As a teenager my moods became darker and I withdrew more. I didn’t connect with the girls at my school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, and although I’d always been told how clever I was, I couldn’t focus my mind to see anything through. When I was just 17 I moved out of home and went to live in London where I could combine working with college.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been plagued by dark days and although I’ve tried hard to manage the bleak times it’s a constant challenge.
As a child I didn’t feel as though I fitted in with my family and I found them overwhelming. I struggled with large groups of girls and was happiest when I was reading, listening to music or with my mum.
Throughout my twenties and thirties I was mainly able to stay well by occasionally taking anti-depressants, doing regular exercise, eating well and surrounding myself with positive people.
I’ve always strived to live a good life and wanted to help people less fortunate than myself so I got a job in social care where I worked with people who had drug and alcohol addictions. However, even though I had a job that made a difference, an active social life and a family I saw regularly I always felt disconnected from life.
There was days when everything was just too much. Just getting up was a monumental effort that would leave me feeling exhausted.
These are the indispensable tools that help me cope with my anxiety and panic attacks
I’ve seen endless counsellors over the years – as well as psychotherapists and psychologists. Some have helped a lot, others not so much. Over the years, I’ve been told I have bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety and psychosis.
Always more sensitive than others, my forties have been the hardest decade yet and over the last few years, my mental health has deteriorated more than I ever thought possible.
In 2014, I was made redundant from my job in social care and the money worries that ensued combined with physical health issues meant the period of relative stability that I’d worked hard to achieve ended and triggered psychosis. I felt I should be able to cope independently and distanced myself from my family and friends. I became plagued with paranoid thoughts and felt the world was out to get me. I was constantly terrified.
The bailiffs broke into my flat as I wouldn’t let them in to do a gas safety inspection.
I was isolated and living in a cold, damp flat. I had no money to buy food and became emaciated and my hair started falling out. I was so unwell that my sister had me sectioned for 28 days under the Mental Health Act in November 2014.
In hospital I realised I was blessed to still have the support of family and friends as unfortunately many others had lost contact with theirs due to the chaotic nature of their illness. For four years I made progress with the support services of the NHS. However I underestimated how important it was to take the anti-psychotic drugs that had been prescribed.
I am very affected by medication; it makes me feel sluggish and put on weight and I tried to wean myself off it. Although I coped for a while without it, quite quickly things began to spiral out of control. My thoughts became distorted, I couldn’t process conversations, the lights seemed too bright, the traffic too noisy and the smallest task completely overwhelming.
I was on anti-depressants throughout my entire pregnancy and there’s absolutely no shame in that
I began to feel paranoid. I thought I was being stalked and that my conversations were being listened to when I was at home. My friends and family told me that I needed to seek help and although I was reluctant because I was finding it increasingly difficult to function – and even using the phone seemed like a huge task, I made an appointment to see my GP. When I saw my doctor, he asked a mental health team to assess me immediately.
Being sectioned again in October this year was awful and I found it difficult to accept another diagnosis of psychosis. I had tried so hard to keep well and I was angry with myself that I had allowed it to happen. The worst thing about it was for the first week I wasn’t allowed to go outside. For somebody who craves the release that exercise brings, that was almost too much for me.
I’m not one to spend hours watching television, so I tried to keep myself as busy as I could in hospital by reading, exercising and engaging in the daily activities on the ward.
The doctors, nurses and various support staff were knowledgeable, professional and incredibly kind – even though at first I didn’t see that. Although I was initially resistant to having a higher dosage of medication, I realise now I needed it. Once I’d accepted the diagnosis and the fog cleared, I was able to engage with the help that was being offered to me.
Since realising I have mental health issues which need to be managed for life, I feel as though a veil has lifted.
For a long time, I saw my issues as weakness, and something that I would – should be able to beat. But now, I understand that I need a combination of psychological therapy as well as medication for the rest of my life – not taking it is too risky for me.
For the first time in years, I feel lighter and positive about the future. I want to travel, write, work and be well – and for the first time in a long time, I feel as though it is all possible.