Ever since I was a child, mental illness has followed me around, like an unwanted and unpleasant imaginary friend – one that no matter how hard I tried to part ways with, would never get the message to leave me alone.
Everywhere I went, it would come along with me – 5 steps behind me, never far enough away that I couldn’t feel its presence, but far enough away that those around me would remain unsuspecting.
I often felt like Peter Pan – except Wendy hadn’t sewn on my mischievious shadow to stop it escaping.
Wendy had permanently attached to me a dark cloud, one I had no chance of escaping.
On the surface, I presented as a typical child. Blonde haired, blue eyed and care free. I played video games, fought with my siblings, dreamed of saving animals and even secured the top spot as Virgin Mary in the school nativity. I was happy. I was loved. I had my family.
But beneath all of that, I was a victim of my environment and my circumstances. I was subjected to horrific abuse that I was too scared to tell my own Dad about. For years, I buried what was happening to me – too young to know it was abuse and unable to really comprehend the lasting effects it would have on me.
I don’t remember lashing out much as a small child, perhaps these memories are overpowered by the reminiscence of the grooming, the beatings and the emotional torture.
The first time I can remember, however, I was no older than 11. I vividly remember absolutely losing it with my P7 teacher, who was shouting at me for misbehaving in class. I remember shouting back in tears, then storming school to walk straight home. Whilst I don’t remember the consequences this presented to me, I do remember not really being able to explain why I was so emotional – to most people in my life, it seemed to out of the blue.
Looking back, my life was always destined to have some sort of breaking point. So much had already happened before I even reached high school – I didn’t stand much of chance.
I was traumatised by all that had happened to me growing up – it didn’t make sense at the time, it’s only now, after hours and hours of therapy, I can begin to understand it.
My teenage years were my breaking point. Becoming a teenager in itself is already a challenging time for any child, nevermind one with masses of untouched anguish weighing them down.
It wasn’t long before intrusive and suicidal thoughts became a regular occurrence and self-harming became embedded into my daily routine.
The truth is – I hated myself. I found myself repulsive and I really believed everybody in the world would be better off without me. I never felt truly important to anyone. Not one person. I thought if I was to disappear, no one would even notice, let alone care.
These toxic thoughts caused me to shut down, to self destruct. I isolated myself from my peers – only making myself even lonelier. I was lacking Human connection, I was dissociated, lost and suffocating in plain sight.
Soon, all I could feel was numb. The reason I would cut myself, was to force myself to feel. To remind myself that I was in fact alive, no matter how much I didn’t want to be.
And yes, I was attention seeking, but no, not how you would think. I was desperately craving someone to tell me I was wanted and to really mean it. I wanted attention from those I loved, but this was often impossible – I always felt second best, the last option. Unlovable, useless and a burden.
My recklessness, self destructive behaviour and poor mental health eventually led to me being taken into care when I was 15. Though no fault of my own, I blamed myself for it every day.
I had been hospitalised from an overdose a month before entering the care system and would go on to have a further 4 in the system and when leaving it.
As an adult now, I can see how I urgently I needed help – despite refusing it whenever it was offered to me. No one understood me. I was taken at face value; a troubled wee girl, with a short fuse and sharp tongue. All I ever needed was someone to explain that it was okay not to be okay, that i wasn’t a freak for the thoughts that went on in my head and the marks all over my body.
I now know that I suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. I have a highly sensitive personality and I feel things so intensely. This is part of the reason why my struggles with mental health have been so persistent.
One of my biggest challenges is that I have a mental illness, but I am highly functioning. I get up, I face the world often with a smile on my face, I work hard, I have relationships and I’m not actively planning my own death.
Life can still and - more often than not does – overwhelm me. Something that seems small to other people, can have a massive affect on me. There are still days when I would rather stay in bed than get up to see the world outside. I still try to push people away from me, I’m insecure and I think about suicide every week. That’s just my life and I understand it will likely always be like that.
But all of the above do not stop me from being me. I still love to live, to dance, laugh and to travel the world. I feel love around from the people around me. I have ambitions and I am achieving. I am a success in my own right and I have learned that asking for help when you need it, isn’t weakness. It’s remarkable strength. Strength that I hope I will pass onto my own children.
Dark days come and go. Thankfully, there are more good days than bad. This is down to people I surround myself with, self care and self love which are equally as important as each other and focusing my energy doing a job that I adore.
Make no mistake, things could have taken a different turn for me had I not sought out support when I needed it. I have no doubt I wouldn’t be alive if wasn’t for my fantastic counsellor, whom I know I can turn to whenever I need it.
I now understand that mental health doesn’t have to be dealt with on your own. We must speak about it, it must become part of our normal lives to make sure that we check up on people. It’s important to make ourselves available for those in need. Sometimes it’s really only that, that it takes.
And if you are struggling, as difficult as it is, tell someone – sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.
It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to ask for help.