It’s ok not to feel ok
I had as huge relapse a year ago, completely burned and washed out. For several days, I couldn’t wash, eat or feel. I lost interest in things that were once so enjoyable and those closest to me were rarely on my mind. I felt neither happy nor sad. I just felt empty and numb, and my future was bleak. For weeks on end I could feel it coming, but tried my hardest to brush it to the side, believing I’d overcome it. I also felt ashamed.
Everyone around me had seen me do so well. I had raised a lot of awareness aswel as doing a public speech, I didn’t want to let anyone down. And so I continued, with my cover-ups, the fake smiles, the laughter and the songs, not wanting anyone around to see I’d failed. Until I could hide it no more. My mind hadn’t just given up. But my body too. I was exhausted.
The day before I was readmitted to hospital, things were bad. Really bad. And the worst thing about it, I had means. Means to deliver a fatality. Someone who knew me reached out to me. Spent a significant amount of time on the phone to me. But she did something that a lot hasn’t. She listened. She listened thoroughly and patiently, while I let it all out. She didn’t protest to me that I’d a loving family, a roof over my head and food on the table. She didn’t tell me I was selfish for thinking this way. She understood the invisible illness that a lot don’t.
I came to find that this was something that I’d never experienced before. In the past my difficulties ranged from a quick shift in emotions within a small amount of time. I would have been on top of the world one minute/full of joy to wanting to die/feeling extremely depressed within an hour. The instability in my emotions had my life for a long time extremely messy and I was a regular visitor in the A&E department following a suicide attempt. People around me couldn’t understand it. I mean how could they? One minute I was loving someone and the next detesting them. Black and white thinking it’s described in a diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality disorder, aswel as numerous other disastrous symptoms. The odds for my recovery and indeed survival were extremely low. Those around me had come to accept this. I had accepted this.
Mental illness affects the way people think, feel and behave. It doesn’t matter their social or financial backgrounds. Robin Williams is a prime example of one of the many misconceptions people have. It affects people regardless of their age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, with ugly statistics showing that at least ¼ in Northern Ireland will be affected. People diagnosed with a mental illness have mostly gone through some type of trauma in their lives. Just like physical illness and how a bad impact to your body, leaves you with not so good outcomes. So it’s not chosen. People do not choose to be depressed. But people have a choice to show empathy, to become educated, to be non-judgemental.
We cannot continue to brush this ubiquitous matter under the carpet. We have to talk about it. Normalise the conversation surrounding our mental well-beings. We have been brought up in societies that have taught us that children born out of wedlock is wrong, homosexuality is sinful and being depressed is weak. We cannot continue with this. We have to give our future generations hope. We have to teach our young people that it is ok not to feel ok and it is absolutely ok to ask for help. We have to let our young people know that they are loved and accepted for who they are.
Three years ago after a long decade of complete misery and a non-existence life, I made a decision. To turn my life around, for the better. It wasn’t an easy decision, as the life I had been living was normality for me. But I got stuck in, was open with my medical team, was open with myself. I set myself some goals, with one of them returning to college last year. I had an ambition to help others. Young people. People that had been through traumatic events and couldn’t see the light. I’d also completed an award in counselling that summer and I found some voluntary work.
An opportunity then came to speak at a suicide prevention event on my personal experiences. I spoke. I openly and honestly shared my battle with mental illness to a few dozen people. The media attention followed and my story had gone a bit viral. I was contacted by numerous people with similar stories. Some were young people. Some were mothers of teenage girls. Some were grown men. It was heart wrenching the stories passed onto me. I, as a person, as a human, felt I couldn’t ignore them. I wanted to help them, provide them with some hope. Unbeknown to me, I was psychologically abusing myself. I was taking on stress I didn’t need, on top of everything I already had. This continued for a number of weeks, with the odd phone calls in the middle of the night to distressed, suicidal teenagers. Then I became involved with another mental health organisation. I was again, taking on things that were unrealistic at that time in my life. I hadn’t ‘lived’ prior to this and so I had been grabbing every life opportunity that came my way. I was trying to do the undoable. It was all too soon for me.
I had also started to drink more than my usual self. I was going out during weeknights, neglecting my studies. Neglecting myself. I had fell into a deep and ugly depression. However, this was something very much different than previous experiences. The depression wasn’t lasting a couple of hours. It was going on for weeks.
I remember someone calling this; ‘Depression is my friend and not my enemy’. I could never understand why. Why anyone could ever call such a horrible thing their friend. But now I know. There’s sometimes I think to myself, I’ve just turned 30 and yet I have been through so much, and I wonder why? Why me? But you take away my dark times and you take away my ability to emphasise, my conscience, my intuition, my creativity, my keen awareness to others pain and my passion for it all. Without my dark companion, I couldn’t possibly be a better person.
It was 13 years ago when I first took unwell. I did not know if it was ok not to feel ok, and I certainly was scared of asking for help. It’s scary reflecting back on all those years, wondering what if? What if I had of accepted my illness? Accepted my past? Accepted my pain? Accepted who I am? Would I have been writing this today or would I have been healed? The truth is, strangely enough, I’m thankful for it all. I’m thankful for all of the trauma. I am thankful for all of the shit I went through. I am thankful for the bullying in the classrooms. I am thankful for all my scars, both visible and invisible. They’ve brought me to where I am at today. I am here on purpose, for a purpose and with a purpose.
The bottom line is; I am not my illness. I am however, what I feel, think and do. In order to fully heal and recover, I must change the way I think about myself. I must accept who I am, without the shame and guilt. I must make peace with my past. Forgive, let go. I don’t want to be someone I’m not.
I have always believed that authenticity brings out the best in people. That’s what I look for in others. I must be authentic also. I’m in competition with no one. I have no desire to be better than anyone else. I just strive to be better than I was yesterday. I’m not going to let this darkness define me, I’m so much stronger than that. I don’t want to be known as that ‘girl who tried to kill herself’. Because in fact, I’m the woman who wants to know how you’re doing. I have had people come to me telling me I am so brave and inspirational for publicly speaking about these things. I am not. But I tell you the bravest thing I have ever done, is continued to fight this battle, when I have wanted to die so many times. That is my bravery.
It saddens me to know I am not the only one going through this, because this is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. As I write this, I think of another friend who I lost only a few weeks ago, again to the silent killer. Please I beg to anyone who is feeling sad, low, depressed or suicidal, please seek help. Talk to someone you trust, a friend, family member, teacher, or phone one of the helplines. There is no way back from suicide. I have been close but I have been lucky. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is nothing that can’t be fixed or changed. Happiness is achievable.
I will continue my campaign to speak out about mental illness, self-harm and suicide, and how it’s affected me, to encourage others to do the same. But for now, I must take time out. I must be selfish in the nicest possible way and focus on me and my journey to recovery, before I try to help someone else.
Apologies for the long post, and if you’re still reading, fair play! This story needs to be told, because it’s a story I needed to hear over a decade ago, for reassurance, to know that I wasn’t alone. So if anything of this relates to one person, no matter how small, and gives them the courage and strength to go and seek help, well then my struggles have been worth it.
It’s ok not to feel ok and There is Never any shame in asking for help.