Hannah, April 24, 2019

"Living with a mental illness does not define you as a person, nor does it make you 'crazy' or 'unlovable'"

I remember the first time I talked about my mental health. I was terrified.

What if people thought I was crazy? What if they didn’t believe me and thought I was making it all up for attention? Would they take me away from my parents? Would I still have friends?

I was 15 at the time, sat in a hospital bed after taking an overdose, and had been raped 3 months previously. I was not able to attend school anymore and there was a pending court case looming. I constantly felt sick for no obvious reason, I had lost all my confidence and self-worth, and I felt anger that I couldn’t control or express in a safe way. I felt that my life was not worth living anymore. I just wanted to escape the constant feeling of isolation and sadness.

Like every mental illness, suicide has a massive stigma around it. Does trying to take your own life make you attention seeking? I guess you will gain attention, as the act itself is a cry for help, but when you want to end your own life, you have gone past the point of wanting help and the thought of attracting attention is definitely not going through your head. The consultant at the hospital made a very important point that day, “suicidal thoughts are another symptom of depression, just like feeling sad or not being able to sleep.”

I went on to be diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) severe anxiety and depression. I was having problems eating and developed anorexia, which I feel was an attempt to gain control over part of my life, as I struggled to control what was going on inside my head. I also found it hard to maintain any kind of relationship, whether that was friends, family or boyfriends.

Just before I turned 20 I met my ex. I built up the courage to confide in him about my past and how I was still struggling to come to terms with it. Our relationship completely changed that day. He became very manipulative, and abusive, both verbally and physically. I was repeatedly hit, called attention seeking, and told that no one would love me after what I had been through. His abuse triggered flashbacks and nightmares of the sexual assault I experienced when I was 15. This put me off wanting to talk about my mental health ever again.

By the time I was 21, I hit rock bottom. I had to stop working completely, the flashbacks occurred every day and I had developed physical pains as a result of my anxiety. I eventually turned to self harm again. I took 4 more overdoses between the ages of 21 and 23.

Since my last overdose, I have learned to talk about my mental health again. I feel this has been so important in my recovery. Through talking, I have received some of the help I very much needed. I have also connected with people that have been through similar things, which has helped me feel less alone.

Don’t get me wrong, talking was hard at first. I had been so brutally treated the last time I opened up, so why would I want to put myself through that again? But in fact, it was the complete opposite. I was listened to without judgment and reassured that my feelings were valid.

I get so afraid that sharing my own personal experiences will make people avoid me, as mental health is still such a taboo subject, but if they do, I feel it is important to focus on people in your life that support you and love you for who you are.

I am now in a very happy relationship and surrounded by supportive friends and family. I still have bad days; sometimes I can’t even leave the house. But I understand that living with a mental illness does not define you as a person, nor does it make you ‘crazy’ or ‘unlovable’. I hope to share my story and highlight the importance of fighting the stigma and talking more openly about our mental health.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.