10th October 2021 brought us World Mental Health day, and it wouldn’t be so for me without sharing a few thoughts.
I’m a little late in sharing this as I spent yesterday catching up with life and spending time outdoors, I have been stuck in the dark for the majority of the week with a bad head. It was nice to see so many of my friends and family and other people I follow on social media sharing their support and their experiences, reaching out to others or just sharing a lovely quote or two – clearly time has bought more awareness and less stigma over this day as many moons ago, it was unheard of for so many people to speak out over their own personal sufferings.
So for this WMHD, I have decided to share some of the lessons and important musings I have had over the past ten years which have all led to providing emotional wellness and stability when it comes to my mental health.
Speak Louder. Talking helps. There was a time in my life when I was very young where I felt ashamed to admit to anybody that I was struggling at risk of being singled out, labelled or rejected. As it turned out, the more I opened up about it the less I felt either of those things. The more people who talk, the more people realise they are not alone, the more it encourages others to speak out too.
Recovery is not a straight road from A to B. How many times have I felt myself picking up and almost in reach of being 100% well, only to wake up the next day to have crashed down to rock bottom again? I have no idea. Way too many times to keep track of. I can only compare this to the illusion of the false summits of a mountain; just as you think you are about to reach the top you get over the peak to find it is not actually the summit and theres another humongous hill to climb (and more often than not, the second summit is yet again, another false summit). It’s frustrating as hell, but it’s normal, and it’s normal in everyone’s journey, not just yours. As one of my lovely therapists once said, ‘Count your stars not your failures’. We often focus on that one relapse, but forget we have had many successful days before that one slip. Healing will never be straight forward, because life doesn’t work that way. If it was we would all be self entitled idiots who never learn from anything.
Be mindful of your environment. This is often an external factor that we can change, but most likely to forget that we have any control over it. Jobs, friendship circles, relationships. If they are dragging you down rather than raising you up, honestly, the worst thing I repeatedly did throughout my 20’s was tolerate it. There have been so many situational influences that have made my illness so much worse and I only had myself to blame in the end for not walking away because I thought it was more complex than it actually was to act on it. It’s really not THAT complicated that you are putting up with a job that has eventually lead to you having panic attacks on a grubby bathroom floor in between work projects. Or tolerating friendships in a bitching/bullying environment so that it shatters your self esteem. No one needs that. Unfortunately, young Megan must have thought that was exactly what I needed at one point, but they were lessons that led me to having a loving, supportive home life and close circle of people whom I trust today.
Mental health isn’t an excuse. Own your mistakes. A bit of hard hitting advice but it’s true that too many people use their mental state to excuse their actions when it comes to hurting others. You suffer, yes, but we often forget that everyone around us do as a consequence. Depression, anxiety and other chronic conditions are hard to live with, yes, but it does not excuse shitty behaviour. Yes, your mental health state might be the reason that you said the wrong thing, let somebody down, hurt someone with your actions but it does not mean it’s a valid excuse. The same reason that being angry does not validate the right to scream in somebody’s face and make them step on eggshells around you; we still have a choice in how we deal with everyday situations. Every single person has hurt somebody in their life unintentional or not and even when we aren’t in our right mind at the time, we need to own up to those mistakes we make. Admit it. Apologise. Make amends if you have to. Learn from the situation. Try again. Which leads me to the next one…
Forgive yourself. For crying, for putting up with more than you deserve. For resting. For taking medication. For making stupid mistakes. For showing yourself up. For being late multiple times. For saying no to people. For snoozing that alarm. For going home early on a night out. For letting somebody down. For being depressed. For feeling anxious, or guilty or bereaved. For being Bipolar. For having ADHD. For hallucinating, or obsessing or being so paranoid that it doesn’t shatter just your life but it hurts others too. You will never be able to move on or fully recover if you do not give the kindness you would give to others. Everybody needs forgiveness, and the easiest way forward is to start with yourself.
People will only be ready to help themselves when they truly want to in their heart, not just in their head. There is a huge difference (which is also reflected in relapse rates) in just passively saying you are ready to give it a go versus truly feeling ready for it. An alcoholic is more likely to stay sober if they eliminate all the alcohol out of the cabinet, over when they say they are ready to give it up but are still secretly keeping it at the back of the cabinet ‘just in case’. You cannot rush healing in yourself, nor other people. It will come at a time when their heart says ‘okay, let’s do this’.
Nobody is going to do it for you. It takes effort from you, and no one else. The first time I ever sat down to talk to a professional, I sat down looking for answers to my problems thinking the secret of my happiness was in that person. You can imagine the panic that arose in me when he sat there and did nothing but stare at me, smiling knowingly for what seemed like hours until I eventually cracked and was forced to talk to fill the awkward silence. It took a few more years until I finally learned that a therapist wasn’t there to provide the answers. They are there to give you a nudge to come up with them yourself. No one else can speak for you. No one else will make those appointments, take your medication for you, and you certainly won’t find the answers at the bottle of a bottle. I honestly feel this stalls getting well for many people, until they come to the conclusion that they themselves are their own greatest advocate.
If they haven’t been through it themselves, they might not understand. And that’s okay. I’m sure we all have people in our lives that always want to listen and who truly seem to get it, but on the other hand it comes with knowing certain others who cannot seem to tolerate your struggles and look at you like you were born on Mars. Talk, but it might help to choose a selective few who you know can compassionately connect with you. Find yourself the strength to forgive the people who do ‘pass it off’ as nothing (it really isn’t their fault!) and hope the best for them that they do not ever experience similar.
It will never truly go away. Another difficult one to deal with, but the more we accept this truth the more we will understand and accept it the next time it comes around. We know the value of discovering the tools and developing healthy coping methods for if we ever have another relapse, have a panic attack or ever fall in to a depression again. Mental health struggles really do change you as a person. So if we are to live with this, we might as well befriend it. This mentality has helped me deal with my panic attacks, instead now of trying to stop them, I sit with them and just let them be. They don’t last as long as they used to. I don’t kick myself down like I used to. I recover faster when they are over instead of staying in bed for days afraid of the next one. I embrace my brighter days more, and take them for granted less. This has helped me really, truly live my life, because being well and happy is not guaranteed, so we might as well embrace the joy we have whilst it is here.
Nature is the best medicine. To conclude, I thought i’d slip in a very personal one. Being in touch with nature and the outdoors has really put things in to perspective for me. I get out as much as I can. Adventure. Feel the sun on my face. Go exploring. Feel the earth beneath my feet (literally, these days its not uncommon for me to step outside my house barefoot in the mornings just to feel the ground under my feet for a short while, and this is coming from someone who wore socks in the house permanently a few years back!). Chase the moon. Count the stars. Immerse myself in the universe and feel how tiny I actually am. It makes my worries and my struggles shrink so they feel more manageable. My favourite thing to do in my spare time is spend time in the mountains, get the cool air to my face and feel my heart beat from the effort of a long climb uphill. It is the quickest way for me to feel grounded both physically and mentally. You find something that can really make you appreciate your life and make all the fight seem worth it after all. It makes you want to stay. It really does.
Image: taken in 2020 on the summit of Y Garn, Snowdonia, Wales.
This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Claire* who bravely opened up to tell me her story of how she grew up in a domestically and emotionally challenged environment, and the impact this had on her mental health as an adult. Claire is now a parent and a homeowner with her long term Partner, and when she’s not caring for her two children she works part time as a registered medical professional. This is Claire’s story of her experience with an abusive parent.
*WARNING – this post contains some reference of domestic and sexual violence, and some contents can be triggering. All names have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
TMY – “So what made you want to speak out?
CLAIRE – Mostly to help your blog, and to touch on subjects that I don’t really speak about which could help other young adults or children. Um… about – it’s really hard to say it now – if you are having a tough time at home when you are young but you don’t see it as abuse or anything… But when you get old you know it is, do you know what I mean?
And how it can affect you a little bit really.
So tell me about the background of it all, obviously I know quite a bit about the life you had with your mum?
Even now I’ll try and discuss it, and I still won’t see it as abuse. But now when I think about it with my children, and if I was ever to do something like that, I wouldn’t do it – you know what I mean – so I know it’s wrong. But even discussing it I’ll think – ‘No, it’s not really, it’s not’ – but then again it was. So I’ll think about the way my mum used to speak to me… see even now I think people will just think it’s attention seeking or you are just being stupid, but that’s just my mum talking.
Do you see what I mean?
Yes. I think when you are that age as well you just don’t know, you haven’t got the experience to compare it to. You haven’t got that self-worth built up over the years.
No, I remember when I was at school and I went to one of the mentors who helps students, and I really wanted to tell her what had been going on, and I approached her and she said to me, ‘Someone’s mum died today’, and then just blanked me so I never spoke out to anyone again after that. So I do think it’s quite important for children to be able to approach people and mentors who are supposed to be there to help you. And actually get acknowledged and not brushed off, because that actually reinforces you saying well, maybe it is nothing? If she’s not going to listen to me who is? Maybe it is nothing, maybe it is just in my head.
