MENTAL HEALTH // Julie's Story

Today marks the start of the annual Mental Health Awareness Week, which is dedicated this year to the topic of 'Surviving or Thriving?' - looking at why so few people (in the U.K. in particular) report having good mental health.

For people who struggle with their mental health on a daily basis, awareness weeks can be an often-bitter affair. They might feel discouraged by people who share their "positive" contributions once a year and then vanish when the week is done; might question what good it is raising these issues if there are not enough resources to meet the needs they highlight; might begrudge another seemingly-flippant reminder of painful, real-life issues of which they are already acutely "aware".

These weeks can be a bitter bombardment, sometimes, and we need to approach them sensitively.

For me, one of the best ways of increasing my "awareness" of both mental health issues and what might help in recovery is to listen and learn from other people's stories.

A while back now, I connected with a local "stranger" via the wonder of Instagram, who reached out to me with encouraging messages and an incredibly kind hospital delivery which moved me deeply. As time goes on I've become better acquainted with pieces of her own journey and am delighted that she's agreed to share some of her story...

Mental Health Stories - Lunch at Loch Brandy by @jules_fergatron
Picture Credit: @jules_fergatron

Let's kick things off with this, my first question:
Who are you? For anyone who doesn’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself..
My name is Julie, I’m 30 and I live in Aberdeen. You can find me on Instagram as @jules_fergatron (mainly pictures of my walks/garden/what I’m reading). I love being outside whether exploring hills, woods, beaches or my own wee garden; but also love being cosy inside with a book, some knitting or sewing, or making a nice meal. I work in the care sector and especially enjoy care of the elderly and people with Dementia.

Can you tell us a bit about your own experience of mental health/ill-health? 
I was always an anxious child. I struggled seriously with low mood from my mid-teens when I got a diagnosis of clinical depression, was prescribed my first medication and had my first contact with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). I don’t really remember anything about those sessions except feeling intensely awkward, and that the ancient male psych wore red Kickers shoes!
I’ve struggled since then to a greater or lesser degree.
I’ve had some counselling and hated it. There was a lot of silence. I had some CBT sessions through my GP which were laughably awful. She gave me a ‘lucky penny' ..if I tossed heads, I had a 100% chance of having a good day. Tails = only 50% chance. No word of a lie.
I was an inpatient briefly and wrote a haiku:
Cornhell Hospital.
I counted the ceiling tiles
Over and over.
The other patients were kind, and some friends visited me with coffee and were just normal with me. I was grateful for that.
I’ve lost count of the medications I’ve tried, with varying success. I’ve spent many months just lying in bed or not leaving the flat. I’ve had a lot of long absences from work which left me feeling guilt-ridden and useless.
Being part of church, I’ve had demons cast out; been told I had to repent of some unknown sin which caused my illness; told to just be more joyful. There were kind people too who prayed with me, sent cards, texted.
There have been periods of wellness too! There has been fun and laughter and friends and doing well at work and going on holiday and doing normal-daily-life things. Before this last episode of depression I had been fairly well for about 2 years.

Where are you at on your journey today?  
I’ve been very unwell recently but I’m functioning okay day to day as of the past few weeks. I’ve recently returned to work after being signed off. Working in the care sector can be immensely challenging when you’re unwell yourself so I’m being strict about no overtime and being very kind to myself when not at work. I’m trying hard to ‘get better’, doing all the things you’re meant to like distracting yourself from intense thoughts; not living on coffee and Haribo; getting enough sleep but not too much; exercising every day, but not obsessively, all day; relaxing with a DVD, but not being a slug in bed all day.

What things have aided you in your recovery and/or helped you to cope day-to-day? 
I feel most at peace being outside and try to walk every day. A plod round the block is a serious victory on a really bad day! And a long walk in the hills is so good - fresh air, open spaces, beauty, greenery, and just focussing on one foot in front of the other. Discovering exercise - weightlifting in particular - has been beneficial. I’m enjoying becoming physically stronger and hoping it translates into mental strength too. Having a short phrase to repeat has helped me on my worst days. Something hope-filled and encouraging, e.g. ‘Have courage, be strong’, or a line from a song you like.

What impact has mental ill-health had on your life as a whole? What has it cost you? 
I don’t want to dwell on this one. Thinking back, there have been so many missed opportunities with friends, career, studies, fun things. Depression has robbed me of many hours sleep; decision-making ability; concentration; normal range of emotions. It has made me intensely suicidal at times. It has challenged my deeply held faith. It has taken over my inner/thought life. Even when I’m well I constantly worry that what I'm feeling is a sign I’m heading for depression again!

Would you say you’ve gained anything positive from your experiences?   
I’ve gained an appreciation for poetry. In periods when books are impossible, poems are short and beautiful. I’ve gained empathy and awareness of other people’s struggles. I know my limits - and have learned (sorta) how to say no and what is good for me. I’ve become someone who is very easily pleased! I’m thankful when I’m able to do daily tasks like go to the supermarket, hang up my laundry, wash my hair.. These give me such a sense of accomplishment! And when I’m well I’m thankful for and notice such a range of emotions which is a change from just blankness.

What are your hopes for the future – mental health and otherwise? 
I find this really difficult to answer because having hope for the future is the very opposite of what depression feels like to me! I realise that I have chronic and enduring mental health problems and will probably have struggles all my days. I don't want to dwell on that. In a dark period, thinking that way can be fatal. Also, I refuse to be depressed about having depression. It is awful and dark and heavy and lonely and affects every aspect of my life, but I refuse to let it be my entire identity. But looking too far into the future is too hard just now. Day by day is fine for me at the moment.
I have a short-term hope for the future though - I’m getting kittens this week! :)

Is there anything you’d like to say to someone who might be struggling today? 
What can I say that doesn't sound trite? We’ve all heard it all before haven't we?!
Well, hello, fellow strugglers and fighters and resourceful-ones. You are not alone. You matter. There IS hope for a brighter tomorrow. There is hope for recovery, wellness, wholeness. Take heart.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Julie for sharing with me today. I really admire the way you face your battles with such dignity and determination. Here's to better, brighter days filled with ever-growing hope and lots of kitten-focussed fun! 


Post a Comment