Jasmin’s Story

Jasmin Boylan, Open Shutters portrait by Lisa Maruie Gee of Studio G Photography

 

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.

Jack’s Story

Jack Nolan's portrait. The Open Shutters Project by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography, Oldham.
Jack Nolan

Jack Nolan, a published author in his early twenties, tells his story to the Open Shutters project in the video below.

 

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If you, or anyone you know, would like to take part in the Open Shutters Project, please email openshutters@studiog-oldham.co.uk. The project will be exhibited at Gallery Oldham from September 15 to November 10, 2018. A book will be published to coincide with the exhibition.

Charlotte’s Story

Charlotte

 

My journey with mental health probably started a lot earlier than I care to admit. I know when it became apparent and when it truly affected me. But I didn’t listen to the warning signs. I didn’t talk.

I have always been and always will be a planner. Organised to the point of obsession, a perfectionist and a control freak. In 2012 when I lost control, I lost everything. I lost my purpose, my reason and my plan. I had always dreamed of becoming a teacher. Everything I had done in life was to support my goal. I had it all chosen; the course, the university, the school I would work at, the house, the marriage – the perfect life. The ‘5 year plan’.

However after 2 years of university – I had to admit I couldn’t do it, that it wasn’t for me. But how do you admit that you were wrong about your dream, about your life plan. How do you say to your family that you failed, that all the support they had provided was for no reason. I was the first person in my family to go to university and I had failed it.

This was the hardest thing I ever did – I struggled in silence. Shutting myself off from the world – comforting myself in my own denial. I struggled through, rejecting my own knowledge, pretending I was ok. Suffering in silence, crying myself to sleep. I had gone from having my life planned out, from being in control and having it outlined – to nothing. My whole purpose and existence crumbled in front of me; and I couldn’t stop it. I quit, moved back home with my mum and dad and shut myself away. For weeks I buried myself into bed, only surfacing for water to replenish stock for the tears landing on my pillow.

After 3 weeks, my Dad stood at the end of my bed and gave me the reality check I needed. Told me to get up, stand up and fight back. That is exactly what I did. I went back to planning ways. But this time started planning in smaller steps. Writing each goal down in my notepad. Goals started off as inviting a friend round, arranging to go for a coffee, and gradually built up. I built up to getting a part time job, getting a better job too gaining a career. Buying my first car, loosing weight, joining the gym, get a tattoo, saving for a house. I wrote them all down; all the small goals, the large goals and anything in between. Anything that was a milestone for me in my personal journey.

Without my goal setting I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t be in a happy and loving relationship, living in my own home, content. A new puppy and a baby on the way. I would still be hibernating in my own self pity. Now I am more determined than ever to succeed. I still panic when I am not in control, when I feel life slipping. But I have learnt to say it is OK. That I don’t have to be in control 100% – that actually it isn’t possible to be 100% in control. That I can’t protect everyone around me. But when I do have a bad day- I still have my notepad to look back at. I look back over all the pages and look at where I have come from, to where I am. I am confident I will never return to that point, but if I do, I know I can arise from the darkness of the ashes again, to spread my wings in the brightness of the flames of life.

But to anyone who is struggling, that does feel low, out of control or lost, talk to someone; I learnt the hard way – mental health isn’t a weakness; we all have breaking points some people’s are lower than others. Talking about how I felt earlier possible wouldn’t have prevented me from my depression or anxiety but I may have tackled it and acknowledged it earlier. However, I don’t regret it, my mental health doesn’t define me as a person; it is part of who I am and I don’t think I will be 100% ‘normal’ – I will always be a little bit ‘pyscho’ or ‘crazy’. My journey and battle made me stronger and hand on heart it made me a better person.

John Ardern’s Story

John was very keen to be a part of the Open Shutters Project and, as well as recording his video contribution, wanted to share what he calls his Mental Health First Aid Kit.

 

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Mental Health First Aid Kit

Feel depressed? – 7 immediate ways to cope with mental health issues

1. Accept that something is/feels wrong/different/accept that you are/
maybe ill and you need help. Nothing to be ashamed of – many of us
are or have been the same.

2. Tell someone else that you know/love and trust – and that you know love and
trust you. Talk about it/don’t hide it from them at first. First your Partner,
then family, or friend(s) or mentor(s).

