Okay, so that’s a shitty joke, but I thought I’d ask myself the same questions I’ve been asking every person who has been so kind to let me interview them.
So, I’m Lucy, 21, and I live in South Yorkshire. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalised anxiety at the age of 12, at age 14 social anxiety was added to that, then at age 21, EUPD.
My biological father left myself and my mother when I was 3 years old, over the years he would see me on and off, regularly for a year at a time then out of nowhere there would be no contact. In my opinion, this was the starting cause of my mental health issues. From a young age, I would turn to food for comfort, becoming quite overweight. His abandonment sparked attachment issues and of course, abandonment issues. I was very reliant on my mother, very attached, I slept in the same bed as her until I was 11 years old. Throughout my childhood, I always felt empty, a physical hole in my heart. I had very little self confidence, blaming myself for my father’s abandonment, and being bullied for my overbite and weight problem at school. I never felt like I fit in, no matter who I was hanging around with. I was a very imaginative child, I would spend all of my time playing pretend. Even at primary school, I would rather play alone, in my imaginary worlds. My anxiety would make it impossible for me to speak in class, alienating me more. I would constantly fake being sick to be able to stay at home with my mother and when I was 9, my mother started working as a dinner lady at my school, which only made my attachment issues worse. Instead of hanging around with my friends, I would spend my lunches with her. I was a good student, a smart student, but I struggled socially. The bullying I went through in primary and high school made me very guarded, hyper aware of criticism or perceived criticism.
There have been a lot of triggers, I think. My father’s treatment of me, how easily he could discard me then pick me back up, like it was nothing. My subsequent extreme attachment to my mother, making me more introverted and less likely to socialise, never really learning how to be independent. The peak of my depression and anxieties hit when I was just about to go into high school, 11 years old, and my ‘step father’ moved in. I felt like my mother had been ripped away from me. I had spent years sleeping in the same bed as her, having that close bond, all of the sudden I was alone. I didn’t cope well. I would scream every night, I couldn’t understand why I had to sleep alone. I once screamed so loud that the neighbours called the police, they thought he was beating my mother, and my screams were her screams on pain. At first he was pleasant to live with but that didn’t last long. He was a drinker, a previous drug addict that had simply substituted drugs for alcohol. He would drink every day. His temper was explosive and unpredictable. Anything could set him off and you wouldn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t see it coming. He would cause arguments between himself and my mother all of the time. He would be very emotionally cruel to me, throwing it in my face that I wasn’t his daughter, dismissing my mental health, judging me for every little thing. He was a good manipulator, would convince other people and even myself that the reason he got angry was because I wasn’t a well behaved child. Whilst trying to deal with home life, school was no relief. For the first three years of high school I was bullied a lot, again for my weight and general appearance. I also lost a lot of friendships. The combination of all of this made my anxiety and depression worse. My school attendance was very low, I had to be taken out of classes due to my anxiety, I couldn’t complete my exams in the same room as everyone else because it was too crowded. I began to self harm, cut myself, but never deep. The teachers were awful, not a shred of understanding. I was a good student, never had been in trouble and always got good grades, but when I opened up to them about my mental health and it started affecting my school performance they turned on me. Treated me like a bad child. Screamed and shouted at me. Harassed me for not being able to sit in classes with other students. The days I did attend school, I would sit in an isolation room, but nobody ever bothered to bring me any work despite how much I asked, this had a result on my final exam grades. My grades aren’t bad but they were average, not to my true potential. Nobody wanted to help or listen, they wanted to hide away from it.
I first asked for help at 12 years old, my mother took me to my GP. My GP was an idiot, to be frank. I confided in her and she told me that I couldn’t possibly have suicidal thoughts because I would’ve taken my life by now. Her first idea was to throw antidepressants at me, not offer therapy. I think this is why I don’t like taking medication to this day and choose not to. After more appointments begging for help, I was referred to Camhs. I had 3 sessions there before I stopped attending. The therapist was clueless, she didn’t listen, she would blame everything on my biological father’s absence. After that, I was referred to a different therapist, in a building called The Cherry Orchard House. My anxiety was really severe at this point and at my initial assessment, I really struggled to put into words how I was feeling, instead of helping me overcome that, they sent me back to my GP saying my problems were not severe enough for them to treat. I tried to manage on my own for awhile, at age 16, I found a self referral voluntary counselling service in my town. They were wonderful but I fell into the common trap of ceasing therapy once I had started to feel my mood was lifting, this of course lead me to relapse. Again, I tried to handle things on my own. Things at home were still terrible. I attempted college twice but dropped out both times, my anxiety getting the better of me. My ‘step father’ sexually assaulted me at age 17. Life got worse after that. I drank a lot and when I got a job, I threw myself into working long hours to escape being at home. I also dabbled in drug taking and forced myself into sexual relationships that further destroyed my confidence. At 18, I referred myself to the same helpful counselling service, which was the first time I addressed the assault. I was in denial and very ashamed, it took a counselor to open my eyes and make me realise that what had happened was sexual assault. I wasn’t able to afford the service after awhile and didn’t receive any more mental health treatment until I was 20.
