September 13, 2014

Approaching the day I felt a range of emotions. Rikki You could say a tranquil excitement. There was no fear. I maintained an inner confidence and believed however the day went – I’d ‘made it’ regardless. I had more than enough time to comprehend well in advance what I was going to do. There was no need to reflect negatively because today, finally, I could take a prolonged period of hardship and use it positively to try and help others.

I delivered a speech on my experiences of living with mental illness

Back in early 2014, talking changed my life for the better. After a heartfelt recollection of events from a gentleman documenting his depression and how he overcame it, it was my turn next to speak. There were three of us speaking individually. I felt like the culmination of years lead up to this Wednesday afternoon.

I’m Rikki, I’m 23 and I live Portsmouth, where I have worked for the University of Portsmouth’s Sport & Recreation department for the past five years. Like 25% of us, my life has been affected by mental illness in recent years. On that day in February, I took up a fantastic opportunity given to me. As part of a University-wide event held for its students and staff, as well as having Time To Change Champions and University doctors in attendance, I delivered a speech on my experiences of living with mental illness. As a result of talking, I was left with an initial indescribable feeling. To me, this event signified I could move on and attempt a good thing at the same time.

I wanted to make the most of an opportunity to provide hope that recovery is possible

In early February I received an all-staff email at work. A lady working with student well being was promoting an upcoming University-wide Mental Health & Well being day, appealing for contributions in the way of creative writing, artwork and volunteers for the day. I re-read the email a few times and thought okay – this is it. Thoughts sent ideas racing around my head. I barely slept that night actually. I’ve always wanted to try and reduce the stigma attached with mental illness but have never had the platform before. I got in touch and after attending meetings with different University staff, alongside the support to speak from my department, it was all set. The day was here: I’d share my experiences holding nothing back. I could be a part of something positive that could encourage others to discuss mental health more openly, an opportunity to provide hope that recovery is possible. For that reason I never wanted to back out.

There's no real triumph without hardship

Rewinding a few years to my early adolescence, you’d have met an entirely different person. Until I was around 20, anxiety consumed my life for what seemed like forever. I never thought it’d go away. At its worst, I took nine months off work and barely left the house. I became a recluse. If I tried to go out and socialise or do anything - even food shopping, I’d be hit with intense symptoms. The profuse sweating was overwhelming and I’d feel faint. Any day I wasn’t physically sick was a good one. Even with a positive mindset, this broke me down. It was demoralising and at times I had little to no hope. Avoidance didn’t help the anxiety and it got worse and worse.

When I was 19, I tried to take my own life. Reaching an uncomfortably familiar low again at age 21, I spent three weeks on a psychiatric unit after voluntarily being admitted to hospital. I believe there’s no real triumph without hardship. I’m writing this blog having made a full recovery and I’m happier than ever.

People are more understanding than you may initially think

Standing front and centre in the room, absorbing the anticipation and tension from the audience, I began to talk. Having received encouragement from colleagues who helped me to practise, there was little anxiety. My goal was to tell my story of struggle and eventual triumph in an honest, open way, focusing on the raw events of what got me from A to C, without leaving out ‘B’, all in 8-10 minutes. As the minutes went on, an element of peace filled the room. I left nothing out. Time went quickly and despite a bit of a dry mouth, it couldn’t have gone better. A weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. It was a feeling of reinstated freedom being found again after being overwhelmed by mental illness, met with a desire to move on. People are more understanding than you may initially think. An overwhelmingly positive reception closed a 10 minute summary of a life I’ve finally left behind.

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