Here, mental health advocates, bloggers and experts alike will all share personal stories be it their own, or experiences they are aware of.
Please read these people’s insights and as ever, get in touch if you have something to say!
“And from the ashes, the Phoenix shall rise”
By Valerie Oladeinde
As I look at this quote tattooed on the right side of my chest, it reminds me of the difference in where I was in life a long time ago to who I am today.
I think I was 16 when I attempted suicide for the last time, and it almost worked. I remember lying on my mother’s bed waiting for my life to end after taking as many tablets as I could find around the house. I closed my eyes and waited for my soul to ascend from my body. Nothing mattered anymore. Every single thing I did was wrong. What was the point in being in constant pain when no one around could understand or even think there was a problem? What was the point in living? I had spent countless summers on the internet, trying to find someone who understood me and what I was going through with no luck. I was scared to go outside, I was scared for people to see my face, I was scared people would look at me and judge me or worse, look at my Mum and pity me. I had enough.
For some reason my body convulsed so much I threw up most of the tablets I took. When I stumbled into the local hospital (I walked for 45 minutes as I couldn’t even afford a bus pass at the time) and was finally seen by a nurse in A&E, she hugged me and prayed for me. This was a blessing I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I look back now and sometimes wish I didn’t have to go through the things I went through, wish I had the courage to tell the truth sooner and accept I was never going to have a perfect family or a perfect life. You see, speaking objectively, I can honestly say I’ve had one of the hardest upbringings, but that’s okay, it’s made me strong, it’s made me who I am today.
It’s not easy growing up with a parent who has mental health issues, and it’s not easy when you’re going through things yourself you don’t understand. How could we be going through so much pain when we weren’t wounded physically? The power of the mind is the most profound thing, it’s amazing how your mind can work for you or in my Mum’s and my own case, work against you.
It first started when I noticed she wasn’t taking care of the house anymore, or herself. She made jokes here and there, but I knew from the age of 12 she was changing. She wasn’t the joyful, confident, beautiful woman I admired for so long, she was becoming a shell of herself; quiet, guarded and untrusting. She began to slowly alienate us from our family and from her friends. I had no idea what to do, because as far as I was concerned, there was nothing wrong. She wasn’t crazy, she wasn’t trying to hurt me physically, and she wasn’t a psycho. She was just having a hard time and I stepped up to be the adult of the house. However, the loneliness from hiding this big secret affected me in ways I couldn’t describe and as much as I did my best, I had no business being the parent when I was still a child. During this time, we pushed a lot of people out of our lives and I hate that I allowed it to happen. I missed my cousin’s funeral, who I loved so much because my Mum thought her family were against us and I was too scared to say otherwise. I don’t believe in regret, but when I think of this, I still feel so guilty.
I was never really a cheery kid. Sarcasm was my first language and I adopted wearing all black from a young age (something I still do to this day). However, I was in so much pain I didn’t know how to deal with it. I would go to school yearning to be close to someone so I could share what I was going through, yet pretend to be this person I wish I was; a happy person with the perfect life. I did a pretty poor job of portraying that. From my dishevelled appearance, to my eclectic taste in music (at the time) and of course, my Mum deteriorating every day, it was a hard sell to convince people I was OK.
Of course, when my Mum started to hear voices, and began to respond to everything she heard, I knew something had to change. I just didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was already getting anxiety from witnessing how our neighbours behaved around my Mum, I heard their whispers, “You know XXXX… she’s not alright upstairs”. It got so bad, neighbours avoided our house completely and to this day won’t even collect a package on our behalf but will happily allow my Mum to look after theirs. Wankers.
Carrying this secret, and lying for most of my adolescence took a huge toll on me. I had barely passed high school, my sixth form grades were a mess (considering what my predictions were) and yet, I made it into university. I packed my bags and hoped to never look back, thinking if I left, I wouldn’t have to deal with things and my issues would go away.
I didn’t make it a year into my first round of university, from the constant partying to drown out the pain of my home life, to my depression rearing its ugly head, I moved back home. I spent almost 2 years getting odd jobs and working in administration with constant thoughts of ending my life terrorising me once again. The catalyst to evolving to the person I am today was when my Mum finally got the help she needed, albeit not the way I wanted – she ended up being sectioned, on Boxing Day. I spent a month visiting her in hospital, seeing how poorly she was treated due to ignorance on mental health and going home to an empty house thinking: “Is this my life?”
“Of course, when my Mum started to hear voices, and began to respond to everything she heard, I knew something had to change.”
I spent months being hurt, thinking the world owed me something yet I felt worthless and insignificant. I lashed out at people and I burned a lot of bridges because that was the only thing I could do, I deserved to be alone, I deserved everything I got. Reality of it is: hurt people, hurt people.
It was a revelation for me, when I realised I was becoming someone I resented so much, my mother. I needed to make a change.
I finally sought out the help I needed. I started calling the Samaritans and soon after, began attending online group therapy forums who understood what I was going through. Shortly after, I enrolled into a better university than the former and pursued a career in PR and Advertising.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an easy path to take, I still struggle with caring for my Mum and caring for myself, but I have allowed myself to embrace the pain and just accept my life.
