my mental health journey: part 1
This is a blog post I’ve tried to write too many times to count, but every time I’ve tried to sit down and write it something’s stopped me. It dawned on me that for the first time in a really long time I feel content in my life and writing about my struggles and my own mental health journey whilst feeling so happy seems almost, fraudulent? The fact that I’m in a good place now doesn’t take away from the journey that’s led me to this point, nor does it mean that i’m going to feel this way forever. Each person who struggles with their mental health feels it and processes it differently from me but this is what my experience has been so far. I’ve decided to split this into two parts just because the post was getting a bit long.
Looking back on it now I was probably already suffering form depression in my teens, but the tricky bugger that is adolescence probably did a very good job of masking the symptoms at the time. I was already prone to being very sad for reasons that nobody could comprehend, I slept a lot of my day away when I wasn’t in school and struggled with social interaction. From a very young age I was troubled with not really understanding ‘what the point’ of life was, what we were supposed to be working towards as humans and most importantly why. It all just seemed so exhausting and I didn’t know if I could get through the day let alone a lifetime.
In my late teens it became clear that whatever was going on wasn’t just a symptom of raging hormones and a badly timed move to another country, but was something rooted much deeper. There was a number of other factors I feel it’s important to take into account at this time in my life too. Just after leaving school I became, for want of a better word, reckless. Although it’s difficult to know if this was a symptom of the decline in my mental health. I also started my first serious relationship with a man who despite adoring me didn’t know how to handle me and played with my already very confused head. On top of that I became a regular drug user. Living in a small town in rural Ireland left little choice in terms of recreation and so because I couldn’t beat them I joined them. Most weekends were a chemically induced blur that left me running on empty come Sunday morning, often not returning back home until the shakes had gone and my pupils had returned to their normal size.
By 21 I was edging closer and closer to breaking point. I was struggling with full time work, my relationship was becoming more turbulent and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I felt like things were spinning further and further out of my control. I remember a particularly bad night when I had an argument with my Mum. I don’t remember the exact cause now, I was probably being a total shit, but by the end of it I was hysterical. I couldn’t breathe and I just wanted to fall into a hole and never come out, I felt like my world was ending. For the first time since I was a child Mum had to soothe me to sleep, for the first time I was really frightened about what was happening. For the first time I went to my GP for some help.
My GP immediately put me on a waiting list for the public psychiatric system. This sector of the Irish health care system is completely overwhelmed with the waiting lists and number of patients it has. When my first appointment came I had to see some sort of psychiatric nurse who summarised my ‘mental state’ before the session with the actual psychiatrist. This took approximately 15 minutes and once she had left the room (and left her notes behind – rookie mistake!) I took a peek at what she had to say. To summarise, I wasn’t presenting as someone insane enough to warrant immediate help and could wait. Her notes detailed how I was ‘well put together’ ‘wearing make-up’ ‘had painted my nails’ and appeared to be ‘very coherent and able to describe her condition without difficulty’.
Without going on an angry rant about this I do want to briefly say the notion that someone ‘well put together’ and ‘coherent’ isn’t in need of help is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, there were other patients in the waiting room who on first glance probably did need more immediate help than me, however a large majority of people with mental health issues have become very good at hiding their suffering. Most people who on hearing I struggle with depression make exclamations about how happy and smiley I appear, and I am most of the time, but I also work very hard to make sure most people don’t ever see anything else. When I was 18 my best friend tried to commit suicide. She was bubbly, social, well put together and always had her nails painted. I was her best friend and never had a clue. I was going through exactly the same thing and I still didn’t know. People will let you see what they want you to see.
Eventually I saw the psychiatrist and was put on a standard anti-depressant. Due to previously mentioned recklessness I continued to drink and take drugs at the weekend as well as adding my anti depressants to the chemical party. What finally gave me a much needed reality check was the night I had taken my antidepressants, drunk for hours, taken a bunch of stimulants and then proceeded to take a few valium to get me to sleep before work the next morning. The next day at work I had to leave because I broke down behind the bar.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, my relationship had ended, I had started a new one (clever I know) and also changed my antidepressants. Fast forward again and I was back at the psychiatrist. It’s worth mentioning that every time I went to see the psychiatrist I saw someone different, usually a Locum who had never even read my history before let alone met me in person. The third or fourth time I went a young Locum diagnosed me with bipolar during the 15 minute appointment I had with him. I was put on Epilim, a medication for bipolar that is also used for those who suffer with Epilepsy. That was the beginning of a rapid downward spiral. At some stage I went back because they weren’t working and I was unravelling, which they remedied with additional medication. This time in the form of Zyprexa, a drug used to treat bi-polar and schizophrenic disorders. The two weeks I was on them are a black hole in my memory. From talking to loved ones retrospectively I know I wasn’t in great shape. I would change within seconds, one minute I’d be laughing, the next I was horrible and angry, the next I was sobbing. My relationship with the mental health care system ended when after desperately pleading with another Locum that I needed help I was told ‘crying wouldn’t fix anything’.
I weened myself off my medication and never went back.