It’s #TimeToTalk. Conversations need to be had about mental health. Keeping your struggles, your fears, your feelings to yourself only makes mental health worse.
I only started talking openly about my mental health this time last year. Given how I’m feeling at the moment, I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t discuss it openly.
There still remains so much stigma around mental health. That is why people like us need to speak out about our experiences, and show the world that we too are people, with a lot to offer. We are not ‘crazy’, ‘dangerous’, ‘hopeless’ or ‘unworthy’. Everyone likely has some aspect of mental health difficulties. This is my collection…
I have suffered from depression and anxiety ever since I left school, and that was the year I started to cut myself. Even this many years later, I face the same struggles. Recovery is possible, as I know – I had made incredible progress, and it’s only in the last year things have take a downward turn.
I had always been told my diagnosis was ‘severe depression and anxiety’. It was only after I did two courses of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy that I was told, it was for people who had Borderline Personality Disorder, and that’s what I had, or at least had traits of. I have never received an official diagnosis of it. I was offered the chance to get a diagnosis of it, but at the time I didn’t want the label and all the stigma that would come with it. I see now it would have been useful to explain to people why my life is so hard. It would explain my difficulties and behaviours to potential employers. But I don’t need an official diagnosis to know I have it. All I had to do was research it myself, and suddenly my thoughts and actions made sense. Not everyone with BPD will be the same. We don’t all have the same collection of symptoms. And on top of that we have our own personalities. Yes, BPD is about the personality, but it’s only an aspect of our personality, it is not the sum total of who we are as people. We are not all the same. BPD just means we struggle more with our emotions. We are not monsters. We are not manipulative. We are not attention-seekers.
People often think self-harm, which is a symptom of BPD, is manipulative and attention-seeking. It is not. It is usually done in private, and the shame around it causes people to hide it. How could this ever be seen as attention-seeking or manipulative? I admit, I talk about my self-harm more openly now. But not for any purpose other than to raise awareness of it, and to try and explain the process behind it.
Depression is not just feeling sad, or being disappointed about something. “Oh, now I’m depressed!” It’s nothing like that. Everyone has their sad days. This is not depression. Depression is like being waist-high in thick mud, whilst a dark cloud shrouds you. You’re stuck. You can’t escape it. And because of the dark cloud, nobody can see you to help you. Depression is waking up in the morning and not wanting to get up because there is nothing to look forward to. There is no point to life. It’s feeling empty and flat. It’s feeling exhausted all the time, for no reason. It’s feeling like nobody loves you. It’s remembering all the bad memories and using them to berate yourself and tell yourself that all you deserve is misery. It’s self-pity. It’s everything being too much effort. It’s feeling misunderstood. It’s not caring about your looks, hygiene or caring for yourself. It’s not wanting to eat, drink or sleep, or not being able to sleep. It’s constant negative thoughts. It’s wanting to give up on life. Unless you’ve had it you can never understand just how dark it is, how isolating it is, and just how much you need friends to stick by you through it, patiently. Many people don’t get it.
I’ve had a more general sense of anxiety. I used to have anxiety attacks. My anxiety was mainly more social anxiety than anything else. I couldn’t and can’t make phone calls or answer the phone, unless I know the person well. I don’t like writing someone with people watching. I don’t like going out to eat. I used to hate eating in front of people. I don’t like crowds, particularly shopping. I’d hate public speaking, although I did do a couple of speeches, one of them about self-harm at a university…. but that was ten years ago now! Not sure I could do it again at the moment. Everyone has nerves, and anxiety about things. But anxiety itself is harder to manage. I’ve often had to get out a paper bag to calm myself down. Anxiety is your heart rate increasing. It’s your blood pressure going up. It’s feeling sick. It’s swallowing more. It’s tension. It’s headaches. It’s shaking. It’s not being able to breathe properly. It’s just needing to get out of there. It’s loss of rational thinking. It’s what some would class as ‘overreacting’, though it’s not. It’s worrying about the present, the future and the past.