It’s quite a big deal for someone to – how old was you at the time?
So… I think I was in year 8 when that happened…
So 13, 14 maybe?
And that was the first time I actually went to approach somebody about it and it was the last time I ever did.
I suppose things might have been a little bit different if I’d actually said; look this is what’s happening at home, I’m not very happy.
It’s a big thing to do, was it just… built up? What made you want to talk to somebody?
I can’t remember to be honest I just remember thinking I need to tell someone, and then I never did again.
And to face that kind of rejection as well at such a young age, it must have made you feel like…
It’s something that has always stayed with me, what happened, it’s not something I will ever forget.
Yeah. Do you remember the next time you spoke out after that, when you told somebody?
I think it was….. I think it was when I had had my proper fall out with my mum, and I went to the doctors with panic attacks – I couldn’t breathe – and like, I kind of spoke about it but not really. I can’t remember really? I think I have obviously spoke about it to my friends as I got older, but at the time it was normalised, you sort of get desensitised to things you know like, you don’t see it as… maybe when I went to councillor really, but that was when I was about… I was pregnant with my son, so, about 13 years later. And that’s when I really opened up to a stranger about wanting to seek help again, so that’s probably about 12, 13 years later.
It’s a long time.
Yeah. Oh and I did at university actually, I had this lady called S that I used to speak to. And I wrote a massive long letter about all the things my mum had done and she like took me under her wing a little bit. Um… yeah, it affected me whilst I was at university; I used to self-harm, I tried committing suicide. I had to stay in observations with the nurse for a couple of nights, I wasn’t allowed to be on my own. I had to sleep there before they were worried I was going to kill myself. I think that’s when I wrote the letter to this women who tried to help students.
Trying to reach out?
Yeah, yeah. I’m a little bit all over the place, sorry.
It’s okay. Do you think that…you said you was pregnant with your son at the time when you really started opening up… Do you think that being pregnant with your first born kind of helped to see your own worth in a way?
No, I sought help because I didn’t want to feel that pain anymore, and bringing a child in to it.
I was so… I think it highlighted things more because my mum would, we’d obviously had that fall out, and she wasn’t bothered with my – you know with me being pregnant or anything – and I think it just hit home just how hurt I was still and that’s when I sought counselling, I didn’t want to bring a child in to it. Well, since having children it’s got better, but I still feel feelings of guilt towards my mum, I still feel like sometimes in my head… was it acceptable behaviour? And I’m just… You know… But I wouldn’t do the things she has done to me to mychildren, you know then it’s wrong, you know?
Yeah, I suppose you’ve got something to compare it to now, you are on the different perspective, you are on your mum’s perspective in a way.
Yeah. Because I think really, it would be nice for people to read this, and acknowledge that there are similarities in their stories, where they have got a narcissistic mum, that they are getting abused and that it’s okay to stand up – and if they are in the situation like, with the woman at the school who didn’t acknowledge it and brushed it off, because she’d heard that something more important had happened to someone else – there are other people who you can speak to, you don’t have to just walk away and then try and find help 13 years later because you wouldn’t have to go through all that suffering.
Do you think your life would have been different if she did say, ‘Okay, let’s sit down and talk?’
I think I would have been under the eyes of social services. But my mum was under social services with my younger brother. I’m not really sure of the story behind that, I know she had a social worker to take him out, but I don’t know we never spoke about it, so I don’t know what that was all about. But because that had happened, maybe… Well, if I had gone in to more detail, gone in to any detail what had happened, I think she would have spoke to various agencies to try and take me away.
When did it all start with you mum? Can you remember?
I don’t know if this is a memory… or it’s something she had told me. But she left alcohol out in the living room when I was about 2 or 3. I got really drunk and passed out, then I got bit by a dog. And I don’t know where she was then, and I find that quite neglectful because you don’t, like –
It’s very young.
– ‘Where are you?’ You know. But, um… I do have a memory of her pushing me down the stairs when I was 4. And I have another memory… the one memory I remember really well is, I was – I can’t remember why she was angry at me – but I was in primary school and I must have been about 5 (I started school when I was 5), and she was really annoyed with me, I can’t remember why. And she pushed me. We had this sofa where it had all these little metal studs going all around it, she ended up blacking my eye? And she told me I had to tell people that I had fallen over my toys. Um, and I remember that, and pushing me down the stairs, but I can’t remember anything else after that. So I think… what I can remember… I think she was neglectful from me being a toddler, because why else would a two year old get drunk and get attacked by a dog?
But my first memories are more when I was about 5, um… yeah.
Did you feel like it was normal, growing up in that environment? Or did you know something was wrong?
I used to watch films and I would see like, these families being really happy, and I used to think, ‘Why is my family not like that, you know why are we not like that?’ and I used to say that to her and she’d be like, ‘Oh it’s just in the films, it’s just films.’ I just saw it as normal I think though really, I used to see the films and think why is my family not like that. But… yeah I saw it as normal really. I think it was as I grew in to an adult where I thought, you know, it’s not right, it’s not right.
Yeah. Did you tell your friends?
I can’t remember. I don’t know if they witnessed it or… I know one of my friends said that ‘I know your mum is always a bit funny with you.’ I don’t think I told my friends at the time actually, what was going on. They must have known something because when I was about 15, I lived with my friend and her mum for a while, and her mum used to say to my nan, ‘Oh I used to have her all the time as a toddler,’ and my nan was like ‘Well I used to have her all the time as well,’ so when did my mum actually have me? My mum had me quite young, and I think she felt she had missed out on a lot of her teenage years where you are going out and getting drunk and all that, so I think she wanted to experience those that everyone else was feeling? And I think she took it out on me. Quite a lot. Blamed me.
Do you know if she had a history of any abuse, anything similar?
No, she was doted on by my grandad, absolutely doted on and the problem with my mum and how she is, is that my grandad doted on her, and gave her anything she wanted, but he was a strict parent. But my nan used to hide things from my grandad too so she wouldn’t get in to trouble, and I think she has always get away with stuff and walk all over her mum because my nan wouldn’t say anything. Like my mum used to come home drunk and my nan would make cover stories up for her, you know… so. But I don’t think she was abused. She once said in anger that my dad had raped her, but I think she just said that because she’s just…
There are some stories about my dad and how he’d pushed her down the stairs when she was pregnant, and that he’d held her face to dog shit, but I don’t know how real these stories are because she, with my mum, you never know what to believe. She tells so many lies, it’s like the boy who cried wolf, you don’t know if it’s true or if it’s not true. So you just doubt everything she says.
How was the relationship between you mum and your little brother? Was it different to the relationship that you had?
Yeah. Um, my mum hated… So my Mum used to buy all my brothers clothes and stuff, she wouldn’t buy me any, so my nan would get them for me, my mum hated that. And my mum was very all for my brother, my brother was a little turd when he was younger sometimes… But my mum was quite nasty with him growing up though, I just remember little things, you know? And I’d think ‘It’s a bit mean that’, but… not half as much as she was like with me. They were quite close.
When you had your first born, was anything like, brought out of you?
Yeah so, some of the mental health things that I experienced was, when I was with my son, and one of the other reasons why I tried to sought counselling was that I was getting nightmares of my mum. Um, every night really, waking up screaming and stuff… and even though my mum had been abusive like, I still wanted her, I still wanted her in my life and I wanted her to care for me, and I still want her to care for me but she’s never going to be that person so you’ve kind of accept and acknowledge the fact that she’s never going to be the person that I want her to be… and a lot of anger and resentment came out for her really as well when I had my son because I thought how could you do that? How could you treat your daughter that way, like I could never be like that with my children, you know? Um… Yeah. But… There’s a lot of things though that I think ‘I could write a book about my life’ and there’s a lot of things I find it hard to talk about.
Does your partner know about what you have been through?
He knows everything, I think he knows everything really? Most things yeah.
I bet it feels nice to have someone who you can share your life with in that way?
He doesn’t… he hates her with a passion.
But… He gets so angry when I’m upset about her, because he hates what I have been through… where it can come to the point where he’s not really supportive and he’s just angry at her? And sometimes, like, I mean I’m not really like it anymore because of my medication but when I used to get really down… he didn’t get it? He just didn’t get it, because he has never experienced any bad things in his life, everything is perfect and rosy and he doesn’t really understand that anyone can ever suffer in pain or anything, and feel down.
Do you get depressed? Do you have bouts of depression?
