I started to write this piece a few weeks ago, in part as a response to some of the feedback regarding my post “the box I ticked” Having got through the first couple of paragraphs I stopped, put it on the back burner and then deleted. For one, I didn’t want people to feel that the content of my blog was just going to revolve around my first successful (in terms of views) post. I also didn’t want to open wounds that maybe I did not feel ready to share or in fact ready to face myself.
Today is World Mental Health Day. Today it feels right to do this.
My last blog post received an (unexpected) overwhelming amount attention. More than I could ever imagine. I think at last count it’s 6 and half thousand views in just over a month. It featured within Britains most popular politics blog and was named checked by several political commenters. This means of course in the social media age, that the wider you reach, the more you open yourself to criticism. That’s to be expected of course and yes I will admit: I am not the worlds greatest writer, I’m not the most knowledgeable in the subjects I discuss & yes I am probably “so much of a twee snowflake people could mistake my work Satire” ~ annomous commenter from Reddit.
What really struck me, was an almost running theme that kept popping up in the comments regarding the post. This was across all social media sites that ‘The Box I ticked’ appeared on and people openly discussed amongst them selves, sometimes at great length. That subject was my state of mind.
It’s extremely difficult to read complete strangers discussing the state of your mental health. Some of it was in a concerned tone, some was quite scathing of my motivates and some comments diagnosed me (incorrectly) as that could be the only answer as to why I no longer wanted to vote for Jeremy bloody Corbyn. The comments hit me right in a part that I wanted to keep well locked up inside of me. They made me feel that this baggage I still bear scars from was going to impact my dream goal of one day standing as an MP. I felt angry at myself and even angrier at my flaws. You don’t want to be difined by mental illness. Often you feel it’s a sign of weakness. When I think of some of my past decisions I feel ashamed and embarrassed. Every little thing got raked back up again. Till you reach a moment of clarity. If you can get through all these past episodes, if you can really sink to the lowest depths of despair, if you still have bad days and you still feel the aniexty but you achieve everything in spite of this…Then aren’t you an example of how you can positively define yourself as a sufferer of mental illness? My journey changed me. It changed me for the absolutely better and I can’t say for certain I would be the individual I am today if it wasn’t for what I had been through. So why wouldn’t I share it?
I don’t want to go into incredible detail, mainly out of respect to my fiancé the incredible father to my beautiful daughter, who I attribute a huge part of making my world the better place it finally is and more importantly me the person I am today. Many years ago I suffered the break down of a relationship. I’m not going to say this caused my mental health issues as it’s clear I’ve had some underlying issues throughout my life and I’m notably an extremely emotional person but as a result I suffered a complete break down. I didn’t work, I hardly ate, I refused to leave the house, I counted down the hours till I could take the sleeping pills that enabled me to sleep. I didn’t live I just existed. I became a shell of my formal self in both personality and appearance. I cried till I had no tears left and I made completely irrational decisions including two attempts to take my life. My mind simply wasn’t emotionally capable of dealing with the situation. Old complexs retuned, I obsessed over my weight, my looks and my complete and utter inability to deal with the thought of people laughing at me just amplified all of the above. When the support of my absolutely incredible family and my one of a kind best friend pulled me from rock bottom it was still apparent that I wasn’t ‘cured’ I would feel euphoric highs then gut wrenching lows, I struggled to keep hold of my temper at work, I actually became quite a horrible person. I ruined a very close friendship and I lost sight of who I was. When enough is enough you have to face facts. You’re the problem and you’re the answer to fixing it. It’s meet with my doctor. I accepted my diagnosis of bi polar disorder and I took the medication perscribed. For some this meets it’s purpose and you’re functioning again. For me it kept me ticking over. It didn’t do much to remove the shield I had built around me or the; for want of a better word ‘alter ego’ I had created to hide behind. People that know of me will see a confident, self aware individual, they probably think I’m a bit vain too or court attention. I wouldn’t blame them for that it’s what I want them to think. For I am not that person. The real me is extremely sensitive, I absolutely hate the thought of people not liking me, I obess over it. I constantly worry of what people’s opinions are of me. So having something to hide behind suited me perfectly. False happiness can only sooth you for so long though and the only person you’re really kidding is yourself. Thank god I had reached that point where I was quite simply tired of the charade. It’s hard working pretending to be something you’re not and I just had enough. I’m not a great believer in fate but I am under no illusion that it was no coincidence that the time I started be myself again is the time that Chris entered my life. I could bore you for hours with stories about him but he loves me for the person I am despite every single flaw I think have. You become a good person with great people by your side. It’s at this point I feel it’s important to highlight how pinnacle a good support network is when it comes to mental illness. For every lucky person like myself with my fantastic family and friends, there are thousands who have no one. Mental health is more than just a health care issue, it’s a social issue, it’s a community issue, it’s a welfare issue. The current structure in place no where near reflects this and we need to fight to make sure it does.
