A Brief Account
I have been mulling over this post for almost a year now – ridiculous I know! I mean what am I so afraid of? Being judged by strangers, upsetting those close to me, admitting to myself what past me used to be like, to be honest, probably all of the above. But whats the use of crying over spilt milk – or past events you have no power to change? I want to help end the stigma around Mental Health and I feel the best way to do that is to share my story.
My childhood was pretty tough, I was subjected to both physical and emotional abuse from a young age. Chaos and misery reigned supreme, and for a long time I never thought it would get any better. Since my parent’s separation when I was 5 we lived a somewhat fractured and turbulent life. I moved house a lot between both parents, 18 times on my 18th birthday to be exact, and I moved schools maybe a third as frequently. My little brother had quite severe behavioural difficulties from a very young age, and another family member struggled with serious alcoholism. I felt lost in the midst of everyone else’s issues and for many years hid my problems in order to help everyone else. I never seemed to fit in well at school, I found it hard to make friends and didn’t really understand children my age. I think that was why I was an easy target to bully. At home I felt isolated from my family and at school I felt isolated from my peers, as such socialising for me became a huge issue and would cause me quite serious anxiety. It was a tough and terrifying time for many years, but I am proud that I can now say I made it through. If anyone had told that sad and troubled girl, ten years ago, that in a few years she would feel successful, beautiful and loved, I’m sure she would have laughed in hopeless cynicism. And if I could go back and tell that little girl, that scared little girl, that one day it will all be okay, I would. But in many ways I think it was hitting rock bottom that made me realise in candid terms, that I did not want to die. I very quickly realised that despite all the pain and all the fear, there was happiness in life if you looked hard enough to find it. The old adage “you’re the only person who can bring you happiness” is an annoying and loose phrase. For one you’re not the only person who can bring you happiness, many other people can bring you happiness (provided you find the right people.) But also because people tend to use it in a way that means that other people shouldn’t be able to hurt you, but it’s a sad truth that it’s almost impossible to go through life without hurting someone, or being hurt yourself. I guess the best goal to aim for is not to deliberately hurt people. I’m going slightly off track now – despite my distaste of the adage I can see some truth in it, although we cannot control how people around us act, we can control how we react to it, and that plays a huge part in how we feel about ourselves. Someone once said to me “how can anyone love you if you don’t love yourself”, and something about this simply profound phrase touched a part of myself I hadn’t yet discovered. At the time I didn’t love myself, I’d barely say I liked myself. I was insecure about almost every aspect of my being, which is an unhealthy and unattractive trait. I realised for the sake of my relationships, my mental wellbeing and my future, that I had to learn to love myself. And yes it is much easier said than done.
Two Years Ago
So I started a journey of self-discovery *cringe* that has encompassed the last two years and changed my life in ways I never thought I could. A huge part of healing involved looking back at the past and understanding why I did what I did, and why I felt how I felt. Understanding the past, as my therapist once said will help you understand the present and look to a better future. I spent a long time looking back and trying to make sense of the chaos, before I realised it was impossible when I was trying to make sense of all the chaos at once. I had to take out small manageable chunks and then work on those. I learnt to prioritise the chunks; the depression, then my core relationships, then my anxiety, then my health and so on and so forth. This method made the whole process feel less daunting and more feasible.
And with no-one to talk to, no outlet but my own body, I turned to self-harm to get by. I started self-harming when I was 14. Initially it was cat-scratch like marks on my arm made with a paring knife. But as the years went on, my need for control deepened, and so the self-harm got steadily worse. I cut deeper and more frequently, on my arms, my stomach and thighs. I took apart pencil sharpeners and razors, anything that would give me a few hours of peace. The more I cut, the harder it got to hide. I would wear a bandage on my arm during Games lessons and tell people I had fallen over. I would wear long sleeves whenever possible. But I remember once letting my guard down and my scabs were visible to a group of my peers. Well it only got worse from there, the bullying and taunts that followed stayed with me for a long time, I guess I had never expected kids to be that cruel. I think for a lot of people it was unfathomable, why would anyone want to do that to themselves? They didn’t understand my need for control. In all the turmoil around me I had found something that was completely in my power. I couldn’t control the bullying, but I could control the blade. I couldn’t control my parents issues, but I could control where I bled. I couldn’t control what was going on in my head, but I could control what I did to my body. It gave me a sense of power at a time when I felt like completely helpless. Cutting also offered a distraction from the cruel discord that plagued my mind day and night. When I cut I could focus my mind on the wound, the stinging pain, the blood as it beaded to the site of the cut. The endless arguing, the violence, the bullying, the loneliness, the confusion, the pressure, the stress, the anxiety, for a few hours it would all end. Cutting was like a drug, literally; the body naturally produces a chemical compound called endorphins, which are released to help us in times of pain and distress. Endorphins generate a physical high to counteract the pain we feel. When you cut your body releases endorphins to mask the pain, when those endorphins subside you crave the high again. I stopped cutting just under two years ago and, although I had a minor relapse at one point, I can be proud to say I don’t feel the need for it anymore.As a teenager I would get uncontrollably angry, rarely taken out physically on anyone else, it manifested mainly in verbal outrage or panic attacks. I was angry because I felt like I was crying out at the world for help and no-one was answering my call. Not parents or family, not schools or organisations, I felt abandoned. No matter how much I shouted or cried, I was only a teenager having a tantrum. I would feel incredibly frustrated when suffering with a panic attack I would be told to “stop having a tantrum and go to my room”. Because of course I wasn’t just a teenager having a tantrum. I was a broken child who wanted to be held, to be healed. I would find myself struggling for breath as my entire body tensed. Sometimes I would pound the floor to get the frustration out, and sometimes I would curl up into a ball until I could breathe normally again. And after every episode I was made to feel childish and ill-behaved. I felt this way through much of my childhood and teenage years, that my issues were something to be ashamed of, to be bottled up and locked away. Of course it’s only when you grow up, and are given the wondrous gift of hindsight, that you understand how destructive bottling up emotions can be, because of course there is so much one bottle can hold.
I focused on being positive to counteract the depression. I taught myself to appreciate the little things in life. Watching the sun rise over the first frost of winter, the smell after rain or the joy of my dog when we were reunited after time apart. I knew I would miss the taste of tea, cheese, chocolate fingers, the bracing chill when running around on the hockey field in December. I would miss my cat, my favourite movies, my stuffed animals. The sound of birds and the freedom I felt when running through the country. I would miss all the books I had never read and the feeling of climbing into fresh sheets. I would miss all the places I had never visited and the songs I would never hear. But more than anything I knew I would miss the people who had helped me throughout the years.
I’m sure I could go on but, seeing as it’s taken me a year to work up the courage to post this, I think I’ll leave it here for now.