Hello, I am Danielle (Ellie to my friends and family); I am a volunteer wellbeing practitioner at the local branch of the mental health charity, Mind.
Before reading on please be aware that there may be triggers for people – this is not my intention and if you do feel triggered please seek the relevant support.
My mental health challenges are severe chronic depression and mild anxiety – my constant companions in life since the age of 13. As a teenager I was told that I was just going through the “normal” (this is in quotations as I don’t think normal can be defined as it is relative) hormonal changes. I felt alone and a constant question I asked myself was “what is wrong with me?” Without knowing what was happening and the dark (my term for depressive episodes) enveloping me more and more frequently I began self-harming and having suicidal thoughts. I can recall being called an ‘emo’ in college because I looked sad a lot and wore long gloves (they were hiding my recent self-harm) and I listened to rock music.
My mum would notice me spending a lot of time by myself, looking at the TV but not watching it and eventually just struggling to get out of bed, neglecting personal hygiene and having bouts of anger because I felt like my head would explode from the constant oppressive darkness. From waking in a morning to going to sleep at night there my darkness would be. My mum tried to help but I didn’t want it then and so I suffered in silence. I never told my friends or family because I thought it would depress them or burden them. Bad relationships only seemed to fuel my darkness and my self-esteem was soon destroyed and I lost a sense of self, believing I was unworthy of love and people would be better off without me. Losing the matriarch of the family, my second mum, my beloved grandma sent me further into despair and I realised I could not cope anymore – I needed help.
My mum is the strongest woman I know, I sat next to her on the sofa and she made a cup of tea and turning to me simply asked “Ellie, what are you thinking about love?” I broke down in tears and looking her in the eye, said “I want to die; I want to be with grandma”. She could see that I meant it and instantly she wrapped her arms around me and said “listen to me, you will be ok”. On reflection, I cannot imagine how much that hurt her but her strength was phenomenal and she has been very poignant in my recovery and even supported me through my relapse a couple of years ago.
The next day we returned to the GP and I began medication and received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for my anxiety. After 10 years of carrying my mental health issues in a backpack, weighing me down I started to feel like the clutter and darkness in my head was lifting and I could breathe. Since then, five years have passed – I did relapse two years ago because I came off medication too soon but I returned to my GP and I am back on my medication. When the few dark bouts call I can often find a practical solution to my difficulties but no longer do I self-harm – I meditate, I call a friend or more often than not – I go to my mum.
The positives of experiencing mental health issues are that I am a much stronger, more resilient person for it. I have learnt that I am loved, I deserve love from others but ultimately I also deserve love from myself! I have a strong support network of friends and family and a truly wonderful man who stands by my side and is proud of me.
The biggest positive I have is that I can accept people for who they are and I can truly empathise with those who are struggling – volunteering means I can use these skills to be the person people can talk to and feel listened to. I am also a Time to Change Champion and as part of this I help to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. I am also on the Buddhist path and have been for the past year – it brings me so much peace with myself and really helps me develop kindness towards others and myself (something I have always struggled with, as I am my own worst critic).
The piece of advice I would give to someone struggling with mental health issues is: please talk to someone. I know that seems easier said than done but you will feel a weight lift when you talk and your courage can motivate others to talk and get the support they need and deserve. Talk to someone you trust – friends, family or even a professional but do talk. You are so much stronger than your mental health would have you believe and you can get through this! If you are someone who knows or suspects someone is struggling with mental health issues, just simply being there and offering your support without judgement can make all the difference. Be kind to the person as they are already suffering enough. Mental health issues can be difficult to understand or explain if you have never experienced it, but try to be patient with the person; be a shoulder, an ear, just be there with them, in their corner.
My object is a picture of my mum, my rock, my best friend. Thank you for your continued support and love.