just "be happy." Would you ask a cancer patient to prove the pain they are in or tell someone with a broken leg to just walk it off? No, you wouldn’t. Why? Because their pain is visible and therefore it is validated. Mental illness is like a ghost; unless you’ve experienced the supernatural, it will only be believed if it is seen.
I don’t expect to be able to move heaven and Earth with my words, nor do I believe they will change the world, but I will be part of an amazing collective of mental health bloggers, campaigners, and speakers who unite to be heard. I can turn the most horrid moments of my life and use them for something positive to help others. I’ve even been inspired to return to college and train to become a mental health counsellor. For the first time in, well, I can’t ever remember, I feel a fire in my belly. I was passionate about mental health and I want to make a difference. I have found the drive I had lost so long ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough and some days. I feel hopeless about it all, but I’m learning how to put my mental health first and look after myself. I’m proud of how far I have come.
I write for myself, to fight the stigma, and for the suffering people out there who haven’t quite found their voice yet. If you are struggling with your mental health, please do not suffer in silence. You are never alone. It took me a long time, but I’ve realised that I am not my illness and I will not be defined by a diagnosis. I’m a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a girlfriend, a friend, a trainee counsellor. I am not a patient.