I’ve spent the last six years trying not to be defined by my mental health. I try hard to appear strong and confident and I’ve retreated slightly from my old ways of bearing all online.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week though, so I’m going to write some words, because while deeply detrimental to a sufferer’s quality of life, poor mental health often goes undiagnosed or simply dismissed, and that’s not good enough.
When I was 16 I was diagnosed with OCD and a severe anxiety disorder, triggered by a prolonged period of illness. I left school, left any possibility of a conventional method of higher education behind, and embarked upon an eye-opening, turbulent and fucking terrifying journey to some kind of normality. Whatever normality is.
I try to steer clear of words like “battle” and “struggle” because, while it was and is those things, I am not a victim.
There were times when my hands and arms were raw and scabbed from endless washing, I hadn’t eaten a thing all day because all food, cutlery and crockery were contaminated, I couldn’t walk 100 metres down the road without having an almighty panic attack, and I’d lost over two stone in weight and my body was no longer functioning how it should be. Naturally, I was pretty angry. I felt like the life I should have had was being swiped from under my feet, but ultimately, I knew that the only person that could save that was me. It was my responsibility and it was within my power to do so.
I’m not a victim. I have always had a wonderful life, incredible support and access to the NHS. I tried counselling, medication, homeopathic remedies, CBT and a really weird holistic therapy where I had to walk around the room with my eyes closed and shout random words. Some worked better than others, and along with the support of my family and friends, an ambitious sensibility and sheer determination, I’m doing okay now.
It turned out that A Levels and university weren’t the be all and end all and when I left school at 16 I wasn’t throwing my life away like I was led to believe.
It’s fine to feel sad and to wallow for a while, but at some point you have to decide that the state of your mental health is not going to define who you are.
I think that can start with being unashamedly open. Telling your story and listening to others’. Not being afraid to be who you are at your most ugly and weak self.
I’m not ashamed of the problems I’ve faced, whether people understand them or not, and I am not a victim. This Mental Health Awareness Week I want more people to open up, enlist the help that is available to them (the CBT I received under the NHS was far better than my experience of private therapy), and understand that it’s okay not to be the finished product. Don’t judge people for what they’re going through and don’t judge yourself similarly.
I will continue to work through my issues, knowing that while I’m weak in some ways and wash my hands far too much, I’m also strong and determined and really fucking great.