I feel like this is the first blog I’ve ever written. That sense of fear of sharing that I felt two years ago when I first summoned the courage to share my experiences. Self-care has had to come first recently, hence my disappearance but I have had A LOT of experience the last six months so I thought I’d catch people up and discuss my favourite topic right now – kindness.
First of all, the relapse. So my last entries made brief mention that I was unwell, I had campaigned about local services, spoke out about national mental health services and used every single ounce of energy I had to try and stay afloat and access the help I needed. I had started collating information to run my own campaign regarding lack of services but had to postpone due to my own ill health. I am so fortunate to say that thanks to the support and kindness of everyone around me, I managed to access help through a psychiatrist and am currently undergoing CBT and although a slow process, I’m starting to emerge on the other side. I still need to use all my energy to heal, I hope I get to a point where I feel peaceful in my mind, where I feel safe but for now I am on additional medication and working through a new diagnoses. I know it will take some time until I feel well again, but for now I’m able to talk about it now, able to grieve, able to live.
For the first time in a long time lets also mention that not only am I living, but I’m succeeding. I fight the intrusive thoughts each day, the anxiety that tells me that something bad is going to happen if I don’t do certain things. The idea that the future is hopeless and that my life will revolve around my illness doesn’t have such a tight hold over me recently because I did the impossible, I’ve finished university!
I had such a strong belief that I couldn’t finish university, I mean let’s look at the facts
• I couldn’t read properly anymore
• I couldn’t focus on much for longer than ten minutes
• I’d lost my friends, in fact I’d lost even acquaintances after two years out
• I hated performing now (I study musical theatre)
• My family were in the depths of grief
• I hated my mind, my thoughts, my illness
• I was scared after having such a bad experiences before
There are seven reasons I just typed within the space of 30 seconds and I could probably think of seven more but it doesn’t matter because I overcame it all. I believed so much that my illness had a hold on me, I’d tried so many times to be ‘normal’ and do what ‘normal’ people my age did that I forgot the most important thing – normal doesn’t exist. My illness didn’t make me abnormal, it made me determined, despite the issues I returned to university in September and kept my head down. After a rocky start, I made new acquaintances that soon became some of the best friends I’ve ever had.
When I was at uni before, some of the people I thought were my friends disappeared when I was poorly, no questions as to why I left or how I was – just cut off. I faced stigma, comments were made that I was somehow ‘dangerous’ because of my mental illness and I thought that was the norm. I felt unsupported and it took me returning to the same university a few years on to not only learn that I deserved much better, but that people can be kind. Truly kind, instead of facing stigma I had support, practical strangers supported my campaigning, supported me through my bereavement, they grew into amazing pals and thanks to them I will graduate this summer. I campaign with such a passion to rid stigma but for the first time I’ve been shown that strangers can also be un – judgemental, they can be compassionate and can turn into great friends.
The issue is that my thoughts whirl, they become so real, so tangible and if left unquestioned these intrusions because seemingly unavoidable. In recent months I’ve found myself obsessing and ruminating beyond my control, checking things constantly to try and rid this feeling of unease yet being unable to do, all whilst this hold of isolation grows. The more I was succeeding the more these struggles became behind closed doors, the less I confided in others about my problems and the more I started to hide it all. Something else I’ve learnt, I may have succeeded in finishing university but I did that alongside my illness. I constantly yearn for this idea of being completely ‘recovered’, so much so that I miss out on all the small victories I achieve along this recovery. Maybe I’ll never be the old me again, but the new me has achieved a lot whilst hiding pain behind a huge fake smile, it is living proof you do not know what somebody is going through. A pat on the back is deserved for all victories, big and small.
My overarching message here has to be do not underestimate kindness. Without it I wouldn’t of finished university. Without the kindness of those around me I wouldn’t have been able to fundraise the money to access private mental health care and may not be here at all. Without kindness I would not have been able to find the courage to talk at mental health events, to campaign or to write this blog. A kind word or gesture to somebody struggling can be a lifeline, a small sign to keep going.
Please let this be a message, keep going. Life can be beyond tough, cruel and unforgiving but then it can surprise you. Kindness shines through so much, especially when going through the darkest of times and everything can change in time. I’m not saying everything is fixed because it’s not, I’m guilty of sharing the good and holding back the struggle but I fight every day. My intrusions, the compulsion to check, the nightmares, the constant high alert because I am convinced something bad is going to happen – I fight against that daily with the support of my family and fiancé but I now have something I didn’t before. Proof that I am strong and let this show that you are too. Of course it wears you down to be poorly but if you reflect on the strength it takes to keep going then it’s pretty amazing. I’ve had so much self-doubt on whether I should even keep blogging, campaigning but then I remember that words can help. Even if it’s one person, isolation can be reduced, just like the people at uni that helped me. That has to be worth something.