I guess if I’m going to run a blog on mental health I need to have some kind of credibility to do so. Though I do consider myself well educated with a thirst for learning new things only my Google history and stolen book collection could really explain, I hold no credentials in the world of psychology, other than the unofficial award I’ve bestowed upon myself for surviving 26 years alongside the most difficult person I’ve ever come across: Me.
So, in fairness to you, dear reader, before we embark on this journey together, here’s my story…
Childhood. It’s a time where memories and psychological scars are made. Yet, for me, there was no big bang moment or single trauma that meant I would now be forever considered ‘broken’. That’s one of the hardest thing for people to understand, and me along with them. Though some terrible things happened to me in my younger years there was no day that changed it all. The truth is, I think I was both born and made this way.
There’s a whole ‘nature vs nurture’ argument to be had here and most of it stems around my mother. What you won’t see is the 20 minute break I had to take between the last sentence and this one, but what I hope you will somehow be able to grasp is how difficult it can still be to talk about someone you love so much who hurt you so much.
With mental health issues coursing throughout both sides of my family it’s impossible and unfair to point a finger at any one point in a family tree and say this is where it all got fucked up, but I definitely think that my mother’s mental health and her’s and other’s handling of it had a big part to play in my own, both genetically and environmentally.
My mother was bipolar and borderline schizophrenic. She was 40 when she was finally diagnosed but problems had persisted throughout the majority of her life. By the time she was 23 she was a married nurse with two young children, which is a lot for anyone to handle but when a mental health problem comes into play the fact that she did as much as she could is a testament to her resilient spirit and unbelievable strength. When things broke down, including her marriage to my father when I was just two, it’s understandable that her lack of being able to cope would leak onto her children. 20 years ago, mental health wasn’t nearly as talked about as it is today and unless you were in a padded room and a tightly fitted jacket you were just expected to get on with it. And that’s what she did, meaning no one else really noticed and when the odd crack appeared it was put down to the stresses of being a struggling single mother. Unfortunately for me who lived behind the scenes of the mask that she presented to the rest of the world, her coping broke down. I was too young to know she didn’t behave like most mothers. To me she was my mum who just got sad and angry and said some things and did some things that every mother did when their children were being disobedient or annoying on a particularly bad day.
In my teenage years I didn’t talk about what happened in my head. I didn’t talk about behind the curtains of my childhood or the crushing sadness I felt day to day with no real explanation as to why. I didn’t talk about the fact that I barely slept, the confusion I constantly felt or the fact that my only real way to feel like I had any control over my emotions or my body was to hurt myself. Whether drinking, over or under eating, self medicating or self harming, my own destruction was the only time I felt truly at peace. The first time I remember self harming I was 10. I can’t remember much about the experience except for the panic and then the wave of calm that followed straight after. This relationship lasted until I was 17 after years of hiding and constantly trying to explain myself to those few people who knew. My 3 closest friends knew when I was about 13 or 14. Their initial reactions were filled with sadness and anger, completely understandable when they were so young themselves. If I didn’t fully understand it, how could I expect them to? My parents found out when I was 15 and their reaction was simply fear.
I had been taken to therapy previously when I was 13. My parents recognised something wasn’t quite right and so I was sent to talk to someone. In this one 50 minute session this man undermined everything I felt and then brought my parents back into the room to tell them everything I had just told him in confidence. That was the end of me sharing anything with adults.
Though I can now understand my parents reactions, their fear and panic solidified the message to me that you don’t talk to anyone about anything, because if anyone finds out that you’re different then that’s the way you will be treated for the rest of your life. Despite school counselors, teachers and various young person’s organisations – I gave away very little. I accepted the help and the appointments and took home all the leaflets because that’s what my family wanted for me. They thought I was getting fixed and I wanted them to have that belief. If I couldn’t be happy, I could at least try to make those around me happy.
