“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic; capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” – Albus Dumbledore
This isn’t an easy post to write, and until recently, is something I would have perhaps kept to myself. I have always found, like many people, a certain catharsis in writing. In my time, I have written bad, cringeworthy poems about the heartbreak of teenage crushes, poured my grief into letters and buzzed about my happiness in blog posts. Writing, for me, has always been an escape, an endless outlet for a myriad of emotions. There will be information in here that some of you didn’t know about me; new friends that aren’t familiar with my past experiences, old friends who I simply lost touch with. There will also be people reading this, without whom I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. This isn’t an easy post to write, but I am writing it nevertheless, as this is what I wish I had had when I needed it.
Mental illness does not care who you are. It does not care whether you are a naturally bubbly person, or a pessimist. It doesn’t care if you are a loner, or surround yourself by friends at every given moment. It doesn’t care if you are in love. It doesn’t care if you are a high flyer. Mental illness is a predator, searching for your weak spots and exploiting them.
For people who know me well, I have always been a largely optimistic person. I generally try to see the best in everything, often find the logical solution in a whirlpool of problems and keep calm and carry on. My parents always brought me up to ‘get on with it’ and I rarely took time off school, and later, work. There were often situations I hated, such as asking a question when I didn’t know the person – something I had always considered to be ‘anxiety’ in certain situations. How wrong I was.
It’s hard to pinpoint when my decline in mental health began. I was asked by several people – GP, counselling services, friends and family – when I began to notice my low mood and feelings of anxiety, and I haven’t been able to give a straight answer. I have had periods where I believe I was suffering from poor mental health, which I didn’t address, such as my final year of University, but I don’t necessarily feel that this was anything more than day to day unhappiness. It certainly didn’t stop me from doing anything, and required no treatment. I believe, looking back, that the start of my decline was when I began my teacher training – an issue that I could delve into for hours, but I am not going to. It wasn’t until 2 and a half years later that I was to begin my journey into accepting that I needed some help.
The point of this post isn’t to point fingers and blame people, actions or life events; as I said, mental health doesn’t care who you are or what your life experiences are. The point of this post is to share my experience with mental illness, to share the way I felt and to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel. To give you some context, I was given an overall ‘official’ diagnosis of severe levels of depression, anxiety and overall psychological distress in February. It is now April. ‘Depressed’ is a term that is largely thrown around nonchalantly – “Oh my God, I can’t believe the shop has sold out of Pickled Onion Monster Munch… I’m so depressed.” I am guilty of doing this more than most, something that I hope to cut out of my vocabulary as much as possible. Until I experienced this, I had no idea what it felt like to be depressed.
Depression, for me, is the inability to get out of bed. Depression is the hours after hours spent staring at the walls. Depression is pushing away the people who care the most. Depression is feeling permanently tired and depression is being unable to sleep. I spent months inside, barely leaving the bedroom, let alone the house. I didn’t want to see, speak to, or be around the people who loved me. I hated everyone and everything. The thing that terrified me the most was my inability to feel, to love. I knew that I was supposed to be excited about things, but I felt nothing. I knew I had people who cared about me, but I didn’t feel a thing towards them. It’s cliche, but I felt numb.
Couple that with crippling anxiety – anxiety that leaves you speechless, anxiety that causes a panic attack alone in Tesco, anxiety that stops you from leaving the house unless you are dragged out. I’m an independent person and have been for a long time, so feeling like I couldn’t leave the house without someone with me was crushing. Feeling permanently breathless, feeling your heart hammering constantly, feeling like you are in a tunnel and the walls are closing in.
At my lowest point, I thought there was no way out of feeling the way I did. I believed that I was worthless. I truly believed, at points, that the people I cared about were out to harm me, that I was being laughed at, that I was alone in the world, that nobody loved me. Your focus is solely on your psychological state, not on your love of reading, or the fact the sun is shining, or your upcoming birthday, or your loved ones have achieved something great. There is nothing more terrifying than feeling isolated, yet immersed in this life that seems to be moving around you; there is nothing more sickening than knowing you should love someone, but feeling absolutely zero affection towards them; nothing more crippling than just wanting everything to stop.
After five Psychological Therapy sessions, I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am now in ‘recovery’ and exhibit healthy symptoms of anxiety and depression. My overall wellbeing is also healthy. The reason I wanted to write this post is because I needed to hear these words:
You might not know how to get out of this situation, but the way out will find you. Do not give up hope.
I had no idea how to fix my mental wellbeing. I was given medication, which placated the symptoms. I was undergoing talk therapy, which was helping me understand that it was OK to feel the way I was. I had no idea what the solution was going to be. It turned out, the solution was totally out of my control and the turning point was not something I could have ever seen coming. It’s only now that I can see clearly – the best way I can describe it, is that a fog has lifted. I understand now. And I can turn to my depression and say ‘not today, thanks’. Because to paraphrase George R. R. Martin – what do we say to mental illness?
One in four people will suffer from a mental health illness in any given year. In my head, that is astounding. Yet we still seem to see mental health illnesses as some sort of taboo topic. People think of mental illness as being limited to people doing ‘crazy’ things. The sad thing is, people are almost punished for being mentally unwell. If I had needed to take time off work because I had broken my leg, nobody would bat an eyelid. Because we can’t see mental illness, people simply seem to simply assume it’s just people being ‘silly’, or ‘overreacting’. I honestly believe there are probably people who think I should have kept my experiences to myself, who think this post is a bit TMI. I wanted to share my experiences, because I genuinely wish someone had told me that the way out would find me and that I couldn’t have done anything to speed up my recovery. I probably wouldn’t have believed them. But hearing it would have helped.
I genuinely believe mental health research and treatment is hugely underfunded. I will always argue that we need to come out of the Dark Ages and show people that it is OK to feel the way you do and that help is there for people who need it.
“Help will always be given at Hogwarts, to those who ask for it.” – Albus Dumbledore
If you are feeling alone, if you are questioning your mental wellbeing or are feeling like you can’t cope, don’t simply brush it off because you are being ‘silly’. Help is there for the taking. Yes, there are people who still drag ancient views behind them, but I hope that, by spreading the word and making it OK to talk about it, those people are a dying breed.
If you need help, check out Mind‘s list of services, or visit your GP. Help will always be given, to those who ask for it. If you’re not quite there, even talk to me. Sometimes a kind ear is all we need to help us make sense of us.
This post wouldn’t be complete without a third and final Harry Potter quote; for me, it feels apt. You are never stuck at King’s Cross Station – there will always be a train to take you on.
Harry: I have to go back, haven’t I?
Dumbledore: Oh, that’s up to you.
Harry: I have a choice?
Dumbledore: Oh, yes. We’re in King’s Cross, you say? I think, if you so desired, you’d be able to board a train.
Harry: And where would it take me?
Here I am, going on.