A few weeks ago, I put a request out into the twitterverse for Time to Talk Day.
I asked people to share their stories with me about the positive impact sharing their mental health difficulties has had, and how and why they chose to talk. This could be either through talking anonymously and finding a supportive community, telling friends and family and getting a caring response, or anything else in between. I was so thrilled with the amount of responses I had.
Below is my story, and some wonderful stories from some truly inspirational people that so kindly contributed to this post. I’m so grateful that they took the time to share them with me, and in turn, with you.
I was always very ashamed of talking about my mental health and the idea of anyone finding out I’d been in hospital before or that I’d had an eating disorder was horrifying to me. I’d experienced a lot of stigma and discrimination that led me to feel as though I had to be secretive. When I found out about Time To Change, it got me thinking about what changes I’d like to see in the world for people with mental health problems. I decided to apply to become a Youth Involvement Worker, now known as a Young Champion; and although I was thrilled when I was offered the job, I was petrified about the fact I might now have to start being honest about my own difficulties. However, the fact that I was so terrified was the thing that drove me forward and motivated me so much. NO ONE should be scared to talk about their mental health, and the more of us that start talking, the more we break down those walls and pave the way for others.
I’ve generally had only positive and supportive responses when I’ve talked about my mental health since joining Time To Change, and I feel incredibly lucky for that – I know not everyone is so lucky. But that is precisely why days like Time To Talk Day are still so necessary.
I’m Cara. I have bipolar disorder and I am in recovery from anorexia. I am also a cat mum, nurse and tattoo fanatic. I am no longer ashamed of myself – I am a warrior and I’m proud of who I am and what I have become. And I won’t stop talking until everyone who struggles with their mental health feels safe enough to talk too.
I think since sharing my story on a blog and sharing my experience and what I’ve been going through has really made a difference. I feel I have a lot more positive people around me who understand what I’m going through it’s nice to feel not alone anymore!!
When I first started to suffer with mental illness, almost ten years ago, the only word I can use that really defines how I felt is isolated.
I was young, 15 or 16 when depression first showed it’s face, followed closely by self-harm and a few years later my eating disorder was born.
I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
Why could other people cope but I couldn’t?
It was lonely.
It took me many years to find courage to be honest about my mental struggles.
I used to think there was no point in talking to anyone because nobody could understand how I felt, but gradually I realised this was wrong.
You will meet people who can understand to a certain extent and who can relate to you, but that’s not the most important thing to remember.
The most important thing to remember is it is not how many people can understand, but rather how many want and try to understand, that is what is important.
I cannot encourage you enough to talk to people about whatever you feel.
Not only may they help you, but you may help them.
Mental illness is still surrounded by stigma and very much a taboo topic.
So join the warriors fighting this. Fighting to end the stigma. Fighting for it to be easier for people to talk about their feelings. Fighting for more mental health awareness.
I am a warrior and you are a warrior.
Be proud of that.
Being a Time to Change young champion and talking about my experiences with mental health has allowed me to not only raise awareness in the hope to help others but it has also helped me more than I ever could have imagined it would.
Before becoming a young champion, I would have moments of feeling truly saddened and ashamed of my mind, I believed the stigma around mental health and saw myself as weak. This lead to feeling ashamed and therefore I kept quiet. Being quiet about my mental health made things a lot worse and I soon felt completely alone.
Since being more open about my mental health, I have been able to find a sense of peace with my experiences, treat myself with greater kindness and see myself as strong.
Writing about my mental health has been nothing but positive for me. It wasn’t something that I ever planned to do. Since my first experience of severe depression in 2006 I have never hidden the fact that I had suffered from others.
I’ve never been somebody that can hide how I feel and so, when I first began to struggle with my mental health it was obvious to everybody around me that something was very wrong. I’m generally an upbeat, positive and chatty person and depression robbed me of those qualities. When I recovered I felt that I was able to help the people around me to better understand mental health as they tended to be curious as to how it had happened, I guess because I didn’t fit the stereotype that people have around who can suffer from depression.
