September 9, 2016

"I have no doubt in my mind that the people around me have saved me. Everyone deserves this much help and support when struggling with a mental illness."

Warning: This post contains references to suicide which some readers may find triggering.

I am writing this on World Suicide Prevention Day because the stigma of mental illness almost killed me. My story with mental health problems goes back years, however it never got to breaking point until two years ago. I'd struggled with depression and extreme general and social anxiety on and off for years. After my aunt died, depression hit me, gradually building up over the following months after her death. I've never been very good about talking to people about my feelings, and so I just bottled everything up.

Gradually, I began to channel my feelings into my eating and exercise. I was eating less and exercising more and more. This quickly turned into bulimia. At first the purging began with exercise but was soon followed by vomiting as well. I began to lose weight quickly and was exercising out of control, some days doing three or four hours at its worst. My depression quickly spiralled out of control and I began to feel suicidal. The loneliness I felt was unbearable. I was ashamed of the way I felt, and constantly panicked that people around me would find out. I was afraid of people's reactions; that they would stigmatise me, not understand, or just tell me to pull myself together.

Last year, I took two attempts on my life, the second time ending up in a psychiatric hospital for ten days. I've since had another three psychiatric hospital stays. In April, I was diagnosed with bipolar type I after experiencing my first manic episode.

To say the last two years has been hard is an understatement. I am now trying to overcome my eating disorder and am doing fairly well in recovery so far but this has been a long, hard battle – for the most part on my own. I still struggle in my head sometimes and particularly with exercise, but I am fighting it. I am still coming to terms with my bipolar diagnosis. It is a life changing illness and in particular finding a medication which suits me has turned out to be a nightmare with my high sensitivity to any side effects.

This is where my friends, family and work colleagues have helped enormously. Before I told them, I was incredibly paranoid and anxious about telling anyone, particularly about my eating disorder. I was so nervous of the reaction I would get when I first told my friend. Luckily, she was very understanding and promised to be there for me – and has been through all of it, along with all my other friends. I was so scared to tell a lot of them for fear of what they would think of me. People always thought I was very good at holding things together but the reality was very different. My closest friends have since been there for me every step of the way. From listening to my worries, phoning for help during my manic episodes and visiting me in hospital. My family have also been incredibly supportive and I couldn't have got through the past 12 months without them, particularly my mum and dad. They had no idea how much I was struggling and were heartbroken when they found out. I only wish I had spoken sooner as it may have saved me from things getting as bad as they did.

My work colleagues have also been very involved in all of my difficulties. Telling them about my first suicide attempt was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but the response I got couldn't have been more understanding and caring. They were all incredibly upset by the news but helped me by sharing stories of their own struggles. This made me feel like I was not alone and that I wouldn't be judged. They did a brilliant job of rallying around to support me during the time after my suicide attempts. In addition to this they have witnessed me at my absolute lowest and highest. They have witnessed both manic episodes I have had which have involved psychosis. I became paranoid that one of my work colleagues was trying to kill me. This must have been incredibly difficult for them to deal with whilst I was at work. They did not know my diagnosis then but did everything in their power to phone for help. My boss even came and sat underneath the table with me when I felt scared I was going to be attacked.

Since then my bosses have been incredibly understanding with my situation. I have had a lot of time off work due to my hospitalisations and they have supported me all the way throughout this so that I have been able to return to work fairly quickly each time. They have also been very understanding with the huge array of appointments I have had, allowing me the time to go to them and also giving me lifts to appointments as I cannot currently drive. For this I am eternally grateful.

The amazing response I have received from people has helped guide me through the most difficult time in my life. I dread to think how I would have been had I not had such a positive and helpful response to my situation. I have no doubt in my mind that the people around me have saved me. The struggle now continues in finding a medication that is right for me and continuing to battle my eating disorder, but I know that I can count on the support and guidance of the very special people around me. Everyone deserves this much help and support when struggling with a mental illness.

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