In light of the most recent high profile suicides, I felt that it’s time for me to put down in writing all my current and past struggles with my own mental health, as well as add my voice to the many on the topic of mental illness and how we, as a society, deal with it. There is so much that I want to say that It cannot be contained in one blog post so I’m going to split it into as many parts as I see fit.
This first piece is about my own history with mental illness. I will warn you now that there are many triggers contained within: suicide, rape, self harm, suicidal thoughts, so please err on the side of caution whilst reading.
It is no secret that I suffer from mental illness, four to be exact: Cyclothymia, PTSD, OCD and anxiety. I talk about my experiences with mental health openly, loudly and often as I firmly believe that the stigma must end. Those who know me will tell you that I speak openly and honestly about my struggles, my past attempts at suicide, self harming and all the other bullshit that comes along with being mentally unwell. I’m not ashamed to talk about it because there is no shame in being mentally ill.
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 16. My mother, a mental health sufferer herself, noticed the signs in me early on and knew that it was more than just teenage hormones causing me problems. From the outside it would look to most people that I had no real reason to be depressed: I had a stable middle class family, a private school education, two loving and supportive parents despite being divorced, and an amazing friendship group. What on earth did I have to be depressed about? Well here’s a newsflash for you: mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Yes, life events can trigger a downward spiral, but like all chemicals, those of the brain are just as volatile as any other and just as complex. I have an imbalance in my brain: science fact. I was taken to the doctor who then referred me to a therapist and was given medication to help ‘even me out’. It helped and I managed to finish my A-Levels and move on to the work place.
I had suicidal thoughts a lot. I felt like a burden on everyone, despite my attempts to project a happy, outward appearance. I would daydream about jumping in front of a speeding train or off a motorway bridge, taking all the pills I could find, and considered slashing my wrists. It was a constant, nagging voice in my brain, haunting my every waking moment. I took to self harm in a bid to stop the voices, cutting the tops of my thighs and inside of my wrists in a bid to transfer the pain I felt inside to something visual, something I could touch. It didn’t help and I then had come up with some sort of explanation for all the cuts on my wrists. During this time, I also became a fully fledged alcoholic, drinking twice my weight in booze every day in a desperate bid to drown the urges to kill myself. Of course, everyone knows that alcohol is a depressant so you imagine how well that worked out.
In my mid to late twenties, I was reclassified as a manic depressive, or bi-polar as it’s called now, with a side helping of PTSD thanks to my highly abusive marriage. I married a real piece of work who mentally manipulated me which then turned into regular and constant physical abuse and rape. My spiral down was deep and unrelenting. I tried to take my own life just to end it all and finally be free of him, but he of course wouldn’t let that happen. I was whisked into hospital and my family never informed. That was when I experienced the lowest point I had ever felt in my entire life. I was trapped and alone with my rapist and torturer. All attempts by the hospital staff to reach out and help me were either rebuffed by Him, or I was too terrified to reach back and take the hand of safety. I would lie awake in bed at night willing my body to just give up and die, anything just to not be alive any more.
It did get better.
I eventually found the courage to kick my rapist out. I changed the locks, threw all his stuff out onto the street and tried to put my life back together, and I couldn’t have done any of it without the help of my truly amazing friends. They were my lifeline, my safety net. Despite having been cut off from them for years by my now ex, they welcomed me back with open arms and all the love I could have needed. The latter half of 2005 was a wonderful time filled with love, laughter and a freeness that I thought I would never feel again.
Time moved on, as did I and towards the end of 2014 I had a total and complete mental breakdown. There were several factors involved: the end of a relationship to the kindest, most gentle and wonderful man I have ever met, the end of a friendship with my soul mate, and a relationship that I gave my heart and soul to that turned out to be nothing but a lie with one of the most mentally abusive men I have ever had the misfortune to meet. I was an absolute fucking mess and I resorted back to self harming to try to end the suicidal thoughts crowding my brain. Again, it was my wonderful friends who saved me from myself. I went back to my GP and was immediately referred to one of Surrey’s mental health clinics. I was assigned my own social worker and saw a medical psychiatrist who prescribed me new medications and rediagnosed me with Cyclothymic Disorder as well as having PTSD, OCD and anxiety as 3 separate illnesses. I also saw an amazing therapist and slowly but surely, I got back on track. I learnt to love myself again, how to happier and more content with life. It was a really tought journey over the 6 months or so that followed, but I once again started to feel less and less hopeless.
It is now 2018, I’m 38 years old and I still have really bad days, but the suicidal voices are less and less. I honestly don’t think that I would ever try to go through with it again, but the thought never truly goes away. I just know how to manage those thoughts now and how to deal with them when they start to creep back in.
Mental illness is a continuous road to be traveled. There are many turnings along the way, many paths to be walked and explored, but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be quite the person I am today without the chemical imbalance in my brain. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone, but I have learnt to embrace that fickle mistress called mental illness and make it work for me rather than being consumed by it. It’s not easy, not by a long shot, but accepting my mental illness has helped me to fight it, to tame it almost. In Japan, Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum, often making the object stronger than before. As a philosophy, it treats the breakage and repair as something beautiful. The cracks and repairs represent a journey, a history of a life lived. I see my own cracks and breaks as something that has made me stronger, not something to be hidden and ashamed of.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, or just need someone to listen without judgement, here are some numbers:
The Samaritans: 116 123 (UK & ROI)
The NHS website offers several different services.
Under 25? The Mix: 0808 808 4994 or you can text their Crisis Messenger: THEMIX to 85258. You can also chat to tem on live messenger or in a group chat.