Eight years after my first breakdown, and following a subsequent four month bout of severe depression in 2013, my marriage ended. It was a year later, when struggling to deal with the fallout from divorce, that I began to write. It was a spur of the moment decision and that night I launched my blog. I had never written before and I had no idea of what to expect. It hadn’t been my specific intention to write about my mental health, but it quickly became apparent to me that depression hung around in the background to what I was experiencing and I knew that I would need to tackle it in my writing. My first two pieces that focused on mental health described my experience of depression and feeling suicidal. The responses were hugely positive and supportive, and feeling that I was able to help others to feel a little bit better, and a little less alone, was wonderful.
Writing has led to many amazing opportunities for me and has brought me into contact with so many wonderful, inspirational people. It has led to me becoming part of a major campaign for Time to Change and to being invited to attend a celebration event at Whitehall hosted by the Department of Health.
I can honestly say that, through writing, the very worst experiences of my life have led directly to the very best. In December 2017 my first book, Something Changed – Stumbling Through Divorce, Dating & Depression, was published, a dream that I would never have thought possible. Writing helped me so much in managing my own mental health, and it means so much to me that my experiences are now helping others.
I think that for many people that have experienced mental health problems there is a strong desire to raise awareness and to help others. Having experienced the loneliness, the isolation, and the sheer terror of mental illness, we want to make sure that people understand that mental health is real, and that mental illness can tear your life apart without warning. And when it does, the pain and suffering is compounded by stigma, lack of awareness and lack of support. I don’t want anybody else to ever have to feel how I did.
I want to do what I can to feel that I am making some kind of difference by addressing this. Discovering that I could write in a way that people can relate to has been, along with my children, life’s biggest gift to me. Being part of a community of like-minded, committed people that are using their own struggles to help and inspire others is a true privilege.
Writing has changed my life more than I could ever have imagined, and it proves to me that no matter how dark things may get, you never know just how much good life has in store for you.
I hope that reading about my experiences will help others to never lose hope. Everybody is unique, and the world needs you.
I’ve always been very shy about talking about mental health in the past. But eventually, after a little bit of prompting and seeing bloggers sharing their story, I decided to talk a bit about my anxiety on Facebook and the response from friends and acquaintances was overwhelming. I received messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in years saying how inspiring it was to hear someone be so honest, and that seeing me speak about my experiences has been helpful for them as they felt they weren’t alone in their struggles.
After that, I decided to try blogging seriously with a focus on mental health and since then my confidence has grown and the support from friends, family, and even strangers online has been overwhelming, with people sharing their experiences in return. Talking really is good for us as it brings us together and opens doors to make lasting friendships, as well as finding support networks and ways to cope and recover.
If anybody needs to talk, my blog comment section and twitter DM’s are always open!
The purpose behind my blog is to share my life after my head injury- the anxiety, the depression and the pure utter confusion I have lived with for the past nine years after my head injury. I wasn’t forthcoming about my cognitive deficits because I felt like a failure and was embarrassed about my struggles. Until one day I shared my story with someone and their response was filled with compassion, understanding and complete respect for ME and WHY I am the way I am. I am no longer ashamed to share my struggles and my blog has given me the outlet to share my normal- however chaotic it may be. It has been extremely rewarding to connect with people over the same circumstances and tears have been brought to my eyes on more than one occasion when someone emails or comments about sharing the same struggles. It takes a village, and I am grateful for my virtual one.
he purpose behind my blog is to share my life after my head injury- the anxiety, the depression and the pure utter confusion I have lived with for the past nine years after my head injury. I wasn’t forthcoming about my cognitive deficits because I felt like a failure and was embarrassed about my struggles. Until one day I shared my story with someone and their response was filled with compassion, understanding and complete respect for ME and WHY I am the way I am. I am no longer ashamed to share my struggles and my blog has given me the outlet to share my normal- however chaotic it may be. It has been extremely rewarding to connect with people over the same circumstances and tears have been brought to my eyes on more than one occasion when someone emails or comments about sharing the same struggles. It takes a village, and I am grateful for my virtual one.
After my diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder, I told a few people about it. Talking to them was an invaluable part of my recovery journey. It helped me process difficult emotions I had about my diagnosis like anger, resentment, grief, confusion & fear. It helped me make sense of what was happening especially as my sense of self & identity needed rebuilding. I still talk to them regularly which helps me manage & cope with ongoing subthreshold symptoms which still cause me some difficulty & distress. Talking to my understanding psychologist regularly also helps me stay well. I’d encourage everyone with mental health issues to find someone they trust to share their journey with.
