Born in the UK to an alcoholic father and young mother, I feel like I was doomed from the start. My parents divorced when I was seven and that was the beginning of everything.
I remember one time in particular when my mum “went to the shop.” Well, she used that excuse to call the cops about my drunk dad and uncle. When the cops arrived my dad and uncle wouldn't let them in and they held my brother and me hostage. Eventually the door was broken down and they were arrested.
My mother left and after a year came back. Then my dad left and we barely saw him. We were broke and living in a council-owned house. My mum struggled raising my brother and me and it didn't help that she eventually took on more children. My mum ended up fostering my twin four year old cousins as my aunt had decided to put them into care. My mother became their sole guardian but after four years my aunt wanted her girls back and the court ruled in her favour.
At this point I was being bullied in school by a supposed friend and things were going from bad to worse in all of our lives. My mother became emotionally unstable, dating the worst of the worst guys; one a heroin addict that left us in a lot of debt, then another heroin addict who went on to take his life. My brother was 14 and I was 15. All of these events had such a huge impact on the both of us.
When I was 11 and being bullied, we had to watch an anti-bullying video at school. I cried the whole way through it as many of the people featured in the video had killed themselves. This is where my obsession with suicide began and was worsened at 15 when my mum’s boyfriend killed himself. I didn't really understand how to live a happy life. Every year in our family we'd have a joke that next year will be better yet it never seemed to happen. I attempted suicide many times but didn't tell anyone until I was 15 when I decided to tell my cousin. She self-harmed and she completely understood. I felt unable to confide in anyone else.
I wrote many suicide letters and I tried to take my life, telling no one when I did it, just hoping I wouldn't wake up. I didn't care if people didn't understand. I almost thought how couldn't they?! I struggled, each day surviving but with the constant thought of wanting to die. I didn’t feel able to confide in anyone as I was aware of the stigma attached to mental illness. I thought I would be judged for not coping or not being able to navigate life like other people do, so I guess I felt really ashamed of myself.
I became self destructive, drinking, doing drugs, putting myself in awful situations and just not looking after myself. I got a job at 18 and after a few months my line manager pulled me aside and said she thought I needed mental health assistance. She'd noticed my moods were up and down and were affecting others on my team. She wanted to help me so she wrote to my GP stating that she was concerned about my mental state. I ended up seeing my GP and was given medication and CBT sessions. I was treated for anxiety and depression.
Years passed on a constant merry go round with different medications and various therapies. I seemed to be stable for a while but I was still self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. At age 19 I rekindled a school romance and moved in with my boyfriend. Years of fighting followed. He did not understand me and I was unable to explain myself. At 22 I had a breakdown and decided I was better off dead. I remember my boyfriend finding me drowsy and talking gibberish. He called an ambulance and the next thing I recall was waking up in the hospital attached to a drip. I stayed there for three days and was assessed by the mental health nurse. She told me I wasn't sick enough to be sectioned. I felt like she just wanted to tick all the boxes and get rid of me. I was asking and crying out for help but she didn’t take me seriously. I felt so angry and let down. After six months off work and another breakdown I was referred to the psychiatric hospital and was assessed and prescribed different medication. After that, referrals were lost and I gave up all hope.
Almost three years ago, I left the UK to go travelling. I was given six months worth of medication by my GP but I decided after six months in NZ,when the medication ran out, that I didn't need it anymore, that I was actually fine. Little did I know I'd come crashing back down. I ended up seeing a GP in NZ who referred me to the Mental Health Service. I was monitored but I gave up again because I felt it would ruin my travel plans. After another year of up and downs, I sought help again and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had suspected this. I was upset but also relieved that maybe now I'd get the right care!
Now I am on medication which is helping me to have a 'normal' life. I have monthly psychiatric appointments and have a psychologist who I can see in between if needed. I am now married to my partner of eight years and am still living in beautiful NZ.
I see life in a new way;I don't expect it to be perfect anymore. I'm not comparing my life to others now. I still have my dark days but I am managing it a lot better with the help of my husband and the mental health team. I've been able to finally, after 10 years of hiding it, be open with my family and friends. This has been a massive help. I'm looking forward to a better life. I have dreams of becoming a mum and also to retrain in a health care role.
I have my husband and a few close friends who I am able to be honest with. They have been the best help. They talked me through it and helped to soothe me. Sometimes just being there to give me a hug helped a lot. Having a strong support network was crucial. It was so nice having people who would check up on me, make sure I was ok and be there to listen when I needed to talk. These people never judged me. I also found that in sharing openly about how I felt, they too felt more able to share their struggles with me. To be part of someone else’s support system gave me a purpose and reminded me how needed and loved I am. I also started a social media page which helped me connect with people going through similar issues and connecting with those people saved me quite a few times. When I felt well enough, I used exercise to give myself a boost.
I would advise anyone struggling with their mental health to seek help, to be open with family and friends...even if it’s just one person. Having support is a huge help.
I think when we are well enough, being able to stand up and talk about mental health in order to try and stop the stigma is important. We shouldn't be judged for an illness.
I would love for people to become more educated about mental illness. I wish mental illness could be spoken about like physical illnesses are. You see adverts about the symptoms of heart attacks and cancer urging people to look out for the signs. That is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but there isn’t a lot of information for people about mental illness unless they seek it themselves. Something has to change so anyone experiencing a mental health disorder doesn’t feel so alone or ashamed.
Knowing what I know now, lots of people deal with mental health issues. You do not need to feel alone or ashamed but you do need to keep fighting.