Mental Health // Recovery

This is so long (sorry!) and *potentially triggering*. Writing has always come naturally to me, but when the topic of conversation is particularly raw and personal, it becomes profoundly more difficult. I have been wanting to write this post for so long, but have struggled to find the right words or courage to do so...

I don’t want this to define or influence me as a blogger and have people look at me differently, but in the same token, I feel the need to confront it, for me. The words have been circulating in my mind and what I have wanted to say has been coming to me in waves, but I simply don’t know where to start. I have honestly attempted to write this so many times and erased the post a million times over, mainly in fear. Fear of coming across as an attention seeker (some people think bloggers/media personalities contribute to some absurd false representation of mental health by making it 'trendy'); fear of those who know me personally who don’t necessarily know my past seeing it; or people just generally thinking that my journey is trivial and questioning why the hell I felt the need to write it.

So many bloggers have approached mental health and have done so in a way that has garnered nothing but positivity in response, but I’m not one (honestly) that likes too much attention, or desires pity, because I have not gone through anything groundbreaking. I am not special in any way, I am just another person whose brain has been wired with a chemical imbalance. I am a little embarrassed talking about it to be honest, but I know deep down I shouldn’t be. So many people go through similar things, but I thought if I just spoke out about my recovery, it might help someone, even if that is just one person going through the same recovery motions, or someone who is at the point of struggling and needs some reassurance in knowing it will get better in time.

The reasoning behind this post is a simple one. In April, I hit the two-year milestone of being off medication for depression, in addition to being self-harm free. This was a big personal milestone for me because I remember a time so clearly that I didn’t think I would ever recover. The message here is that everything will get better, even if only marginally. I am finally at a point where I can say I have recovered enough to share my experience. After all, to quote a favourite phrase, progress is progress, no matter how small.

I had a notification pop up on my Facebook page the other day in the ‘memories’ section that showed me a status that took me right back to my diagnosis. It was six years ago when I took the biggest, scariest step into my doctor’s office after suffering for a good couple of years prior. I started harming when I was sixteen and it took me a LONG time to confront my demons. I have my friend to thank for this as she took it upon herself to encourage (and take me) to the doctors. I remember this mostly because I was all set to attend university in the September but knew that at that point in time I wasn't really well enough. It was at the doctors that I had to fill in countless pages of a questionnaire while talking for - what seemed like hours - about myself (one thing I particularly find hard, even now) and additionally signing up to CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). The latter was a big struggle for me. If anyone has had CBT you will understand how emotionally draining it is and how it’s all about confronting the root of your depression and finding ways to manage it; changing the way you think and behave and noting possible triggers. My answer was, I simply didn’t know. This frustrated me more and I didn’t want to confront the past, nor my current demons. I hated myself, which was all I knew. I walked out of my CBT session feeling so much stress and more anxiety over trying to find the reason for why I felt like I did, that I decided not to return. Instead, I opted for the course of antidepressants and regular counseling sessions with my doctor. I was prescribed Citalopram and started off on 20mg, which then got increased to 40mg a day. I felt like I had failed myself; why should such a young girl have to rely on drugs to get her through the day?

My doctor was honestly the best person I could have spoken to. If I had a wobble I would go in and she would be the one person that didn’t judge. I think I was still hiding my cuts to people at this point, but those who did find out, I knew in my heart they couldn’t all understand – I never once blamed them for that either, as I didn’t understand myself why I was like the way I was. The only analogy I can use to describe self-harm is this: if you think of your body as a balloon and overfill it with air it’s going to get so tight and compressed. If you make a small hole in this balloon, some of the air will release and the balloon won’t be on the verge of bursting. I didn’t self-harm with the intent to end my life, it was for the release. All these feelings would build and build until I couldn’t take it anymore and I needed to release them. Incur physical pain to help relieve the inner pain if you will. I am quite fortunate now that I am pale (it does have its plus points) because two years on my scars are barely visible and have faded really well. They were never hugely prominent or deep (another thing I thought I failed at, which now looking back is a really upsetting thing for someone to think), so unless you know what you’re looking for or I have fake tan on, you won’t really notice them. I will admit though, I have at times, missed the intensity of my scars. That sounds incredibly wrong and irresponsible to say, but this was a long journey I went on with myself, and seeing the scars remind me of how far I’ve come. It makes life easier though that they’re not overtly visible.

I went to university despite being advised that it wasn’t the best time, but I didn’t want to fail myself anymore than I already felt I had done. I thought I would be fine relying on the pills, but it wasn’t all that I had thought it would be. I couldn’t really deal well with stress or change (I still struggle), and my first year of university was a difficult one for me, health wise. Going to university is all about creating new friends and creating a whole new life for yourself, and I tried too hard to be someone I simply wasn’t. After a few months of university I soon relapsed and didn’t know whether I could hack the whole uni thing. I did however, with the help of some amazing people in my life - old and new friends – get through. I remember over those three years I was on and off, but I fell the hardest in my third year. The stress got too much and the self hatred of not achieving anything good got the better of me. But through all of this I graduated, and that was probably my proudest moment. I showed myself what I could achieve, even with darkness clouding my brain. When I left university I got clean again (SH really was like an addiction), and sorted my life out. I was doing so well; I got a job and moved back to London, I had my friends all around me and life was great. That was until something happened around my 22nd birthday that sent me into relapse again. This was the last time, and I decided - after a few weeks of taking my meds again (I kept some 10mg tablets as a security blanket) - that enough was enough. I didn’t need them. The thing with anti-depressants is that - although they do help - they can also make you feel numb. Numb to the point of not feeling sorrow, nor joy. I didn’t want that again, and I didn’t want the stress of hiding my body. I went cold turkey, if you will, and it was not easy (I don't recommend because of the side effects), but I did it.

Of course, two years on doesn’t by any means determine that I am fully recovered, because I am not. I still face my demons every day; I still get quite anxious in large groups of people, or with people I don’t know; I still have bad days where I don’t see any light; there are still times when I think it would be better to give up, but the big difference? I don’t give into those feelings. I find other ways to cope. The lighter days outweigh the bad days now. I know that it’s very common to relapse, and I am not saying I won’t again, but for now, I feel content. My problems are as problematic as everyone elses. Yes, I still can be very negative and really despise certain aspects of myself and my life, but these issues feel more normal and manageable now; a far cry from what I used to feel.

I must admit it has got easier to talk about as time has gone on and it is somewhat cathartic to face the past and my journey. I also have the best group of family and friends that stuck by me even when I was at my lowest, so I hope this reveals a little light for those of you in your darkest days. Please feel free to talk to me if you ever need someone that won’t judge or question your feelings, because sometimes, kindness - even from a stranger - can do the world of good.

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