Not at the minute though, because of my tablets, they really help. If I was to come off my tablets tomorrow, I’d say in a few months’ time I would be back down there feeling anxious, feeling paranoid that everyone is out to get me, like nobody likes me, I’ll get a funny look off someone and I’ll think, ‘Oh they are talking about me!’ I feel devalued, I feel below everyone, I don’t feel like I’m… I feel like everyone up here? *Raised hand above head.*
But I’m down here… *lowers hand.*
I don’t feel like my worth is…. Everyone else’s standard…
Um… I’ll look at myself in the mirror and think – ‘You’re ugly, you are so fucking ugly!’ Um… and I’ll… I’ll just have really bad… Yeah… and, but… I’m on the tablets and I’m a lot happier, I try to avoid thinking about my mum now, but I do question my own parenting, I get paranoid that I’m not a good parent? And I feel like I’m letting my children down, but I try so hard. I think I overcompensate, but I just, I just want to be everything that my mum’s not. Um, but yeah without the tablets, I would be very down I think.
How long have you been on them for?
About 2 years… yeah.
And who’s decision was it to be on them, was it your doctor’s?
That was mine. That was mine.
And was you in counselling before that?
I think I started with CBT…
But that was before, that, I think it was before I was pregnant. But I didn’t like that, I didn’t like the female therapist, I thought she was young and I would have wanted someone a bit older and I’m my eyes a bit more experienced and someone who could actually listen to me, I felt like I was talking to someone my own age who was being judgemental of me, so I didn’t go to any more of them. So that’s when I opted for counselling, that’s when I was pregnant.
Was that through the NHS? (National Health Service)
Yeah – do you think it helped at all?
It did yeah, but unfortunately got cut short because I had my son early…
And we never really followed it through after because obviously with a newborn it is quite difficult to go to counselling.
But, with my first born I had suspected mild psychosis, which is what my mum had. Well, she didn’t have mild, she had strong psychosis where she would see blood coming out of the walls. Um, I can talk about that if you want, with psychosis and stuff?
So… when I was pregnant with my first born, I used to, like see the devil coming out of the ceiling like out of the corner, um… I used to see the number 6 everywhere, and think of the devil, I thought he was after me. I’d be screaming at night telling my partner I could see the devil coming out of the wall. I used to have nightmares. And then when I had my son I was hearing voices where, I could hear voices but I could never make out what they were saying it was like whispering it was like…
…One time, I heard somebody go, ‘Go on…’ like an old man’s voice but there was nobody there, because I was on the postnatal ward and it was in the middle of the night, but I was so tired and drained it was just normal to me. And then when I got home I could see bears coming out of the walls, and on the way home I could see shadows climbing up trees, and loads of weird things going on. I went back to hospital because of what I could see in the walls… And then it kind of just disappeared, it kind of disappeared after all. But I remember, like, when I used to breastfeed my son, and I’d be looking at his toys and I could see them moving and I though they was alive, so when I used to feed him I used to hide his toys away so I couldn’t see them. I used to hide them behind the cot the teddies because I genuinely thought they were moving! But then that kind of disappeared then, I went to a support group for women with postnatal depression, and I found that really helpful and it all so gave me a bit of structure – that helped. But with my first son I had to be super mum, I had to do everything, I couldn’t sit still. In one day we’d go swimming, library, park… everywhere like, it would be jam packed my schedule, I’d never keep still. Whereas this time around I’m a little bit more relaxed but then I’m thinking am I a bad mum because I’m not being super woman, I’m not doing this and doing that, you know? Um… but I’ve not had any signs of psychosis this time around. But, the hospital was quite rude though with my second son, because I got told because I had mild psychosis with my first, then I had to see a psychiatrist in order to get discharged?
So… about 7 days after having him, I said, ‘Can I see the psychiatrist now?’ So when it comes to me leaving the hospital, I can just leave, instead of waiting around to see the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came in… And he was asking me all these questions – which they have to do – do you think you have got super powers? Do you think everyone’s after you? And I was like, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine there’s nothing wrong with me, I feel so much better than I did when I had my first…’
And then they was like, ‘Well I think you should get supervised whilst you look after your baby for the next few weeks, can you agree to that?’ and I was like, ‘No!’ I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m getting supervised, there’s nowt wrong with my parenting, I’m not giving you any answers that would make you feel that way?’
I requested this psychiatric assessment because it’s what I need to get discharged, and I didn’t want to be fannying about! Because I’m in hospital for so long, I want to get discharged, I don’t want to be waiting around, I wanted this to be over and done with, and I found it quite…. Infuriating. Because I’d had it the first time around that they had assumed… Do you know what I mean? It wasn’t like that at all.
What did they say to that then, when you put your foot down and said No?
He just said – ‘Okay then!’ – he didn’t say anything. But he was a student psychiatrist and I think he was just covering his own back.
Yeah maybe, maybe… Did you have any signs of psychosis or paranoia, or anything like that when you was younger?
Paranoia, yeah. Psychosis, no.
I was always frightened of ghosts and stuff. But no not really…
A lot of my memory is blanked out. I don’t have a lot of happy memories. I do of my nan and grandad. I don’t really remember a lot. I remember one time when we was sat on the floor next to our house and we was chatting a lot, and that was really nice? But my mum could turn really quick, and I always remember being really disappointed where one minute she’s be really happy, and the next minute she’ll take it out on me. You’d feel lifted and nice and comforted, and the next minute… You were back down to the bottom again…
Um… yeah… I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood to be honest, I have a lot of stuff from what had happened but the happy memories, I don’t have many of them.
Do you feel like you missed out on a childhood?
Yeah. Because I don’t have a dad. Haven’t got a dad that has bothered with me as they say, and my mum’s not particularly the best mum you could ever have…so yeah I do feel like… I wish that I had a family where, like my partners mum and dad; where they come and help with DIY and you can go round for your dinner and you can raid the fridge without being judged or… and I had a mum where I went shopping with her and drank champagne. Maybe those things don’t happen, and maybe that’s not reality and that’s just created in my head because that’s what I want? And I see it in films and stuff maybe that’s not what family life is really like and that’s what I have created and it’s not really real. But that’s what I’d like – a mum and dad – with no mental health issues and that cared about me and loved me and took me shopping, did the normal things that mother and daughters do, and a dad that cares about you and judges all your boyfriends and… Instead… Instead of having emptiness. It is, it’s just like a childhood of emptiness, I don’t remember anything… Apart from the bad things…
You seem quite close to your partner’s mum and dad, do you see them as a family?
I know they are family because they are my children grandparents, but I don’t feel like… I get on with them but I don’t feel like I am part of them, I don’t feel like I a worthy of being part of their family. I just feel like, it’s me, my partner, my children and my nan. I feel quite lonely. I feel like my children family, it’s all about my partner’s side, because I haven’t really got anybody. That’s how I feel. I feel like I’m quite lonely, like I feel like I’m not really part of my son’s life.
Because I feel like, I’m here. That’s their family… And my nans over there? I don’t feel like really… yeah. Yeah, I don’t know.
Do you feel like… I know your mum came back in to your life quite recently and you tired making a go of it, and that didn’t work out. Do you feel like you was stronger to handle the situation this time?
I was a lot stronger this time than how I was when I was pregnant with my first born… I was a lot more accepting of it because I’d already been through it. But, I still get feelings of guilt that maybe it’s me who’s in the wrong? And being that person where you have always been put down… My mum is like, it’s like role reversal where I’m her mum and I have to look after herneeds and her feelings, and it’s still like that now, I think that’s why I get the guilt. Because, she is narcissistic, she has got the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, she’s like that. Even now I’m thinking, ‘Oh I feel guilty on her, how is she feeling? How is she coping? I am being the bad person because I’m putting her through this?’ But, then I’ve also got to think I’m doing it for myself as well, and I’ve got to be in a good place to look after my children. And when I was friendly with her, she did nothing to make her horrible when we were friends, obviously the telephone calls she went a bit insane, but the times we saw each other she was okay. But there was always that doubt in myself thinking she’s not doing to stay like this, this is all an act. And she proved me exactly right when we fell out. Because of the social services things, and, ‘I’m going to take your kids on a Saturday,’ and, ‘It’s going to be on my terms,’ and I thought well you have not changed and I know I did the right thing my cutting her out again.
But it does mean I don’t feel guilty and that show I feel, but she doesn’t worry about how I feel because it’s all about her.
I know that you had quite a bad time with it again, but do you feel like you did the right thing by trying to give her a second chance?
Yeah I’m glad I did because if I didn’t I would always wonder what if? but I’ve done it, I have extended the branch, and it didn’t work out so. That’s the last time I ever do it because I don’t have any feeling of what if anymore. I know what it leads to… it leads to me feeling anxious, me feeling nervous, me worrying, me being paranoid – even if she doesn’t give me any reason to be paranoid. And then, it’s just not worth it, like I wasn’t sleeping, I was overthinking. Do you know? Whereas now I feel a lot better.
I still feel guilty. I feel like I have pushed herself out on purpose, but she proved me wrong anyway with calling social services on me and my children and stuff. I thought – you’ve not changed.
You’re still selfish.
Do you feel like you have come out stronger from it?