What isn’t in my collection above, is PTSD. I haven’t added that because I’m uncertain I fit under the exact label for it. All I know is events from the last five years have traumatised me. And when ‘PTSD’ for lack of a better label, is mixed with BPD, it is very hard to shake. The PTSD aspect throws all these memories at me, and the BPD aspect can’t cope with them, and makes me harm myself because of my past. PTSD is being left traumatised by something, be it a natural disaster, abuse of any kind, an accident, war, crime, sexual assault, or sometimes, like with me, a series of upsetting situations happening at once. I had one friend attacking me and badmouthing me to my other friends, another of those friends stabbing me in the back, and another person whom I really liked, finding out he was playing a game with me and using me. That’s without my health problems and the death of a friend around that time too. It was all too much, and I can’t get over it. That year everything became SO real that it didn’t actually feel real. It felt like ‘this can’t all be happening to me…’ Last year was like that too. So many bad things that I thought, ‘this can’t be happening’…. it was so real, that it didn’t feel real. It’s like it was happening to someone else. I couldn’t be almost losing my mum, my dad and my granddad, and falling out with my best friend for the first time. It was too much. It still is too much. These times of my life are hard to get over. They traumatise me, and I think only through talking therapy can I begin to make any progress.
I have emetophobia. I won’t talk about this very much, as thinking about it and mentioning certain words is enough to make me anxious. Emetophobia for those who don’t know, is an intense fear of being physically sick, or of someone else around you being sick. I don’t want to see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, think of it, or even say the word ‘sick’. It conjures up thoughts that I don’t want. I don’t want to be around anyone who is being sick or might be sick. Put simply – I would rather die than be sick. And I know others with this phobia feel as strongly. God help me if I ever have kids!
Another thing I have is Trichotillomania, which I will be writing about separately soon. But just to inform anyone who doesn’t know what this is, it is hair pulling. Some people pick at their skin, I pick at my hair. I used to use tweezers to pluck hairs out of my scalp. I even left myself with a small bald patch once, that I needed to disguise. People with Trichotillomania (Trich for short) pull hairs from anywhere on the body. Some from their head, their eyebrows, eyelashes. Others from their legs, underarms, arms – anywhere there’s a hair is a potential zone for someone with Trich. It is hard to explain why I do it. With scalp hairs people often report certain hairs feeling ‘wrong’, and like they don’t belong. They feel coarser, and for me that indicates they’ll have a big juicy root if I pull them out. It sounds insane, but the relief you feel for having gotten rid of that hair, is immense. It’s a nervous behaviour. It is something I do when I’m anxious, and it brings me some relief. I find if I have split ends I’ll either pull the split bits off, or cut individual hairs above the split, which has led me to have many shorter strands of hair. If I don’t have scissors and it’s too much work to split the hairs I’ll pull that hair out. It’s like a need for ‘perfection’, though I’m aware this can never be attained. I used to pull out so many hairs you could see them all over the carpet. I’m actually someone who could pluck hairs out from almost anywhere and you wouldn’t see me flinch. There is a certain degree of pain in doing it, but it’s something I’ve come to tolerate. In some cases I need that physical feeling of plucking hairs out. This part of my mental health is really hard to explain to those who don’t have experience of it themselves. It’s addictive. It’s compulsive. It has similarities to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You can’t stop thinking about it, and you MUST do it. And once you start it can be hard to stop. You can spend ages focusing on one hair and if you can’t pluck it out you become really frustrated. It’s only once it’s out, you feel the relief. Sometimes if it’s particularly bad I have to put a hat on to stop myself doing it. The other thing was to put gloves on, or put sellotape on your fingers to stop yourself. It’s an anxiety based behaviour, and not one I’ve spoken about to anyone before. More posts about this will be coming soon.
I take medication for my mental health. I take two anti-depressants and an anti-psychotic at low dose, for my anxiety. I might have to adjust my medication when I see the doctor next, as I’ve been on them for so long they’re either not helping anymore, or are actually making me worse. But the fear of withdrawal symptoms and having side-effects on a new medication scare me, because of the emetophobia. Some might think it weak to take anti-depressants, but there’s nothing weak about it. Some of us need a bit of help with the chemicals in our brains. That’s fine. I don’t think I’d still be here if it wasn’t for medication. I used to be incredibly suicidal before I started anything. The only difficulty is fearing what I’ll be like without them. I suppose I’ve come to depend on them. I believe they are the only thing keeping me well at the moment. I worry how impulsive and suicidal I may become if I’m no longer on my medication. I don’t have full faith in myself. This is what I will speak to a doctor about. There is no shame in taking medication for mental health. The mind can get ill, just like any part of the body, and you’d take medication to help other parts of your body, so why not your mind?
I think that covers just about everything. I think many people out there have a little collection like mine. It’s just that many people don’t talk about it. But I think you should. It’s freeing to say ‘This is who I am. I’m still me’, and to let other people know there is nothing shameful in having mental illness. Many people do, and it’s only by talking about it and bringing it out into the open, that we can start to break down the stigma. Share your story with the world today.