A true insight into what it's like to live with a mental illness. In partnership with Bath Mind.
When imagining our future, fearing the challenges that may lie ahead, no one expects the biggest obstacle to be a continuous fight with ourselves. Why would you? Why would anyone self-obstruct? The reality is there are a lot of people around the world who have no choice but to have this dreaded question always looming over them. The harsh fact of mental illness is that no matter how much any person tries to explain it, no individual can ever truly understand it until they have experienced the turmoil first hand. And the people who need support and comfort more than anyone, tend to feel the loneliest.
Mental illness is the enemy you never choose to make and the barrier you never set.
I was 15, in my last year of school, and swamped in revision for my GCSEs. That’s when my reality first began to close in around me. It’s possible that I was suffering longer with mental health issues than I had realised, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in the exam hall, racing to throw illegible words down onto the page, before being told to drop my pen that I knew something was really wrong. Starting with complete mind fuzz, I lost all recollection of what I was writing. I put this down to writer’s block and pushed myself to continue but seemingly this was the worst thing I could have done. My singular, unstable desk rattled as my leg uncontrollably trembled beneath it. It was then that my tunnel vision morphed into a wide angle as I could see everyone around me watching disparagingly, as I disturbed the silent conditions. This only made things worse. My airwaves felt as if they were collapsing all the way down from my throat to my lungs. My body was burning; maybe this was down to the many pairs of eyes I felt searing into me or maybe it was my body going into overdrive, working to keep me afloat. My first panic attack is not a moment I’d ever wish to relive, yet I also wouldn’t wish to press erase.
Undoubtedly, that day was when everything changed; I knew I was in this journey for the long haul.
Imagine sitting at the top of a slide that rises among treetops. You’re excited – the adrenaline races through your blood as you get ready to launch yourself into the crystal waterfall you see beneath you. Sunlight dances and reflects on the pool. Then clouds cast, fog is beneath you and a crazed wind rushes.
You are afraid to let go. You feel palms shove into your back. The slide is too smooth for you to grip and stagger your fall from grace. This stomach flipping descent continues for 3 years. 3 years falling into the unknown with no ounce of control. This was how the near future panned out for me.
It’s an unrealistic expectation for anyone to believe any kind of mental illness can be cured overnight – or cured at all. All we can do is spend time learning to cope with what feels like the joker of the pack. He’s always going to crop up, he’s not used nor is he wanted; but he remains a part of every deck in life. Over time, I came to terms with this but it was a road filled with a lot of potholes.
Endless doctors’ appointments very quickly overran my life as I received numerous different diagnoses, varying from stress to hormonal changes. The frustration I had with myself and those around me began to consume me – damaging my relationships with my friends and family, my college work and overall happiness. To put it simply, I became a recluse. A black, rain-filled cloud had overcast my entire world and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see any glimpse of sun attempting to pierce through
Cut to university and I was desperate for a change of scene. Home had become nothing but a reminder of my mental illness; it had penetrated any relationship and memory I had there. Admittedly, I was scared of such a massive change – but that was nothing but normal.
I was living in one of the most picturesque cities in England. It was a new chapter, in a new setting, with never before seen characters; sadly this illusion and hope of escapism disintegrated faster than I had hoped.
I had to choose: carry on running from the inevitable, tripping on my past – or, face it head on and force myself to be stronger than I ever had before.
I returned to a new doctor, hoping things would turn out better. Whether it was luck or perseverance, I don’t know; but I am grateful for what happened next – no matter how daunting it was. A few weeks down the line, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder; one year later, depression; eleven months after that, Atypical Anorexia Nervosa. Despite part of me knowing that this was coming, I had played out the denial so well and for so long that I still had that momentary shock. The whole world around me sounded like nothing but muffled background noise, as my brain went into overdrive to bring me back to reality again. The road of how I came to be in this position was unknown and it was an uncertainty that loomed over my head for far too long. It still does. That path becomes clearer each day as I learn to accept each aspect of my illness that little bit more but I still have a way to go.
To say the next few months were an ordeal would be a huge understatement. Without my friends, I would not have come anywhere near as far as I have to this day. It is too commonly said that ‘you don’t get to choose your family’ but I disagree. There is not a day where I will not be grateful for each and every person that has made Bath a place my heart can call home. To anyone who feels alone or like there is no light behind the fog, allow yourself to trust in those around you and I assure you, that is when it’ll begin to clear.
I am not willing to let my mental illness control my life anymore. It has already stolen too many years; I am not about to hand over another.
“Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over, she began to fly” - Unknown