I’m back in the place where I was when it was me, my son and my partner, where it was just us and I didn’t have to think about her. But I feel like I think about her a bit more now because she has met my son and I’ve put her in that situation where I have introduced her to my son and then I’ve taken it away? But I took it away – not in spite – but for my own sanity, because I’m worrying so much, and also when she used to be with him I used to think, ‘You don’t deservethis, you don’t deserve this happiness to be with my son, you are not worthy of being with my son, because you are so cruel.’ She’s been so cruel to me yet I’m letting her see my son? And I used to resent her and think why am I doing this? I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for her, I’m not doing it for me, I’m not doing it for my son, I’m doing it for her, and it’s the whole role reversal thing again of looking after her needs.
Yeah, I think there’s bit of a whole role reversal with your worth as well, I mean you grew up in that situation thinking that you wasn’t worthy, and now it’s she’s the one that’s not worthy?
Yeah. Kind of, um… but on the same token, I’m still looking after her needs by feeling guilty, you know?
I won’t… but then, I am more worthy than that so…
I think that’s what makes you human though? Like, we’re empathetic creatures aren’t we –
– Some of us.
Some of us…
I just… I’ll close my eyes and think of her when I was a child, and I’ll just see these evil eyes, looking through my nan’s window, shouting and swearing, and saying, ‘let me in’ or saying ‘You’re killing your nan and your grandad, they don’t want you here..’ And she didn’t want me because obviously her husband would beat me up. He’d bust my lip open. He tired breaking my nose, but my nose it like… malleable…
*laughs and squeezes tip of nose*
Um… I forgot what I was saying now. What was I saying? Yeah, so she didn’t want me and my grandad took me in and she hated that, because it made her feel jealous, so in turn shed make me feel like they didn’t want me, that I was killing them, she actually said -‘You’re killing them being here!’ and… she just made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of anybody, of anybody loving me, of anybody taking care of me… You know if they ever brought me some clothes – even though I was living with them and she didn’t buy me any – she’d go sick, she’d hate it! And I used to think… why? You know, why am I not allowed a holiday, why am I not allowed clothes, why am I not allowed to be loved? And it did make me… because I know I look back on my school days, there was a time where someone would wind me up and I’d just go over to them and punch them in the stomach *laughs awkwardly*. Like, that I’d be so angry and I’d just go over and punch them… Like… I think if I ever worked in a school – which is something I do want to do – if anybody ever came to me and said, ‘I’m having problems at home’, even if it was something so daft I would sit down and I would listen to them, and I would acknowledge them and make them feel acknowledged, I wouldn’t turn them away because, schools hard enough as it is without having problems at home as well.
Yes, I agree.
And when you seek that help of someone who’s in an authority position, where they are in a position where they can help you, then they should stop listen, actually listen to what they are going to say, because you never know what that child is going to say or what they are going through. You can look at somebody, they can be well dressed, well groomed, going on holidays all the time, they can be the most happiest person in public – but if they come to you are say they are having problems you need to listen to them. You don’t just turn them away.
Do you think with the situation that you went through, it would make you be more aware of it with your children? You know, say if they are going through tough times at school?
Yeah I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want to see any child, regardless of it they are mine or not, I wouldn’t want to see any child going through any problems because it would really, you know… strike a chord with me, I wouldn’t like it. But it would make me feel more desperate for my children to be happy though, because it would make me feel guilty if they were so down? It would make me feel horrible. But my children will never experience anything from me or from their dad, you know… I don’t know really? I want my children to be more open with me and willing to discuss anything with me, without feeling judged. Where they can have ten minutes where they can shout and swear, and punch things and after ten minutes… *holds hand up* ‘right… Calm down now,’ do you know where they have got that time to be able speak about their emotions, you have ten minutes where you can shout and swear, you’re not going to get in trouble, just get it all out… You know, where they can just come to me and feel open and relaxed, to say – ‘Look mum I’m having problems’, and that’s something I wished I’d always had. My nan’s always been there for me, she’s been amazing, but there is going to come a time when my nan isn’t there anymore, and like I said before my partner and my sons are there and I’m literally on my own then I don’t have any branches off to anyone else really, you know what I mean? And I think there is going to be a time, when that time comes I’m going to feel incredibly lonely.
But then I’ve got to think that I’ve got two beautiful children now, and I don’t have to dwell on the past and that I’m not really on my own because I have these two beautiful babies and I can look after their emotions and help them to grow up to be strong people where they do feel wary that everyone is here, but they’re up there, and they are not on the same level they are up here…
You know? I want that for my children, I want everything that they didn’t have, where if they… You know… If they… where I can get them the shoes that they want so they fit in at school, where they can talk to me if they need to talk to me, where they can feel open to talk to me where they can get a cuddle from me or they feel comfortable to give me a hug because that’s what they want. Where they are not nervous to give they mum a hug because it’s not a natural thing, I want it to be natural where we give each other a hug and you know, where they speak to me and know that… Their worthiness is up here, so they can do well in life and they have the confidence to go forward, instead of thinking, ‘Oh everyone thinks I’m down here, you know…’
Yes. Well…they are two very lucky boys!
They are very lucky. So what would you want to say to somebody who read your story and was going through the same thing, what would you say to them?
Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that it is wrong. Speak out, don’t feel guilty for speaking out on that parent because that parent is not thinking about your emotions or your health or your happiness, they are not thinking about your happiness. Speak out and do something, and if the first person doesn’t listen to you don’t give up. Don’t just put up with it, and acknowledge that it is wrong, ask yourself would you do that to your child? And if it’s no, then it’s not right.”
The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) is a registered UK charity that provides 24/7 support and information for children who are victims of abuse, and support for families. For more information about the NSPCC, research, and their services please follow the link to their website below:
For the past couple of years people have been submitting to the blog their experiences of mental health from a wide range of disorders and issues in the Sharing Stories series…So far, the stories have managed to speak out to those in need and even give others the confidence and support get the help they need – opening up about their own experiences.
Stories are still needed!
Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
“I have suffered with my mental health since I was young, and diagnosed at the age of 12. My mum had been a heavy drinker since I was 3 and I’d been in and out of foster care on several occurrences by the time I’d actually been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In the years before this, at primary school, I had just been called “soft” and picked on because I cried all the time or overreacted to the smallest of things and then just I’d sit there in silence just thinking.
Fast forward to when I was diagnosed. I was in year 7 at high school and not living at home with my mum because yet again she had fallen off the wagon and become physically abusive towards me. I was given counselling again from a child counsellor I had seen a few years earlier. She was great, I could let of steam, scream and shout all while being allowed to be the child I hadn’t ever been. By the time I was 14 I had been back home and back in care several times, again my mum was physically abusive towards me on several occasions. I felt like a yo-yo, back and forth, up and down. In school I was a loner, I didn’t have many friends; there was a few that were aware of things and supported me, an in addition of having a mentor. I was the one that people made jokes about; I was different, I didn’t live at home with my mum, other people didn’t really understand my situation and they’d make fun out of the fact that my mum was an alcoholic. I felt isolated, like no one liked me or wanted me around. I began to feel nervous about being around people, although generally I appeared to be this bubbly person who was always happy (I was good at putting on a mask) – no one saw how things had actually affected me over the years, they didn’t understand either as most of them couldn’t relate, only those really close to me knew what was going on. I continued through school bobbing in and out of depressive and anxious bouts, controlling it fairly well from 15 when I had a stable foster placement where I was treated well.
When I was 16 I fell pregnant, I wasn’t with the dad… ‘Oh s**t, what am I going to do?’ I thought about all my options and after a few days of knowing I was pregnant I was madly in love with this little blob inside me, I moved back home to my mum and everything was great throughout my pregnancy, my mum had stopped drinking and was being supportive and we were getting on great. My little girl was born in autumn 2007. I was 17 years old, I had this tiny being in front of me needing me, completely relying on me ‘I can and will do this she needs me’… I wanted to be the best mum I could and prove everyone wrong about ‘teenage mums’; I breastfed her so I knew she was getting the best I could give her, all her things were new, she was always immaculate, I wanted to be the best that I could… After 3 weeks of horrific pain and a baby stuck to me permanently I gave up breastfeeding, I’ve never felt so bad in my life and that is where it all began again.
I felt bad, I felt guilty, like I had let her down… I hadn’t – I had done my best – but it didn’t feel like that at the time. I went to see my doctor straight away this time as I didn’t want anything to effect the way I looked after my little girl, I was prescribed fluoxetine, an anti-depressant. Diagnosed with postnatal depression and pretty much just sent on my way, I was taking the medication for a few weeks and I felt worse, they actually made me feel like I wanted to do myself harm, and after another two weeks I came off them because the side effects were horrendous and made me feel worse physically and mentally. After a few months of battling by myself, using the strategies I had learnt through the years; once again I was ‘okay’. I continued to be okay for a good while afterwards too, and when my little girl was about 10 months I met someone; we had known each other a while, he was older than me and my mum disagreed… He made me feel special, I felt lovable for the first time in my life and I felt like everything I had been through was worth it for this. I finally felt accepted and it was amazing.