My daughter being born was the the incredible moment at which I could see how far I’d come. Saturday 6th February 2016 couldn’t of been further from my lowest ebb. Arabella is my greatest achievement. So the niggling old anxieties that started to play up made me disappointed in myself. The fear of judgment returned, I was worried I wouldn’t be seen as a good enough mum. I lived in absolute fear of making a mistake that could harm my daughter and I was frightened that voicing my concerns would make people question my ability to mother. Whilst midwives and health visitors do a great job in looking out for signs and discussing Post natal depression, I feel more needs to be done regarding support for new mothers with a history of mental illness and awareness of the other types of post natal mental health issues. I didn’t feel detached from my daughter at all I had an incredible bond. When the HV asked the set questions regarding PND I didn’t fit the bill but I was starting to suffer with serious anxiety which strangely focused around my own health. I became convinced something was wrong with me, every little symptom I had I googled. I would lay awake at night feeling physically sick because I was that convinced I had an illness that would stop me watching my daughter grow up. I laughed about it with friends “oh yeah I have this weird obsession that I’m going to die, ha ha” but it wasn’t funnny and it was consuming me so much it was starting to take the enjoyment out of motherhood. This meant I stayed clear of mum groups, I found excuses not to leave the house, I was even too frightened to drive my car. The obsession would also fixate into fear of something happening to Arabella. I would invision an accident, an illness, a mistake that conjured up terrible images of what could happen to her. One minute I would be changing her nappy the next I would be uncontrollably in tears thinking of what could happen to her.
Now I’m sorry if people think I’m going on too much with this piece but the above is important as I thought it was only me and that it was a ridiculous side effect of my past mental health issues. It is not and I’m hopeful some new mums might read this and feel reassured and relieved. Post natal ANIEXTY is a lesser known condition but it effects up to 10% on new mums. The fact that you don’t feel stereotypically depressed, combined with fear that new mums have about admitting they are not feeling quite right can result in so many mums suffering alone. People discussing my mental health as a new mum has made me want speak out to ensure other mums can don’t feel the same. I’ve seeked help and the treatment has seen me vastly improve. Bursting into floods in tears with my GP and have him reassure me that what I was feeling wasn’t unusual felt like the weight on my shoulders lifted. I still have quite a bit of health anxiety regarding myself but I’m in a completely different place with Arabella. I drive for miles with her in the car, we go shopping together, I socialise with other mums and I enjoy every second. I want this story to hopefully reach out to some one who can achieve the same.
So to wrap this up. My journey has shaped the person I am today and I’m proud of it. No I am not defined but I am moulded as a result of mental illness and do you know what? I am okay with that. It makes me feel much more compassion, I think twice now before I judge, I try to see the good in all and I try to remember everybody has their own demons. The steps to my recovery led to me finally joining the Labour Party, getting back on course to my long forgotten goal. Despite these obsticles I stood on a platform and spoke publicly to hundreds of people at an Owen Smith event. Regardless of my aniexty regarding my looks and fear of other people’s views I stood and offered my self to criticism, I received some awful abuse and I had some real set backs. Yet I’m still here. I’m still going and I’m not done yet.
No I’m not ‘fixed’ but I was not ever really broken, sufferers of mental health problems don’t just stop being human. So If you’re questioning my mental wellbeing then my answer to you would be that it makes me the person I am today and finally I couldn’t be prouder.
Thanks for reading.