3. Go to see your GP – or nurse practitioner if GP appointment is too far away.
You’ll be given a short questionnaire to assess your condition. It may be
something really serious, like autism, ADHD, etc. If necessary, they will
refer you to a specialist, e.g. psychoanalyst, therapist, counsellor.

4. Medication. Take it as prescribed by a medic. Continue taking the dosage
even when you start feeling better. Put it in an obvious place, so you don’t
lose it/forget it. Avoid too much alcohol and caffeine. Drink more water.

5. Exercise. Even light, moderate bodily exercise helps. Brisk walking,
jogging, swimming are suggestions. No need to hit the gym too hard.
Sleep well

6. Sunshine and fresh air. Get outside and enjoy nature – don’t hide away
indoors. Try walking on grass with your shoes/socks off (Pretty Woman).
Hug a tree. This will ‘earth’ you to a real connection with the natural
World.

7. Time and space. Give yourself quiet time to think. Meditate. Set simple
‘happy’ goals. Keep a diary/use ‘smiley faces’ to record how you feel each
day – and watch your progress.

Compiled by John Ardern, Really Useful Research & Development
john@reallyusefulconsultancy.co.uk

Chris’ Story

I’m too much of a scaredy cat to do a video post so I said I’d write a post instead…. I am a father of three (Lanky, Brains and Boo) and I am presently working in IT. I’ve worked in IT for nigh on 20-odd years (I lose count) and prior to that I worked in Mental Health which is where I met my wife, Amanda.

In terms of mental health issues, I have in the past suffered greatly with depression. I also have fairly massive anxiety issues as well (the two often go hand in hand). About four years ago I had what is commonly described as a breakdown. At that time, I honestly knew (and couldn’t be convinced otherwise) that I was of no use to anyone. I was a failure as a husband, a father and a friend. I knew that everyone would be better off if I weren’t around. As a result, I did that classic thing where I started to cut people out so they didn’t have to suffer my uselessness or see me.

I thought I was somehow doing them a favour. Being depressed isn’t feeling sad. It’s feeling everything without any barriers or protection and at the same time being unable to show how you are feeling. It’s like being in a suit of armour growing every tighter and closer until you can’t breathe. It’s screaming inside yourself for help but being absolutely unable to say the words. It’s knowing with absolute certainty that you’re almost not real, that you don’t think or feel like normal people, that you are somehow terribly wrong. It’s despairing that no one can see it; that no one hears the screams.

Now though… I’m way better. I still panic about pretty much everything but I’ve coping mechanisms in place. I’m with my family and that gives me worth. I took tablets and I went to counselling. One good thing to come out of all the above is that I have realised how wonderful my circle of friends are. There are people out there who never gave up on me; who persevered with me when I was unable to give a thing back. They are people who, when I felt like an astronaut cut free from his tether, grabbed hold and pulled me in. They don’t even know they did it.

In my picture I am holding a photo of Amanda, Sam, Thomas and my Boo. They are my why and my how. When things ever get on top of me, I think of them and it somehow gets easier.

If anyone reading this thinks their friend or relation is depressed then trust me, they know they’re of no worth. You won’t convince them otherwise. What you must do though is just keep plugging away. Tell them what you see. When they come around, they’ll remember that. They’ll remember every kindness you did them. It will help.

And if you think that in some tiny way you might be depressed then, trust me, you are. If you’re cutting people or places out and making your world smaller, then you are. If even walking down stairs is a heroic effort, then you are. Go to see your doctor. Let your friends mither you. Allow yourself to fall. Somewhere, somehow, someone will catch you.

Laura’s Story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Bloody hell… I wish she’d cheer up! There are people in far worse situations!”

I walked out of the coffee shop, exasperated and annoyed. I’d met an old friend for coffee and a chat only to end up being used as an emotional dumping ground. I knew she suffered from depression (and had done for several years) but she appeared to have suddenly hit an all-time low – and, to be honest, I didn’t get it.

She was smart, relatively healthy, had a job, had a large circle of friends… how could she possibly be so miserable? As far as I was concerned, she didn’t have the right to be depressed. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just lighten up! I honestly believed that she was actively choosing to feel like this, to view life in a negative way, and her problems could be fixed by a simple change in attitude.

Looking back, I’m disgusted with myself – and thankful that I never voiced those ignorant thoughts.

I was in my early twenties when the aforementioned meeting took place and, less than five years later, I would learn the harsh realities of depression for myself.