Shortly after getting together, to everyone’s surprise and a few people’s horror we moved in together and quite soon after that I fell pregnant again. We were on cloud 9… Unfortunately after 3 weeks of knowing I was pregnant I had a miscarriage (I was bitten by a stray cat which caused septicaemia and led to a miscarriage). We were heartbroken and again it made me feel bad as it was my job to protect this little life and I had failed to do that, I know it wasn’t really my fault but at the time I felt like it was. After the miscarriage we moved in with my partners parents to save up for a bigger house and a few months later I found out I was pregnant again. This time we told very few people, just to save heartache having to tell people if anything had happened. It was a worrying 9 months but in spring 2010 I gave birth to my second daughter (my partners first). We were delighted and everything was perfect, again I breastfed but this time with the notion of stopping when I needed too with out feeling guilty about it because I had done the best I could do. Roughly 10 days after our daughter was born I received a phone call that would haunt me for years to come.
My Nan, my rock, the most inspirational woman I had ever had in in life had lung cancer and had been given a maximum of 6 weeks to live. Due to the severity of the cancer and her age there was nothing they could do for her. Five short weeks later, she passed away in hospital surrounded by all of us. The next few weeks and months would be the hardest I had ever faced in my life, in the first few days after her death I just cried. I have never actually felt as broken as I did right then and I had been in some pretty low places over the years. I had to try and pull myself together for sake of my partner and my girls – I couldn’t carry on like this, just basically functioning and doing what I HAD to do. About 6 months after my Nan passed away we moved house again, a fresh start, or so I thought. I fought with my Nan’s passing for a fair few years, but I never dealt with it I accepted it, I ran on autopilot, forgetting important things, leaving the housework and just generally not being myself; I ended up going to the GP because I needed help to deal with my grief. It had been 3 years, I didn’t want medication this time though but my doctor strongly advised it, I was prescribed citalopram and was referred for counselling which actually helped. I faced a lot of demons in those sessions, dealt with why I couldn’t let go and why her death had destroyed me like it had done. A lot of it boiled down to anger stemming from childhood, my Nan was always there for me.
After the counselling I felt great, I weaned myself off my medication with my doctors guidance, I even went back to college to get some qualifications. Once I left college I applied for every care job in my area and within a few months I got an interview, a week later I got the job. I loved it, I’d always wanted to work in the healthcare sector and the aim was to start at the bottom and work my way up. I’d been there almost a year when I again fell pregnant, we were over the moon as we’d been trying trying for quite a while. During the early weeks of pregnancy, work was fine, but due to the complex needs of the people I was caring for and the fact we were extremely short staffed that soon changed. I began getting agitated and upset in the mornings before I went to work and I would dread every shift, yet I loved what I did, by the time I was 15 weeks pregnant I had thought about handing my notice in for the sake of my mental health several times; I was taking my work home with me, which is never good in my line of work.
I worked until I was 19 weeks pregnant when I finally bit the bullet and handed my notice in. I thought it was for the best but in hindsight it wasn’t, although it was stressful it gave me a distraction from my own mind. For 12 hours I was this big ball of fun, the joker, I got on with my colleagues and had fun whilst working. Ironic really considering what was really going on in my head! The rest of my pregnancy went well and I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy I have ever laid eyes on. From the minute he was born, I worried. I wasn’t depressed, just anxious. Like the girls, I breastfed him and to my absolute amazement, I managed just over 6 months, I ate well, I slept so well (our son slept through from day one) and I was generally happy. When I stopped feeding him myself, I expected to feel guilty like I had done before this time I didn’t, I was fine, it was amazing! I finally felt like life was going my way…
Shortly after this my mum was on one of her usual drinking binges and was unhappy because I wouldn’t let her see the children; we’d had an on-off relationship for the previous 8 years due to her inappropriate behaviour and drinking which led to me me stopping her from having contact with them. She did the unthinkable and tried to have my children taken off me, luckily everyone saw through her lies and the children are still where they should be, at home with mummy and daddy… This again raised that horrible darkness that I hated so much! It made me question myself, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ How can someone that is supposed to love me do this?’
Now almost 7 months later I’ve been lower than I’ve ever been in my life, until recently when I realised I can’t keep myself down there, I don’t want treating with medication so I have to make myself feel good! I have done it before… I need to be proud of myself and what I have been through! I need to realise that I have everything in the world to be happy about and that is my little family.
I will get there eventually, I have support from good friends and family. In a way I’m glad of the life I’ve had, and made me who I am and I will find that person again. For now I will keep going; Life is precious.”
– By Emma Burns.
Stories are still needed!
Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
“The first time I knew for definite that something had gone wrong in my brain was in the middle of a GCSE exam.
“You’re going crazy,” a random thought popped into my head. “You’re about to have a breakdown.” Now up until this point I’d been answering questions about photosynthesis, happy as Larry. But this thought just wouldn’t shut up. “You’re losing it,” the thought said. “You’re about to go completely batshit crazy.”
“Eh?” I tried to think back. “What are you going on about?”
Long story short, I ended up having my first colossal panic attack – or a whatinthenameofarsingarseholeishappeningohmygodimdyingoratleasthavingaheartattackwhatthefuckpleasesparemebabyJesus– in front of everyone and after that I had to sit every single exam for the rest of my education in my own little room like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
There had of course been signs leading up to this. My mum had recently been diagnosed with cancer and I’d managed to convince myself that if I got A*s in everything then she wouldn’t die (side note: God let me off with 6A*, 2A, 2B, the absolute babe). I’d started writing endless lists which I’d rip to shreds if the colours didn’t match; organising my DVDs into genre, age certificate and alphabetical order; brushing my teeth six times per day; and genuinely believing that if the green man on the traffic light flashed quickly after I’d pressed the button, it meant I was going to have a good day. LOL.
I’d also completely stopped talking. To the point where I could quite easily go a day without saying a word. To the point where I haunted the school corridors like a silent, creepy ghoul. I just couldn’t talk about how I was feeling or what was going on at home so I shut down and ultimately focused my efforts on being an anxious, obsessive little weirdo.
I was eventually referred to a child counsellor, who confirmed I was depressed and prescribed me medication – which my parents decided I was too young for. The ‘talking about my feelings’ thing wasn’t really for me, so I pretended I’d gotten better and spent the next six years swinging between feeling fine and feeling distinctly not fine, occasionally dabbling in anti-anxiety medication and half-arsed counselling appointments.
During this time, I started writing seriously. I’d always written stories, and it became the one thing that made me feel good about myself. I knew I had a knack for it, and seeing something through to completion – even if it was a weird-ass story about a tomato plant – gave me both a distraction and a sense of purpose.
Somehow I managed to turn this into a career and I now work as a professional writer. And for me, this has been the best therapy. There are lots of things I am horrendous at – small talk, parking and being on time for stuff to name a few – but I am a good writer, and being able to write every day is essential to me feeling okay about myself.
Don’t get me wrong, writing isn’t a magical elixir for anxiety. There are times when I feel absolutely shit and I’d rather throw my laptop out of a window than write another word. There are times when I stress-buy £30 worth of chocolate and crisps from Morrison’s and then have to gradually smuggle them into work as office treats so I don’t put on five stone. There are times when I lie in bed and sob and sob and then idly think ‘Hey, I’m actually pretty amazing at crying, maybe I have the potential to be an Oscar-winning actress’ and then get a grip and wash the snot off my face.
Mental health doesn’t have a beginning or an end. At the moment, I am fine. And I have been fine for a long time. Tomorrow I might not be fine. But I don’t wallow in what might be. I know I can write my own future.”
– By Charlotte, Birmingham.
– Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
Send your story with your name and location to email@example.com and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.
“You’re crazy! You’re a bitch! You’re a mess! I wish you’d just get your shit together! Why can’t you be normal? Just get out of bed! It’s like you’re two different people! It’s all in your head! You’re just lazy! Good for nothing! Worthless! Pathetic!
These are just a few of the things I’ve heard over the years in my struggle with my mental health. Some of these things have been said by friends. Some of these things have been said by loved ones. And some of these things I’ve said to myself.
