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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#Conversation4 comes from Zoë Katherine.
I was diagnosed with depression in my second year of university, but I believe it started much sooner. I remember being as young as nine or ten, and feeling empty and unlovable, and wondering what the point in everything was. This may have been linked to the fact that I hit puberty really early. I wasn’t pretty or popular, I didn’t like the things that other girls liked, and I felt uncomfortable and awkward in my body.
In spite of the feelings I was having, I tried to continue like nothing was wrong. I didn’t understand what was going on, or how to talk to anyone about it. I desperately wanted to be happy and normal, but I didn’t know how.
I’m going to be honest. When I first started showing symptoms of anxiety, aged fifteen, my family didn’t take it very well. I was lucky in that I was too geeky and awkward for anyone to think I was attention seeking, but they were still quite dismissive. I’d have panic attacks that often culminated in me vomiting. I couldn’t have boyfriends (for obvious reasons), I struggled to relate to my friends, and I hated parties. What were people supposed to talk about, anyway? I felt like nothing I did was right, and of course, that made everything worse.
I was diagnosed with anxiety and OCD traits while in sixth form. My mum didn’t like me having a label, I think she was worried it’d make me feel even more defeated than I already did. I felt like a zombie through most of my A-levels and my grades were much lower than they should have been. Only one of my teachers bothered to find out what was going on, after I got a D in my January A2 exam. We started off doing remedial classes, but when he realised the problem was my anxiety, he introduced me to meditation. I wasn’t good at it, but it helped knowing someone was on my side.
Not long after I came to university, I got myself a pen-pal. This probably sounds trivial, but it wasn’t to me. I finally had someone to talk to who didn’t judge me. I felt safe knowing that I could share the worst areas of my mental health with another human being, and they would never stop caring about me. My pen pal became a Facebook friend, and then real-life one, and even stayed up with me one night and talked me out of, well, you know. I don’t think they will ever know the full extent of my gratitude.
Talking to someone about it helped. I was able to talk to more people about it. I spoke to my GP and gave antidepressants a try. I went in and out of counselling and joined a support group, the Peace of Mind Society. I felt less alone. I started to feel happy again.
Then, I was sexually assaulted over a year ago. It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened to me. I don’t need a diagnosis to know that I have some trauma surrounding the event. I can’t have sex in the dark. I feel dirty and worthless all the time. I can’t stay in the moment when I’m with a partner anymore. For me, those issues are harder to talk about than anything else, because I cannot convince myself that it wasn’t my fault.
I’ll be twenty-three soon, and my family and I have learned a lot since I was at school. Almost a year ago, I was told I had traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. At first, my mum thought I couldn’t possibly have it. I was too “normal”: I didn’t attention seek; wasn’t prone to outbursts; I had mood swings, but they generally didn’t change very quickly unless I was stressed; and my feelings about people didn’t appear to be “black and white” enough. I think she’s beginning to understand that I’ve always tried to hide my Borderline tendencies from her, because I fear losing her more than anything else.
Nothing will change if we don’t open up about mental health
In hindsight, I really wish I’d opened up about the problems I was facing sooner. Fear is a powerful silencing tool. Fear of ridicule, rejection, disbelief, dismissal, and contempt kept me from speaking out, particularly about my emotional regulation issues and trauma, and left me feeling more isolated than anyone should ever be.
Opening up about BPD is hard. There is a lot of stigma around it. People may unfairly assume you are violent, manipulative, or attention-seeking. Honestly, I don’t think people with BPD are more manipulative than anyone else; they’re just more emotional, so it’s less subtle. You spend so much time trying to hold back or bottle up your emotions that when they come out, the damage can often be irreparable. And the most important people in your life are often the ones you hurt the most. They may make the mistake of thinking you can control your emotions or that you’re behaving this way intentionally. The only way to change that assumption is to tell them the truth.
Nothing will change if we don’t open up about mental health. Everyone has mental health and everyone deserves support when they get ill, regardless of the body part affected or the illness in question. Mental illness is not a choice, and the stigma surrounding it needs to be challenged if we’re to help those of us who live with it.
Thank you Zoë for sharing your story. Get involved in the conversation by using #14Conversations on Twitter!