REAL TALK – MENTAL HEALTH

So it’s 2 in the morning right now, which means now is as relevant as ever to bring out the real talk. Tonight’s topic: mental health.

If you used to read my blog a couple of years ago, or you’ve read my “i’m back!” post from last month, I’ve always openly admitted that I’ve struggled with mental illness on and off since about the age of 14. I’m in a much better place right now – rather than bad thoughts keeping me awake tonight, it’s excitement as my mind is buzzing with new ideas and plans. It’s wanting to seize the moment. Now that I’m not hopelessly in the pits of emptiness and despair even feeling “normal” feels amazing and I almost feel as if I want to be up all hours making the most of it before I lose it again.

When you openly admit what you are or have been going through, it never ceases to shock me just how many people have been through some sort of mental illness. We all go through physical illness so why is it still such a big taboo that we may all go through mental illness at some stage in our lives?

I wanted to throw it back some years and start from the beginning with these posts – it’s so important to recognise the signs or get help as early on as possible and the thought of my younger sister approaching her teenage years and going through what I have absolutely terrifies me. No young people should have to feel like they have to go through it alone, or feel as if what they are going through isn’t completely okay – because it is.

For me it started with a depression diagnosis when I was 15, but what made it worse for me was it was for literally no reason at all. I was straight-A student, had amazing family and friends, and had everything I could ever want or need. Never underestimate the power of mental illness.

Life was amazing, but I wandered around feeling like I wasn’t attached to my own body, I felt distant and empty all the time. I felt exhausted from the moment I woke up, had the lowest possible self confidence and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was worthless and that the world didn’t need me. I’d collapse on my bedroom floor at night after a tiring day of acting like I was fine and literally sit in the same spot for hours and not move. I don’t even know what I did, time would just pass by me in a blur of internal agony.

When you’re that young, you literally have no idea about mental illness. The only idea that I ever had was from people going crazy in the soaps – it simply wasn’t the sort of thing that happens to “normal” people like me. I often think maybe if I was more educated then I would have known earlier on, maybe getting the support straight away would have stopped it ever leading to the point it did.  The gov website reads “A 2012 Centre for Mental Health report estimates around 15% of pupils aged 5 to 16 have mental health problems that put them at increased risk of developing more serious issues in the future.” yet it wasn’t something that we were really taught about in school at all.

I guess that’s why now I’m such an advocate about people talking and being open about their mental health. We wouldn’t bat an eyelid if we said we had the flu or diabetes, yet there’s this massive stigma around admitting you have depression, anxiety or any other mental illness. Having experienced it first hand it makes me want to do anything I can to get people to talk about it day-to-day and just try to normalise it. I wish more than anything that people would be more accepting and understanding about it.

Recognising the signs…
The internet can be a world of help, but it can also be the worst place to turn when you’re suffering. From dark sites outlining suicide methods, to eating disorder forums encouraging dangerous habits, the internet has everything you need to spiral deeper and deeper into your illness. The first thing you might want to do is turn to Google to try and find some sort of reassurance about what you are going through, but from past experience I’ve learnt that the best thing to do is avoid it as much as you can. Speaking to people may sound a little bit cliché but it honestly is one of the best things you can do. Making that first doctors appointment or reaching out to you family can be the most terrifying thing at first, but its such an important first step to get the support that you need.

Preparing for your first doctors appointment…
If you get anxious like I do, you may freak out at the thought of sitting in front of a doctor and trying to put everything into words. My advice would be to try and keep some sort of log in the run up to your appointment of what your thoughts and feelings are, it doesn’t have to be a long essay, you could even just rate your mood from 1-10 for each day and write down the key points of what you are going through so that they can clearly see what you are dealing with. Yes, there will probably be a few questions after this, but that’s just so that they can get a bit of a better understanding – the hard bit will already be out of the way.

Top tip…
Don’t take any sh*t. That’s the key point I will always think to myself, especially with a GP who don’t really understand or have much training in mental health so will often just try to brush you off with a prescription for antidepressants and send you on your way. Yes, medication can do a world of good for many people, but it’s only a small small portion of what you need. If you need real support then demand it, as I have learnt sometimes is the only way to get them to take you seriously – for years it would have to get to the point where I was near suicide before I got any real support, and that simply isn’t acceptable. This is your most vulnerable time, and getting help early on is key to stop things getting any worse.

Now this post is getting a little long, so I will save the rest for another time! I hope that this will be somewhat helpful to you, and encourage you to reach out for support if you need it. You are a strong person, and it takes real courage to reach out.

If you need support now, the Samaritans are always available at the end of the phone – and they also have an email support service although I’ve found that’s not great if you need a fast reply. You can call them on 116 123, or find lots of other support sources here.

If you’re looking for a sign, then this is it. I believe in you.

Love, Jess

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