I have always been one to keep my personal life so close, yet during this time, I have never been so eager to tell others how I have been feeling. Many people I know struggle on a day to day basis with mental health problems; alongside the stresses of lockdown, this can leave people feeling even more lonely and isolated. I myself have had losing battles with depressive episodes, anxiety attacks, anorexia and self-harm. We need to normalise this!
Since the age of twelve, I have had some form of therapy; come fifteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. This battle was one of the hardest ones, yet two years later, I survived its manipulating and suffocating ways. When I was seventeen, my stepfather tragically passed away. Around this time, I started to experience anxiety; it wasn’t the same anxiety I encountered during my eating disorder but one that was relentless and controlling. From mild heart races and constant worrying to panic attacks which led to fainting, anxiety was and still is a huge part of my life. The anxiety started to build up each year, while depression sunk in, endless nights and days of crying constantly, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. At a time where I needed so much help, I isolated myself away from everyone; faking a smile hurts more than never having one. The black dog followed me around everywhere. I have only recently learned to fully understand the importance of self-care and structured days. Mental health, in some cases, cannot be fixed; most of the time, it is learning to live alongside your illness. Breaking the cycle is one of the most important things to do when suffering from depression. My therapist always said, “Behaviour affects emotions and emotions affect our thoughts which then affect our behaviour and so on” creating a vicious cycle. However low and dark you feel, go outside, ground yourself amongst nature and break that cycle. I was so against journals, the harsh reality of my thoughts laid out in front of me, was too uncomfortable, so my mum came up with a plan whereby you score your mood before and after an event and note down the things you did, honestly it has been a game-changer! It enables me to visualise the specific activities that brought even the smallest amount of joy to my life.
Thankfully society has started to recognise the importance of mental health, but that does not mean that people understand it. If you know someone struggling with mental health, don’t tread on eggshells around them; normalise the situation. The one thing I have felt whilst dealing with mental illness is people not knowing how to act. Be sensitive around people but also do not make them feel alienated. Do not pity people and say you are sorry because, in my opinion, I find it unhelpful and can sometimes make one feel awkward. Instead, talk to them openly like you would with anything else, offer them support and share your similar experiences.
You must reach out to people; talking can be a way of coping with the worries you have been carrying around in your head. People are not mind readers, if you are struggling you have to learn to trust the people who love you and find it in your heart to be honest about your feelings. Every problem or anxiety is solvable or fixable, and you can resolve these issues by talking to people. Suicide is final, and it can be avoided.
Whilst writing this all down, there have been constant thoughts coming through my head about fear of embarrassment or attention-seeking, but if you suffer from anxiety, you will know that these are just intrusive and constant worries. Mental health affects people exactly as physical health does, and it shouldn’t be stigmatised. My life in the past year has been filled with mental health blips, and my friends and family have been so supportive, yet I still feel some of them find it uncomfortable or awkward to talk about the subject.
I feel so strongly to share this now because I feel empowered to speak up; with woman being silenced and black lives being threatened, mental health problems lie beneath almost everyone in society, and you can seek help.