My Mental Health Story: The Fighter

I was delighted to see the positive response I had on my previous “My Mental Health Story”. It’s great that so many people are supportive, not only of what I’m trying to do but also of the people who have been brave enough to share their stories.

Today I have another story for you. This is the story of a boy I’m calling “The Fighter”.

My mental health story is one which I feel many people may sympathise with.
I guess, it all started due to school. I was bullied every single day I was there, from day one, until the last day. I remember being teased because I was overweight, and due to being top of my class. So yes, I was the stereotypical nerdy, fat kid. But hey, when you’re five this doesn’t sink in. It wasn’t until secondary school that I noticed the impact that the bullying had on me. As I grew up, the insults got worse, the people got worse, and my mental resolve was lowered.
School was awful for me, not only because of bullying, but because the pastoral care I received was almost non-existent. As the bullying got worse, I was repeatedly having to leave classes due to my mental decline. I would have to run out of class to avoid breaking down in front of my bullies.
When I was thirteen, this reached a peak, and I would say was the beginning of my mental illness. I began cutting. Over a period of time this got worse, but I remained silent about it. I kept it to myself, not even my friends knew. It wasn’t until someone in my Spanish class saw the cuts, almost a year later, that I opened up to my closest friends.
When my friends told my Head of Year, because they were worried about me, and saw how bad my mental health had become, I agreed to enter counselling; now aged fifteen.
HOWEVER, this period of counselling was not helpful for me. The rapport between my counsellor and me was non-existent, and she proceeded to make assumptions about my person which led to my mental health decline even more. I even went to my GP, and was turned away saying my feelings were “typical teenage angst”. This made me feel worse, and as if what I was experiencing was natural, and I just couldn’t handle it – and it was me who was weak for reacting so badly to normal stressors.
When I was sixteen, I moved schools for sixth form, and had a fresh start. It was here I developed some of my closest friendships, and met some of the people who support me to this day. Moving school also provided me with increased pastoral support, and provided me access to a support worker who understood me, built the rapport I needed, and could provide me with the opportunities and coping strategies to support me in my journey.
After completing my A-Levels, I headed to university, at this point my mental health was the best it had been since I was twelve. I was in a committed relationship, had an amazing support network of friends, and was about to go and study on my dream course.
However, things went wrong, very quickly; within two months of being at university I tried to kill myself. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, and was binge drinking. If it was not for my best friend, Ben, I would have jumped off a bridge.
At this point, Ben – amongst many others – dragged me to the GP to get professional help. On meeting with my GP, I was referred to a Mental Health Institute, to gain a diagnosis of my condition, and receive any care I needed. (this was perhaps the best thing to happen to me).
After an hour of consultation, I left with an official diagnosis of Mixed Anxiety and Depressive Disorder. From gaining this diagnosis, I was prescribed Sertraline (50mg). I noticed very little change in my mental health. Alongside this, I continued binge drinking, and living an awful lifestyle, and this pushed me further down, to the point I was contemplating suicide again.
So, I went back to the GP, and upped my Sertraline prescription, to 100mg, alongside this I was prescribed a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
With the upped dosage of Sertraline, as well as a course of CBT, I was noticing a huge change in my mental health. I saw that I was breaking down less, had the motivation to do things I used to enjoy again (cricket and football), and my sleeping pattern became regular – I was sleeping eight-hours per night.
Since this point, my mental health has continued to grow. I am still taking 100mg Sertraline daily, and I notice the differences in days that I forget to take a tablet, but all in all, I am in the best place I have been since I was twelve, or thirteen. I am committed to my university course, I have hobbies again, I have a great friendship group, and am (trying) to rebuild the friendships I caused to end when I was at my worst.
For me, CBT helped me re-evaluate my perspective on the world, and the events which triggered me, as well as the anxieties I have.
I would have to say, personally, the prescription of Sertraline was the most helpful and important part of my (continuing) recovery. I’m sure the fact it boosts my serotonin production helps hugely, but I find the symbol of taking the pill helpful, it reminds me of my continual journey and recovery, and the fact that I can overcome these issues.
I’m not saying it is plain sailing, and I still have my moments where my depression or anxiety, gets the better of me; but that’s okay. I’m human, it’s healthy for me to be vulnerable and have moments where I cry and am very low – but all-in-all I am the happiest I have been in a long long time, and cannot thank my friends, and family, enough for the support they’ve given me.
The one thing I wish I had done earlier was see someone, and force through what I needed. I know when I saw my GP I was turned away, but I wish I had pushed it, and argued against them. Just because one doctor turned me away, doesn’t mean the others would have. One doctor doesn’t represent the whole of the NHS, or the entirety of the medical profession. They do care. They will help. And, they want you to be okay.
Yes, Mental Health Services are very stretched, and resources are decreasing, but those involved care, and want to help as much as they can. The services get an awful reputation, but that’s because government funding for mental illness is shocking, and only getting smaller, not because the profession doesn’t care.
So, to conclude, my one piece of advice, talk to someone professionally. Find someone who will listen, and will help. Fight for it, and don’t give up until you get it.

