October 24, 2012

Rachel, deputy editor of British Style BloggersMy mother is looking at my nail-polish, bitten, chipped and the colour of a rose, deep red. She reads a poster on the wall, then looks back to my hands. They are shaking, nails on one hand gripping the other so tightly I know I am leaving indentations of half-moons, tiny little nervous red marks.

My nails need to be painted, she says, then looks to her watch. Nervous habits, I am thinking, this is all this whole charade is. Neither of us know what to do, or think, or what will happen. I, for one, am utterly convinced I’ll be in a mental institution by this time tomorrow. I am already planning how I am going to fit in my work around recovery, if there is one, if I can get better, that is. It’s amazingly frightening once you realise your sole and biggest enemy in the whole world is inside your own head.

My first appointment with a psychiatrist is a long one. An hour and twenty minutes of questions about my entire life –span, as if every emotion and up and down and love and hate can be contained in that time. As if I’d even know where to begin. My psychiatrist has a tattoo and an eclectic fashion sense. She makes the idea that my mind is so muddled and out of sync seem almost funny.

‘I hear voices,’ I tell her... ‘But that doesn’t mean you’re crazy,’ she replies.

‘I hear voices,’ I tell her, ‘sometimes they say clear things, sometimes just mumbling.’ ‘But that doesn’t mean you’re crazy,’ she replies. And I am stumped. How can hearing voices in any way be considered a normal thing? ‘When people go through a lot of stress and become very, very low, the mind can play tricks on you. It does not mean you are mad, or insane, it means your brain is confused and panicking. It’s a cry for help, telling you that you’ve suffered enough, that you can’t cope anymore.

And that breakdown, that rush of emotion is what makes you human.’

My psychiatrist says I have wide eyes, bright and alive. Crazy, I suppose, in the non-literal sense. It’s nice to have someone pick up on the finer details, to not be hung up on the hospital appointments and the pills, the guilt and the shame and the self-hatred that comes with being ‘not quite normal’. It’s nice to know I’m human after all.

In the car. The way home. Things are muted and surprisingly normal. My mother – the one I inherited the eyes from – is strong, my hero. How she can deal with her teenage daughter’s mental breakdown – a triple strike after a parent with cancer and the leaving of her husband, my dad – is a mystery beyond me. She has shoulders of iron.

‘There’s a stigma against mental illness and it’s wrong’ she is saying.

‘There’s a stigma against mental illness and it’s wrong’ she is saying. I look away from the window to look at her. She stares straight ahead, eyes glazed. The road could be clouds for all I know. ‘People don’t understand it, so they shun it. People are just scared of something they can’t understand.’

I’m lucky that people noticed I had a problem before I even did. My mum sitting me down and telling me she thought I needed to see someone, my friends telling me they were worried about me – those were the first signs. They understood I needed help even if they didn’t understand what I was going through themselves, which made all the difference. Just knowing someone is there just to listen to you, even if they don’t have anything to say back, even if you’re making no sense, can be the difference between a good day and a bad one.

I admit, even to this day, I’m scared of admitting to a lot of people what I went through.

Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone has been as accepting. I admit, even to this day, I’m scared of admitting to a lot of people what I went through. There can be a lull in conversation if it’s ever mentioned, an awkward pause before someone moves the conversation on. It annoys me at times because I feel if I mention I had gone through and beat a physical illness, their reactions may be a little more engaging and encouraging because it’s something people are more able to comprehend.

And that’s part of the problem. A broken bone is just that – a broken part of your insides that can be easily mended and one doctors know how to do all too well. But when it’s your own brain that’s broken, no one can truly understand and no one can truly help because no one but you is inside your own mind. It is a ghost that will haunt you forever, even when you are better. It becomes a part of you.

 I am strong because I struggled with the help of others.

The pills I started taking that day were diamond-shaped. Like a diamond in the sky, a star, they are not a setback, but a wish, a window back to normality. I am not strong because I struggled alone; I am strong because I struggled with the help of others. The pills slip and slide down your throat like any other pill, block out symptoms like any other medication and improve health like any medical implement should. The road to recovery becomes one more easily travelled.

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Rachel is a Literature and Linguistics student and a fashion, music and culture writer. She is Deputy Editor of fashion webzine British Style Bloggers and Founder and Editor of blog Watch This Place. She’s also been featured in 15 poetry & short story anthologies, both in the UK and the USA as well as being longlisted for the Christopher Tower Poetry Prize in 2011. Once upon a time she was a psychiatric out-patient for over a year and now works to help break down the stigma and discrimination surrounding those that suffer from mental illnesses.


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.


mental illness

i have a mental illness and i find it hard some days and some days i can be happy or look like there is nothing wrong with me some times i find the world hates me but that's just the way i am i got bullied at school for having mental illness and teachers looked down on me as if i do stuff wrong all the time but i am recovering quite well from it now for people who has mental illnesses it's not the end of the world fight it and win coz i am still in my personal battle

I thought this was

I thought this was beautifully written and a poignant expression of your fight back to good mental health. I'm so glad that you had the strength to find the help you needed. Both you and your mother both sound like amazing people.