I was once quiet, ashamed and embarrassed to be experiencing a mental health problem. I internalised the emotional turmoil that I was going through, I felt fearful of the response of others, I felt like I was some how a burden. I spent so much time assuming that those around me would respond negatively to my struggles that I never stopped to think about the incredible love and support I would be shown when I finally started to talk about how I was feeling. Whilst at times mental illness can lead to me feeling incredibly isolated, speaking about my mental health to others made me realise that I was not alone in this battle, I was 1 in 4. Things have unfortunately been incredible tough again recently, I have felt hopeless, and felt it would be impossible to ever get through this, to ever be ‘well’ again, to get out of the dark patch I am in. If it wasn’t for those around me, that have continuously shown support and unconditional love I would be in a much darker place. They have made sure to regularly check-in with me, given me the time to truly listen to how I am feeling, sending little cards and taken time to give me a call to catch up and of course a ridiculous selfie, meme of gif! It has been the little things that say ‘I am thinking of you’ that has made such a huge impact on me during a very difficult time.
During ten years of struggle with anorexia, I hardly ever opened up about my illness. And even when I did, I was so tentative, terrified I would get a hostile or disbelieving response, or some other kind of triggering reaction. After a couple of occasions where I did get this kind of response, in my late twenties I clammed up, accepting that I had to suffer in silence and shame.
Even when I finally got some treatment, I was still terrified of speaking about what I was going through. I mostly tried to hide my struggle while I dragged myself through my law exams, and then strived to appear ‘normal’ to my employers as I worked my summer teaching job. I remember feeling scared when I had to disclose my condition in a pre-joining questionnaire for my current employer. I didn’t want to be the ‘crazy’ trainee in my cohort, or the employee who HR feared would crash out of her job at some point.
So what changed? Why did I suddenly snap? It actually started sitting alone on a Saturday afternoon on my landlady’s sofa crying about my hair. I’d just done one of my random Google searches on anorexia. It was a habit I’d picked up over the years, sometimes finding comfort, sometimes triggers. This time I stumbled upon an article about a woman trying to recover and lamenting the damage done to her once beautiful hair – crying in her bathroom. My hand moved upwards feeling my own thin, dry, straggly hair and I cried.
Yes, I was crying for my hair, like so many of us might after a bad visit to the hairdresser’s. But I was crying for everything else too – for my whole self, the ten years of self-hatred, guilt, and mental and physical exhaustion. Here I was nearly a year into my recovery and only finally able to let go of my mask even in front of myself.
That was an important step. I’d acknowledged my suffering, rather than my usual constant denial and downplaying. Then something snapped. Yes, I was a 33 year old in anorexia recovery. Yes, I had osteoporosis and didn’t know if I’d ever see my periods again. Yes, I was terribly lonely. But I was still me, still Hannah, and still up for a fight!
There on that sofa on a miserable grey Saturday afternoon in November, I decided to change my whole approach. I was upset about the physical, social and emotional consequences of my illness, but I decided I’d no longer be ashamed and I’d no longer be afraid. I had to start speaking. I had to own my illness so that I could own my recovery.
I think the climate is changing significantly for those of us with long-term mental health problems. There is a growing community supporting one another, and even the mainstream media has begun regular and often more sensitive reporting on people’s stories. There’s still a long way to go, but 2018 feels like the cusp of something really positive.
Since my resolution that Saturday afternoon, I’ve built my own blog and become active on Twitter. I think it was easier for me to start out online – unseen. I share my story very honestly and that helps me to understand and process what’s happened to me. Writing my blog posts and boldly sending them out into the world is the best therapy for me. I hold my head higher.
The next step has been speaking out in public. The bravest thing I’ve done so far was to announce myself as in recovery from anorexia at a meeting of a mental health committee I’ve recently joined at work. The response was very positive and people listened to my ideas even more after that.
But more importantly, I didn’t really care what the response was. I know when I say I’m in recovery from anorexia, many people will make an immediate physical assessment of whether I look like that to them – fear of physical judgment, even if it’s not voiced, is an added barrier to speaking out for eating disorder sufferers. I used to wonder what people would think – I was anorexic, I wasn’t, I was so thin, I looked fine blah blah blah. But this time I didn’t care. I know what I’ve been through and I know where I’m up to in my recovery. It doesn’t matter what other people think. This actually helps me to fully recover. I don’t have to prove my anorexia to anyone. I just need to focus on getting rid of it!
