I have been umm-ing and ahh-ing about writing this post for such a long time, because my mental health has been something I’ve always been very private about. I have spoken out a handful of times about my struggles on my personal Facebook page, but this was only after I’d recovered from my illnesses.
I would like to include 2 disclaimers before I begin: 1. What I went through, my journey and recovery are unique to me. I am not a “classic example” of mental illness because everyone’s battles are different. And 2. This post is incredibly long. I didn’t want to give a half hearted account of what I went through, but I just wanted to warn you that if you start reading now, you’re in for the long haul! Okay, here we go…
I think to a certain degree, I had anxiety my entire life. I look back at being in primary school and remember never feeling completely relaxed. I would worry myself sick over the silliest things, I was incredibly sensitive, and always worried about what people thought about me.
My anxiety reached new levels in secondary school, not helped by having to also deal with normal, hormonal insecurities that every teenager faces. I couldn’t help but constantly crave affirmation and acceptance from my peers.
One day when I was 14, I learnt that a boy in our year had been hit by a car and was fighting for his life in hospital. 2 days later, he was taken off life support as he was brain dead and had severe internal bleeding. Although I wasn’t very close to him, it was my first taste of mortality and it completely shook me up. Until that moment, I had considered death to be something that happens to old people once they had lived their lives, not something that happens to 15 year old boys on their paper round. I remember crying into my mum’s lap for hours that night, completely traumatised by the news I’d received.
They say that grief happens in stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. With hindsight, I think I got stuck in the “anger” stage for a very long time. I was absolutely furious that his life had been taken from him, that I saw him a week before his death and didn’t say hello to him, that someone with all of their life to look forward to didn’t even live long enough to take their GCSEs.
For the next year or so, I started acting out. I was so angry about his death that I became completely dead inside. I didn’t feel anything for a very long time during that year. I didn’t care if anything I did affected my education or upset my parents: I didn’t care about anything. I lied a lot to my parents in that year, telling them I was staying at friends’ houses when I was actually at house parties and that it was my best friend who smoked and not me… And although it’s completely normal for teenagers to go to parties and get up to no good every now and then, I was only doing it in an attempt to make myself feel something.
In the end, a family friend told my mum what I’d been getting up to. Funnily enough, while most people would be furious at someone for “snitching” on them, it was one of the bravest and kindest things anyone has ever done for me because since that day, my mum and I have had an amazing relationship. I find it so much easier to tell her when I’ve messed up or how I feel, and it’s all because someone helped start the conversation.
Fast forward through a rocky time at college and my first proper heartbreak and I suddenly found myself in a proper grown up job, on a gap year, with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had let people talk me out of following my dream of being an actor, and began pursuing another dream career of becoming a midwife (incredibly different, I know)! I think I knew deep down that it wasn’t what I really wanted but I watched all of my friends leave home and go to uni and I wanted to do the same.
I often look back on my first relationship and feel so so SO bad for my ex-boyfriend. He started out with a very sweet, occasionally fiesty girlfriend… But within about 6 months, all of a sudden I could be a complete monster to him at the flick of a switch. I would snap at him over the most trivial things (example: I once spent ages getting ready and missed the train. I decided it was his fault because he didn’t tell me I was running out of time. 2 weeks later, I shouted at him for giving me time updates). I remember once standing outside his uni halls screaming at him over nothing, and I started crying out of nowhere. I admitted to him there and then that I was sick and that I needed help. He very tactfully agreed and tried to get me the help I needed, but I refused it for months.
During December 2014, I left my grown up job in search for a job in the medical field. My motivation hit an all time low over the holiday period, and I found myself unemployed for the next 3 months. Those 3 months were easily the hardest and most traumatic months of my life.
I know it sounds silly, but I sometimes feel like my brain took all that free time as an opportunity to bring all the things I’d been neglecting to deal with to the fore front. My mum came into my room for a chat one night and I began crying about how horrific my life was and how sad I was all the time. I think my mum was rather surprised to find her 18 year old daughter begging for therapy after a lovely day out at the shops! That was the moment where I accepted that I really was seriously depressed.
I went from bad to worse in a matter of days after that. I describe those few months as “Vegetable Kez”, because I did absolutely NOTHING for days on end. By nothing, I don’t mean lying in bed watching Geordie Shore and scrolling through Facebook… I mean, there were days where I would stare at my ceiling for hours on end, crying my eyes out. I was completely and utterly overwhelmed at the thought of leaving my bed, my house or my pajamas. Anxiety began to set in very quickly, and suddenly even the most menial of tasks became absolutely terrifying. I would cry and shake and black out if I left my house, even going for dinner with my dad made me bawl my eyes out with fear.
I massively struggled when something unpredictable happened. My family and I went out for Mother’s Day and I had a panic attack because I couldn’t decide what to eat, and I couldn’t bring myself to order something that I might not like. I felt like a stranger in my own body when things like that happened, because I didn’t feel like it was me controlling my behaviour.
