October 8, 2013

JoshuaJune 2009. A hot summer night in Manchester. It finally happened. I was on the pavement, cradled in the arms of my best friend.My face felt as if it was on fire and I could hear someone screaming hysterically. It took me a moment to realise that this sound was coming from me.

I had hit rock bottom.

It's hard for me to say when my descent into depression began. After all, it's not like there's a rule book, or a certain path you take; it just happens. At school I was always aware that I was different. At the time it didn't bother me, I was just a kid trying to fit in with everyone else, like everyone does when they're in school.

It was only when I left school and went to college that I realised it was becoming a problem for me.

A friend pointed out how dramatically my moods would shift

The time I really began to notice how bad things were was when a friend of mine pointed out to me how dramatically my moods would shift. One minute I would be bouncing of every wall, talking a mile a minute, wanting to do a million things at once. The next I would be morose and downtrodden, pondering my existence and wondering where my life was going. Although I listened to his advice to go and see a doctor, I chose to ignore it rather than confront it head on.

It didn't help that during this time of my life I went through a series of changes. I was being promoted at work, I was going through a turbulent period with a close friend, and I had recently ended my first real relationship. Looking back, this is probably why I ended up sobbing hysterically on the pavement of Manchester's Canal Street several months later. I chose not to face my fears of admitting I may have had something wrong with me, and I paid the price.

My family didn't 'believe' in depression

Over the next year, I began to realise why I kept it a secret. My family didn't 'believe' in depression and weren't especially understanding - in particular I remember a day of not being able to physically get out of bed and face the world, and my parents told me 'this wasn't the way to behave' and 'everyone gets depressed, but they get over it'.

A boss of mine at work casually asked why I had to have my breakdown when I've got such a great opportunity in front of me i.e. my promotion, as if I had meticulously planned to have a breakdown to fit my work pattern. My second relationship went down in flames as my then-partner so sensitively announced to me that he 'couldn't handle this'. It was this kind of behaviour that made me understand why I didn't want to accept my mental illness.

I eventually I sought out help at my local doctors

Even so, I eventually sought out help at my local doctors. It wasn't something I wanted to do, but when you're regularly having hallucinations about killing yourself and are having a constant battle with your conscience, it was probably for the best. Having a stranger to talk to who was completely unbiased helped me enormously, and I was able to talk about issues that I'd never spoken about to anyone. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a step towards a more positive future.

Three years on, and it's the present day. Twelve counselling sessions, a number of mental health experts, several referrals and a diagnosis for bipolar disorder later, and I finally feel like I have handles on my mental state. I have read enough books, stories and papers on mental illness to last me another lifetime, have tried several alternative therapy methods, and eventually managed to read the signs that my body sends out. The biggest and most positive experience I have taken from this is that eventually, no matter how endless the time in between healing can seem, no matter how wretched that hollow may be, you eventually begin to understand yourself and accept how you are.

My friends are my lifeline

My parents will never fully appreciate or understand mental illness, but God love them, they try. My boss supports me in every imaginable way, which I'm eternally grateful for, but best of all, my friends are my lifeline. They have seen things, read things, and heard things that no one should ever have to, yet they'd happily sit on the phone at 4am listening to me if it means having someone there for me when I truly need it.

Advice is something that's arbitrary and often feels somewhat futile to me - everyone's story and experiences are different, and advice isn't always going to appeal to everyone. However, if I had to give anyone advice on how to deal with their mental illness, whatever it may be, it would be this: deal with things in your own time and in your own way, but the most important thing is acceptance. You may need medication, you may not, you may need a counsellor for the next year, or five, or ten, just for someone to be there to get it all of your chest.

Open your mouth and work your tongue around these words

But first, lift your head up, lock eyes with someone, and open your mouth and work your tongue around these words, 'I'm not OK. I need help.'

That's the first step.

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