Some time this month, ten years ago, my mum burst into my bedroom and found me on my bed surrounded by pill packets. I had been hoarding them to take them all at once and some sort of motherly instinct must have made alarm bells ring because she intervened just in time. I hadn't taken them all yet and she swiped them away from me. I had taken enough to be sick but not enough to do serious harm. This came after months of me self harming, burning myself, giving myself bruises, making myself sick and writing horrible things about myself all the time.
Previously to this, I snuck out one night. I remember it very clearly. It was 12:45 at night and I gave myself until 1 o'clock for somebody to notice I was gone before I got in the river. It was a very cold night and I was wearing just a tank top and leggings. I sat by the edge of the river, halfway between desperately wanting somebody to notice I was gone and simultaneously hoping nobody would. My body was completely numb at this point and I noticed a car with four guys in it cruising slowly around the area where I was. I got freaked out and hid in my friend's garden. Something in me told me to phone home. I phoned my mum and she was utterly shocked to hear my voice, having thought I was asleep in my bed upstairs. I told her where I was and to my surprise my brother's car appeared a minute or two later. He put me in the car and took me home, where my parents were waiting. They took me straight upstairs and all of them started to vigorously rub my arms and legs. My skin had gone bluish pale and I was shaking, numb, and shocked. The cold had gotten to me and my mum, dad, and brother sat on the edge of my bed for what must have been a long time, simply rubbing my hands and feet and holding me to warm me up.
Once, I walked for two hours in the dark, sobbing, along dark roads and a dual carriage way to my boyfriend's house, desperately upset. My body took me there automatically. More than once I sat in the back of a police car sobbing, being taken home after another run away attempt. Other times I would stand on the landing, sobbing and desperate to cry out for my parents across the stairs but too scared. I saw hallucinations of a mans face at my window, I imagined somebody would grab my feet when I got off the bed, I had vivid images of someone sticking a knife up through the mattress. When I went through the doorways I thought somebody would slam them and trap my toes, I thought somebody would push me down the stairs and I always saw a man standing at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to come up and get me. I have depression, anxiety and OCD and they manifested themselves in many ways when I was younger. Self-harm, disordered eating, obsessive rituals, nightmares and difficulty sleeping, episodes of exhaustion and in the end, attempted suicide. All of this happened between the ages of thirteen and fourteen, though I have a close friend who remembers me talking about suicide even at the age of seven. I remember one night it being so bad that I was walking in this tiny circle at the top of the stairs, trying desperately not to be stuck facing a doorway or the stairs or the strange men I saw. I stood on the landing crying quietly and moving around for seven hours straight. My mum found me in the morning in a heap at the top of the stairs, having collapsed with exhaustion. It was a frequent occurrence for me to wake up to my eyes nearly being sealed shut from crying the previous night.
Over the next decade after these events, I had university drop outs, panic attacks in shop doorways walking home from work, disordered eating cropping up again, obsessive rituals returning and generally suffered in a constant cycle of being normal and then suddenly feeling like the floor was tugged out from beneath me. Ten years ago a therapist told my mum to take me out of school on emergency suicide watch. For six weeks I went everywhere with my mum. She removed all scissors, my dressing gown belt, shut away medication and I showered with the door open. My parents let me spray paint my room, my mum gave me topics to write poems on whilst she worked and she took me to the circus one day on my request. I nearly had a panic attack as I saw every single person in the circus staring at me but mum managed to persuade me it was another hallucination (they seem so real). On the way out, we stopped next to one of the sellers who was offering little trinkets. She bought me a hand painted wooden hair clip. I don't have much hair these days, but that clip still sits pride of place in my jewellery box and I will never get rid of it. Those weeks seemed to go by only for me and my mum in my memory, when I returned to school I don't even remember any of my friends having noticed me missing. They probably did, but when you are in that place, it seems like only you and your darkness exists at times. It's been ten years since that time and I have learnt a few things along the way...
