August 16, 2012

Photo of Aline, a Time to Change bloggerI have experienced problems with my mental health, on and off, since early childhood. However, it is only recently that I have felt truly able to discuss these experiences with those closest to me.

In the past, others’ perceptions of me as happy-go-lucky and my own misconceptions about mental illness made me feel uncomfortable about opening up to people.

Somewhere between the ages of 5-10 years old, after a series of stressful events, I started to struggle with anxiety and depression. Convinced I was suffering from an incurable illness, I would spend hours reading the family medical dictionary.

I developed a fear of vomiting which escalated and started to take over my life. As darkness fell in the evenings, my fear would increase. I was unable to sleep properly, scared of being alone with my thoughts.

I reached the conclusion that hiding negative emotion was the key to maintaining good relationships

As a child, I did not know how to explain what I was going through to my parents. I found it difficult to control my anxiety which led to outbursts of rage. This caused conflict within my family and I reached the conclusion that hiding negative emotion was the key to maintaining good relationships and to being “normal” and likeable.

I was bullied at school during my teenage years and this led me to a greater desire to be liked. I hid my mental health problems from my friends and developed a happy-go-lucky persona. If I did mention anything, it would usually be within the context of a joke.

I truly believed I had thrown it off forever

By the time I reached 19 years old, I felt terrible. I struggled to eat and sleep. I went off to university worried that I would not be able to cope. However, being constantly surrounded by people in a new environment, I started to feel a lot better. After a couple of short bouts of depression in my early 20s for which I finally sort help and was treated with antidepressants, I truly believed I had thrown it off forever. I got a job I loved, moved to London and threw myself into a hectic social life.

Unfortunately in my late 20s, once again following some stressful life events, my mood began to drop significantly. However, I continued to maintain my loud, outgoing persona, making regular visits to the pub next door to my office where my colleagues would make comments such as, “you seem so happy, what’s your secret?” and “I’ve never seen you without a smile on your face”.

my boss at the time noticed there was something wrong

Statements like these were meant as compliments but I let others’ perceptions of me prevent me from opening up to them. Despite my history, I decided that I wasn’t the “type” of person to suffer from depression. Surprisingly, my boss at the time noticed there was something wrong, took me aside and asked me whether I was depressed. Scared that admitting to my problems would damage my career prospects, I lied and told him I was fine, just a little concerned about my finances.

Ashamed of my behaviour at work which I felt was erratic and unprofessional I jumped at the chance to move to a new job which I was not capable of carrying out. I left a few months later under the threat of disciplinary action, escaping a bullying boss. Following this, I decided to go to my GP to ask for help.

I now take antidepressants and I am feeling a lot more positive.

I benefited greatly from receiving two years of psychotherapy on the NHS. I had a fantastic therapist who helped me on my way towards trusting my own emotions and judgements. However, 6 months on from the end of my therapy, I was still struggling with chronic low mood, to the point where I regularly contemplated suicide. With encouragement from a close friend, I made the decision to go back to see my GP. I now take antidepressants and I am feeling a lot more positive.

I was open with my current employers about needing time away from work to attend psychotherapy sessions and they supported me. I regret not talking to my previous boss when he approached me, with good intentions, to check that I was okay. I now know that it would have been beneficial to ask for help.

I have learnt that mental health problems can affect anyone

In recent years and partly thanks to Time to Change, I have learnt that mental health problems can affect anyone – there is not a “type”! Education is important – if I had been informed about mental health issues at school, I might have got help a lot earlier. Although I still find it difficult, I hope that if I start to open up to others it will not only help me but it might also enable them to discuss their own experiences and encourage them to ask for help if they need it.

Finally, I am beginning to feel proud of the person I am today; my experiences of mental illness are part of the package!

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