This is a post that I have drafted, re drafted and dragged to the bin on repeated occasions in my time writing this blog. I can never find the right words to do this topic justice. I’ve tried to write it from someone else’s perspective but it doesn’t ring true.
Recently, my supervisor at work contacted me about the possibility of penning an article on mental health based on my own experiences in order to promote the support and welfare services at university. I must first of all state that this was done with the assurance that there was no obligation on my part to share my story if I felt uncomfortable.
Early last year I was diagnosed with severe depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It is an ongoing mental illness that can go from manageable to severe in a matter of minutes. The two are interlinked; if left not managed for a prolonged period of time it can lead to depression. This has happened at two points within my life, ranging in severity. My post for the university will focus on the effects of the resulting depression; here I have chosen to focus on my anxiety – I will hopefully shared the published article here soon.
With the new predominant focus on mental health campaigns and public figures such as Zoella sharing their stories of mental health, I felt that my story couldn’t help anybody and it would just be yet another teenage girl struggling to find her identity in her late teens. More importantly, I didn’t want to share it because I knew so many other people are in worse off situations than me and couldn’t bear to be labelled an attention seeker or ‘cottoning on to a new craze’.
It’s sickening but there are individuals who have faked or continue to romanticize mental health conditions. The main difficulty can be summed up with the phrase, “If you broke your leg you’d accept help from others to get around and help you heal; so why not accept help for your mind?” This demonstrates the ongoing issue and stigma around mental illness and the way it is viewed by society. I don’t want appraisal, credit or even attention by telling my story. It’s something I’d like to get off my chest.
It began with image. Like the majority of teenage girls, throughout my time at high school I suffered from extreme image and confidence issues. It is also a well known fact that no one gets through school without experiencing bullying in some format. I struggle to attach the label of bullying to my experience, similarly to my reasons of labeling my illness; someone is always worse of and I wouldn’t want to insult them by comparing my experience to theirs. I do, however, know this logic is wrong.
I was never overweight at school, I was what my gran likes to call ‘shapely’. In a group full of girls who had naturally slim frames, my chest and thighs were going to attract comments from the boys. What they didn’t know was I used to try and make myself sick some nights and sit by the toilet crying.
One break I distinctly remember eating a piece of toast and ‘complaining’ about something that had happened that day, a bad mark perhaps. At this point one of the boys lent over and in front of the entire common room declared: “don’t comfort eat too much Hannah or else nobody will ever want you”. I told him where to go and laughed it off. He wasn’t to know I’d been awake at three am with my whole body shaking for no apparent reason and sobbing that I couldn’t find the strength get out of bed.
Then there was social media trolling from a friend’s girlfriend because I worked with her boyfriend in a drama piece. It involved threats of mutilation, comments about how I was a “skank” and looked “like a dog” and jokes about how they were going to “chase me out of the country”. At 19, I can laugh at the immaturity; at 16 I cried myself to sleep each night. It all snowballed as more and more people got involved with joking comments about how they’d hurt me, and my closest friends were liking them all. All I could do was watch my laptop as more and more comments rolled in; I’d done nothing wrong.
There was one day where I finally decided I’d had enough. Mum had physically had to dress me and spoon feed me breakfast like a little kid because I couldn’t carry on with the daily anxiety attacks and being made to feel so worthless. I’d got into school and my friends ran away from me, blanked me in the corridor and shut themselves away from me, giggling in a toilet cubicle. They weren’t to know and did apologize soon after, but that was the night I went home and told my mum I didn’t see the point in carrying on anymore. That was also my 16th Birthday.
I remained off social media until sixth form, it was my form of coping. It came from all angles, different social groups – the popular boys because they thought victimizing me was funny and made the girls laugh; the popular girls because I was different to them; my close friends because I didn’t fit in with who they wanted me to be. It just never seemed to stop. I became accustomed to coming home and crying because I couldn’t understand how being myself was causing me so much misery.
This isn’t just a list of experiences, there is a point to it all. I’ve suffered from panic attacks from a young age, unbeknownst to all but my mum. There were hints to my condition, it would have just taken a friend to put them all together to realise. I suffered an extreme attack on the night of our final parents evening (not to do with my work, I was doing surprisingly well). The severity scared my friends – I felt so embarrassed.
The moment I realised that there truly was an issue was when I was standing in a train carriage on my way to London and started to panic for no apparent reason. No amount of rationalising or deep breathing was helping the blurred vision, tight chest and sweating to cease. I knew then that I needed help – I didn’t want whatever this was to prohibit me from living my daily life. I’ve learnt to manage it, the triggers for an attack and the certain ways I can keep it at bay. There will be episodes I know, but now they are nowhere as bad.
I’ve suffered with this illness for a very long time for reasons that have been torn apart in a counsellors office. I have been psychoanalyzed to the max as it were. I’m finally starting to conquer it. It’s taken maturity which only comes with time to understand why people behave in a certain way. I cannot convey my gratitude to the friends who have stood by me when others turned their backs. As I get older I’m starting to let go of the pain and anger I’ve had for these people and learn that they really don’t matter. You also need to know that some of those people have changed and I have nothing but love for them – I’d hate for them to think otherwise. Now I can finally focus on getting better.
I can’t believe the difference that going away to university has made to me. I became surrounded by like minded people and for the first time in my life I’ve realised that I’m not actually that different from other people. My closest friends are the ones I’ve made at this point in my life because they accept me for who I am. They can’t understand my bitterness and grudge towards these people I have left behind; I wouldn’t expect them to. But this is the reason that I’m writing this down, that way I finally believe I can start to get past it.
This has been very different to my usual posts on this blog. I would appreciate your feedback on this tricky subject. Thank you all for your constant support. This blog is something that is specifically aiding my recovery.