October 3, 2012

I experienced mental illness for years but it took something huge to make me eventually open up. It was no longer my choice to talk, it was unavoidable. I wish I had disclosed my problems sooner and had control over when the truth came out about my mental health. Just as it’s never too late to talk, it’s never too early either.

There were early signs that I struggled to maintain positive mental health but they were often dismissed as ‘bad behaviour’ or ‘angst’. I acted out at school, constantly getting into bad situations and labelled as a troublemaker. My teachers always put it down to an ‘attitude problem’, never considering that rebellion often masks unhappiness.

I began self harming at the age of 12 to provide myself with an outlet, a respite and, at times, a punishment. But I found myself struggling to break the habit. Others started noticing but it almost seemed like people viewed self harm as a ‘rite of passage’ for a teenager and something that you would eventually grow out of. I did stop after a few years but I fell into deep depression instead. I didn’t talk; I couldn’t talk. I felt like if I told anyone what I was feeling, they’d ask me why. And the truth is, I didn’t fully understand why and I didn’t want to tell anyone every detail of my past for them to try to discover a reason either.

I felt myself gradually disconnecting from the rest of the world

I created a world of secrecy and began leading a double life. I still rebelled, still played the class clown in school, but I would return home every day and break down. I felt myself gradually disconnecting from the rest of the world, almost like I was in a bubble floating miles away from everyone else; totally out of touch and unreachable. I continued to deteriorate and grew increasingly suicidal. But how could I possibly talk to anyone about wanting to end my life? It would seem like it had come from nowhere and would be even harder for those around me to understand. So I carried on hiding, unaware that it’s impossible to hide forever.

My mental health problems had become so severe that, at the age of 18, I tried to take my own life. The first glimpse of my difficulties that any of my friends or family saw came in the form of a trembling, desperate mess lying in a bed in A&E with needles and tubes stuck in my arms. To this day, I am truly sorry that it got to that point and it almost hurts me more than depression itself to know how much pain I put them through.

I’d been suffering with depression for years and it took a crisis to make me talk

I’d been suffering with depression for years and it took a crisis to make me talk. It wasn’t my choice to disclose anymore; that control had been taken from me. Bottling everything up for so long meant it took me a huge amount of time to articulate what I actually felt; there was just too much to say. I ended up in the secondary mental health system, admitted to day hospital, and made further attempts on my life. I can’t help but think that maybe all that could’ve been avoided if I’d spoken out earlier.

Despite all the years of struggle and all the times I felt I had no hope, I did enter recovery and am now leading a happy, stable life, working for Time to Change on the Children and Young People’s campaign. In my first full time job at Leeds University Union, I created a campaign to encourage other people to talk about their struggle, inspired by Time to Change’s ‘It’s time to talk’ tagline.

I, along with 8 other University of Leeds students, took part in a video talking openly and honestly about our experiences of mental illness

 

Don’t wait to speak out. There may never be the ‘perfect’ time to open up, so don’t leave it until it’s out of your control. Do it on your terms, not those dictated by crisis.

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Comments

It took a crisis...

It's a bit too complicated to tell the whole story, but a personal financial collapse was what it took for me. I have been able - I told myself - to keep the depression beast at bay when I am fully-employed. After eight and a half years without a full-time job, I got a great full-time job doing online data entry - from home - for a consulting firm 1,000 miles from my home. During that 8 1/2 years, though usually employed (temp or part-time), it was not enough to rise above subsistence. Because we fell several years behind on county property taxes and my depression hindering my ability to gather tax records together near April 15th (nor the late filing times), we also fell several years behind in filing income taxes. Lots of swords hanging above my head. During the two years I had the great job, I was trying to pay down the overdue property taxes and filed 2009 and 2010 taxes on time so I felt somewhat OK. But when I lost that job unexpectedly at the beginning of 2011, the gradual collapse resumed and picked up speed. The good news is that our daughter married into a wealthy family and they were able to purchase and refurbish our home and we now dwell in the basement apartment. Not a perfect situation, but things have settled down somewhat. Part of the deal was that I had to go in for counseling - fortunately, donations from our church have helped pay for that. Running out of character spaces, so may be back later to finish... Hang in there, ya'll.