Going forward, I’m planning a very visible and image-driven fundraiser for Beat’s Sock It to Eating Disorders campaign. I will be taking 125 photos in my jazziest, wackiest, brightest socks all over London and posting my tour on Instagram. It’s empowering. I’m on my way to no longer being afraid of my body or my mind or what anyone else thinks about either.
I would encourage others struggling with their mental health to open up in some way – keep a journal, blog, confide in someone close, or tell the world – whatever you feel ready for. I also want to show that this liberation isn’t just for the youngest social media savvy generation. As an adult in my 30s, I want to help give a voice to others and show that you can open up at any age – it’s never too late. Acknowledging your experience, ditching the shame, and being proud of what you’re coping with is an empowering way of taking ownership of your mental health.
Ps. By the way, I got a cool new haircut too!
Hannah is fundraising for Beat, the eating disorders charity, from 4 Feb to 4 March. Check out her JustGiving page to find out more about Hannah’s Sock It Tour of London – 125 photos in 125 places for the 1.25 million people living with eating disorders in the UK. Please do donate if you can and help Sock It to Eating Disorders – Everywhere!
I have found talking about my mental health issues has been helpful (puts things into perspective) but it must be with someone who truly understands and doesn’t judge and who does not make you feel inadequate or silly. Simple but true.
My struggle with depression has lasted around 15 years (since I was around 20). It began with end of my first marriage. Back then, the common doctor’s advice was just to take antidepressants and it would be fine. Shamefully this has never been the case in my experience. But I believed it and struggled on through many more bouts after thinking I had escape the black cloud.
In April last year, my depression got so bad after the end of my second marriage that I came close to ending my life. This is when I finally decided to seek more help than just antidepressants. Yes, I was taking them but I realised that, having ignored my past emotional issues, I needed some kind of counselling. There was so much emotion and heartache built up inside my head that moving on without it would be impossible. My head clearly couldn’t cope any longer.
I signed up for counselling with my GP but didn’t feel that connection that made it comfortable to open up to her. So I self-referred to my local Psychological Well-Being team. This, although I am now seeing them, came with a catch. They wouldn’t add me to their waiting list until I had been 4 months clean from self-harm. So the wait to begin my ‘emotional repairs’ went on. I wont say this wait was easy, but I am glad I fought on. I started seeing them for CBT just after New Year. My first appointment was daunting. I had never been able to open up to someone or even admit I was struggling unless in serious distress. But when I attended I was immediately at ease. I felt that I had taken the first step towards a full recovery. My therapist made me feel welcome and not judged. All she wanted to was help me learn to process my emotions. She sensed I was uncomfortable admitting to all my trapped feelings to a stranger so has been teaching me techniques to identify them and process them so i could understand them fully. She has also been teaching me healthy coping mechanisms.
Whilst the medication has helped me to be able to cope day-to-day and the CBT has taught me how to deal with these uncomfortable emotions I had experienced and hidden away, I admit I had still resisted somewhat opening up. My walls I had put up over the years were extremely strong, they had been there so long I didn’t know anything else. But that is when I turned to Twitter to vent my frustrations and seek other people in similar situations. I actually managed to make ‘friends’ which is something I have struggled to do for 15 years. Some of these friends have taught me that speaking out and addressing my emotions is acceptable. And I got to know someone who despite only knowing them for a mere few days, it felt like we had been friends forever. Our private discussions have been amazing. This extremely special person managed to make me feel so at ease, they made my walls crumble within days of starting speaking to them. I’m nowhere near recovered fully yet. But this person made me feel I still had hope. They believed I could beat my depression. But not only beat it, they made me believe I would understand it and be able to cope better should it ever return.
So my positives are that I got the medication I needed to be able to cope whilst recovering. I got the support from my local Psychological Well-Being Service to enable me to understand my emotions and cope with them better in the future. But, most importantly for me anyway, I made at least one new friend for life including someone who is now so special to me I couldn’t imagine not having them in my life. This person is the person who I feel is the one who truly helped save my life and I will eternally in their debt.
