I can’t describe how passionate I am about mental health. I’ve had my own experiences and seen what it can do to people I love. I want to raise awareness about it, fight the stigma and help create an open dialogue. With my blog, I used to do that. There are countless posts about my mental health on here. Yet, in the last year or so, I haven’t been writing as much about mental health.
Why is it so hard to write about mental health?
I’m not suffering with my mental health right now, and haven’t been for the past year or so.
As much as I still remember every horrible, painful feeling that my depression and anxiety caused, I can’t express it. I feel like if I do write about mental health, I’d be a fraud. Someone trying to jump on the bandwagon. It doesn’t feel like my right to write (excuse the puns!) about mental health when I’m in such a good place.
This is a good problem to have. It is a privilege. I’m completely aware of how lucky I am to have my mental health under control (for the time being). Especially, when there are countless people still struggling and feeling tormented by their own brains.
This part of my experience could help others though. It’s an important experience because I’m the embodiment of that cheesy (sometimes patronising) saying – ‘Things do get better.’
One thing I remember is how frustrating it is when people casually give advice along the lines of ‘Oh it’ll get better, just hang on in there’. When you’re in a seemingly never-ending struggle with your mental health, it seems easy enough for people to say that, but hanging on is the most difficult part. I get it, but just keep hanging on because it can get better.
How things got better for me
Around the age of 13, a very patronising old male doctor told me I had ‘severe anxiety disorder’. I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time. The only reason I was diagnosed was because my school attendance dropped to 30% and stayed that low until I was in sixth form. I couldn’t go to school, leave the house or live a ‘normal’ teenage girl’s life.
I was extremely isolated. On a daily basis, I had panic attacks where it felt like my chest was being simultaneously ripped apart and crushed. These panic attacks would leave me drained of all my energy and completely numb. I really did think it would never get better. I couldn’t even imagine having a job or social life because my anxiety crippled me.
I managed to keep my grades up and taught myself most of my secondary school education which helped me get into my university of choice. At university, I faked my way through. I pretended to be a sassy, confident woman who partied as hard as she wanted and laughed endlessly with her friends. Until I was by myself. Then the reality was obvious. I was a shell of a person.
I didn’t do these things because they brought me joy or I loved them. It was all to numb myself. For a brief moment, doing these things allowed me to escape from everything that overwhelmed me – the darkness, despair and misery. That’s when I was diagnosed with depression.
This doctor’s appointment was different to the first one. I had a lovely female doctor who made me feel understood and listened to. She talked through my options. I’d had so many rounds of counselling and therapy during my teenage years which never worked. I decided to give antidepressants a go.
Light at the end of the tunnel
They aren’t for everyone, but for me, these tablets are bloody magic. That tunnel that felt full of never-ending darkness? It was suddenly illuminated. It was slightly overwhelming at first, but after I adjusted, everything felt light. I started to take control of my life and really live it rather than just enduring it.
I’m living proof that, sometimes, it really can get better! You are strong enough to fight, even if that just means hanging on. Asking for help, makes you even stronger than you could imagine. And life might not be all roses, there are still wobbly moments where I struggle but generally my life is so full of happiness.
I feel unbelievably proud of myself. Firstly for getting the help right for me, but also everything else that I’ve been able to achieve since then. Looking back, I can’t even recognise myself in the 13-year-old or 19-year-old girl I spoke about. I am a completely different person, not just because I’ve grown up. But now, I’m a happy, confident and balanced person.1