My name is Amy and I experience CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and depression. I have lived with these issues for the last seven years: it mostly began at 16 during my college years. I was severely bullied/abused and was alone in a very small-minded community. Also at this time I was really struggling with accepting and coming out as gay because of the people I was around. After a few terrible years I became severely anxious and depressed. I also experienced a trauma through coming out in which caused me severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I was very suicidal for years.
Often I felt a pressure to pretend to be okay
I went to university thinking I could ignore everything and put the past behind me. It was here I first experienced mental health stigma. Course mates used to gossip about me behind my back and I was called things like 'mad Amy.' It made me feel humiliated, isolated, and alone and upset. I did, however, make other friends who were more understanding, even if they didn’t understand the mental health issues they were still supportive and tried to help as best they could. Others were not so supportive- I drifted apart from a lot of people because they couldn’t handle my issues and didn’t know how to help. Often I felt a pressure to pretend to be okay and put a front on because I felt I needed to hide the problems I was having due to the fact some people can't handle anything different. That makes you feel more alone.
Sometimes people try to help but they don’t know how
Through the years I have had a few experiences of unprofessional therapists. In 2011 I had a private therapist who bullied me badly. This made me more depressed and suicidal and put fear into me of opening up to therapists. If you can’t open up to a therapist and tell them everything you need to, you can't work on getting better. Then, after this, I was again abused badly at an anxiety group I was attending by the facilitator of the group. I was dangerously suicidal- she took me in another room away from the group and then instead of helping me she abused me badly, barking 'You need to get stronger! You're weak!' at me and trivializing my experiences and emotional state and putting me down. She was cold, cruel and disgusting towards me. This again could have easily pushed me over the edge but it didn't. At the same time I had a few friends who were treating me very disrespectfully and bullying me: they verbally attacked me and trivialized what I was going through like it was nothing. So unsympathetic.
Sometimes people try to help but they don’t know how. For instance, people tell you to 'cheer up', 'get over it' and say 'it's not that bad!' I experienced all of this and it made me feel extremely frustrated, invalidated, unheard and disrespected. Mental health is a taboo subject- but the more people avoid talking about it the more ignorance and prejudice there is.
I’m learning to manage it all - there is hope
Luckily, in 2012, I found a good therapist through an anxiety support charity. By this point my PTSD has developed into CPTSD because of the frequent re-abuse and trauma. I have come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, though, with the right help. CPTSD and anxiety and depression still affects me every day and make life difficult but I’m learning to manage it all. There is hope.
Never be ashamed of your story and who you are
This year I started volunteering for Time to Change and I have done so much in a short space of time. Everyone I’ve met through Time to Change is lovely and I have made good friends. Its benefits me greatly and I love making a difference because I know how stigma/discrimination affects people and I am passionate about creating more positive attitudes and better knowledge surrounding mental health issues and dispelling those myths and beliefs about mental illness that are wrong. Recently I went on quite a few radio stations around the north west to talk about mental health stigma/discrimination and my experiences. It has improved my confidence and I’ve really enjoyed it as I think it’s a great way to reach a lot of people and I know it will make a difference.
My main message to anyone reading this is: never be ashamed of your story and who you are. Your experiences shape the way you are. Always love yourself and be proud of who you are. Speaking openly will help break down those walls of stigma and inspire and help others.