From March 13th every day for two weeks, we will be posting a new piece of content about people’s first experience of having a conversation about their mental health as part of our campaign #14Conversations.
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#Conversation2 comes from Adele Wills.
If you met me today you wouldn’t think I ever had an issue talking about mental health.
It feels second nature to me now, but up until a few years ago I would never have dreamed about expressing my struggles to friends, never mind acquaintances or strangers. I’ve suffered with mental illness my whole life, and lived in denial for most of it.
There are two instances in my life that I can point out as being important moments in my journey of understanding mental illness. Both of these are, as the theme would suggest, about my first experiences of discussing mental illness with another person.
The first was a cry for help with a college tutor and the second purely by chance with a stranger. I’ve suffered with anxiety since I was born and depression since my early teens but, instead of boring you with my entire life story, I want to share the details of my first conversations about my mental health and how they pushed me to put myself first.
Things worsened for me in college when, at the age of seventeen, I had been struggling with disordered eating and severe body image issues for over half a year.
Out of a need for control over some element of my life, I took to restricting what food and how much food I ate…
It had started at a time when a lot was changing for me: I was starting to think about higher education, my friends (who were all a year older than me) were going to be leaving for university, and I was back to feeling isolated and alone as I had done most of my teenage years.
Out of a need for control over some element of my life, I took to restricting what food and how much food I ate and to over-exercising, all in secret.
My classmates slowly realised that something was wrong with me as my weight decreased, and my mother tried to talk to me about my diet but I only assured her I was fine.
It broke my heart to see her pain, but I was too far gone with my obsession and destructive behaviours to stop. I isolated myself and focused on my studies, and when I was alone I would think (negatively) about my body and write in my journal.
I’m not sure exactly when it was that I decided that I needed to ask for help, but I know that it came at a time I thought I was going to be like that forever.
I felt the stigma and the shame of being someone who was not well, who did ‘crazy’ things and felt scary feelings.
Out of desperation, I asked one of my tutors at college if she had a moment to chat. I trusted her and we got on well. I broke down entirely and started crying, and I remember how strange and terrifying it was to verbalise what I’d been going through.
She calmed me down and encouraged me to talk to my mom about it, and said she would get in touch with the college chaplain for me who was trained in counselling.
From there, I did go on to talk to my mom and we went to the GP together, and I had a few counselling sessions at college. Nothing changed overnight, but it was a definite turning point.
A couple of months after my A Level exams, I reached a new low of depression (which I’d been experiencing since my early teens) and we went back to the GP, and I started medication for the first time.
— Epigram (@EpigramPaper) March 10, 2017
My first year of University passed by without any major hiccups, though I didn’t think I needed counselling and kept everything mental illness-related secret from new friends and flatmates. I felt the stigma and the shame of being someone who was not well, who did ‘crazy’ things and felt scary feelings.
The second conversation was an accident that came long after I’d committed myself to a life of silence and secrets when it came to my mental health.
It was mid-way through second year and I was talking with a girl in my classes who I’d admired from afar but had never properly spoken to. I can’t remember how or why we started talking, but we bonded over our love of cats and were soon chatting like we’d known each other for years.
At the time I was going through a bout of particularly bad insomnia (read: I was sleeping around 30 minutes to two hours and no more, no matter the time of day or night or how much sleep I’d had) and mentioned how tired I was.
She looked at me knowingly and asked, ‘Is that related to anything else?’ I was dumbfounded for a second: she knew.
Suddenly, we were bonding over shared experiences of depression, anxiety, and what I now know to be Borderline Personality Disorder. We went on to be really good friends…
Insomnia is often linked to poor wellbeing and a symptom of chronic depression, which is what I was going through. I couldn’t believe that a stranger had managed to pick up on this and was petrified, though after I stammered over a few words I explained my situation and we were back to chatting.
Suddenly, we were bonding over shared experiences of depression, anxiety, and what I now know to be Borderline Personality Disorder. We went on to be really good friends and as a result, my confidence talking about mental illness grew.
I’ve since further widened my vocabulary to express what I go through and to help me understand the experiences of others, and to help me communicate awareness to non-sufferers. It’s been a long journey and I’m still learning and struggling on.
I refuse to feel like a failure or a weak person because of my mental health status.
Every day I’m becoming more confident, and learning not to be ashamed of stigma, but to be angry about it.
I refuse to feel like a failure or a weak person because of my mental health status. I know that I am stronger than people realise, and I will not stop talking about the importance of mental and emotional wellbeing.
Because, really, I hope that I could be someone’s first conversation about mental health and help them get the help they need, rather than keeping quiet and swallowing my feelings.
I think that if we were all vocal about our emotional wellbeing – whether we have a mental illness or not – nobody would have to suffer in silence.
Thank you Adele for sharing your story. Get involved in the conversation by using #14Conversations on Twitter!