I’d like to stress that the following post will contain in-depth discussion of mental illnesses, self-harm, and suicide. If you’re uncomfortable, or easily triggered, please leave now.
Being an August-born baby, subsequently younger than my peers at school, when late August of my thirteenth year approached, I was more than ready to grow another year older.
There’s nothing quite like entering your teenage years. Nearly eight years later, I can still remember how I felt at 12am on 19th August that year.
I thought my teenage years would be full of a newfound freedom, independence; growth. I was going to grow, but not at all how I had envisioned.
For the first year, everything was okay. Certainly not plain sailing, but I got by, regardless of the trips and stumbles along the way.
It’s probably important to note that I used to be a follower, rather than a leader. My voice barely a whisper among others. Friends (*snort*) at school tried to knock me down, and they succeeded; because I let them. It was all I knew.
I knew that I needed to find a voice for myself, but I didn’t know how. Defending myself seemed impossible, while others were doing it without a second thought.
Fourteen-year-old Emily was about to learn how to find their own voice. Nobody said it was going to be easy, but I’m here to tell you that it was worth it. So damn worth it.
My experience(s) with Mental Health all started early one morning in January of 2012. I’d been driven to school, like usual, by my Mum. Nothing was new. Except, nothing was the same.
Something had clicked.
The moment I climbed out of my seat, I wanted the ground to suck me up whole. It’s like the previous fourteen years of my life, the grief, the heartbreak, the confusion I’d felt had submerged itself inside my head. Vulnerability had hit me like a tidal wave. I felt bare, exposed. In danger.
I needed to be held. Close. Tight. Safe.
I knew that I couldn’t face the day, and so the same short, five-minute route was taken back home.
Mum was confused. I was confused. Neither of us could make sense of what had happened, or most importantly, why.
I’d headed straight to my room, collapsed onto my bed in a mentally exhausted, confused state. I can remember thinking how detached I felt; from myself, from those around me, from life. What made this day so different to any other?
“What’s going on, Em?” My Mum had asked. I can strongly envision her sat at the end of the bed, looking just as helpless as I felt.
I wanted to be able to answer her, more than anything in the entire world. But I couldn’t. How is somebody supposed to answer a question they don’t know the answer to?
We were both equally as clueless as each other.
A doctor’s appointment was booked that morning, filling me with dread.
The day of my appointment came. The appointment itself, I can’t recall. All I know is that at the beginning of it, I was probably crying, and by the end, I’d been put on a waiting list. Hearing the word ‘psychiatrist’ at fourteen was enough for me to realise that, perhaps, my teens weren’t going to be all they’d cracked up to be.
I can’t remember the time process from my appointment with my doctor to the appointment with the psychiatrist, but I can’t imagine it was a particularly speedy process. Good job, Mental Health services(!)
Psychiatrist number one was a complete and utter nightmare. Forcing somebody to talk, choking through their tears, when they’re clearly not comfortable enough to do so isn’t going to get anybody anywhere.
I’m happy to say that psychiatrist number two was a lot more forgiving! Wendy was a godsend, and by the end of the year, I’d been given professional diagnosis’. Depression was painfully obvious, but what wasn’t, was my second diagnosis. What had once been described with hilarity as ‘Emily-isms’ were about to make clear sense.
Diagnosis two: Asperger Syndrome, a
mild, high-functioning form of Autism.
I left my appointment feeling lost, and again, detached.
Counselling was kept consistent. I attended sessions every/every other week, each filled with dread. I was snappy, pessimistic, and I’ll admit, rude. I refused to believe that anybody who hadn’t gone through depression, or saw the world through my eyes, understood me.
Truth is, it doesn’t matter how many degrees psychiatrists have, or how many years they’ve studied. Unless somebody has personally experienced mental illness, they won’t understand. Not fully. Regardless of that, I wish I could’ve told my younger self that, even if this were true, somebody cares. Wendy cared, and I wish at the time, I’d truly taken the time to think that through.
