A PERSONAL NOTE FROM OUR FOUNDER LUCINDA BRAY ON MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK.
I have written this post to show that it is possible to go to very bottom of that black hole of feelings, to emerge and to find happiness.
I didn’t believe it was possible when I was there, so if this can reach just one person and help them to ask for help or simply reach out a hand to a friend then it has been worth it.
This is a brutally honest post. Please be kind.
I WISHED I HAD NEVER EXISTED.
Living, breathing, thinking, being. It felt like some kind of torture. But the only way I could think of out of that torture would bring a whole new kind of torture for the people I loved.
It was never that I wanted to die. It was that I wanted to not have existed in the first place. If only my very presence could be erased, I wouldn’t cause anyone else any more pain.
I felt like I had the Midas touch but instead of gold, I brought sorrow. I was like a black hole or a mould, infecting everything around me with a sense of hopelessness.
I had better days and worse days, I could go for weeks thinking I was doing ok, only to realise that I was faking so hard I had even convinced myself. When all around me was literally filth. I’d been hiding the dirty dishes rather than cleaning them, I hadn’t opened the curtains for days never mind a window, I’d stopped eating most of the day only to binge on rubbish in the evening. I’d spend days hiding in bed.
No one could know, I was supposed to be independent. I had a first class degree, was voted most likely to become a billionaire, bought my own home at 21. I was supposed to be successful. No one could know.
Least of all my parents, I loved them, I didn’t want to hurt them. How painful could it be to know your child didn’t want to be there anymore. That they wished they’d never been born.
I was 23 when I was admitted to a mental heath facility for my own safety.
I got the bus to the hospital. I packed a bag walked to the bus stop and waited. The world seemed very bright that day, my ears were ringing. Every car that passed made me jump.
I walked through the airlock doors alone. And then I was locked in.
The admitting doctor told me I didn’t belong there, I was intelligent, I was young, I had family who loved me, I had my whole life ahead of me. Somehow none of those things helped. In hindsight I’m sure he was trying to be encouraging and supportive. But at the time I felt like he was telling me I didn’t deserve to be there, that this place was for people who were really ill, who had proper diagnosed illnesses. Not for me. I felt like he was telling me I was taking up resources that could be better spent on someone who really needed it.
I informed my family from the hospital. Standing in a corridor trying to find a quiet-ish space away from the chants and sporadic yells.
But even then I didn’t tell them the whole story. I said I’d been admitted so I could be monitored for adverse reactions to new medication.
I spent 10 days on a locked ward, an acute assessment unit, which is basically where they put anyone and everyone until they figure out what to do with them.
We were guarded by care assistants. I saw a doctor twice and the nurse maybe once more than that – apart from in the queue to get your twice a day drugs. (Yes, in that respect, it really is like all the films.)
There was a lady there who thought she was the devil. One had been there over 10 months.
Once we all had to be kept in the rec room for 3 hours because one of the inpatients needed to be taken to A&E (different hospital) and that left them short staffed to manage all the areas of the ward.
Writing this now, that hospital stint feels like it should have been the darkest time, the bottom of a black hole that I then started to climb out of.
But no. It was just a short part of a long process. I’d been involved with mental health care on and off since I was 12. There is no magic wand for improving mental health, it took years for me. And I had to fight to get help but it was worth it.
Numerous requests, investigating different types of counselling, looking into private inpatient care, trying private counselling. Waiting list after waiting list.
It was around 3 years after my spell in hospital before I got the in depth counselling I needed.
In that time I had moved closer to family, developed a support system, built up a bit of stability. Counselling forces you to look in detail at very difficult things. I went down hill. Things got difficult at work. I had to make a decision between work and counselling. Work didn’t know how bad I had been. From their point of view I was fine until I started the counselling.
It was hard but I knew I had to focus on the long term and that the counselling was vital for me.
I was lucky, I found another job doing what I enjoyed and they supported me in continuing.
I attended weekly counselling for nearly a year. It was hard, I made lots of discovers about myself, how I viewed the world and how others view it differently.
I learnt to be kind to myself and others. I learned to recognise my behaviours and triggers and why I react in certain ways. While these haven’t gone away. I now know how to manage them.
I used to feel ‘mental,’ when I moved to Scotland I decided I wasn’t going to hide it, I was going to embrace it. While I wasn’t going to shout it from the roof tops, if it came up I would be open about it.
Now I don’t feel like there is anything to be open about. I don’t feel like I have to make excuses for my own emotions. I have a handle on it, and when I do get emotional it’s usually for a good reason, something any rational person would get emotional over.
It still worries me that I may relapse. When I got pregnant with my son I was worried about post-natal depression, I’d heard you are at higher risk if you have a history of depression. I had an assessment with a psychiatrist who said something I never thought I would hear: I no longer met the criteria for my illness.
It’s a carefully worded phrase, which essentially means if I presented to them now, without my history, they would say I was fine. It felt amazing.
I’ll always have to be careful, I still have negative thought patterns, but now they are few and far between. I have the skills and tools I need to manage them and can now do so on auto-pilot, it’s become automatic.
Yes, I’m never going to be in the top 30 under 30 list (Especially now I’m in my 30’s!) And yes, my career path took a few dents along the way. But nothing that couldn’t be straightened out.
Right now, I am happy, I have an amazing family, I’m running my own business and I’m enjoying life.
Mental health, like physical health, goes through good spells and bad spells.
Now when I get spells of feeling low and cranky I think of them more as ‘feeling colds.’ I just need to rest, put up with feeling rubbish for a few days and know I’ll come out of it at the other end. Just like with a head cold.
We all need to be more aware, understanding and accepting of our mental health, good, bad or ugly. It is just as much a part of who we are as the smiles on our faces.
I couldn’t tell you one thing that ‘fixed’ me, for me it was a lot of little things and a lot of time.
So for anyone feeling like they are in a hopeless and helpless place, please keep fighting those demons. Give yourself a treat, get some fresh air, talk to a friend, talk to a stranger. I have had more than a few conversations with the samaritans and you don’t have to wait until your on that cliff edge to call.
If you had a cough for more than a month you’d go to the doctor. Why not do the same when you have been feeling low for while too?
I know it’s far from an easy thing to do, but please know you can do it. It is possible to go from wishing you didn’t exist to being (relatively) successful and enjoying your life. I know because I have done it. You can do it too.