My experience of mental health, much like my condition itself, runs to two extremes.
I first realised that I wasn't 'normal' when I was at primary school, things that didn't bother other kids would send me into an absolute meltdown. A small change like a supply teacher for the day would completely throw me.
Secondary school was even worse. I was bullied for five years and the experience still dictates my feelings about myself and my view of the world to this day.
Throughout my adolescence I noticed that my mood could 'flip' from being sky high with sparkles and sunshine (you get the idea) one moment and then could burst like a giant black balloon sending clouds of darkness to choke me and drag me under.
These feelings 'converted' to a full blown depression when I turned 18. My friends from college (the best two years of my life!) were off to university. It just felt like something was missing, a piece of the puzzle that I couldn't lay my hand on.
When I think back to that period, from 2005-2009 it's mostly clouded in a black fog, I was on anti-depressants that were of no use except to make me feel exhausted and fuzzy headed. Amazingly the fog began to lift around the start of 2010, to this day I'm not sure why (if I did I'd have bottled it and sold it trust me!), I came alive, stopped taking my meds and started going out clubbing with friends, acting like a normal 23 year old.
During this time I met my best friend Helen through our joint passion for our favourite band, 30 Seconds To Mars, and just clicked instantly. We even went to America at the start of 2011 to see them play – if that's not crazy I don't know what is! All through this time I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything I wanted to do and that fate was on my side.
Sadly what goes up must come down...
Around halfway through the year, I started getting very anxious – a new sensation for me. Anxiety is sneaky, it slowly eeks it's way into every aspect of your life and controls it with an iron fist. I would wake up terrified, be afraid to do certain things in case something bad happened, random things like being scared to sit in one spot in the garden or eat certain foods. Everything went dark again. I was taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication once more, fuzzing up my head.
I saw a psychologist around this time who realised that my ups and downs couldn’t only be put down to depression and suggested I take mood stabilisers instead. She explained that the anti-depressants were actually making my symptoms worse, pushing me up and then letting me plummet back down. I felt a difference almost immediately upon taking them, things seemed a lot clearer and I felt calmer.
This peace and quiet was rudely interrupted when everything fell apart in my job. I was blamed for an incident that wasn't my fault and suddenly went from being "our most promising member of staff" to a liability trying to destroy our service from the inside out.
My managers spent hours pouring over any mistakes I'd made, building up a portfolio of Jen's minor errors to justify their case for beginning disciplinary proceedings. The worst thing was these were the managers who had been so supportive of my mental illness up until that point, even arranging for me to see the psychologist who started me on the stabilisers.
The gloves came off, when I mentioned that on occasion I struggled with the work due to my condition, causing me to make mistakes. I was told that I was endangering the service. A colleague told me that they believed I was "playing the mental health card to try and make it harder for them to take action against me". I just couldn't believe that they would make that kind of statement. I worked for an NHS Team! I eventually left after being signed off sick for nearly six months. I just didn't have the energy to fight to be treated fairly when it was clear they had no intention of changing their stance.
Around that time I saw a psychiatrist who finally gave me a definitive diagnosis. I have a combination of OCD and borderline personality disorder. It explained why my anxieties and what I call my 'crazy ideas' overwhelm me, it explains why my mood can leap around for no reason, it explains why I'm so reliant on other people to be happy as I measure my own happiness against theirs.
Nowadays I'm working back at the hospital on the staff bank. It's low paid but my colleagues understand my issues. It's a zero hours contract which means I can take time off when I need to. Although since I don't get paid for time off it does mean that I am always struggling financially.
It's hard sometimes seeing friends getting married, starting families, buying homes and working in good jobs. I think that if it wasn't for these stupid brain chemicals that could be me. However, I also know that if I moved out of home I simply wouldn't cope.
I realise that I am incredibly lucky to have the friends and family that I do. They are so supportive and encouraging of me. It's the little things they do, lending me their Jack Russell for cuddles, sending me postcards to make me smile, days out to geek at planes, watching rubbish on YouTube together or in Helen's case insulting me out of a bad mood – cheers hun!
Living with my condition is tough. There are days when my OCD utterly cripples me, days when all I want to do is scream and shout but I have to keep a lid on it so that I don't take it out on the people I love. Days when I'm too exhausted to move, days when I feel utterly detached from the world around me. I take seven and a half tablets a day just to be at this level.
But what I also realise when I reflect on a particularly bad self harm episode, or look the tattoos I have that tell my story so far. I'm not done yet. I love that feeling when I've finished a creative project and am really pleased with it, cuddling my rabbits and burying their face in their fur, struggling not to sing at the top of my voice on the bus when I'm listening to my favourite music and too many other things to mention these are all part of my armour against the rubbish that my brain throws at me.