The thing is, though, I was unstable; emotionally, physically, spiritually. Back then, I wasn’t who I am now. I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t gone through those challenges with mental illness, no matter how debilitating.
Focusing on my education was impossible. Lack of concentration is often a side effect of depression, one of which many people don’t take into consideration or acknowledge.
Painting a smile on my face, forcing myself to uncomfortably make my way through unwanted, social interaction with fake friends, and pretending that everything was okay when really, all I wanted to do was die, was impossible. And so, in the end, with no other choice, my school days grew shorter.
Peers began to recognise the changes in my day-to-day schooling. It shouldn’t have surprised me when I began to experience bullying, by one person in my form class in particular.
Hi, Rhys :).
“I’m f*cking depressed and I still go to school.”
“Why the f*ck don’t you go home? Nobody wants you here.”
I mean, he could’ve at least made his mind up.
Rather than asking why my attendance was beginning to stoop so low, my teachers turned against me, too. My Maths teacher, in particular.
I dreaded my Maths lessons, and for good reason. It seemed that every lesson my teacher would take any opportunity she could get to stand at the front of the class, and audibly question me on why I’d been missing her lessons; why my grades were dropping.
In my mind, I’d answer her questions. I’d tell her that just that same morning, while I was changing into my uniform in the bathroom, I’d fight the increasingly strong urges to jump out of the window, with the intent of ending my life. I’d tell her how I was awake until the late hours of last night, held by my Mum and choking through my tears, “I want to die, I want to die. I’m ready to die.”
Eight hourly school days dropped to six.
Six dropped to three.
Three dropped to zero.
Expectation and pressures from school left when I’d unofficially dropped out, but so did my diet, sleep pattern, and personal hygiene. Over-eating was a regular occurrence, but so was under-eating. I either overslept or under-slept. Weekly/fortnightly intervals between showering weren’t uncommon, and despite how gross I felt, I didn’t care; about anything. As far as I was concerned, I deserved every abundance of self-hatred.
May of that year, I attempted to take my own life. But at that time, I didn’t know that I was attempting to commit suicide. All I knew is that I’d promised myself that if it didn’t hurt too much, I’d let myself go.
As traumatic as it was, it was this very moment that I realised I needed to wake the f*ck up and stop damaging myself. Recovery wasn’t possible if I wasn’t willing to help myself. How could I rely on others to help me recover when I wasn’t willing to rely on myself?
Depression isn’t something you recover from overnight and recognising that was the first step. In order to help myself, I took the initiative and started taking the time to do small acts of self-care and kindness each day; sleeping for the right amount of hours, eating sensibly, showering. You don’t realise at the time, but looking back, I’m able to see how much of an impact those steps made.
Quotes were another thing that helped a lot, and it was around this time that my love for them began to grow. Taking the time to read through and pick one which I could relate to and follow gave me a purpose. It made me feel less alone, and gave me a goal.
Buddhism wasn’t something I practised at the time, nor something I knew much about, but from all of the hundreds of quotes I’d stumbled upon, Buddhist quotes were the ones I related to and found the most comfort in. Now, I classify myself as a practising Buddhist and can wholeheartedly say that religion has saved my life.
Through surrounding myself with my loved ones, attending counselling sessions (which were still tough, but a whole lot easier with the realisation that I needed to be willing to help myself), self-care and religion, I learnt from here onwards that life is all about the little things.
If Mental Health has taught me anything, it’d be that we’re constantly fed lies. More often than not, we’re made to believe that life is all about the ‘big picture’, but that isn’t true at all.
I needed to retrain my mind, to fall in love with life again, and in order to do that, I needed to appreciate and make the most of the smallest things. Smallest of the smallest things, like making a cup of tea, sleeping well, hugging my family.
Life is much more than what we’re lead to believe, and I wish everybody realised that. If we looked around us and took a moment to appreciate our family, friends, a delicious meal, hot showers, a cosy bed, safety, we’d soon see that, in spite of what television and social media tells us, that we’re the luckiest, richest people in the world.
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