Have you ever had a bad day? I mean, a really bad day. You wake up late. Forget the most important thing that you needed for work at home, but you’re already late, so you have to make up and excuse not only about your lateness, but about your not bringing that important thing. Your boss calls you in the office to “discuss” your performance or lack there of. You then begin to cry, but it’s only eleven AM, so you have to keep working and act like someone didn’t just make you feel like an idiot, when you know you’re not. Then, you start doubting yourself and start believing what was said. Next, no one asks you to join them for lunch because you look like you’re having one of your “days”. You try to work, but the thoughts play in your head like a CD stuck on repeat. You accomplish nothing, but more failure and your closest coworker gets mad at you for not holding up your end of the bargain. You try to tell them that you’re sorry. You try to tell them that you’ll do better, but they don’t believe you and you start not to believe yourself either. Finally, you go home only to think more about being worthless and wishing you could just die. You think that you’re probably just a burden on everyone and should just quit. Quit your job and life, itself. You’re hungry. No, you’re not hungry enough to fix anything, so you sit in silence and try to go to sleep early. Ha! The Sandman laughs in your face. Sleep doesn’t come because you continue to listen to that CD. Over and over. You believe it. You know you’re just a pathetic human being. Then you finally fall asleep miraculously, only to be awoken by a nightmare that you’re being thrown in a dumpster filled with other people “just like you”. Then, much to your dismay, your alarm goes off and it’s time to start the struggle of life for one more day.
Sounds like hell, doesn’t it? It sounds unreal.
It was a day in my life. On my “down” days, I felt like this. Sometimes even worse. So your worst day, is a day in the life of someone with bipolar disorder when they cycle down. Oh sure, I cycle up, too. Here’s what that feels like…
You are woken up by your alarm and today, you don’t feel like throwing it across the room. Could it be? You’re not sure yet. You get ready for work and today you feel like listening to the radio. What? You get to work and say hello to everyone you see. Good Morning, everybody!! You start your workday and do your work without interruptions of doubt. All of the sudden, while chatting with your favorite coworker you both realize that it’s almost time to go home. Already? Awesome! You drive home, windows down, singing your favorite song and thinking that sunlight is pretty great. When you get home, you cook your favorite meal and enjoy it in front of the TV, watching your favorite rerun of Friends. (The Prom Video, obviously) Then you take a nice warm bath, look in the mirror one last time and smile. Today was your day! Today was an amazing day! You pick up that novel you’ve been meaning to read and then fall asleep easily, without the constant feeling of worthlessness.
Sounds like a pretty good day, right? Sounds like what most people would call a normal day. For me, these days are precious. They are coveted. I yearn for these days. I beg for these days and when they come they’re gone too soon.
I haven’t always been bipolar. I’ve been to so many doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. I’ve been told I’m depressed. I have anxiety disorder. I’m just hormonal. I need to exercise more. I should just eat better. I have toxic people in my life and if I rid myself of them, then I’ll be fine. Fine, they said. But, fine never came. Fine felt a million miles away.
So, I started doing research. I listened to some of those closest to me. One ex said I acted like two different people. He named them “Allison and Callison”. It took 10 years before I knew what that meant. I’m not two different people, but my brain just might be. So, I called an emergency mental health hotline. No, I wasn’t having a true mental health emergency, but I needed someone to listen to this epiphany. I needed someone to listen. I needed some one to listen to ME. Not judge me. Not try to over analyze me. And not throw the latest pill at me and tell me it’s been a miracle for other patients. So, he listened while I explained what I knew in my heart was finally right. I think I’m bipolar, I said. I had actually said it. Bipolar.
The next step was making an appointment with yet another psychologist. But this time was different. I had an idea of what to say. I’d never been completely open with any provider before, but this time I was. I explained my lifelong battle with my brain. And she listened. She gave me a test. It wasn’t long. I had to answer about twenty questions. I answered all, but a select few, with a resounding YES. I didn’t know what the test was for, but I knew whatever it was, it understood me. The results? Bipolar Type 2, with hypo-mania. YES!! I knew it. But, wait. What the hell do I do now? Another pill? No. That’s not why I came. Pills don’t work for me. I should know. I’d been on every single one. But, she was adamant that this pill was for bipolar disorder. This pill was “right” for me. I gave in. I went to the pharmacy and filled it.
Then, I waited. They always say to wait two to three weeks before you give up.
I waited three days. Yes, three days. On day four I woke up different. Good different. Something felt good. Not high, good. But, I just felt good. What? No self loathing this morning? No hatred of all things morning? Ok. That’s great. Now, I’ll need to go on and get up. I have things to do. I got up. I showered and dressed and then I had an errand to run. I hopped in my car and immediately turned on the radio. I rolled the windows down and began driving. About three miles down the road I came to a stoplight. One of those looong stoplights that if you don’t hit at just the right time, you’ll sit forever. So, I sat. I looked around at all of the other people in their cars. Some just sitting. Some on the phone. And some smiling at me. Why were they smiling, I thought. Oh, shit! I’m smiling, too. Then, it hit me! I’m happy. And I began to cry. I cried because I was happy. I cried because I felt what most people call normal. And right there at that stoplight, I knew my struggle had just gotten a little easier. So, I cried some more. I cried for the years I’d missed not feeling this way. Then, I stopped crying. I stopped because I wanted too. I stopped because I could.
So, what now? I had a diagnosis and a medication that managed it. I felt like someone or something had given me back my life. No, wait. I felt like someone or something had finally given me life.
And, so goes the beginning of my life with bipolar disorder. Is it always as easy as it was that fourth day? No. Is it ever as bad as my worst day? No. I still cycle up and down. Just not as frequently and not as high or as low. I’ve had to add some medications and I’ve taken a few away, but right now I’m managed. I still deal with the stigma. How many times have I heard someone laugh at someone else’s expense and joke that they must be bipolar? A lot. I just kind of look down and smile to myself. They don’t know what they’re saying. They don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know that every single day is a battle. But, they also don’t know that I’m finally winning.”
– By Allison Padgett
Thank you to Allison for submitting her story. To read more of Allison’s journey upon Bipolar, homeschooling and living with her Husband’s Brain tumour diagnosis, please support her blog at https://immamabutimstillme.wordpress.com
WE NEED YOUR STORIES….
– Please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M
“I never quite appreciated anxiety when I was younger. I always figured it was just a feeling of nervousness associated with something, like an interview or a presentation. It’s only now that I realise how serious a mental issue anxiety is.
My name is Marco and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression some 9 months ago now. I have since dealt with my depression, however my anxiety still lingers. It affects pretty much everything I do, from work to social situations to family life.
Since my diagnosis, I have been through a low intensity CBT course to try and help me out (I didn’t want any kind of medication) and have now moved onto high intensity CBT. Not only has CBT helped me recognise my thought processes that contribute towards my anxiety but it’s also made me realise that anxiety has always been present in my life. I can now look back at my childhood memories through to present day (I’m now 27) and recognise the same anxiety-influenced thought processes and behaviours. The amount of times I avoided certain situations because of fear is… well I don’t think I can put a number to it to be honest.
And that’s what anxiety is like for me. It’s like living in a constant state of fear. Fear that something will go wrong. Fear that I’ll make a fool out of myself somehow and be ridiculed. Fear that, no matter what I do, I will never be able to break out of this anxiety cycle.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t realise just how much of an effect anxiety has on everyday life – an opinion I’ve more than likely formed based on my own complete ignorance to the issue in the past. For me, it affects my work, not only because I find it incredibly difficult to focus on what I’m doing, but also because I find it incredibly difficult to form relationships with those I work with. It affects my social life in that I find it almost impossible to truly be myself in social situations unless the people around me belong to my absolute closest of friends. It affects my ability to relax because I constantly feel like I’m running out of time and that, if I don’t do something with my time, everyone I love is drifting away from me. It affects my health because it’s both mentally and physically exhausting – most of the time stopping me from sleeping properly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Nowadays I write for my blog called Never Mind the Cancer where I talk about my life with anxiety, depression and cancer, which I had almost 5 years ago now (something I think also contributed towards my mental health issues). I write not only to help myself, but also to help those with any of those conditions realise that they’re not alone and to give them something to relate to.
I also write because I want to change the way we think about these conditions. If we talk about them, our understanding will grow and our fear and the stigma surrounding them will slowly diminish.”
Please drop me an email on email@example.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M
Why do they put leather couches in Shrink offices? Leather isn’t comfortable. It’s stiff, squeaky; no give in the cushion. My legs both jiggle up and down and the couch squeaks like a rat trapped by a big, fat cat.
The big, fat cat is sitting at her desk, her smartphone is in one hand, her laptop open on the desk in front of her, and her glasses have slid down her nose. How many quacks does she see a day? How do I rank on her list of nutsos? I pick at my cuticles for a few moments, then proceed to bite my red, calloused knuckle. I often alternate between these two nervous habits, along with the leg shaking. I must look insane. Well, that’s why I’m here, anyways.
“So how has the anxiety been lately?” The big, fat cat asks; her words make me jump and shrink back into the stiff leather. I pick my cuticles again; my legs shake quicker. I’m always shocked to hear someone speak of my weaknesses so frankly, like she’s asking how the weather is outside or something. It’s only a dark demon that’s gnawed at my insides for as long as I can remember.
“Um, okay…I haven’t had any panic attacks in a month…there was some stress at work, and I think I handled it okay. I’m still…picking…excessively.” My face flushes at such an obvious fact, as the big, fat cat has been looking down her nose at me this whole time and could clearly hear the couch squeaking with my fear. She just nods her head.