My life isn’t perfect, my mum is not perfect, and that’s okay. It’s how you deal with the hand life has dealt you that matters. It was as if the grey-coloured glasses came off and I saw the world in Technicolor.
I was no longer mad at the world, I wanted to change it. I wanted to make the world aware of mental health issues and how hard it is for someone without the right knowledge. I slowly became an advocate for spreading awareness on mental health and will continue to do so until the very end.
I continue to make sure my Mum gets all the help she deserves and will always let her know her life is not over.
Mental health illnesses are not a death sentence. I’m living proof of that.
By Claire Eastham
“Doctors urge me to take my meds. When I don’t, they become agitated. I take their meds to calm them down.” – Brian Spellman
Up until the age of twenty-four I didn’t have a good opinion of my doctor, or any member of the NHS for that matter. I didn’t like talking to them about what was going on inside my head. What the f**k could they do anyway? With their cutting glares and blunt questions. I didn’t want to take the pills that they so easily dished out.
How could they be so matter of fact about things when I was so clearly distressed?
It was only when I had a breakdown in 2013 that I finally understood the reason for their attitude. It’s a doctor’s job to fix a problem, not dish out hugs and tea.
Think about it, on average a doctor has ten minutes per patient to diagnose and suggest a solution. It doesn’t matter if you have anxiety, cancer or a serious case of the shits. Ten minutes max. When you look at it that way, it makes more sense to keep sympathy to a minimum and focus on a treatment. Not ideal I know, but it’s the truth.When push comes to shove I’d rather have a doctor who can fix the problem, rather than offer sympathy.
For me the solution was medication. Despite an initial bumpy 72 hours, the SSRI meds that I was prescribed worked well for me and I’m still very grateful for that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cured, but it allows me to function with greater ease.
The NHS has failed me in many ways, but I’m still thankful for what I’ve received and I don’t blame the doctors. Free health care is a gift that I’ll never take for granted.
This is not to let medical staff off the hook when it comes to adequate care. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and this doesn’t always happen. For instance, the ‘Practitioner Nurse’ at my local GP is a miserable cow. I wish I could word it more eloquently, but it’s the truth. She’s moody, abrupt and patronising. (Doesn’t go well with my sarcastic, dark comedy personality).
An example of a recent conversation, concerning my repeat prescription.
Nurse: Have you thought about killing yourself?
Me: Not recently…. but it’s always an option I suppose.
Come on… That’s comedy gold! I think that she meant to say “have you had any recent suicidal thoughts?” You know, the generic and non offensive terminology to use.
But she went off script….. so I did too!
Top tips for dealing with a doctor’s appointment
- Make notes – I do this EVERY time, because it helps me to be concise. My anxiety is like a shape shifter, and new symptoms crop up every year. So I write bullet points, both physical and emotional, and I rank them in order.
I tend to walk straight in there, hand them the list and say. “I don’t feel great at the moment. I’ve made a list of symptoms because I worry that my anxiety will prevent me from being clear.”
- Take distractions – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been in a nice waiting room. Bad lighting, the smell of hand sanitizer and walls filled with threatening posters about illnesses you could catch. “Do you want to die of Vitamin D deficiency? Then do something NOW!” (I may have made that one up).
Plus appointments are rarely on time. So be thoroughly prepared. Take a bag of goodies to keep yourself occupied. I’m serious, treat it like a trip of some sort. Magazines, puzzles, phone apps, music. You deserve a reward for doing something that makes you uncomfortable. In many ways the waiting room is the worst bit, the time when anxiety is most likely to kick in. So pre-empt it with distractions.
- Ask for support – It’s ok to take someone with you if you’re struggling. Even if it’s not a family member. If you can’t physically take someone with you then there are other ways to get support. For example, before appointments I sometimes ring the Anxiety UK helpline to discuss how I’m feeling. It’s just nice to tell someone who gets it. Feel free to tweet me anytime @ClaireyLove – I’m on hand if you need a boost.
- Go in there with the right attitude – Respect YES… sympathy not essential. Think of yourself like a broken car and the doctor is a mechanic. As long as they listen and discuss treatment options with respect then you’re in good hands.
- Take charge – If you’re really not happy with your doctor then maybe think about trying somewhere else. There’s no shame in it. You deserve to be treated fairly and in most cases it’s easy enough to try another surgery.
By Claire Eastham
Award winning blogger – We’re All Mad Here
Picture credit: unsplash.com/@joebeck
An introduction to Aspergers
By Lydia Wilkins
Aspergers Syndrome is a neurological condition, a high functioning part of the Autism Spectrum. Associated with this are various traits, such as special interests, a hard time making friends, not understanding the theory of mind, and more. This is not a mental health issue; rather, it is a learning disability. However, issues associated with the condition can lead to the potential of mental health conditions.
2015. I’m at the hospital. The lights flicker on and off, hot on my face, causing my thoughts to slightly clam up. My hand slightly flaps on my knee. The letter had come about a month before; I have Aspergers Syndrome. And today is the follow up appointment.
