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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Well done

Give yourself a huge pat on the back and I think it can take just one person like your housemate for example to make all the difference.

Thank you

Thank you for this. I still have a fair way to go when it comes to learning how to manage the bad times, but I have made so much progress and things are steadily getting better. My housemate showed me that sometimes all it takes is a cuppa and a friendly ear to start someone talking. They sound like such simple things, but the people who offer that are friends to treasure. I just hope he realises how much it meant and still means to me.

Old mates

Hi Milli , ive seen old mates on psyciatric wards. Mates from school, and all of us think that we diddent have a normal childhood. but none of us thought we needed help due to being in the first stages of life We diddent have the life experience to know in those days that we had any problems and just accepted what was happening as a part of daily living Your blog Milli will be very benifitial to all young peoples to let them know that talking is the way forward and that mental illnesses can strike at any age and there for to seek help is the best policy Nice one Milli Take care

Thanks Paul

Hi Paul, Thank you for your comment, it has really touched me. I think that when you are young you are often lacking the experience and even the language to understand or explain what is going on in your life, particularly when things become difficult. Hopefully, by talking about mental health openly we will be able to help young people find their voice and the words they need to speak out and access help when they need it. That is my dearest hope.

Thank you

Thank you for sharing your story. It took me to the age of nearly 30 to speak to the doctor, yet alone anyone in depth about my mental health, through fear of shame, rejection, stigma and more things I had imagined. I wish I had sought help when I was younger and I hope that your story will help others seek help. I vividly remember not feeling 'right' in my teens, times at home were generally awful and I recall writing dark poems and fantasizing about just 'ending it all' to stop the thoughts. And an attempt to drink nail varnish remover but my brother caught me. I used to play out scenes in my head as to how I would end it all, how it would feel and would anyone really care or notice. These low periods continued unnoticed by others, until last year when I was living with a flatmate, and I nearly had a breakdown over who's turn it was to wash the dishcloth and spent the night getting progressively intoxicated and cutting myself where no one else would see and nearly overdosed on painkillers and sleeping pills. Something snapped inside me and I dug deep and phoned the doctors. Though I waited two weeks to see him and nearly chickened out on an hourly basis thinking he would have me sectionned - I actually work for the NHS and couldn't bear the thought of my colleagues knowing what was going on inside my head yet alone friends and family, so I played down my symptoms to the gp. I was put on meds and referred for CBT, which finally came 8 months later and had monthly appointments with the GP where I slowly learned to open up and be honest. During this time I also opened up and told people how I felt. Which was terrifying initially but I refuse to hide me anymore. Life is good now, I have a boyfriend, we recently moved in together and my colleagues, family and friends are all aware now of my mental health. Being open and honest helped my aunt talk about her feelings and sought help following her breakdown. I encourage people to be open too. I have days still where I feel life is pointless and the dark clouds gather but knowing I have, and can help others makes all the difference. Often its the little things people do that make a difference and I try to do little things for others too, hoping to make a difference in their day.

Thank you for sharing

Hi Anne, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. Like you, I wish I had been able to seek help earlier. I am so glad that you were finally able to. I agree it's often the little things people do that make things better and I think it's brilliant you try and make a positive difference in other people's lives too. Being kind to each other can and does make all the difference.

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