I have struggled for years

I have struggled for years with depression and anxiety-on and off. Always had a pre-disposition to it. Had a very bad attack last year-no eating, no sleeping, eventually not working very well and always thinking everyone else out there is ok. I dip in and out of it but have now realised that it is me-this is my weakness both physically and mentally. When I feel I am going down again-when all those horrors come back to haunt you-it is so scary and would not wish it on anyone, but with drugs and mindfullness I can cope. However, I am sure this illness has prevented me from fullfilling my potential, although I continue to work in a good job-my bosses are very well aware and have been excellent. I just want the rest of the world to realise that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness, and to be more aware

Living with Mental Illness

For me, too, the greatest breakthrough I have made with this illness was accepting that it is, and - as far as I can see - always will be, a part of my life and, indeed, my character; and finding coping mechanisms to prevent it from taking me under. A sense of relief came when I stopped yearning to be 'fixed'. I suspect that I wouldn't be half as wonderful as I am without this illness, and feel so proud just for being alive, holding down a job and living independently.

While I agree we need to talk

While I agree we need to talk about mental health issues, and do talk about my own much more than I used to, sometimes it seems that, until people see you at crisis point, they don't entirely believe or appreciate how bad it is; whether that's friends, family or medical professionals. Even I, when I am well or not that ill, feel almost like a liar talking about my mental illness, as I feel so disconnected from the ill me, and genuinely forget how it feels.

Video

Hi Harriet, just wanted to say how much your video meant to me. So many things said I could relate to and sometimes I forget that there are people out there like me so i'm going to keep watching this video to remind me. All the university advice really helped as well. Even though I don't know any of you, i'm so deeply proud of you all for speaking out and its really given me the courage to do so as well. Thank you.

Depression: it took a crisis to make me talk

Thank you Harriet for sharing your story. I suffered from depression for years but did not recognise it as such. At school I was very quite and withdrawn, the butt of many a joke. At home I was even more withdrawn and took to self-harming before I was 10. The physical pain was amazing compared to the inward hurt. As I got older my self-harm turned to drinking, putting myself in dangerous situations. It was only in my late 30s that one day I broke. Within a year I’d attempted suicide three times, spent time on a mental health ward taking a cocktail of medication to stabalise my mood. I’m back at work now and to everyone I function, but the desire to self-harm is so strong as it is still better than mental anguish. It is good to talk, it is very difficult (Ifind it very hard to share) - but do it!

Very inspiring harriet. So

Very inspiring harriet. So glad things better for you now, makes me a lot more hopeful about my issues reading this

I grew as a person

I have suffered for a very long time with some non-descript anxiety disorder. Sometimes it takes on traits of OCD, other times it appears to be more like GAD. It lingered for years without me ever fully realising what was happening. It was mixed with a significant amount of hard drug usage and I thought I was always just paranoid from smoking too much weed and taking too much acid. I had many episodes of severe anxiety, but when I finally quit smoking weed in my 2nd year at (Leeds) university I was surprised to find that anxiety persisted and again spiralled out of control. For about 9 months of my life I thought I was on the verge of developing a psychotic disorder and spent days and weeks analysing my mental state to no avail. As a result of my anxiety disorder I grew significantly as an individual. I matured and came into my own. I am a caring and insightful person and I am not sure I would have developed those skills to such an extent had I not spent so long trying to pull myself from the depths of anxiety. I still have some issues, but I can say with the utmost confidence that I am a happy individual with a very broad and stable base from which I can confront life's obstacles. Everyone has stuff to deal with of their own: no one really gets a free ride. You can't calm the waves, but you can learn to surf.

This video is a fantastic way

This video is a fantastic way of describing depression to people who haven't experienced it before and want to help a loved one or someone close by understanding what they're going through. Talking about mental health and sharing our experiences helps to remove the stigma and take away shame and guilt. "Mentally punching myself", is a perfect way to describe the inner despair I have felt and often feel myself. I'm working on getting better every day, and obviously i get my ups and downs as we all do, but knowing that I'm not alone is so important. Thank you

You is

You is kind You is smart You is important You are fantastic!!! X

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