Aspergers Syndrome is the ‘high functioning’ part of the Autism Spectrum; we can verbalise, etc, but still have some of the same difficulties. However, this is now reffered to ASD-Autism Spectrum Disorder, meaning that we are still on spectrum, still high functioning. It makes making friends hard; it is difficult to understand theory of mind; eye contact is hard at the best of times. We stim. (These are just some of the hallmarks of the condition.)
But to me, this is a gift. For everyone on Spectrum.
Whenever someone is diagnosed, this means that they have various skills that someone without Aspergers does not. These traits may be seen as ‘eccentric’-because they aren’t what you could call ‘normal’-but if utilised correctly, they can do great things.
My experience as someone with Aspergers has not always been positive; I have been bullied-because various people thought me a “weirdo”, who wanted to talk about politics, rather than who was going out with who. My spectrum traits have been mocked. There also has been a lack of help at some of the schools I have attended. (Not all; some where amazing with help.) I also do not understand theory of mind-what someone is thinking or feeling.
In terms of reacting to someone with Aspergers who is having a meltdown, my advice would be, firstly: do not touch them. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? From personal experience, I don’t always get on board with hugs. I also do not like the lack of control of being pinned down. If they are having a meltdown-it looks very similar to a tantrum-this does not always work. Secondly: do not think “oh, it’s them acting up, being naughty.” It’s not them being naughty; they have been overwhelmed by a world that is noisy, that does not allow them to fit in, and often will isolate and exclude them. And it’s a way to regulate their sensory input; we lack a mechanism to do so, meaning this is the alternative.
Fast forward two years, and I am now a blogger, an online columnist, and a trainee Journalist. It was not easy to achieve; as already said, I have had some bad experiences. But my lack of reading what people think has allowed me to garner interviews from people like Anastacia (she sang I’m Outta Love”), and Jodi Picoult (Author of My Sister’s Keeper); because, in essence, what do you have to lose? Nothing lost, possibly something gained.
My advice to…
Parents of someone with Autism: please do not be patronising. We are human too. The raising of the voice to be loud, clear, whatever, suggests we are, well, ‘stupid’. And it is demeaning. Do not think that it is your thought-there is no need to be ashamed. And-this is one of my pet peeves-do not invest time in thinking of creating a “cure”. A lot of the community hate the idea of this-as it is dehumanising.
People with Autism: disclose that you have Autism early on. To keep quiet about your needs won’t allow teachers/your boss/etc to help you-and this can lead to problems. Use the traits you have been given to do what you like; whether it’s studying chemistry, collecting photos of cats, do not worry about what anyone says.
By Lydia Wilkins
Lydia Wilkins is a blogger at mademoiselle women.com; here she documents her Aspergers in a creative way-through essays, poetry, and photo diaries. She is an online columnist for her local county newspaper, and an NCTJ trainee journalist.
OCD will not define me
By Illesse Uppal
At the age of 18 I lost one of the most important people in my life.
I went from having a loving and carefree father one day, to having to think about coffin colours the next.
Everybody told me it was alright for me to break down, to not cope. But I wasn’t a victim, I’d had 18 wonderful years with my Dad. Whereas my little sister only had 11. She was the victim in my eyes. Breaking down would have been the easy option. It’s the option I had taken time and time again through my teenage years as a sufferer of anxiety and depression.
I didn’t want to be that person anymore – we had lost the backbone of our family and somebody needed to fill that position. So, I gave myself one day to cry and scream and grieve. And then I channelled my Dad and found my inner strength. I’m not the oldest of my siblings, but I took on the responsibility of sorting out the coroner, the funeral, the estate and anything else that needed to be sorted. It was a lot to take on at 18. I wasn’t your average 18 year old either. I was consumed with OCD and anxiety which had ruled my life since an early age. Every aspect of my life needed to be planned out in excruciating detail, every sentence reviewed three or four times in my head before saying something.
Suddenly these things didn’t matter that much.
I had a job to do and I needed to make my Dad proud. I needed to just get on with it, so I could alleviate the pressure off my grieving family. Leaving us at the early age of 43, my dads’ death made me realise just how short life is. This meant I couldn’t spend weeks making list after list to make just a simple decision, despite my head screaming at me that it wasn’t perfect. With every decision I made, the voice in my head dulled. I haven’t lost my OCD and anxiety, I still live with them everyday. But they no longer rule my life as they used to.
Losing my Dad so young made me appreciate every moment I have on this earth and I intend to make the most of them. I refuse to waste them by planning every second of my journey before I walk out the door. I refuse to waste them by second guessing every word before I say my sentence. Losing my Dad was a life changing event. I miss him every day, but in losing him – I found strength I never knew I had. I live my life for today and for every day my Dad didn’t get to live. I’ll make the most of it for both of us. There’s not a chance that I’m letting my OCD and anxiety get in the way of that. I learnt to embrace the cliché ‘YOLO’ and it helped me to get a hold of my mental health. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but the person I now see in the mirror is 10x the person that I used to be.
Thanks Dad. RIP 20.01.2015
By Illesse Uppal