November 9, 2012

A woman holding up a sign reading: "self harmed", "suicide attempt", "depression" | Time to ChangeSince I was about 11 I have felt sad. I thought it was because I didn't have many friends or because my mum was quite ill. Things got worse when I became a teenager and we moved countries. I found it difficult to fit in, to find myself and to deal with my hormones. I started to self harm because that was the only way I could find relief from the chaos in my head. I had asked for some counselling but depression was not discussed in my family and they told me it was not an option.

I don't know if anyone realised I self harmed but it was not discussed. Looking back I think it was because people did not understand or know how to help. I felt so isolated and alone. I wanted to end my life and remember attempting suicide at 15. People thought I was just seeking attention.

Things got progressively worse when I moved to England

Things got progressively worse when I moved to England. I felt lost and more alone than I ever knew I could feel. It was crowded and London was so unfriendly. I became an empty shell of who I knew I should be. There was no happiness to be found anywhere and I was a nervous wreck.

I then met my now husband. He seemed to be the only one who really saw me, who reached out, held my hand and kept me from falling into complete darkness. I did many things to him but he stood strong by my side and to this day supports me while I ride my emotional roller coaster.

I felt the world would be better off without me

Just before my 19th birthday, for reasons I cannot even remember, I took an overdose. My life was nothing to me. I felt the world would be better off without me. I was nothing. As I lay on my bed waiting for death, my cat Nikki came up and looked me in the eyes. She loved me and from somewhere deep, deep within me I was told hang on. I can't remember but I must have called an ambulance. I do remember I kept apologising to the paramedics and felt so guilty for wasting their time. My lovely other half came to A&E and he was so upset. To this day I feel awful for having put him through that.

We moved out of London to the countryside and I then slowly began to rebuild my life. I had kids young, which was difficult but the best thing I had ever done. I did have post natal depression after both and did not get much medical support. The kids were and still are the lightness that cuts through the dark fog. I have learnt so much from them and I finally now belong and fit in somewhere.

My kids and my husband make sure I don't disappear

I still get moments where I think they would all be better off without me and I feel like a burden. I still fall into the black quick sand and begin to shut down and disappear. My kids and my husband make sure I don't disappear, they support me and hold on to me. I owe them my life, my everything. We still have Nikki (along with many more pets) and to this day she is my special girl.

It is for my family that I have started a journey to free myself. It really has not been an easy one, and I'm sure as I go along it will become much harder. The first step for me has been to open up and tell people. In this society we are expected to simply plod along and metaphorically put plasters on severe mental injuries. This has got to stop and I am slowly removing all the cover up plaster and bandages. I am finally removing my mask. I’m finally looking within myself and mending things properly so I can once and for all move on.

I started a project called Unmasked

As a photographer, what better way to do it than through photos? I started a project called Unmasked. This was a way to help me and others 'come out' and in doing so educate others and hopefully do our bit to help end mental health stigma. I really hope you will join the project.

I have also started writing a personal blog, which again I hope will help others see they are not alone in their struggles. I know that depression is something I will have to live with but I am getting better at noticing the signs before things get bad, realising things I have to do to help keep it under control and accepting and loving myself. I am not a failure, I am not weak. I am something and I am strong.

This is a hidden illness but hopefully by talking about it people will realise it is not something one can just "snap out of"

I have not found much support out there, either from doctors, community nurses or counsellors, but believe (and hope!) that I can help myself. This is a hidden illness but hopefully by talking about it people will realise it is not something one can just 'snap out of' or 'cheer up'. It is a struggle and so, so difficult, lonely and scary. We are not alone, we have each other and we can get through this and help each other.

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