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.