So, as today is World Mental Health day, I thought I’d focus solely on that topic for today’s post.
For those new to my blog, I figured I’d write about my own personal experience of mental illness, and where I’m at today.
I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of 16, and from then on, I’ve spent more time taking medication than not. Over the years, I developed other mental illnesses on top – anxiety (both generalised and social), body dysmorphia, OCD and health anxiety. I self harmed, a lot. I self medicated with alcohol and became pretty much a functioning alcoholic. This all manifested together, and caused a psychotic episode that lasted the best part of a year, perhaps longer. It’s a bit of a blurry, hazy time of my life to be honest. I don’t fully remember all the details, dates etc. But I know it wasn’t good. In that time, I lived a weird kind of double life, where I had a whole different world in my head, and to me it was totally real. I saw people and heard voices that weren’t there, and totally lost my sense of who I was, and my real life. This came to a head in August 2013, when I had a full breakdown. Broke down in tears at work and was sent home. Went to my GP that afternoon, and things rolled from there really. Psychiatrists, specialists, CBT, and then in April 2014, a diagnosis of Bipolar Affective Disorder. I’ve been in and out of the care of the mental health team since then; have been on suicide watch, nearly sectioned a few times and had the crisis team visit me more than once. But, I’m still here. Every time I fall down, I fight my way back up. I’ve never let my demons win. I’ve come close, believe me, but there’s always been a small shred of inner strength that’s pulled me back up.
I have a really tight support network too, which definitely helps. My husband is my rock. He’s literally seen me at my worst, and stuck by me like glue. I’m so so thankful I have him by my side. He’s saved me from myself on so many occasions. Also, my biggest protective factor, is my daughter. I fight my demons, so that she has her mummy. I know she needs me, and I need her. She’s my absolute world, and I would do anything to be well and here on earth to be her mummy. Becoming a mum changed my whole perspective on life, and whilst I still have rough times, she’s my main driving force to always get past the rough times and find my happy self again.
I’m medicated with Lamotrigine and Sertraline, which *touch wood* is working pretty well for me at the moment. Keeping me relatively stable, and there’s room in the dosages to tweak them if needs be too.
I know my mental health is something that I will battle with for my entire life. But I’m not ashamed, I’m not defined by my conditions, and 99% of the time, I’m the one in control of them. I can’t say that 1% will ever go away, but it’s something I’ve learnt to deal with now. Others around me are aware of my signs and symptoms of relapse, so can spot when I’m no longer in control, and help me to get it back.
It saddens me how much stigma and misunderstanding there is of mental health. When it’s just as important as physical health, and both need treatment. People like myself, don’t need judgement or criticism. We don’t need people telling us to “just think positive” or to “snap out of it”. Those are not in any way useful, and only make us feel worse. I can’t imagine anyone would choose to feel mentally unwell. It’s a never ending rollercoaster, that you can’t get off. Another familiar phrase we hear is “what have you got to be depressed about? There’s people worse off than you!”. Whilst yes, that may well be true, it’s not a case of a persons circumstances that cause mental illness; it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it’s certainly not picky about whom it affects. You could be the richest person in the world, and still suffer from depression. Similarly, you could have nothing and feel on top of the world. Mental illness is real. It’s not something we give ourselves, we’re not contagious and we’re not a danger to anyone but ourselves. So please, don’t be afraid of someone mentally unwell. Don’t turn your back and walk away. Talk to that person. Ask them if there’s anything they can do that may help. Even if it’s just to sit with that person, in total silence, just so they don’t feel alone. If someone comes to you, with thoughts of hurting themselves, don’t ignore it. Get them somewhere safe and call 999 for help.
Sometimes, those with the biggest smiles, are those hiding the most pain. Those seemingly living life to the full, with everything going amazingly well, are the ones struggling the most behind closed doors. What people show on social media, is merely a snapshot in time. Faking a smile is pretty easy, when you have done it so many times. Putting on make up, nice clothes and doing your hair, doesn’t mean that everything is okay. We often hide behind a mask, whilst we are crying on the inside, and screaming in our head, but not making a sound. Once that photo is taken, and posted on social media, the smile will fade, the tears begin to fall and we can crumble back into that black hole of despair. Whilst everyone around us, sees that photo of a well dressed, made up, smiley happy person. They think that we’re okay, when truthfully we’re as far from okay as we can be.
But, where there is pain, there is always hope. Nothing lasts forever. The bad times will pass, and your smile will return. Maybe it won’t be as quickly as you’d like, but it’ll happen. Recovery is totally possible. Although, recovery is by no means a cure, it’s possible to live your life, and not let it control you. Never be ashamed if you take medication. Never be afraid to admit that you’re struggling. Reach out, ask for help. Talk to a friend or family, someone that you trust. You don’t have to suffer in silence and face the demons alone. There is always someone there to help and support you.
It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to cry, to scream, to shout, and to let it all out. Bottling it up only makes it worse in the long run. It will bubble away inside of you, until it reaches boiling point and you explode. Trust me, I’ve been there. I know it happens. But I also know, that even the worst times in life, can be overcome. Life can be okay again, in fact it can be great and better than before. Because once you’ve been to the lowest depths of mental illness, when you come back up, you see things in new ways. You appreciate a lot more. You stop taking things for granted. You open your eyes to new possibilities. You take chances that you wouldn’t have before. And most of all, you come back stronger. Rock bottom gives you a solid foundation, on which to rebuild yourself, and your life.
Right, I need to try and get my little monkey to go to sleep! (Been writing this post since 8pm, it’s now 10.20pm!!)
Night all x