Mental health was never discussed when I was growing up
I had a very happy childhood, with an amazing immediate and extended family. I was a fun, happy go lucky, smart kid. I danced with different dance companies from the age of 2 and loved performing. I was good at sport, music, and had a lot of friends. My life changed in year 7 when I was 12. My final year of primary school where I was not only a student, but Head Girl, as voted in by my peers. What was supposed to be a great year turned out to be the most traumatic time of my young life and the beginning of mental illness taking me over.
During that final year of primary school, which should have been a happy and exciting time, my life flipped a switch overnight. I was bullied so severely by my peers and their parents (yes, parents), to such a traumatic degree that my brain has blocked out certain events that happened, probably for my own good. It didn’t end after the school year finished, it continued into high school when I wasn’t even at the same one that my ex classmates had gone to.
My adolescence was marred by the onset of an eating disorder, which I was unable to control and was still suffering from at age 30. Anorexia and bulimia wasn’t something I asked for. But I realised at 13 that while I couldn’t control bullies or other people, I could control my weight, which in turn made me feel in control of my life which was beginning to unravel. The harsh words spoken to me by bullies became my own inner dialogue. It still is to this day. That inner dialogue fed the anorexia and bulimia, reinforcing the fact that I was worthless.
Mental health was never discussed when I was growing up. I didn’t know that the negative voices in my head telling me that I was worthless, fat, stupid and ugly were not the norm. I didn’t know certain periods of time in my life that I spent in complete darkness and utter despair were signs of depression. I didn’t know that the fact I couldn’t go to the shops or socialise without feeling physically sick and constantly thinking everyone was judging me badly was a sign of social anxiety.
It took a cataclysmic event when I was 30 years old to finally seek proper treatment for my mental health. I went through two psychiatrists who didn’t listen, prescribed medication and sent me on my way. They made me lose faith in speaking out and telling the truth about my demons. Then I found an incredible psych, who I instantly connected with, and my life began to turn around. Not only did he listen, he diagnosed me correctly (major depression, generalised and social anxiety), and put me on the right medication. It took about a year to find the right balance and it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. He saved my life and helped me turn it around. I still see him today, six years later.
Having a mental illness isn’t something I am ashamed of. My past is my story and while it was traumatic at times, it has made me the person I am today. I wouldn’t change it because it allows me to have insight and life experiences that I can now share with others in the hope that I might inspire one person who is struggling to reach out for help.
I am able to control my mental illness by medication, which I am not ashamed to say that I take. While I still have some dark days, I am able to bring myself out of them. To anyone else struggling – reach out and tell someone. You don’t have to do this alone, no matter how isolating it can be. Opening up to a friend, teacher, family member or support group online and being honest about what’s happening is the first step you need to take so you too can free yourself from inner demons and start to beat them in this fight.