Facing my mental health problems
I was reminded recently that I had pledged some time in support of people with mental health issues, which I admit that I had forgotten to do.
I was struggling to think what to actually say, then thought why not just speak from my heart? Why wouldn’t I support MIND services & all of my fellow mental health sufferers , because of course that’s what they are. I have had ongoing mental health problems for most of my life. I always felt different, an outsider. Half a century ago + ( yikes, now I feel old!) things were very different, you weren’t considered to be struggling, you were mad, or stupid, dangerous or disruptive. It wasn’t discussed openly, in fact it was rarely mentioned at all. If you were unlucky enough to have any form of breakdown, you were sent to a secure unit, where if anyone asked your whereabouts, the hospital name would be mumbled quietly, like some dirty secret. You had to conform to stay out of confinement. I learnt to play by the rules – then.
I was an extremely sensitive child who was prone to outbursts of frustration. I was dreadfully unhappy but no one asked me why. On a couple of occasions I was frog marched up to the police station by my parents who were convinced that I was taking drugs, which I wasn’t! I was unwell, I needed support, I got threatened with being sent away. Naturally I got worse, heard voices, hallucinated, lived in fear, although I was never too sure what I was afraid of. I spent many, many hours in my room where I felt safer. Even before I reached teenage, I had thought about suicide, the thought rarely left me. In those times punishment was quite hard for misbehaviour, boys would be caned, girls fared a little better unless you had really over stepped the mark. Fearful of being punished or rejected, I kept most of my difficulties to myself.
Getting pregnant at 16 was a heinous crime. Although my parents supported me, which I am eternally grateful for, they were convinced that it was just another thing that I did to spite & embarrass them. I was swinging between extreme highs & suicidal lows, moods changing so rapidly that I couldn’t cope at all. Because I was unable to verbalise what I was going through, I learnt to stop trying & kept it all inside myself.
Somehow I managed to get through the years, going from one disaster to another, marrying unsuitable men because I hoped that being married would make me ‘normal’. To my shame I brought 5 children up in my see-saw life. They didn’t understand, some of them still don’t. My guilt at wrecking their lives only served to make matters worse. By then, married for the 3rd time, I was drinking heavily just trying to get by, to dull the emotional turmoil inside. Needless to say, after a series of marital problems, my brain finally went into meltdown. I had a complete breakdown.
Shut away for several months in a large psychiatric hospital, I was sedated so heavily that I had no idea what was happening. Given endless electric shock treatment, which simply made matters worse, I was eventually released, so screwed up, wiped out memory( through the etc treatment, which despite the reassurances, never recovered) terrified of everything & everyone. At home living in poverty with an alcoholic husband & a family who had no idea what to do, I fell apart. Between suicide attempts I was sent back into hospital, each time for multiple weeks or months. At home I became agoraphobic & coped by drinking endless cups of tea by day & booze at night. I begged for help but was told that I was just attention seeking. Given further medications & just had to cope as best I could. I have no memory of most of my precious childrens’ teenage years. I can’t ever get those times back.
Over the next 15 or so years everything fell apart. My marriage, doomed before it began, not helped by my problems, eventually disintegrated, my family was torn apart. I had nothing & no one. My guilt at allowing my mental health to mess up my kids lives, was too much to bear. Realising that this dreadful condition had affected the stability of some of them, seemed so unfair, but there was nothing that I could do.
Eventually, by now living alone in a new area, I attempted suicide again & again, until I found the strength to be honest with the doctors. I was so fortunate that my local mental health service is terrific, over the last few years it has diminished, but that has been due to government cutbacks, not the doctors & workers themselves. After over 60 years later I was finally given a diagnosis . My condition has been complicated by other issues, including physical difficulties, but after all of the years, doctors & psychiatrists were starting to look for ways to help me, not just doling out pills. Specialist one to one talking therapy proved to be the breakthrough that I needed. Now I am well on the road to recovery. Thanks to someone taking time to listen to my unspoken words, I was able to find ways to manage my condition.
I don’t suppose that I’ll ever be the same as my peers, nor would I want to be. My years of hell have proved to be the making of me. I have found a side of me that is empathetic, caring & thoughtful. I now have a full, extremely happy life. I live alone by choice. I am vegan,teetotal & try to live healthily, this has all helped, but in itself couldn’t ‘mend’ my messed up brain. I was very lucky to be given another chance at life. I can’t convey how wonderful it is to actually look forward to each day.
I rarely get depressed or anxious anymore, but know how fragile that line is. I will always need to be mindful of my mental state. Hopefully now that I have worked through my issues, rather than having them swept under the carpet, I can live a perfectly useful & fulfilling life.
Am I ‘normal’ – I doubt it! Am I mad?, No & never was. I was ill.
Mental illness is exactly that – an illness. It can’t be helped, can’t be made to go away. Sufferers aren’t evil. Mental health has so many variations, no two people react in exactly the same way. Our illnesses can’t be put into boxes, we rarely fit into tick boxes. Help, compassion, understanding & thoughtfulness are needed. We shouldn’t be victimised, mocked at or alienated, our heads do that well enough for us by ourselves.
We don’t expect favouritism, we deserve to be treated fairly. Some of our conditions may require closer care, but otherwise PLEASE, PLEASE, see us for who we are, not our condition. Don’t we deserve that?
So many people will develop mental health problems at some point in their lives, it could be anyone- it’s not selective. It doesn’t care if you are black, white, rich or poor, so next time you met someone who accepts & admits to having mental health difficulties, they are doing a very brave thing. Every single day is a battle & it’s NOT THEIR FAULT. Treat them with the same respect that you would give to anyone else. And remember, it could be you walking that difficult road. I hope that it never happens to you, but you are not immune to it. No one is.
Thankyou for reading this. Some people will think of me in a worse way now, people that had never realised what I ‘ve had to contend with. Other people, hopefully will have a rethink about their attitudes towards mental health. I have been honest because I believe that it’s time that the stigma was abolished. We deserve to be treated fairly.
Remember, we are not monsters, just ordinary people trying our best to cope in extraordinary circumstances.