If you’d like to get involved, I’d love to hear your story. Please get in contact with me via Instagram, Twitter or through the contact page on this site. Together we can defeat the stigma.

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My Mental Health Story: The Snowflake

Mental health awareness is one thing that I’m passionate about. I’d love to live in a world where people feel comfortable about talking about their mental health issues without fear of judgement. The stigma that is attached to ill mental health can have detrimental effects not only on the lives of sufferers, but also on the lives of their loved ones.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to start a new series on my blog called “My Mental Health Story”. These are stories from real people who have suffered with a variety of mental health issues. If these stories help just one person then they’ll have done what I wanted them to do.

I’ve asked people to write honestly about their experiences, and to present their experiences however they see fit. This is the story of a girl who I have called “The Snowflake”.

Let me tell you this: Snowfall is beautiful.
Let me ask you this: Have you ever watched (with such intensity) the snow fall that you notice more than you’d see in a picture or snapchat video?
It’s fascinating. It’s difficult to focus on one snowflake unless it stands out from the rest. It’s more possible to focus on a crowd of similar moving snowflakes. A snowflake’s journey isn’t one of a straight line, impacted by gravity alone. Its journey is unique, not a single snowflake ever the same, never following the same path from sky to ground.
Consider this: life is snowfall. The real thing is rarely captured in all its beauty and downfalls in pictures and snapchats alone. It’s complex. We’re all snowflakes, some standing out from the crowd; noticed by everyone. Some feeling unnoticed entirely. All of us moving completely uniquely but crossing paths and sharing paths for varying amounts of time.
Gravity isn’t the only force at work in our lives. For some there is a God. For some there is physical pain and disease. For some there is war. For some there are family breakdowns. For many there are both fortunate and unfortunate events. For some there are friendships, bringing happiness or toxicity. And for some there is mental illness.
The forces at work in my life, beyond gravity, include God, pain, grief, joy, loss, gain, stability, uncertainty, stress, family, friends, and love. But the good forces all seemed to lose their strength when I eventually stopped seeing life as beautiful. Paths that crossed over felt more like collisions, whilst paths that were shared felt over-crowded. Everything sort of felt numb, like it does in the cold. I didn’t feel those intense emotions anymore; they were unreachable. Laughter didn’t bring that lasting joy, and each bad twist added to a long list of awful things which lead to the question: Why life? …Wouldn’t it be much more peaceful if gravity was the only force in control of the snowfall? If sky to ground, birth to death, was one quick and easy path?
Me, the girl who is known for her smiles through everything, stopped finding a reason to smile.  I pushed those close to me away. But when they were gone I cried. I longed for them to return. More and more frequently I had moments where my chest became tight and my heart beat fast. These moments came out of nowhere most days. There was no trigger; they just came and went when they pleased. They were in control. I was worried, scared almost.
I decided that I needed to gain control of my thoughts, switch them for positive ones. I knew it wasn’t healthy to consider death as a viable solution to problems but I was scared that no one would actually believe I was struggling. I’d built up a wall that not many were allowed to pass because as long as they weren’t on my side of the wall they were safe from my thoughts. But in doing so I felt alone. I’d separated myself from everyone for a little while just as I got caught in a whirlwind of mental struggle.
I began reading Katie Piper’s ‘Things Do Get Better’ and to this day I’ve still only reached chapter 4. Those four chapters were enough to encourage me into actively thinking positive each day and night. I started journaling, remembering each great thing at the end of everyday whilst acknowledging the hard stuff and letting myself feel.
The cloud lifted and I felt so much lighter, suddenly alien to the thoughts that once filled my mind. It had come and gone in such an intense and quick way. I was amazed.
A couple of months later, it came back. Much of the same happened in terms of ‘recovery’: I ploughed through and eventually it went away again. I began to realise a pattern each month. It kept coming back, each time in a different form. Sometimes with tight-chest pains and random anxiousness, other times my brain would come to catastrophic conclusions about problems that were quite minor in the grand scheme of things.
For now my doctor has prescribed me the pill to stabilise my hormone levels throughout the month. It would appear my lows and quick highs are hormone related.  I’ve just started taking the medication after a low before my period last month. I’m optimistic. I feel like I’m writing about another person when I put my story into words. It doesn’t feel real because my mental health isn’t who I am, it’s a battle I face and one that I’m choosing to acknowledge, to remember and to fight whilst I’m feeling well.
I wrote this because I think our mental health needs to be discussed openly. No matter how big or small the experiences. There is strength in shared experiences. Snowflakes movements are best noticed and followed by the human eye when they are crowded together following a similar path. Let’s start sharing together and encouraging each other. And, who knows, maybe our crowd of snowflakes will get the attention of someone who needs to see it?
Yours truly,
A fellow snowflake.