1. Listen to the true voice.
When you are in the darkest moments, believing you are a waste of space who deserves to die feels like an empirical fact. Any desire to hold on to life feels like something you have no right to desire. Listen to the voice that clings on to life, the feeling that makes you want to tell someone how you feel inside even if you never do. The voice that tells you to live is the real you. The voice that tells you to leave the world behind is your illness. Never forget that.
2. Sometimes it takes many tries to get it right.
Different treatments work for different people. I tried hypnotherapy, counselling, medication and holistic treatments before finally being treated by CBT. This seems to the the thing that is working for me. It took many years and many tries before finding something that fit just right, something that actually made a difference instead of simply making me go through the motions pretending I felt better. For some I know, it was medication. For some, therapy and for others a mixture of lifestyle changes. Try, try, and try again.
3. Other people's feelings have their place.
You'd expect people to be upset when they hear the things you say about yourself or see the way you have seemingly given up. There are feelings you are less prepared for. Some people get angry, they shout or lash out at you. Some people blame themselves, something which breaks your heart but you have no control over. Everybody deals with it in a different way, after all we are not equipped to come into this world and see someone we love dearly wish to destroy them self. The reason these feelings all crop up though is simply because people care about you.
4. People forget what you're feeling.
For you, the illness is always there. It's either glaring in front of your eyes or humming in the background but it never goes away. Other people don't see it and only hear it when you give voice to the thoughts. For them, it is only there some of the time. It can be exhausting having to remind people. It is only because they can not see it that they forget it's there, not because they don't care to notice.
5. Big feelings make people uncomfortable.
Sometimes people withdraw. It's not a good thing to do when somebody needs you most, but generally talking about scary feelings makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Try to notice the smaller ways they show you they care. If they get you a snack or offer to hang out, they are trying to show you. Some people just don't have the words.
6. Your loved ones aren't lying.
I only believed this since becoming a mother. All the times your friends and family tell you they love you, they care and they'd be devastated to lose you, you convince yourself that they just don't see the clear picture. They don't realise how much better things would be if you weren't there. They aren't lying, they are seeing a truer picture than your illness will allow you to. Were I to lose my husband, family or a friend, particularly in such a way, it would devastate me. One of my children, it would destroy me. When people tell you they love you, believe them.
7. You make a difference.
Every small act of kindness or goodness you do has a rippling effect. So many times a smile, or catching someones eye for a moment, making someone laugh, doing something thoughtful or being a listening ear for someone can change the course of their whole day. In turn, they may end up doing something for someone else to the same effect. Never underestimate the power of small acts of good.
8. Sometimes coping is enough.
You don't always need to be exercising, drinking lots of water and living life like an Instagram quote to be beating your illness. Every day you pull yourself through, whether it be in your pyjamas, eating bad food and not leaving the house, is a victory. All the dark days fought through simply lead the way to brighter days lived through. It's enough to simply survive sometimes.
9. You have a personality.
It's easy to have a tendency to put every success down to good luck or to downplay it, to put every mistake no matter how minor down to some large personal flaw and to imagine that every part of you and every action you take can be assigned to a symptom or flaw of some sort. The truth is, you have a personality. Not all of your bad moments are your illness, sometimes you may just be impatient, or stubborn or grumpy. Not all success's are you over compensating, maybe you are just kind and thoughtful, creative or fun. One of the biggest fears I had which is being dispelled is that if you get to a place of being healthy, what makes you, you will disappear. This isn't the case, what makes you, you is always there beneath the surface, ready to be let out.
10. There is always hope.
It has taken me this long to realise this. Falling in love with a great man and being lucky enough to have my children has given me a huge sense of purpose. CBT is allowing me to dip my toe in the waters I have long wanted to swim in, finally writing, finally starting making videos, finally accepting myself. My life has taken many twists and turns, a lot of them downward, in this journey. Many times I didn't think I would make it and many times I didn't want to. Now I go to bed at night, yearning for the next day. I wish to have years to come and I dream of a future, something which I never did until fairly recently.
There is always hope.