July 1, 2013

Man fighting dragon: "I wish fighting depression was this easy"Warning, some readers may find this post triggering.

I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 19 but by that time I had already been dealing with mental illness for many years.

These days there’s a lot more help and supported aimed at young people with mental illness, which is great. I can only hope this will lessen the chance of it being missed for such a long time in others.

I remember hurting myself when I was just seven years old. I would frequently retreat into fantasy at that age too, to the point that I wasn’t always aware what was real and what wasn’t.

At the time this was put down to me having an over-active imagination. After a while, I stopped talking about my ‘other lives’ as I became more aware that this wasn’t normal behaviour.

At 15 I finally spoke to somebody

At the age of ten I contemplated suicide for the first time, though I didn’t know the word back then. I only knew that I was unhappy and this seemed a way to end that unhappiness. By eleven I had started to develop disordered eating habits and my self-harming behaviour began to increase. By thirteen I was self-harming almost daily and had moved from contemplating suicide to attempting it.

At 14 I was referred to the school counsellor, I only went once and there was no follow up. At 15 I finally spoke to somebody of my own volition about what was going on. I told my primary care giver about my eating disorder and my self-harm. They tried to be supportive but clearly didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I spoke to her again. This time she suggested I go to the doctor. I did and was referred to counselling, but I only went three times and again there was no follow up.

At 19 my mental illness became visible to those around me

At 19 I had a serious melt down and finally my mental illness became visible to those around me. I dropped out of university. I was underweight, refusing to eat and scared to leave the house. One of my housemates went with me to the GP and I finally started the long road to recovery.

My decision to talk to my housemate wasn’t taken easily. In the past, on the rare occasions I’d tried to open up I’d been met with scepticism or fear and an inability to offer me the support I needed. I didn’t know how to start a conversation about my mental health but in the end I didn’t need to. I had a major panic attack about going out to the shop, just to pick up some milk so we could have tea. My housemate ran out, got the milk, made us both a cuppa then sat down with me in the living room and asked how he could help.

My housemate let me to know he was there if I wanted to talk

I was afraid at first – was I so crazy now that it was visible for everyone to see? Was he going to suggest I move out, as he had had enough of my often odd behaviour? I burst into tears and found myself unable to really talk at first. My housemate was amazing. He told me it was OK if I didn’t want to talk about it. He just wanted me to know that he was there if I wanted to, that he had been worried about me for a while and wanted to help in any way he could.

His understanding and patience made it possible for me to calm down enough to talk. It was a conversation that went on for hours and by the end of the it he was reassuring me that I wasn’t crazy and that I could be helped. It was him who suggested I go to the doctor and he offered to come with me.

Speaking to the doctor was difficult

Speaking to the doctor was difficult. I was worried that I would be told there was nothing wrong with me, or that she would think I was beyond help. She remained calm throughout but she kept asking me why I thought I was like this and that was a question I had no answer for. In the end she seemed a little frustrated that I couldn’t answer her questions but she did offer me medication and we discussed the possibility of a referral to local mental health services.

I walked away with a prescription for anti-depressants and an appointment for two weeks later so that she could see how I was getting on. Two weeks later I was referred for a mental health assessment, which was a relief. My doctor was efficient and pro-active when it came to my treatment but she didn’t seem able to understand why I couldn’t just pull myself together. I think the whole situation would have been easier for me if she had been more sympathetic but she did take things seriously enough to help me access the right support. In the end, that was what mattered.

I am so grateful for the support of my housemate

I am so grateful for the support of my housemate. Without him, I don’t think I would have even made an appointment with my doctor. Without his encouragement I doubt I would have gone back for that second appointment. I was lucky to have a friend like him with me because my doctor’s lack of sympathy was hard to deal with at first. Now I think that she was simply trying to keep a professional distance and it worked out well because I got the help I needed. I wonder though if a friendlier approach might not have worked better – particularly for those who don’t have a housemate or friend like I did prepared to go with them.

It’s been 14 years since then and I’m still far from healthy but things have improved so much. I have bad days, sometimes bad weeks or months but I have good ones too. I’m so much better at recognising when I need extra support and I’ve learned to talk about my mental illness instead of hide it.

Being listened to and supported makes all the difference

Looking back, it’s clear that people did realise there was something wrong when I was growing up. I’ve certainly had many a long chat with my guardian since reaching adulthood. I now know that she was very worried about me but was no more equipped to talk about it than I was. She saw the signs but didn’t really know what they meant or how to help.

This is why I’m so glad that there are so many services now aimed at young people, because being listened to, supported and helped along the path to recovery makes all the difference and the sooner you can have that the sooner you can start on the path.

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