I have always been uncomfortable with taking medication. To me, it has always seemed like taking medication was just for everyone around me, not for my own sake. The times I did take medication left me with less of a personality than mental health had ever taken from me. I was just numb and almost robotic, I hated that. I wasn’t able to write or access my creative passions whilst taking them either.
Mental health has impacted my life massively, I feel there are more things I could be easily diagnosed with, but having more labels won’t change anything. It affected my ability to connect with people, form friendships, feel comfortable in people’s company. I have struggled to commit to things such as education and work, always having low attendance. My memory and concentration are poor. I have engaged in excessive and addictive behaviours. Drug taking, drinking, one night stands. Feeling the constant need to spend money just to feel something. Having to constantly dye my hair, add tattoos, and piercings to myself. I have very little confidence, I find it hard to leave the house by myself and spend a lot of my time isolated. I criticise myself constantly, I binge eat and I starve myself. I am irritable and have a lot of inner anger, I am not an aggressive person, so I direct this anger towards myself. I am very impulsive and without structure, I crumble. Romantic relationships have been almost impossible at times. I am very clingy or very distant, no in between, no predicting which I will be. I think obsessively, cut, slap and punch myself. I pick at my skin and I pull my hair. I can go weeks at a time without contacting friends or family and feel nothing. I struggle to be around people and isolate myself a lot but sometimes that isolation can send me crazy, making me very suicidal. I am unable to work and I am currently unable to look after my son, who is in my mother-in-law’s care temporarily while my mental health is so poor.
It’s hard to describe a typical day, it varies. Some days I can leave the house, others I can’t. I find it very difficult to keep up with house work and stay on top of bills without my partner’s help. I lose myself in video games, books, writing. I try to distract myself as much as possible. I can be the lowest of the low or I can experience periods of mania. For me, the mania is worse. I become very hyperactive which can leave me very tired and trigger anxiety attacks. I shake, I flap my arms, I talk non stop. Everything around me feels euphoric and I have the biggest ego, I believe I am the best thing and nothing can sway me from that. When I am depressive, I cry so hard it hurts to move my eyes. I don’t speak, don’t leave the bed. Don’t wash, don’t eat. I think and think. That’s all I do.
I think I’ve experienced quite a bit of discrimination. Friends and other people have pretended to care but when they became bored of me, they would tell me I’m just an attention seeker. I have had this from family and most teachers too. I have tried to always be honest about my mental health in a work place, but the moment I mention it, they have treated me like I am intentionally unreliable and incapable of anything. I have even had my intelligence doubted because of my mental health problems.
Recovery for me is just reaching an even level living with mental health, not curing it. I do believe it will always be part of me and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think I am always in recovery, even if I relapse, those moments are just learning curves. I am not in a good place with my mental health but I am engaging in a lot of help and support for that. I am not in denial and I always aim to speak openly and honestly about my struggles.
I don’t consider myself easily triggered but there are things that really set my mental health off. Loud noises and voices, only with aggressive males, not females. Criticism can make me suicidal, I cannot understand that receiving criticism is okay and it isn’t someone calling me worthless. Last minute plans can trigger anxiety, everything has to be structured if I am going somewhere. I need to know the route, the timing, everything. If I have made a plan to meet a friend, and I cannot constantly get in touch with the friend on the way to meeting (even if they are just busy getting ready, etc) I will immediately break and head back home. I don’t like being questioned about things, even simple questions like whether I have had a good day or what I’ve been doing. In my head, questions are not a sign of someone being interested, but a way of them trying to find a way to mock me. I cannot stay in people’s company for a long time, it makes me feel trapped and claustrophobic. I become very irritable and emotional if a person is watching me eat or even watching me cook, I turn very defensive, because I feel ashamed about eating.
There are a lot of things I wish people understood about mental health and I will spend my life trying to help spread awareness. Children should not just be dismissed as attention seeking or just suffering from a bad case of teenage angst. They should be protected and not forced to live in a critical household, it will have lasting affects. If you are in a poor and unstable relationship around your children, please reconsider continuing the relationship, you aren’t aware of how it affects the child until it is too late. Teachers should be more informed, without a doubt. They should be taught to nurture, not punish, and listen. To not assume a child’s lack of attendance is a sign of insolence and laziness. Professionals to understand that it is not easy for a person to describe how they are feeling but that does not mean what they are going through is not serious. To place more of a focus around mental health in schools, awareness classes, and take more of a serious approach to bullying. That chronic fatigue isn’t laziness. That impulsiveness is not a choice. That often times when a person has suffered from some form of sexual violence, they will engage in very promiscuous behaviour and that does not mean they are lying. That our mental health disorders and the behaviours that come with those are not a choice, we often cannot separate ourselves from our disorders, we should be supported not abandoned. That sometimes the biggest help you can offer a person is just an ear to listen. So many people feel they cannot help because they don’t have an extensive knowledge of mental health, you don’t always need that. I pray that people continue to education themselves on mental health, there are so many resourced out there, that I simply will not accept the excuse of ”Well, in my generation we wasn’t taught about mental health so I’m not going to bother learning now”