Before the last few months I think I was doing a pretty good job over the last couple of years to pretend to myself and everyone around me that I was perfectly fine. Before the last couple of years I had become an expert at keeping my life a complete secret. The only time I was really around other people was when I was self medicating with alcohol, and then I was just a messed up drunk person which seems to be pretty acceptable in this society. The rest of my life and struggles with mental illness was a secret and I had become very good at hiding. I didn’t let anyone close enough to me to really see how my life was. Then I started volunteering, working, and then studying so I had to learn a new skill; to seem well enough to manage all of these things whilst actually being pretty unwell, interacting with people whilst also keeping them at a safe enough distance to not realise how unwell I was or know anything about my past, using alcohol to self medicate when things got difficult, and to spend my life throwing myself into work or uni and then spend the rest of my time picking up the pieces and recovering from that in secret. As you can imagine, living like this was exhausting and not something I could keep up forever. It was when I thought I could manage university and work as a youth worker four nights a week whilst still being pretty unwell, but pretending to myself and everyone around me that I was some sort of superhuman who could do everything and manage to magically recover from years of trauma and mental illness, that I completely crashed for the first time in a couple of years. How annoying when you realise you are in fact not superhuman and cannot do everything all at once.
I crashed badly. I was exhausted, depressed, suicidal, and all I wanted to do was hide in my bed and cut myself off from the world which is exactly what I did to begin with. I became frustrated with myself that I could not pull myself out of this through willpower alone. I was angry at myself for not being able to manage everything that I perceived everyone else around me to be able to manage. I spent a few weeks falling deeper into this dark and hopeless hole where my depression was now making it impossible to see anything positive in my life. In the past, this episode would have resulted in a lot of drinking, getting myself into unsafe situations which would further traumatise me, suicide attempts, or worse actually ending my life. But even though I had crashed so badly, something this time was different. I didn’t drink, I didn’t get into any other situations which would traumatise me again, and I didn’t get into such a self destructive cycle that had become a part of my life for so many years. Even though I was in such a dark place, there must have been some sort of hope there. I now knew that I was someone who could work, who could go to university, and I had come a long way from a couple of years ago. I had those experiences now to hold me up in some way. And so instead of doing any of those unhelpful things, I asked for help.
It was the middle of the night and I suddenly realised I could not do this on my own and I needed help, so I asked my mum to take me to A&E. This is something I never would have done in the past. The only times I would have ever been at A&E in the past for mental illness is if it was against my will by the police after a suicide attempt. But I was in crisis point and this was an emergency. If I had a physical illness and was in an emergency I wouldn’t think twice about going to the hospital and asking for help, so why should I not ask for help for a crisis point for mental illness. I was nervous and was worried they’d think I was wasting their time, but the consultant was extremely empathetic and referred me straight to mental health hospital for a mental health assessment with the crisis team. I told the crisis team everything that had been going on and how I was feeling and they put me under their care which meant they would come out and see me every day to begin with and I would be seen by the psychiatrist to figure out if I needed to be on more medication. I went home feeling so relieved. I had finally admitted to myself and everyone else that I cannot do all of this on my own, and that I am unwell and need some extra support.
It is now over a month later and I have been discharged from the crisis team and handed over to the community mental health team. I am on new mood stablisers, as well as the anti depressants I was already taking. I was supported through a crisis point with the help of my family, my boyfriend, friends and mental health professionals. I now have a mental health team made up of a community mental health nurse, psychiatrist and I have been referred for therapy. I have been trying to work out what has been different about this whole experience compared to my past unhelpful experiences with mental health services and there has been various differences, but one has stood out. I have stopped feeling ashamed. I have accepted that I am unwell and need extra support, and that this is nothing to be ashamed of. I have spoken openly about how I am feeling and have asked for the support I need. I have admitted to myself that I have been through things that have impacted on my life dramatically and that it is okay to have been affected by this. It doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me less valuable than other people. It doesn’t mean I have failed. It means that I have survived but that I just need some extra support to heal properly. It has made me stronger and it has made me the person I am today who will be able to thrive in the course and career I have picked. It has given me empathy and understanding that cannot be taught from reading textbooks.
This whole experience has taught me that it is okay that I have had to ask for help. And from now on I am going to accept the support I am offered, and use the services available to me because that is what they are there for. I know it is easier said than done not to feel ashamed for having a mental illness, because we live in a society where this is highly stigmatised but I think I have eventually overcome that. And I hope that by sharing my experiences, story, and using my voice that I will be able to lessen the stigma for other people too.