Welcome back.After the response from my body confidence post last week, I thought I would write about something that a lot of us struggle with but don’t talk about enough, our mental health.
There is still a huge stigma and lack of understanding around mental health. People either don’t know enough, don’t want to know or don’t know how to handle mental health.
Being totally honest, I suffer with depression and anxiety pretty badly. However in this post, I am going to mainly talk about depression. I’m going to go into how this transfers over into my day to day life, how it affects me and the people around me and how I dealt with this in the past and how I deal with it now. For those who know me, some of this may come as a bit of a shock, just please take this as a warning.
Around 14, my mental health started to rapidly deteriorate after years of bullying and because it’s wasn’t something talked about and discussed, I didn’t know how to handle the way I was feeling. I turned to self harm because it was the only way I could take the frustrations of how I was feeling out.
Looking back, it wasn’t the right way of handling how I was feeling, but it was the only way I knew how. This became almost a daily action, keeping a hidden stash of bandages, sterilising wipes and plasters so I could deal with the shame and regret after each painful release.
It’s still hard now to hear people say “self harm is only done for attention” because for me personally, it was never about attention, it was about trying to deal with something and trying to feel something when all I could feel was numbness. Only a few people knew this about my past, so this is usually said in a conversation about mental health as a flippant comment but it’s one that sticks.
This happened for a number of years, until just before my GCSE’s. I was doing one of the forced PE lessons and my standard issue crappy school uniform shorts rode up, revealing my bandaged and bloody legs. I thought I had got these down fast enough for no-one to notice but alas, I found myself two days later sat in my head of house’s office being questioned.
Looking back as an adult, the school handled the situation poorly. Beyond poorly. At the time, I was considered an “emo” and the stereotype of this came with “emo’s self harm to be cool.” This is how the school approached it. Beth we know you’re what the kids call “emo”, we would like to check your wrists because we know that self harming comes with that label. After them forcing me to show them my wrists, which were clean because I went for my legs, they sent me on my way. There was no discussion further than that. Just you’re an “emo”, you must self harm because it’s cool, oh your wrists are fine, off you go. After this I made an effort to stop, with only a few slips here and there when I got particularly bad, I thought I was over the worst of it, the beast of a feeling that to me at that time had no name.
Leaving school lifted the pressure for a while, I wasn’t feeling as down, like a black cloud had come over me. I was full of hope for college and the first year went swimmingly, a few down weeks but nothing like before and I was handling it much better. I had visited the doctors before staring college, who had finally given me a name to what I was feeling, had tried to pump me full of pills but I didn’t take to them well and decided to handle how I was feeling drug free.
During the second year is where it started to drop once more after some serious personal issues, the self harm started again and I wasn’t myself in the slightest. I couldn’t get up to go to college because all I wanted to do was lay in bed and cry. I couldn’t be around my friends because their happiness confused me, why couldn’t I be like that? It’s a fucking miracle I made it through my A Levels to be honest.
Then came my first real relationship, my first love. Accepted me for who I was, helped me stop the self harm and knew how to deal with me when I was having a bad day week or month. I don’t think I ever really thanked him for how much he knowingly or unknowingly did for me, so if you’re reading this hon, thank you, you actually saved me more than I ever let you know or gave you credit for. I also want to apologise for what I put you through.
Once we broke up, I had no support. I didn’t know how to discuss how I was feeling with anyone, especially my family. I was now 18, feeling more alone than I ever thought was possible. I could be in a room full of people and still feel completely alone. I turned to drinking and spent a good year drunk most days to try and deal with what I was feeling.
There’s something behind the phrase “depression is the curse of the strong”. Everyone around me saw me as this bright, confident strong women and inside I was the furthest from that point that I had ever been. I had become able to put a front on, one I’m still pretty good at. I could portray what was needed, someone who had their shit together, someone who didn’t struggle.
Moving on to now, I still struggle. As covered in my body confidence post, my depression stopped me going to the gym and moving forward with my life. It’s been ten years since I last self harmed and to be honest I am pretty proud of that. For the 7 year mark of this I got myself a semi colon tattooed on my wrist as part of the semi colon project. For those of you who are unaware of what a semi colon is used for, it shows a pause in a sentence and shows the writer has chosen to continue, instead of using a full stop. You can find out more about the semi colon project here; https://projectsemicolon.com/
I’m lucky I have a support network who understand that some of my days will be better than others. My partner has learnt the signs that I am going into a bad spell and knows how to deal with these, sometimes he doesn’t get it right, but he tries and thats all I can ask for.
I recently made work aware how bad it can really get and this shocked some people, because at work I portray a fun bubbly person who doesn’t let anything get them down. I think it really hit home for some people that no matter what someone portrays on the outside, you have no idea what is going on internally. It took a lot for me to sit down with the team I work with and my line manager and be completely honest about where my mental health was, since taking this step I am now more confident to talk about my mental health freely.
When my depression affects me, I try and throw myself into something I enjoy. Drumming, photography, art, anything I can to stop myself getting into bed and crying.
Being open when you struggle is key, but may not be easy. If you don’t feel like there is anyone you can talk too, no-one that you are close too, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, sometimes it’s easier to type than talk.
To anyone struggling, you are not alone. I understand it can feel like that but remember you are loved, you are valued and you are important. Depression is not an easy thing to deal with and you’re doing great.
For those who would like an interesting look at depression, please watch the Babadook. The Babadook looks at depression in a way that makes sense for a lot of people. The Babadook is a dark being that takes over. Just remember at the end, keep an eye on your Babadook but don’t feed it.
For those who are worried about friends/partners/family/kids with depression, just be there for them; any way you can. They will talk to you when they are ready, don’t push them to open up.
To finish off what has been a pretty difficult piece to write, I have finally learned not to let my depression control me. I am in control of me.
My depression does not define me.
UNTIL NEXT TIME.