Whilst I’m aware the majority of this post has quite a sombre tone I don’t want to give the impression that I was a sad person because I had a sad life, not at all. I had a few friends that loved the way I made them laugh and a family that I knew, despite everything, loved me. I enjoyed music and writing and spending hours getting the layout of my MySpace profile just right. My life held a lot of happiness and I believe it’s a common misconception that sad people are sad all the time just as it is with people thinking depressed people are depressed all the time. It’s a balance, a game of cat and mouse you play with your head. Sometimes you’re winning and sometimes you get caught – but the game is always being played.
In my late teens I was just starting to come to terms with what my childhood had meant for me and why it was so different to a lot of other people’s. Around this time my mother was diagnosed by a new doctor at our local surgery who had more up to date training on mental health and recognised the signs in her immediately. When I researched these things myself it made a lot of sense but it also made me incredibly sad. For years my mother and I had been sat in the same house but in our own worlds, caught in our own games without ever crossing paths. I suddenly understood the fear in my mother’s eyes when she realised I was different too. She thought it was all her fault.
From the ages of 16 to 20 I became my mother’s unofficial carer, along with my step dad. After her diagnosis my mother was put into therapy and on various different kinds of medications that all came with their own weird and wonderful side effects, and for every side effect there was a new medication to help with it. My mother remained mainly light hearted throughout, laughing most of it off and not wanting to show weakness. In the last year or so of her life I felt like she was losing herself – whether it was to the medication or the illness I’m not sure. Maybe after years of working and shoving everything down as far as it could go finally stopping and taking some time to heal was too much. Maybe it was the gravity of her quickly spinning life that kept all of the broken pieces together and when she stopped they crumbled.
Four days before my 21st birthday, my mother took her own life.
What I said before about there being no day that caused my mental health issues, I meant it. However, this day gave me a completely different relationship with my own mental health. Now I didn’t feel like I was running from just my own head but from fate itself. I felt like ending up like her was an inevitability.
It’s taken me years to see the differences between her story and mine when I’ve spent so long focussed on the similarities. I didn’t realise it then, but the fear of ending up like her pushed me more and more down a destructive path with the road sign ‘I’m Fucked Anyway, So What’s The Point?’
When the anger I’d felt for so many years teamed up with the anger of losing my mother, my destruction landed not only on myself but those around me. This was the point where I finally sought after help and made a promise to myself to try and talk. And this is also the point in the post where I should mention my wife.
We met online at the tender age of 11, speaking every day and finally meeting up when we were 16. I didn’t want a relationship. I didn’t want more opportunities to be hurt or to hurt someone else because I knew I didn’t work properly. But she mule kicked her way into my heart like the clumsy cockney angel she is, made up a comfy spot in the corner and refused to leave. She’s been putting up with me ever since and when those dark parts of my old self began to mingle with my new found sense of destruction, she was one of the main reasons I knew I had to change. So I eventually asked for help.
4 months and three mental health assessments later, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and put into a 2 year programme of intense Psychotherapy. Don’t know what BPD is? Well, neither did I. But research showed me just how much I wasn’t alone and despite the terror of now having an official ‘diagnosis’, I found power within the acknowledgment of its existence.
And what a two years it’s been. My full description of these two years is definitely for another time and another post, but what shook me most was that in order to not end up the worst version of myself I had to become the worst version of myself and fight my way back through. My every fear, every insecurity, every sense of self destruction came screaming through my brain like a disease fighting against a cure. I felt so lost and out of control it took me a long time to even think any positive difference had been made. I hurt people – because hurt people hurt people and darkness wants you stay in darkness, wants you to be alone and unlovable, unreachable and unworthy. Acknowledging that part of myself is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and when one of those feelings are triggered it’s one of the hardest things to fight. But slowly I’ve gotten better at that fight, instead of faster at running.
I am in no sense of the word ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’. Therapy was not a tool to make me a different person but a tool to stop me becoming a certain type of person. My mental health issues are still very much here, still alive and kicking and pushing new and old obstacles and challenges in my path at every chance they get. I trip over them sometimes, ending up face down in the dirt with new cuts and bruises and list of apologies to make, but I live with them instead of in fear of them.
And so here I am now. A few months fresh out of therapy with a head full of things to discuss and the fear of pressing ‘Publish’ getting weaker and weaker…