During the worst depths of my illness, I went to the doctors for help and ended up being diagnosed as severely depressed, bad enough to be bumped up the therapy and medication waiting list. To determine what kind of state you are in, doctors give you a questionnaire to fill out where you have to rank certain thoughts on a scale from “I never think that” to “I think that several times a day”. To give credit where credit’s due, my level of depression was very consistent, so by the end of my time visiting doctors and therapists I knew these questions off by heart. One question however, I always struggled with. The question basically asks if you’ve ever considered or tried to commit suicide. Now… this is something that until the moment I upload this post, only the NHS knows about me. Although I have never tried to, or even considered ending my life, there were moments where I was at my worse that I would just wish and pray and hope that I could just disappear. I knew that no matter what, I would never put my parents in the horrific position where they have to sit down and write their own daughters eulogy, but I couldn’t help but spend my 11:11 wish everyday on “I wish I had never been born”. This apparently made me “high risk”, something I have never agreed with. I was very clear that I did not want to end my life under any circumstances; I was just upset that I had no choice but exist.
Having depression and anxiety at the same time is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever experienced. I was always in both states at the same time, simultaneously caring too much and not caring at all. Wanting to succeed but not wanting to try. Wanting friends but not wanting to socialise. The only things I could continually bring myself to do was go and visit my boyfriend at uni, and go to my singing lessons. Other than that, I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to cope with anything.
In the space of a couple of days, I got a job and a role in a show. That’s when I started feeling a little bit less anxious about leaving the house because for the first time in months, there were people counting on me to be somewhere. I loved my job from my first shift and doing a show with new people was exactly what I needed. All of a sudden, I found myself laughing without having to force it, I was smiling to myself on the bus, I was looking forward to spending time with people and I was caring less about what they thought. Granted, those days were few and far between, but they were becoming more frequent.
I was starting to get to the point where I was done being sick, and so I signed myself up for CBT, which stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I had actually studied CBT in Psychology 2 years before and despite failing the course, I had some vague understanding of what it entailed. CBT is a different take on classic therapy; instead of discussing the struggles in your life, you pin point your negative thought patterns and behaviours, and work towards thinking and behaving in a more positive way. I think I actually only went to about 4 sessions because I had to get the bus there on my own and I chickened out more often than not. However, in my first session the therapist helped me pin point where my depression and anxiety had sprung from, and despite having already been diagnosed with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder – where you are anxious about anything and everything), she helped me realise that I was also suffering from Social Anxiety – a fear of socialising, what people think of you and in my case, psychoanalysing absolutely EVERYONE.
I spoke to her about a lot of things that I already knew I struggled with, like my fear of death and being abandoned, but also found that I had subconsciously been anxious about so much more. Just getting all of these deep dark secrets out in the open helped me massively, because I could then go home and verbalise my thoughts to my mum (who, let’s be honest, was my real therapist through it all)!
I was tired of being sick and sick of being tired. I was completely done with having depression and anxiety, and so I actively chose to change the way I thought and behaved. I didn’t let myself (as hard as it was at times) wonder what people were “really” thinking when they were speaking to me. I decided to trust that people talked me because they liked doing so, not because they felt obliged to. I didn’t let myself wonder what strangers in the street were thinking about me, because I began to realise that it really, REALLY doesn’t matter.
Of course there were still moments where it was just easier to let myself be sad for a few hours, but I started being able to recognise when my hormones were playing a part in my mood. I found myself becoming more and more carefree as the days went by, suddenly revelling in my weirdness and uniqueness and seeing those traits as my best qualities. I did the things that made me happy, regardless of whether or not people understood my decisions. I reached out to people that I’d hurt and set the record straight: I was ready for a completely fresh start.
Although I still have days where I’m moody or self concious or worried, I was absolutely overjoyed last September when my doctor told me that I was officially no longer suffering from either depression or anxiety (as far as their quantifiable measurements suggested anyway). I worked so so so hard to pull myself through a time where I felt like giving up, and I did it all through sheer will power and determination. Oh, and of course my mum. I know full well that I would have never got better if it weren’t for her and so, thanks Ma. You’re one in a million.
I know I didn’t exactly explain how I got over my illness, but I think I’ve rambled on enough for now. I’m planning on doing a few follow up posts and going into detail on certain topics that I’ve only brushed on for the moment. But for now, I think this is as much as I can cope with sharing!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this incredibly long post, it’s something I wasn’t sure about posting for such a long time but felt like it was something I needed to say. Please do let me know if there’s any questions you’d like me to answer, or anything you think I’ve missed out, I’m always happy to chat about my experiences and if even hearing my story helps, then I feel I’ve done my bit!
Massive shoutouts to my patient and very cuddly Dad, my school nurse, Sarah Kelly, Clemmie, Jimmy and my amazing, supportive and wonderful family, without whom I probably would not be as sane as I am now.
Finally, I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: thanks Mum. I couldn’t have done it without you.