“That’s partly from your OCD. But your Panic Disorder seems to be doing much better. Now if we can just help you with your General Anxiety Disorder. And have you been dealing with much Depression lately?”
“Mmm,” I respond, trying to gather the thoughts that swirl through my head like a flushing toilet. “My depression…comes and goes…I’ll be happy, I’ll be calm, then it hits me…random.”
“Are you sure it’s random? Can you think of some times when it’s happened?”
“Mmm…driving in the car…watching tv…laying in bed…umm…I guess when I have nothing else to do but think.” She smiles like I reached some great conclusion and I want to bite her nose, bite her nose off and watch those glasses fall down onto her desk in a clatter of plastic and blood and cartilage.
“Are you still doing your relaxation techniques?” She asks. She’s tapping the keys of her laptop now; my cuticle has started to bleed. I let a frustrated sigh escape from my mouth.
“Meditation every night before bed…progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing, mindfulness…yoga twice a week… half hour of cardio the rest of the days…I drink my tea when I feel like I need to relax, or take a hot bath, or watch one of my musicals, or read a book. I’m the most diligent relaxer who can’t relax….” My voice shakes the more I speak, and I’m fighting back tears.
Professional athletes work on their sport every day religiously, and are supported by a sponsor. My professional sport is trying to relax, and my sponsor is my big, fat cat shrink. She pays me in pills. We’ve decided to up my Klonopin to 3 times a day and increase my Cymbalta by 10mg. She pays me well — the lousier you are at this sport, the better you’re paid.
The appointment lasted 15 minutes and with my insurance costs me a $70 copay. I make another appointment for four weeks later and drive home. I feel defeated and the depression starts to set in. I pop in my relaxation music CD that you’re not supposed to listen to while driving because some people are stupid and fall asleep. I can’t sleep unless I’m in my own bed and have taken my meds. I start to take shaky breaths, as slow as I could, remembering to pause at the bottom of each breath because there have been times where I’ve hyperventilated and had to pull over to the side of the road.
My dark demon gnaws and gnaws at my stomach as I try to focus on the road and my breath.
For the first 20 years of my life, I was simply labeled a “worrywart,” and “sensitive.” I was considered “normal.” And I really believed I was normal. I mean, I had friends, boyfriends, went out and had fun with them, got great grades. There were times I really was happy. But that nagging, unexplained fear was always in the back of my head. But after a lifetime of feeling that way, and finding no relief in sharing my feelings with others, I simply learned to hide the worry, which turned out to be pretty easy.
Most of the time I had no reason for my worries. I felt like I was about to go up on stage before a large crowd, but I’d be sitting on the couch watching television. Other times I had a laundry list of problems with teachers, friends, family…things that most people would simply be stressed about became a life and death conflict to me, and I’d constantly obsess over them.
Before, when I was worried or nervous, my Ma’d do everything in her power to reassure me. Mostly she relied on childish whimsy and magic to try and comfort me. I had “magic” everything that my mother swore would make me feel better. Magic stones, little magic chicks and doggies, magic leaves, and other little trinkets…she’d teach me magical sayings I was supposed to repeat over and over to protect myself from harm: “I’m surrounded by the White Light. Nothing can harm me physically, mentally, or spiritually.” She had other sayings she’d repeat over and over for comfort, like, “it’s always darkest before dawn,” or, “good things come to those who wait.” I took the darkest before dawn thing literally, since I was usually already awake worrying by then. I’d sit in the dark and wait to see how dark it’d get before dawn, and I was kinda confused that it never seemed to get that dark.
Nothing ever helped though.
She tried to get me to believe in the magic of religion, but even as small as I was then I never really bought into it. Ma always told me to pray — that God would fulfill my wishes and make me feel better. But the worry never went away. God apparently never listened to me.
I feared death since an early age; my grandmother became very sick with kidney disease when I was 5. She was dead by the time I turned 7. It was the first time I’d seen my mother cry. She was never the same after that. After grandma died I heard a lot of, “pray to grandma, say ‘grandma help me.’ She’ll help you.” But Grandma never seemed to listen to me, either.
When I was 12 I started getting piercing headaches, and a combination of Motrin and Sudafed seemed to be the only cure. Ma would say I’d wait too long to take the meds and that’s why my headaches would become so debilitating. So the moment I felt the symptoms begin – a tightness in my shoulders and temples – I’d pop the pills. I didn’t realize until years later that these were tension headaches from my constant stress. Before I knew it, I was self-medicating my anxiety with Motrin and Sudafed, taking the maximum daily dose most days. I don’t think Ma really noticed. After my grandmother’s death, it was as if her perfect, shiny veneer that I’d gaze into for solace had cracked, and through the years the crack spread more and more. She was able to help me less and less, because by then she could barely help herself.
During high school, I began skipping meals because my nerves always made me feel nauseous, and began to work out for hours every day to try and distract myself from the worry. Even when I dropped 35 pounds the summer I turned 14 and was skin and bones, nobody seemed to notice my downward spiral. I was still “normal.” Even when I would sit in the kitchen at 3AM staring at a bottle of Motrin, thinking what would happen if I would just swallow the whole bottle. I’ve always feared death. I could never have the guts to kill myself. But I’d feel so overwhelmed that I’d wish for it.
By college I had my first stomach ulcer. I went away to college and found myself feeling more alone than ever. I had run away from my hometown, thinking that if I left then my problems would stay behind. I learned quickly that you can’t run away from your problems. My stomach ulcer made it even harder for me to eat. It seemed the demon had finally gnawed through my stomach lining, and I noticed It began to move throughout my body.
The panic attacks began around this time. The nerves would simply grow and grow to the point where I began to tremble, and the gnawing demon began to eat at my heart; I felt like I was having a heart attack. My heart was pounding in a desperate attempt to fight off this demon, and my panic grew by leaps and bounds. Each breath came faster and faster, like feet trying to run away as fast as they could from this demon inside me. The demon would move up to my brain, with the debilitating headaches leaving me paralyzed in my bed.
It got to the point where I laid in bed day and night. I would call into work and skip classes. My friends began to notice the change in me. When I visited my parents, I’m pretty sure they decided to ignore the change.
More and more family members, and even some childhood friends, began to die; more and more my Ma assured me at night over the phone that if I prayed to them then they’d help me. To Ma, there was this army of the dead just biding their time until they could be of service to any of us. By this time I was an Atheist and only humored her.
I was starting to notice that she was using on herself the same old reassurances that she used on me. I noticed she started to get more headaches, to withdraw more into herself, eat less, exercise more. It was like looking into a mirror. I couldn’t remember when she’d started to act this way or think this way. I couldn’t figure out if she had been copying my actions, or vice versa. She also started to seem to resent me. She looked to me for the same consolations she used to give me, and I found it impossible to help her in the way that she wanted me to.
One day while we were driving back to my college after a home visit my whole body went numb. My vision was blurry. I could feel the demon start to gnaw at me. The air in the car was stifling. I felt like throwing up, and could tell I would start to hyperventilate soon.
“Ma, dad, I have something to tell you.” My voice was barely above a whisper as I picked and picked at my cuticles. My shaking legs were uncontrollable at this point. “I think there’s something seriously wrong with me.” I wasn’t prepared for Ma’s reaction.
“I’ll say there’s something wrong with you! Are you on drugs!? Or are you pregnant!?
I couldn’t even register the bitter words she had hurled at me so cruelly. I was at the apex of my disease, standing at the precipice of a cliff, fighting so hard with myself not to fall off, and here it seemed my mom was trying to push me straight into the valley of jagged rocks below.
Then my dad, who had been virtually silent on this matter my entire life, saved me:
“We’ll make an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible,” he said. “We’ll get you help.”
At that point my tears were uninhibited and my body began to tingle with sensation for the first time in forever. Was this the feeling of relief?
The doctor diagnosed me immediately. I was flabberghasted that my lifelong ailment was so simply decided. I was referred to a counselor and a psychiatrist and then began the long, long years of behavioral therapy, and the terror that is the trial and error of different kinds of meds.
Everyone’s body is different and reacts to medications different. The “wrong” med can make you feel the following: suicidal, extreme versions of your original symptoms, unbearable pain all over your body, fatigue so extreme you can barely move, unabated energy where you spend your nights cleaning your entire house twice over until dawn, etc., etc. As I switched from med to med, I cycled through all these issues to the point where I began to wonder if it was even worth it.
However, when I finally found the right combo of meds, it was like putting on prescription glasses for the first time. The whole world becomes sharp and clear, and you’re shocked to realize that you’d been living in a blur this whole time.
My counselor taught me all of my “coping” mechanisms, the relaxation techniques that I’d have to use daily, sometimes several times a day, sometimes all throughout the day, in order to survive my life. She was the one who told me for the first time that the way I’d felt my entire life was never normal. I was shocked. Apparently, since I’d always felt that way, it was impossible to realize it wasn’t normal.