* * *

I attribute my experiences with depression to a fantastically shite (excuse my French) series of events that took place between 2011 and 2012. I was made redundant from a fairly lucrative job, I was growing increasingly stressed due to the looming deadline of my master’s degree dissertation  and, the cherry on the cake, my beloved grandma passed away after a long battle with dementia.

I honestly don’t know when it started, whether the change crept in slowly and subtly over a period of time or whether it hit me suddenly like a dead weight… my memories from that time are hazy and shrouded in fog. All I remember is that I no longer felt like myself.

My emotions were volatile, to say the least. The hatred, anger, and rage I felt was so intense, it was frightening. I was also grieving and bitterly upset. Then, there was the feeling of numbness. In a way, that was the worst feeling of all – to feel absolutely nothing. Empty.

I slept all day and stayed awake all night. I lived in my pyjamas and went days without showering. I didn’t cook, clean, or do any of household chores. I didn’t want to go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone. I had no energy. I retreated within myself. At my very worst, I was suicidal. I simply didn’t want to exist anymore.

Believe it or not, I lived this way for over two years.  Sure, some things changed – I found a new job, forced myself to socialise, and tried my best to appear ‘normal’ – but, inwardly, I was a wreck. I didn’t want to admit to having depression because it felt like admitting defeat. I was also terrified about the stigma attached with mental health issues. In time, the situation became so bad that I barely ate, couldn’t sleep, could hardly function, and was drinking wine every night after work just to take the edge off my nerves.

This was the point where I decided that enough was enough. I needed help.

* * *

As I write this, it’s May 2017. I have been depression free, and antidepressant free, for a good while now. I never thought it possible to feel human again, to get my mental and physical health back to how it was… yet here I am. Proof that, even at the end of the darkest tunnel, there is light.

If I could turn back the clock, I would never have waited so long to seek professional assistance. My doctor was wonderful, understanding, and gave me the help I so desperately needed. Within less than a month of taking antidepressant medication, I could feel a positive shift in my mood. My recovery was aided further by CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy). It didn’t take long for my health to improve by leaps and bounds… yet I allowed myself, and my loved ones, to suffer for over two years. Two unnecessary years of suffering due to my pride and inability to accept my illness for what it truly was. Silly, right?

If you know someone who is suffering from a mental health issue, please don’t be a jerk, as I was during that coffee shop meeting all those years ago. Reach out to that person. Help them to help themselves. They need you far more than you know.

If you’re suffering from depression, or any other mental health issue, please don’t suffer in silence. Confide in a loved one. Talk to a professional. Don’t be scared or afraid of what people may think. You are not alone! There is help – and there is hope!

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” ― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.

 

 

 

 

Scottie’s Story

 

Scottie Oxton portrait for Open Shutters by Lisa Marie Gee of Studio G Photography Oldham

My name is Scottie Felicia Oxton. I am a waiter in a restaurant, but I have previously worked in retail and as a support worker for homeless youth. For the past 15 years I have suffered from anxiety and depression that have kept me away from social events and had serious effects on my relationships with the people around me.

It all stems from severe bullying when I was at school. From a very young age I knew that I was different to everyone else. I did not relate to being male at all, or the boys around me. I related better to the girls, but even though I felt very feminine I knew deep inside that I wasn’t female either.

It made me very confused and depressed and I felt like the only solution was to transition and become a woman. But it turned out that wasn’t the answer either. The turning point came when, at rock bottom, I joined and LGBT group and discovered the whole gender spectrum. I found that there were other people like me, and terms for us.

I now define as gender fluid – neither male nor female, but somewhere in the middle. A mixture of both. Finally feeling like I belonged and wasn’t alone has greatly improved my mental state. I’ve had professional counselling, but the best counselling has come from friends and family.

I feel like I am a better person for my mental health issues. It has brought me into contact with some fabulous people and now that I have learned from my experiences I am in a better position to be able to help others.

My message to anyone struggling would be that no matter how low you feel and how dark life is, find your strength and life WILL get better.

A lotus must fight through the mud before it can blossom in the sun.

Lisa Marie Gee – my story and my self portrait.

My story is outlined on the home page of this website, but I have also recorded a vlog, which you can watch below.  My portrait incorporates the most important things in my journey to recovery – my camera and my children.

Lisa Marie Gee photographed for the Open Shutters Project by Studio G Photography.

 

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