Today is Time to Talk day. Run by Mind and Rethink, it aims to get people to talk about mental health and start conversations, hoping to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
My experience of depression and anxiety is not unique. Research shows young women are more likely to experience mental health problems and one in four people have been diagnosed with a condition at some point in their lives.
But despite these overwhelming numbers, it is still an illness that is discriminated against, in the media, in our schools, in offices up and down the country, by the government. Funding for health services is still being cut, despite promises it would not be. Shallow gestures to improve mental health provision in schools will make little difference to the every day lives of the children it will supposedly help.
It has been THIRTEEN years since the government made any effort to assess children and young people’s mental health needs and the prevalence of mental health problems in youngsters. Thirteen years ago we did not have social media, iPhones, constant interactivity. The world has changed, and our response to it needs to reflect that.
I don’t expect anything I say below to change anyone’s view of the illness, but it might help some to understand how it affects people. People, who to almost everyone else, seem “fine”. And if you are one of those people who everyone thinks is “fine”, know that there are others to talk to, and there is help there if you ask for it. The right people will not judge you.
This is a letter I have written to my younger self, aimed at the period I first started to notice something wasn’t right (about mid-2013).
It’s going to be a tough few years, filled with self-loathing, overwhelming panic, instability and emotion.
You will be unable to feel happiness, you will not remember a time when you were laughing without a care in the world, you will only feel sorrow, loneliness and despair. You will lose interest in everything you once so easily enjoyed – reading, cooking, socialising. You will paint on a face and laugh with them so they all think you are normal, you are enjoying yourself. But inside you will be in pain.
You will try to explain this to others. But people will not understand. They will tell you to “man up”, “grow up” and, most commonly, to “stop overreacting”. One person in particular will tell you over and over that you are spineless. They will make you doubt your true feelings and push you towards an edge that you are trying so hard not to go over.
You will get into your car and, with your hands on the wheel, your foot on the accelerator, the world will spin. You won’t be able to breathe. Somehow you will get there in one piece. Muscle memory taking you through the motions. You will arrive at your office and cry into the steering wheel, hoping today will be better, it will be easier. Nine times out of ten it won’t be.
Every worry you have will be amplified by 1,000,000 nagging doubts. You will voice these and be told to stop being a pain and worrying so much. You’re being negative. You’re so negative. All the time. You bring everyone down. Chill out. Go with the flow.
You will believe you are the problem. You deserve the treatment you are receiving from those you care about. You do not.
You will spend a lot of time crying in your car, the shower and office bathrooms. You will simultaneously believe everyone is staring at you, judging you, yet everyone is ignoring your hurt.
You will push back, move yourself away from those who really love you, because it’s easier that way. You can’t burden others. It has already been made clear that you are not normal. You are the problem. You are the one who is causing all these problems, real and perceived. Only you.
It is your fault that you are not enough for some people around you. Always the second choice, the comforting blanket not the seductive silk sheets. You fail as a friend. As a partner. As a woman. As a human.
You will not see that it was always that they were not good enough for you. You shaped your life for others, not yourself.
You will dig your nails into your arms until you bleed. The warm blood a release. This is normal, you will tell yourself, you deserve to hurt. You shouldn’t be here.
You should smile more. Why are you always crying? Why do you shut yourself indoors? This is what they will say. They will mock you. Belittle you. Call you mental. Crazy. There will be little support.
You will move. Hoping that will cure a number of ails. But they prevail. Intensify. You are alone. Panic following you as you take your daily walk through a beautiful park, trying to allow the music pumping into your ears to take you away. But you arrive and you are still alone. The end just a ledge away.
You will lean on medication to get you through your day. And you will get through. Somehow those three tablets a day will become two, then one, then half every other, then half twice a week. Soon, it will be none.
You will push for that therapy, to finally speak to someone about what is happening inside your head. It will be hard. A chore. The sessions at night so you can hide your weekly routine from your colleagues. Down darkened back streets, away from the prying lights of the busy high street. But through the tears there will be some clarity.
Then one day you will realise. This is not the life you wanted. You are so much more. You will find some peace in accepting that.
And you are not alone. You have never been.
You will abandon a life of a regular. You will have no income. Your savings a lifeline, your mother a safe. You will again believe you are a failure. You are 28 years old with no future. At least not the future the world expects of you. The doubt will start again.
But, strong Soph, you will learn to cope with this. You will learn you are stronger than what they believe. It won’t be easy. You will have days when you can not see a way through. Your bed your comfort, the haven to hide from the world. But each day a step closer to understanding, coping and moving forward.
Tomorrow you are leaving. Leaving your home, your family, your friends, and going on an adventure. This adventure will terrify you. And again people will not understand your doubt. But, now you will know where the support is. Who can help you. Who truly cares for you. And you will learn that person was mainly yourself to begin with. Look after yourself.
Remember, Soph, you will have made it this far and have come out of it the better. There will be many who will still not understand, will never try. Leave them behind. Learn to let go – of the past pain, the present fear, and the future angst. Learning doesn’t stop, you will keep doing it until your end. Do not set yourself a deadline.
You are normal. You are strong. You are here.
All my love,