The Hearing Voices Approach

Hi Rachel Welcome to the world of voice hearing! We want you to know you are not alone and that many people hear voices and we have a worldwide support organisation to help people going through similar experiences to your own. We have a FB Group of over 1300 voice hearers and supporters where you can discuss and share your voice experiences at https://www.facebook.com/groups/intervoice/ We also have our own website at http://www.intervoiceonline.org/ We have found there are many people who hear voices, yet are not troubled by them or have found their own ways of coping with them outside of psychiatric care. This is very significant as it shows you can hear voices and remain healthy. However, there are also significant numbers of voice hearers who are overwhelmed by the negative and disempowering aspects of the experience. The experience of hearing voices prevents some people from living a fulfilled life in society (especially those in psychiatric and social care) and can lead to having a very poor quality of life. We have spent the last 20 years trying to better understand why some people can cope with the experience and others can’t. We have discovered that those people who are not able to cope with their voices, on the whole have not been able to cope with the traumatic events that lay at the roots of their voice hearing experience. You are welcome to join us.

Strong because she struggled with the help of others

Such a nice story, but why did the answer had to be THE PILL? And with no arguing for that this will be just for a little while? And that it must be in the lowest amount possible? She told about the losses in her life, which often is the reason for the voices to come.She had supportive people around her, couldn´t they have trusted her to take back her controll over the voices? To much medication puts so many young people into a state of total apathy. They loose contact with school, friends, work and themselves. Perhaps they do not hear the voices so clearly,after being medicated, but most people say they still have this sound - and gets much more fear, gains a lot of weight, gets diabetes and so on.... The intervoice.org gives lots of advice and support to people who hear voices. Give people some choices at least.

mental illness - Stigma and Strength

Hello Rachel - my daugter is suffering similar to you atm. She is also a lovely young bright and beautiful girl ... I hope that one day she will be recovering well and I feel that part of her recovery will be to help other beautiful young people also suffering. You are all so brave - the stigma is from those who are weak. I hope I can be the strong, resiliant mother to her like yours is to you. Thank you for your honesty and sharing xxx


I really admire you for writing this blog, and sharing these emotions with people. Prejudice is ignorance, and educating people is the way forward. I am 19 years old. My dad has a disagnosis of Bipolar. My mum has a disagnosis of M.E. I am a student mental health nurse, and could not feel more useful! I think the upbringing i have had compensate for my lack of 'life experience' as people call it when someone is over 30 with the same qualifications as a 20 something. It has made me be more understanding and compassionate. Sometimes people want to talk and sometimes they dont. Sometimes they want to listen to others. Sometimes they want to know what is going on in the rest of the world, be it what is or coronation street or what special offers Asda have on. Because it can make people feel safe. Someone told me this once. They said knowing that the world still goes on even though they are unwell makes them feel insigificant. Not unimportant or unloved, but as though a weight had been lifted and their responsibility had diminished. It no longer mattered if they could make polite chit-chat at the school gates, or if they couldn't muster the energy to wash the pots. Because life has a way of working out. Makes me feel reassured anyway.

thanks, this makes sense.

I've had hearing voices and seeing things, although when I talked to a psychiatrist I could barely even speak - I was an outpatient at a psychiatric hospital. It was never explained to me why these things were happening to me and now i see what you've been told was a good explanation, it makes sense a cry for help, id been through enough and I just couldnt cope anymore. Thank for sharing your story xxxx

Creative Enablement

Anyone who has lived with symptoms of schizophrenia for a considerable length of time will recognize the perspectives given here: the diagnosable symptoms of sz may be incurably lodged within us and May be a part of our make up, but that does not in itself present a grim or hopeless predicament. This is because our disabilities are also our Attributes. Maybe unwittingly, the psychiatrist's diagnosis undermines these attributes and sets them in a grim light. But really it is a matter of impact, intensity and degree, whether we languish in despair or set about engaging the symptoms as evidence of rare qualities which mark us out as having gifts to be expressed and applied creatively. What I am saying is: with the right help, a low maintenance dosage of appropriate medication to reduce the intensity of symptom's extremes -one which does not pile on a burden of disability which excessive medicating is apt to do- and some vocational and training guidance, we can be the creative artists that nature intended us to be, using our gifts to master the medium which is best suited to our attributes. What then of reconstructing the Dramatist and Playwright, the writer and novelist from auditory hallucinations? Musicians, composers, singers and lyric writers are also only a step away from the same level of creative attribute and giftedness.

You have a talent

Hello I have been reading a lot of the blogs on time to change because i am an artist and am making an installation called "my schizophrenic skirt" about mental health with particular reference to schizophrenia. All of these people writing about their experiences are incredibly brave and strong people, even if they don't quite realise it themselves. However your blog stands out from the crowd because you write so beautifully. I just wanted to say that aside from your incredible strength and bravery you are also incredibly talented. You should definitely write more, your style is very charming and compelling in every way. wow, well done.

(Agree with

(Agree with Claire) Incredibly uplifting - you are a superbly talented writer. It's great to read such an interesting and emotional article about mental health. You are truly gorgeous inside and out! xxx

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