If you’d like to get involved, I’d love to hear your story. Please get in contact with me via Instagram, Twitter or through the contact page on this site. Together we can defeat the stigma.

Theresa May on Mental Health

On 9th January 2017, Theresa May spoke at the England and Wales Charity Commission about encouraging equality within the UK, with a particular focus on improving the wellbeing of members of society through improved mental health services.

I’ve just listened to her speech all the way through and was delighted to hear the approach she took in her presentation on how we can improve mental health services within Britain. Encouraging people to “defeat the stigma” and “strengthen the bonds we share as humans”, May’s speech was almost inspiring. She addressed issues frankly and recognised some key points, such as the increase in self harm in the UK, and the challenges that social media brings.

In May’s governments’ new approach to mental health, May highlights our need to recognise our “responsibility to each other”, something I feel we could all do a little more. While I don’t necessarily agree with all her political ideas, I am very much with her based on Monday’s speech.

May discussed several ideas within her speech:

  • Pilot mental health first aid training for school and college staff to enable better support for children and teenagers
  • Encourage schools to work closely with the NHS in order to offer the most appropriate mental health care for children and teenagers
  • Break the stigma attached to mental health sufferers within the workplace
  • Review employment discrimination acts to ensure that those with mental health issues are supported within the workplace
  • Support those who are unemployed and suffer with mental health issues to return to the workplace
  • Improve care within the community, offering clinics and crises cafes to ensure that people who are struggling have a place to go to get the help they need
  • Offer support and funding to charities and churches to improve their mental health support services
  • Improve online services to enable people to check their symptoms online and get access to appropriate therapies and treatments more quickly

At the end of her speech, May briefly mentioned the need to focus on suicide prevention, to reduce the 13 people who commit suicide in England everyday to none.

You can watch the full speech here:

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week (16-22 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week. Quashing the stigma attached to mental health patients is so important to me, so it felt only right to write a short post talking about mental health on my blog, something that I’m passionate about and something that has affected me in my own personal life. Today I wanted to talk about the chosen theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week: relationships.

The Mental Health Foundation’s aim is to lobby national governments, public bodies and employers to help tackle the barriers of building strong relationship foundations, as the relationships we have with other people are exceptionally important to our mental wellbeing. Good relationships between individuals and within communities are as important to our health as other factors including the amount of exercise we do and what we eat.
I have seen first hand how beneficial having solid, healthy relationships can be to your self-esteem and general wellbeing. In just over a year, I feel like I have grown and developed as a person. I was diagnosed with anxiety and mild depression last March, and I’m delighted that a year on I can say that I’m feeling a lot better about life. I’m not fully fixed, that’s for certain. I have panic attacks at times, and still have down days, but on the whole I have generally felt a lot more able to cope with all situations, more confident in myself and less worried about tomorrow.
I wouldn’t have felt nearly as okay going through CBT last year and dealing with the negative thoughts and feelings since I finished CBT if I had to go through it all alone. If it wasn’t for the lovely community of people who surround me: family members, colleagues, friends and, of course, my wonderful boyfriend, I highly doubt I’d be nearly as happy as I am now.
For anyone struggling, feeling sad or alone: speak to someone and things do eventually get better. A parent, teacher, colleague or friend, or a doctor if you feel you have no one else – communication has been key to my healing.
To find out more information on Mental Health Awareness Week visit mentalhealth.org.uk and get involved in the conversation by tweeting using #MHAW16.
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Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

TITLE: Reasons To Stay AliveAUTHOR: Matt HaigTYPE: PaperbackGENRE: Non-fiction, mental health, autobiographyMY RATING: 5/5  BLURB: What does it mean to feel truly alive?This is the true story of how Matt Haig came through crisis, triumphed over mental illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. Moving, funny and joyous, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.  NOTABLE QUOTES:“How to stop time: kiss.How to travel in time: read.How to escape time: music.How to feel time: write.How to release time: breathe.” “Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.” “Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.” “There is no standard normal. Normal is subjective. There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.” “To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.”  MY REVIEW:Found by complete chance while perusing the shelves at a local Tesco with Ben, this book has come to be one of the most important texts I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down and finished it within a day. It is one of the most incredibly written summaries of what it feels like to suffer with a mental illness. Haig, who was a sufferer of both depression and anxiety, talks in a very open and honest way about the pain he experienced during his life, offering ideas, thoughts and feelings to readers and reminding those who can relate to his story that there is hope.  If you are a sufferer, or if you know someone who is a sufferer of a depression or anxiety, or if you are simply just intrigued and want to know more, I urge you to read this book.  instagram | twitter | goodreads