Saturday, February 24, 2018

My Mental Health Story, So Far... *TW*

A blog series that I have wanted to start for years is one on mental health and self-care. I always knew that I wanted the first post to be the story of my mental health journey, but I felt like it was a little bit irresponsible to share my story when I wasn't receiving any professional help, but as I have finally made the first steps towards recovery, I thought it was time. I'm going to be completely honest and raw so obviously, I will talk about things that may trigger certain individuals. 

The thing about mental illness is, when the first initial symptoms start to arise, you'll try to convince yourself you're just having a bad week, or it's just hormones, or it's because of a certain event that's happened in your life. You keep telling yourself next week will be better and you just have to keep going, but there will come a time when you finally take a step back from everything and really look at your life...who you used to be, who you are now...and you'll realise that you have a problem. A really big problem, that tea and binge-watching Gossip Girl just won't fix.

And once you finally admit to yourself how bad things have gotten, you'll try and pinpoint when it all started. How did it ever get this bad?

For me, I think my mental health journey started as a teenager, but I grew up in a time when the awareness of mental health issues was very limited so I wasn't really sure what was happening to me. I struggled to do a lot of the things that all my friends found totally normal. I felt trapped a lot. I struggled to breathe in certain situations and I would always feel nauseous, to the point I'd often dry heave. My stomach would always be hurting and sometimes my chest would hurt so much that I thought I was dying. I knew I wasn't normal, I felt like I had no control over what was happening to me. Whenever I'd mention how I was feeling to any teachers at school, they'd quickly tell me that I was fine or I will be fine. What is fine anyway? I don't even remember what that feels like.

I had a lot of time off from school because I always felt so ill and I spent a lot of my time going to the doctors trying to get to the bottom of why I felt this way. I was sent to the hospital many times and they found nothing. I was "healthy" apart from the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue. 
I started seeing a Chronic Fatigue specialist at my local hospital and he spotted the signs of my declining mental health. He quizzed me on it and came to the conclusion that it had a strong connection with attending school and we all kind of agreed that once I'm out of that environment, I'll be okay. He referred me to CAMHS and I had a few counselling sessions but I didn't ever feel like it was helping at all so I stopped going and I received no further support.

I finally reached school leaving age and thought that things would start to improve but they didn't. Everyone says that your teenage years are the best years of your life and I just didn't understand that, I was so unhappy and really struggling with life, especially when it came to socialising. I tried to avoid being around people or going to events where they'd be people I didn't know. If I did go, I'd just drink to numb myself and stop feeling anxious, but I still didn't really think I had anxiety or anything wrong with my mental health, I just kept telling myself I was going through a bad time. The drinking became a common theme with me and I'll probably write a separate post on my relationship with alcohol. I began to feel like people only liked the Sophie that drank and was super confident, not me. Not the real me. I lost a lot of friends, either because they were bad influences and I had to cut them out or because they were fed up with me being completely unreliable.

In 2012, Zoella uploaded a YouTube video called "Dealing with Panic Attacks & Anxiety" I watched it with my boyfriend and we both quickly agreed that she was pretty much just describing me and I cried and cried. I finally realised that I did have a problem and I needed to get help. 
But the trouble was, I'd let things get so bad, I was even too anxious to go to the doctors. My boyfriend was a huge help and did everything in his power to make things as easy as possible for me, I think he always wanted me to go and get help but he also didn't want to force it upon me. If I could ever give anyone any piece of advice when it comes to mental health, it would be this: Please don't be like me, don't make the mistakes I've made. When you have a mental illness it will never get better unless you go and seek help. You can waste days, weeks, months or even years hoping that one day, you'll wake up and it'll be okay but it won't unless you make the first steps towards recovery.

I first showed the initial signs of having poor mental health in 2009. It took me another eight years to finally make that appointment and go through with it. I used to overthink for years and years about what I'd say when I finally went to see my GP but in the end, I think it's better to not even think about it at all and just do it. It probably won't be pretty. I basically sat down and explained that I didn't know how to cope anymore, I felt like I was drowning and then I cried a lot. The great thing about GPs is they will never ever judge you. Mine completely reassured me that we'll fight this. It will take time, but one day, it'll be okay. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Since then, I've gotten to know just how strained our NHS and mental health services are. I've had so many mental health assessments, confirming that I have Borderline Personality Disorder, which I'll definitely write more about in the future because we need so much more awareness of this disorder.

I think I was a little naive. I thought I'd go to my GP, be referred and be okay within a couple of months. Yeah, that didn't happen at all. Unfortunately, because of how severe my condition is, it has been very difficult to find a mental health service that can actually help me. There have been so many services that I've been referred to, only to be told that they don't have the means to offer me what I need. In the end, the NHS couldn't offer me anything so my doctor then contacted some nearby mental health charities and even though they weren't even sure they'd be able to help at first, I've been put on the waiting list and I'll have to pay for my own treatment.

Currently, I'm on some medication and waiting for my counselling to start. People always said to me that when you're trying to recover from a mental illness, most of the work has to come from you and I can definitely agree there. I have come a long way from where I was but of course, there is still such a long way to go, but for the first time in years, I feel hopeful. It's important to remember that recovery isn't linear. Somedays, I feel like I'm drowning again and it makes me feel like I'm back to square one but I know that I'm getting there. I have a good support network around me and I'm just taking every day as it comes and I know one day soon, it'll be okay.

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