I think what stands out most for me, in my experience with mental health issues, is how quickly they appeared, seemingly from nowhere: I’d settled in at university, was enjoying my course, had a lovely group of friends, a boyfriend, a good supply of tea – all of the ingredients to be content with life. About half way through my first term, almost overnight, I started to feel what I assumed was homesickness, although I couldn’t quite understand why it would happen so late and having been so happy at Royal Holloway. When it developed over a few weeks into a constant feeling of panic that stopped me from socialising, eating and really from ever leaving my room, I really began to wonder what on earth was wrong with me. I think the fact that I kept asking myself that question is really poignant, purely because it’s something that most people I know who have struggled with mental health problems have asked themselves, but one that to be honest, no one ever should. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing wrong with me, or anyone with experiences similar to mine because such a huge range of similar problems is so common, occurring in one in three people.
I eventually went to a doctor under strict instruction from my Mum, having basically not eaten or slept for a month but I found it took a long time to get any real or useful help – initially I was just given a box of valium and sent on my way, which of course ended with me rather spaced out wandering off to Egham train station in my pyjamas to spontaneously head home to Cheshire, but at least I found the trains very amusing! I got used to that highly intelligent and well thought out advice ‘ why don’t you just be happy?’, people actually told me I was selfish and attention seeking because I wasn’t acting ‘happy’ … oh ok, I’m terribly sorry, excuse me whilst I go and try harder! I’ll be totally honest here, I never found medication, counselling or anything like that helpful, although I know a lot of people who have found one or both to be a fantastic coping strategy.
Despite the best attempts of the friends and family who stuck by me as I slowly descended further and further into madness, I just flailed more and more, like a sort of helpless beached whale. Whilst some people tried to help, my older friends expected me to be my usual hyper active happy self and just got fed up at how boring I was. The reaction of most people really made me feel pretty damn worthless on top of everything I was already going through, I ended up convinced that in the state I was in I was of no use to anyone and was basically doomed to spend the rest of my life hidden in my bed with an intense fear of anything sociable. This of course was a spiral of hopelessness and I ended up convinced I had absolutely nothing left to make my life worthwhile, having lost friends and a long term boyfriend based on the fact they just considered me insane and scary, I reached the lowest point of my life so far when I completely gave up. It’s a bizarre feeling to stop wanting to live, to be fed up of everything and lack any motivation, it’s not dramatic and emotional, just like feeling tired on a whole new scale and ironic considering that humans tend to be programmed with survival instincts. Hence I began to wonder whether I still counted as human or whether I had just become some robot hybrid that is unfazed by anyone and anything. People with less experience assume those feelings are scary and full of deep, dramatic emotion, but really, it’s just an overwhelming numbness. For this reason it marked the end of my worst period of panic as I had felt permanently terrified for every waking moment and for so long that eventually I’d used up all the fear I was allocated.
At this rock bottom point, anyone who hadn’t already, ran away as fast as possible, things got horribly messy but when they didn’t go as I’d expected, I think in a way it was the start of a wake up call, anyone who has ever reached that point will understand that from there things have to get better, there’s no where worse for them to go. Seeing my Mum, sisters and those real friends so upset and scared was probably the trigger for the painfully slow rebuild of the confidence and self worth I’d lost. Right there at the bottom, I’d found that to my complete genuine surprise, some people seriously loved me, and two of them had only met me at university the tiny space of time I’d been there.
But the worst experience for me that is permanently imprinted in my mind, is the people who see me as weak and think decide they can use it against me for their own gain. I am however slightly smug that this may be something that helps me, I can lose every feeling and emotion that I’m meant to feel in order to be socially acceptable as a person, but I will always have a stubborn determination to prove wrong anyone who either says I can’t do anything.