TW: Non-graphic mentions of Self-Harm and Suicidal Ideation.
It’s Children’s Mental Health Week and I wanted to share a few things because historically, mentally ill children have often become mentally ill adults. I’m one of them. While a mental illness doesn’t have to be a life sentence, if it’s not treated quickly and effectively, it can fast become one. I’ve long been documenting my present and past issues with mental illness and as each year passes I’m shocked by how many years I’ve given up to these illnesses. It’s certainly not been willingly. Thanks to originally being fobbed off by doctors as just another down teenager, who rapidly spiralled into full-blown depression and was then put onto unsuitable medication and given no therapy until I was able to go private 18 months in, I’m left angry and disappointed that I was left to fall so far into the hole of depression. I try not to spend time now wondering what life would have been like for me if that first GP had taken me seriously and immediately given me someone to talk to. Maybe I’d have still spiralled, maybe where I’ve ended up is exactly where I was always meant to, but I have to say, I doubt that!
I was 15 when I became mentally ill. A series of traumatic events led to me feeling unable to cope pretty much overnight. I sought help really quickly but I didn’t get it. Leaving me to deteriorate, for depression to take hold of my developing brain, with no concept or understanding of what was happening to me, leaving me to develop deeply unhealthy and damaging coping strategies that have left life-long marks on my skin, not to mention the scars inside my mind, has altered the course of my life. Where I veered off course into the path of illness, I’m sure I just needed a gentle nudge from the right therapist to get me back on track, to validate my struggles and confirm that life was difficult at the time and to teach me positive, healthy coping strategies to set me back on the right path. Instead, I’ve spent very nearly half of my life mentally ill, constantly sharing my headspace with the most hideous thoughts and feelings. It feels like a waste. It feels so unfair. I look at pictures of me as a child and I feel so sad for that little girl and what her future holds. While there are exciting and wonderful things in my life and those are the things I cling onto, there are so many tinges of sadness and difficulty and everything feels marred by my mental illness.
My anxiety kicked in out of the blue when I was 23. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It cycles up and down, lessening and worsening and morphing over time but never going away. Recently my anxiety has ramped up to a crippling level that has often left me in a crying heap and wondering how to continue because it feels so utterly unbearable. I’m 31 and I still don’t have any coping strategies that reliably work, although I’m proud to say that I have removed the unhealthy coping strategies and work everyday to keep those out of my life. Dealing with such extreme anxiety feels like torture and there are so many days recently where it’s felt like it’ll actually kill me. I get awful physical symptoms which I then become fearful of and the cycle continues and spirals. There are days where anxiety occupies my entire mind, no other thoughts come or go, just fear and panic crashing over in wave after wave. It’s completely exhausting. I often think when I’m writing these posts that those of you reading who are lucky enough to not have suffered mental illness must think these are exaggerated accounts that should be taken with a pinch of salt. I can assure you that not only is that not true, these descriptions only really scratch the surface of the things your brain can make you think and feel when it’s gripped by mental illness. It’s all-consuming and terrifying and what makes it even worse is the fact that this assault is being orchestrated by your own brain and yet you’re completely powerless to stop it. It grips you like a vice, pinning you to the spot and squeezing the life out of you and yet no one around you can see it, they can’t see why you’re struggling for air, or understand why tears are pricking in your eyes, or you’ve come over in a cold sweat. Nothing outwardly in your surroundings has changed and yet for you the fear has enveloped you and it’s all you can perceive. And for days now, weeks in fact, that’s been my near-daily experience.
When I’m feeling so unwell now, it’s hard not to look back, to look at where this began, to think back to when I knew there was a problem and plucked up the courage to ask for help, only to be fobbed off, dismissed and belittled. It breaks my heart to think of the 16-year-old sat shaking in her doctor’s surgery wondering if she’d gone mad and being so scared of what was happening in her head that she risked being forced into hospital which was what she was sure was going to happen. She had unscarred skin, she ate healthily and had good self-esteem, she just felt sad all the time and didn’t know how to cope anymore. I wish someone had realised something was wrong and rather than pretending everything was fine, listened to her, held her hand and helped lead her back to the light. I shouldn’t have needed to self-harm, I shouldn’t have needed to develop an eating disorder and I shouldn’t have needed to plan how and when I might end my life because it should never have got so unbearable that I even considered those things. For all of these reasons and so many more we desperately need to fund children’s mental health services, increase awareness of what to look out for and have quick and efficient assessment and treatment services to rescue those who veer off the path, so that mentally ill children no longer have to become mentally ill adults. I wasn’t destined to be like this, but my fate was sealed when mental health services tried to prove me wrong and talk me out of being mentally ill when I knew I had every reason to feel the ways I was feeling and had no skills to deal with it. Until we overhaul these systems, we’ll continue to have hundreds if not thousands more follow the well-trodden path from mentally ill child to mentally ill adult and what a complete and utter travesty and waste that would be. During this Children’s Mental Health Week I’d ask those of you who have children or who work with them to read about mental illness in children, to look up the signs and symptoms that something is wrong and to find out what to do in those circumstances, so that you’re prepared! Mental illness was much less known about when I became ill and it was barely mentioned in relation to children so no one around me had any idea what to do but things could’ve been so different if they’d known how to help. You can be that change and you could help stop a mentally ill child from becoming a mentally ill adult.
I wrote this post for parents – 10 Ways to Help Your Mentally Ill Child; and this post about my experiences of being excluded from school – Excluded For Being Mentally Ill.