I apologise in advance for the length of this blog. Putting this into words has taken me much longer than I anticipated, and I didn’t realise how raw it would feel. However, I also feel it’s important to share my story, as there are thousands of people out there who struggle silently on a daily basis, and if my story can help just one person, I’ll be happy. I haven’t mentioned any specific diagnosis, because I feel that labels ultimately aren’t the important message here, but the strength and experience gained from my weakest times is what keeps me going on a daily basis.
My struggle with poor mental health started at a very young age. For as long as I’ve had a conscious mind, I’ve struggled. I always felt – and sometimes still do feel – somewhat fraudulent because I’ve never been able to pinpoint a specific reason ‘why’. Even though I know my brain has a chemical imbalance, the science behind it backs me up, I used to feel like I didn’t have a right to ‘complain’ or ‘burden’ anyone with my troubling and debilitating thoughts – so I suffered in silence, for the best part of 20 years. It took a complete breakdown for me to initially seek help. Finally reaching out and getting support was the best decision I ever made. I only wish I’d done it years ago.
I didn’t have a tough upbringing, I have amazing parents, family and friends around me. I enjoyed school and always had large groups of good friends. I was a very sensitive child though, and had empathy from a very young age. Looking back, I do feel my ability to ‘put myself in someone else’s shoes’ impacted me mentally more than I could possibly comprehend at the time. I have memories from as young as 5 of people criticising my weight and the way I looked (and I feel it’s important to note here that at 5 years old I certainly wasn’t overweight). Harsh words hurt and cut into me throughout my childhood and teenage years. They’d replay in my mind over and over again, and I hated who I saw in the mirror. I believed all of these things, and started to feel inferior to everyone. The voice inside my head started to reinforce these negative traits, and I slowly started destroying myself mentally, over-thinking and over-analysing every aspect of myself, my life and my relationships. I regularly felt that I didn’t deserve good things or good people around me, and that I only burdened them. I felt that I’d never be enough, or amount to much of anything. I’d never let on to people how I felt though, and I’d be the first to criticise myself or joke at my own expense, as I thought it’d be better for me to get it out the way first, before someone else had the chance to hurt me. I became avoidant of absolutely everything. Very depressed, irritable, anxious and consumed by self loathing. I always pushed myself to do things and achieve things though, as I was – and still am – very determined that I won’t be beaten by it. I had issues with food, which I now recognise was emotionally linked, and in my late teens I started questioning my sexuality, which took years for me to accept and come to terms with.
Despite my struggles, I’ve always had my own coping mechanisms. I’m very compassionate, emotional and caring, ensuring I always go above and beyond to help anyone in need of it, both in my personal and professional life. I think I felt so strongly about wanting to make a positive difference for two reasons. One being, I would have a purpose, and I could prove to the cruel voice in my head that I WAS worth something and I DID have a reason to carry on by helping others improve their quality of life. The other was because I genuinely cared, and would never wish my struggles on anyone else, and if I could do anything at all to help someone, I would feel like I’d achieved something good. I would however, help others to my own detriment without realising, and this coupled with a long chain of ‘bad’ events, at the age of 23, I had a complete breakdown. I didn’t see a point to anything. I lost all sense of self worth, enjoyment, and none of my coping mechanisms worked. This time though, I couldn’t hide it any more from the people I loved. I’m so grateful for this and the support I received, because without them I truly believe I wouldn’t be here today.
This leads me nicely onto my ‘object’ for this project. My favourite mug. What this mug represents means so much to me. One of my favourite quotes is:
“Sometimes, coffee with your best friend is all the therapy you need”
Now, in my case, I did receive several courses of different therapies, but all paled in comparison to the support I received from my best friend. She helped me through my worst times while experiencing her own, listened to me without judgement and supported me through some of my darkest days. We’d regularly drink coffee and talk through absolutely everything. I can’t thank her enough for everything she did for me (and all of my supportive friends and family, for that matter). I don’t think there are enough words to adequately express the gratitude I feel to have such amazing people around me. My coffee cup represents the warmth and comfort these people brought to me at my worst times, and the strength they gave me to find myself again.
Since finding myself again, I’ve also grown so much as a person, both personally and professionally. I now know how important ‘me time’ is, and how unselfish it is to say ‘no’ sometimes. I feel very blessed to have a job that I’m passionate about. I currently work supporting staff all over Greater Manchester who support some of the most vulnerable members of our society with ill mental health (alongside multiple and complex barriers). I feel lucky to be able to bring my lived and previous work experience into the role to give a real insight into mental health struggles, to help reduce stigma around ill mental health, train staff on complex conditions and promote good mental health and wellbeing practices within the workplace. My job now enables me to reach out and help thousands of people across Greater Manchester, by helping the staff who work with them on a one to one basis. I know that without my struggles, I wouldn’t be who I am today or be in the job I’m in. I love my job, and that I have the chance to help so many people. Above all else though, I’m starting to accept and love myself. I try to see a positive in myself every day, and although the cruel thoughts don’t leave me, and days are up and down, I’m getting there – slowly but surely.
If I had one piece of advice for someone struggling with ill mental health right now, it would be – Talk to someone you trust. Open up, it’ll be so worthwhile. I know the prospect seems terrifying now, but positive change often starts with uncertain and challenging times. Please remember – you matter. You’re important, even if you don’t always feel it. You deserve help, and deserve to feel better. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and confiding in someone you trust can be the first step in getting the right support too.