I’m not saying that every person will find this the perfect solution. What I am saying is NEVER be afraid to seek help. Admitting I needed the help has been the beginning of the rest of my life. And there is never any shame in seeking whatever help you need to continue living.
I can’t remember what age I was formally diagnosed, it took a lot of going back an forth to the doctors till they accepted it was depression. I could only have been maybe 18, I never felt like my friends took me seriously when I told them I suffered from depression so I just stopped talking about it to them. I’d seen a psychologist since I was 14 as a result of my parents divorce. So I was always comfortable talking to my psychologist. I don’t talk to my family about it as they’ve all got there own problems. Luckily I have a supportive husband who I can speak to about anything.
I have gained so much from talking about my mental health. When I was 14 and was diagnosed with OCD I was always very concerned with what people might think about my illness. It wasn’t until I saw a speech by Charles Walker MP that made me realise I didn’t need to be ashamed. It took me 3 years to tell even my best friends, but since then I have never had any regrets.
I chose to run the marathon in 2013 and decided to run for the charity Mind. 2 years before this I struggled to even walk down the road without extreme anxiety, so running this far was really a momentous occasion for me. I knew I was well onto my way to recovery. This gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about mental health struggles and how I overcame them. When someone asked why I had chosen Mind I would tell them and soon everyone at school knew. I didn’t receive a single bad comment. I was so relieved once the secret I’d kept for so long was out. After the marathon I was asked to speak on BBC Breakfast about my mental health and the marathon. I received so many lovely comments and even had a few people come up to me on the street. Since then I’ve spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about my mental health. While OCD isn’t a big part of my life anymore, I still use every opportunity I can to talk and to be there if they ever need someone to listen.
My teacher, was the hero of my story.
She was the one who was the first person to ever talk to me about mental health. The person who let me sit and cry and knew the right time to say something. She also knew when to push me and force me to talk, although sometimes I hated her for it.
She took time out of her day to make sure i was ok. Whether it was sitting with me while i ate lunch, helping me through panic attacks or even going through tasks she had found online to help. Now she may not know it but what she did changed my world. It made me the person I am today. And through all the sadness she helped me hang onto me and find who I am.
It doesn’t take professional knowledge, it doesn’t take a degree in medicine. For someone who’s suffering from a mental illness, often all they want is someone there holding there hand. Someone there who’s going to send them a message and ask how there day was. Someone who’s not going to judge them if they cancel a plan.
Someone who loves them and cares for them.
There are no superpowers that will fix a mental illness. But there for so many people are superhero’s who make everyday that bit easier.
Learn to be that person. Not only for others, but for yourself.
“The hero hiding in each of us is the most powerful catalyst for change”
When I was formally diagnosed in December 2016 with depression, after hiding it and refusing to confront how ill I actually was, I couldn’t say the word. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I had suffered with stress and periods of depression before, but never really told anyone. I was an expert at hiding it, thinking I could handle it without help.
When I started therapy in early February 2017 I struggled to say it, even to a mental health professional. I slowly learnt to do so and accept how serious it was. In April, to tie in within the W.H.O International Health Day on depression, I decided to write a short private post to a small group of friends, sharing that I suffered from it. Due to the response from that I posted a couple more posts , again just on Facebook to friends.
During May my therapist asked if I would ever consider writing more openly, in public? From that encouragement I started an open blog site, posting every Friday since.
I write for two reasons. Firstly the posts help me, to think about depression, the coping strategies and to do something creative. Writing is a form of self-therapy. Secondly, I hope by sharing that I play some part in tackling stigma and raising awareness.
I have had lovely feedback to the blog posts, which is hugely supportive. But the best feedback is when people have contacted me to say that it’s prompted them to seek help or that they have learnt something from the writing. That is amazing and helps keep me writing.
I am taking the next step and hosting a “conversation in a cafe” event for Time to Talk day. This will be the first time of talking in public about depression, which is both scary and important to me. Wish me luck!
Thank you so, so much from the bottom of my heart to everybody who helped me to put this together. I truly hope that this might have helped at least one person reading believe that they can talk about their mental health. Please share far and wide and keep spreading the word that we should all being able to talk about mental health!
What are you doing for Time To Talk Day?