After 3 years of counseling, it was decided I had learned all I could from her. I cried on my last day. “I feel like I’ll be fighting this all my life, no matter what I do,” I lamented, and she leaned over and rested a cool hand on my forearm.
“I hate to admit it, but you may be right. Sometimes things balance themselves out eventually and you don’t have to stay on the meds, but sometimes you have to struggle your whole life.”
I stared down at my jiggling thighs and bit at my knuckle.
“Deep breaths,” my counselor quietly commanded, and I started yet another mini-battle with my breath. My whole life would be a war full of both mini-battles such as simply controlling my breath, and large battles such as the mental health crisis I suffered in college.
For many years, I went on and off the meds. I’d start to feel better, think to myself, “I’m cured!”, get off the meds, and feel ok for maybe 6 months, a year…then it’d happen again. The demon would return and start to gnaw deep inside me again. I would always feign ignorance until I got into crisis mode, where I knew I had no choice but to get back on the meds. Once none of my relaxation techniques worked, but actually made me feel worse, that’s when I knew I was in trouble and would book an appointment with the doctor.
I’ve been seeing the big, fat cat psychiatrist for about a year now. Yet another crisis last year, after about a year off my meds, made me finally come to terms with the fact that this would probably be a life-time struggle. We found to my dismay that the previous meds I was on were no longer effective. I hadn’t expected that. My magical pills wouldn’t work? I had to suffer through the trial and error again? Fear wracked my body.
However, the big, fat cat was good at her job, and we found a pretty good combination fairly fast. We have to adjust the dosages a lot, and I still may have to end up switching meds eventually, but I’m at least out of my crisis mode.
I park my car outside my house and slowly haul myself out, my work bag dragging behind me. “Another day I escaped death,” I sarcastically sigh to myself. There’s a bridge on my way home from work and I struggle every day not to drive off of it. I once heard an old man say that phrase once — “Another day I escaped death” — and I thought it befitting to my own situation, so I say it now every day when I make it home from work. I trudge up the stairs, my dog prancing with happiness behind me until I feed him dinner and he takes his typical after-dinner nap. My husband works evenings; I’ll be alone again tonight.
I flop onto the couch and kick off my heels. I try to focus on the feelings resounding through my body — my feet feeling freed from the confines of the heels, the feel of the soft microfiber cushions of the couch supporting my body. I scan each of limbs, my neck, my torso, my hips, my face, focusing on which part of me is tense, and working hard to relax each section of me. It’s like turning a hard, plastic doll into a soft, stuffed one.
By the time I feel loose enough and my breath is under control I shimmy out of my work clothes and change into my workout clothes to get in my 30 minutes on the elliptical while I watch TV. I run the bathtub with my aromatherapy bath soap and slip into the tub, a towel cushioning the back of my neck, and turn on my tablet to read the news.
Another day I didn’t give in. Another day I didn’t die. Tomorrow a new day, and a new battle, will begin.
So it begins, and will begin again (and again and again and again).
Jennifer suffers with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and OCD, and is married to a partner who has Bipolar Disorder. Her own personal journey can be found here, on her blog Vicious Butterflies.
Please drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M
Recently, The Manic Years has had many of you emailing in your first hand experiences of what it is like to live with difficulties from a variety of backgrounds reguarding mental health. So far, the stories in the feature has inspired people, reached out to many and succeeded on expressing a multitude of inner turmoil that is so often hard to explain for some.
It is clear that attitudes towards mental health is changing, thanks to all the hard work of so many people have advocated for mental health, and the rights of those who struggle. Admitting you have a problem, and even asking for help is getting easier for some as having depression – and many more illnesses – is becoming more normalised.
However, we are still lacking in how information about mental health disorders is delivered, and many thousands, millions out there are still struggling to recognise what exactly they are suffering with;
“I can’t be Bipolar, because I am not happy, right?”
“I feel numb all the time, but it’s obviously not depression. Depression means you are sad, this must be something else.”
“I cut last night. I can’t explain why. I will just hide it and pretend like it didn’t happen.”
This is something I have come across (and even felt myself) over the years. People are being misinformed. People are not educted enough.
It is so important that we take a stand and speak out about our experiences. Go on to one of the most popular health websites, where it explains symptoms of anxiety and you get the standard list of symptoms; Heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath. Worry….
Can you relate this to your anxiety? Or is it so much more than that?
It seems that facts and figures aren’t enough, what does this information spread to our ‘non-sufferers’ out there? The people who have never experienced depression/anxiety and the rest as such?
CLASSIC SYMPTOMS; “Heart racing, sweating, shortness of breath…Worry.”
THEIR REPLY; “Just take some water. Sit down. Stop over thinking things! Problem solved.
Do you see the issue here?
Sometimes there is no logic behind mental health. There is no one solution. It is so much more. Anxiety is so much more than worry. Depression is so much more than feeling sad. Bipolar is so much more than a sad/happy state. Self-injury is so much more than an act of agression towards one’s self. If people who have never really fully experienced the wrath of psychological problems, then why should we expect people to recognise what is happening to them when they do get ill?
It is so valuable to others who are lost that those who have experienced mental disorders speak out about our feelings and our realities. Sharing not only makes it okay, makes people feel like they aren’t alone, but it also gives people something to relate to. It is the key to understanding when we are suffering. Speaking up, and speaking louder can save lives.
The ‘Sharing Stories’ feature will continue to do that, and I have many hopes that each and every one of your experiences will connect to someone, somewhere in the world and give them not just the knowledge they need for understanding what they are going through, but also the comfort they need to carry on and the confidence to speak out themselves.
Please drop me an email on email@example.com if you want to take part and be featured on the blog, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences. They matter, so much. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder.
“Of all the things a preteen girl worries about; crushes, periods, schoolwork, and zits; sorting through the fear of dark mental and emotional issues while trying to self-diagnose and manage them shouldn’t be one. Puberty is confusing enough, but depression is often overlooked as a mere symptom of an adolescent’s move into developing and growing into the complex emotions of adulthood.
Growing up in home riddled with depression and anxiety, coming from a family prone to these conditions generations back, the oppressive weight and darkness that accompanies these conditions was my “normal”. The whispers of despondency began when I nine and grew louder into screams as I moved into my early teens. I learned to not speak of my thoughts because I was usually shut down by those who didn’t understand or have time to listen; my fears were outweighed by the trials of others and I needed to be strong and supporting. I saw the effects of medication on those around me and didn’t want to become that; to lose myself in a medicated haze. I wanted the voices to be silent but didn’t know how to quiet them except to turn them into white noise and learn tune them out.
I began to research depression when I was 12 hoping to find, at the very least, coping mechanisms outside of the pharmaceuticals, if not a cure. My immaturity and inexperience often drove me to suppression followed by lashing out at those closest to me, or giving in to addictive desires. I craved love but didn’t feel worthy so I built walls to hide the broken parts and protect myself from being hurt more. I built my identity around not showing weakness not realizing I never strengthened those parts of me I needed to support a healthy mind on my own.
My life was saved by life itself. There are several distinct points growing up were it was almost too much to go on when the sheer beauty of life itself shown in to light my way. Moments where a certain glimmer of light through the trees, a phone call from a friend reminding me of my value in the world, and moments where I discovered a power within myself to choose to be happy even in hell remind me that even with the darkness; life is worth living. Sometimes the dark and screaming are masked over and easily ignored, even forgotten; other times it roars. Most of the time, I have been able to find a level of happiness and contentment in the challenge of finding ways of living the life I want creating paradise in chaos, but sometimes that vision is dimmed when the baggage gets too cumbersome, or the road too steep. Is it worth it carrying on? Which is harder; putting in the extra effort to be normal, or letting go and giving into the darkness?
Now a couple of decades later the screaming has been filtered out by that beauty, though it is not silent. I’ve never sought a medical diagnosis short of observations made by various counsellors over the years; I go in every now and then for a mental check and servicing; to tune-up and tighten up the loose ends, validate the direction I’m taking, and receive unbiased constructive-criticism. I’m still afraid of medication so I run, I mange my diet, I keep busy and when the screaming gets louder I keep busier; anything to stay ahead of the storm. I was lucky to take on a career that put me in the role of providing communication training; my role required continuous self-evaluation and understanding of what makes me tick to find ways of managing those aspects in a way that was healthy, and fed my soul. It meant looking deep into myself to embrace and understand the darkness. My ambition is to be the person I needed when I was trying to find my way; someone to guide, help, and sometimes stand back to let me learn my own lessons. Someone who sees the struggle and acknowledges it; who can provide a safe place to let go. Someone who can help another fly.”
– By Miranda.
You can find more of Miranda’s inspirational words by visiting her mental health blog here; Uitwaaien Kairos.
Themanicyears is still looking for people to share their stories! If you have an experience with Mental Health you would like to share on here, please do not hesitate to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org, and get your story published on our “Sharing Stories” feature.– M.