As I said in my previous post, I think there's something very powerful about hearing a person's own story when it comes to challenging stigma and breaking down some of the barriers that surround mental health. It brings home the fact that, at the end of the day, we're all just ordinary people with a struggle or two.
I thought it would be cool to start an interview series here on the blog to bring some of those stories out into the open and perhaps give a little insight into the world of mental health. I plan to interview service users (past and present), professionals and carers/family members because I believe they all have a unique perspective to offer on things.
To kick things off, my lovely friend Jen agreed to be one of my first volunteers! Jen and I first connected online - through some mutual friends - yearrrs ago now, and I've been lucky to get to know her offline since then and now count her among my best friends. I think she's a bit of a mental health warrior, but I'll let her tell you her story for herself..
Hello, lovey! Thanks for agreeing to answer some of my questions today. I feel like we’ve already walked together through some parts of our mental health journeys, but I’m looking forward to hearing a little more from your own experience and perspective.
To kick things off, my first question is simply this:
Who are you? For those who might not know you, tell us a bit about yourself..
I’m Jen. I’m a Scottish redhead (without the temper!). I like crafting, colouring, drawing, writing and running – slowly. I also like talking about rights for people with mental health problems, and LGBT people. I blog at Jen In Socks, and Tweet at @jeninsocks.
Can you tell us something of your own experience of mental health/ill-health?
I first started to struggle in my mid-teens, when I started to feel really low, and began to engage in some pretty unhealthy coping mechanisms. I eventually sought help at 17, and was given antidepressants. I wasn’t so keen on taking them – I worried that they’d make me feel even more numb than I already felt – so I asked if there were any talking therapies available. My GP referred me to CAMHS, where I saw a psychologist... twice. I felt like I was being patronised. At 17, I was working full time, and felt that I was more ‘adult’ than she was giving me credit for. I also think that I felt a certain amount of shame about needing to see her in the first place – despite having asked for it.
At 18, I moved away to university, where I spiralled into a deep dark place, which culminated in me using very unhealthy coping mechanisms to get me through the long nights. I registered with the campus GP, and was given more antidepressants, which I took for a couple of days, and then stopped. I also saw a university counsellor, who pretty swiftly said she couldn’t cope with ‘my levels of difficulty’. I had a course of CBT around this time, which I have to say was not particularly helpful either. I was convinced that I was beyond help, and spiralled even further. Gradually though, over a course of years, with the help of my girlfriend of the time, things started to get a little better.
Then I moved to Spain. And although things weren’t always great, I had a lot of ‘brighter’ times.
I thought the worst was over when I moved back to the UK. And it seemed like it was for the first few years.
But then things started to go downhill. My job became increasingly untenable and I stopped sleeping. I once again felt myself spiralling. After a lot of nastiness, I lost my job.
I tried a whole host of medications, but I seem to be very sensitive to side effects, so many just didn’t ‘fit’. And things just got worse. I was increasingly suicidal, and ended up being taken into hospital to keep me safe. Since then, I have been in twice more. I am not a fan of hospital (that may be an understatement). But it does what it says on the tin, mostly.
Where are you at in your journey now?
I have been out of hospital for three months. We’ve found some medication that at least doesn’t give me horrible side effects, and I see a psychologist and a CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) alternate weeks. I’ve recently been referred to a service which helps people with mental health problems get back into work, and have started volunteering in a very rewarding position. But I still struggle every day.
What things have aided you in your recovery and/or helped you to cope day-to-day?
Also, people. My parents have been excellent, as have some of my friends. Additionally, I use twitter a lot, and have ‘met’ some truly good new friends who really understand.
What impact has mental ill-health had on your life as a whole? What has it cost you?
I didn’t get the university results that I should have, impacting on my work and further study. But more recently, I have ‘lost’ four years of my life to mental illness. In that time, I have lost my job, some of my friends, and a seven-year relationship.
Would you say you’ve gained anything positive from your experiences?
I have gained understanding and empathy for all people, but especially those with mental health problems. I feel strongly about speaking out about our own struggles, because I know how much this can help other people, and I use my blog to do this.
Is there anything you’d like to say to someone who might be struggling today?
Take things minute by minute if you need to. Reach out for help if you need to. The darkness can’t last forever.
Thanks so much, Jen, for taking the time to share – I really appreciate it. I think your closing message is so important. I have a great deal of respect for your resilience and strength and you know I'm rooting for you throughout the rest of your journey!
Be sure to check out Jen's blog for some more insightful musings and snippets of her story: http://www.jeninsocks.wordpress.com