By Megan Adams
We should remember that each and everyone experiences some kind of mental health issue in their lifetime. That statistic of ‘1 in 4 people a year will suffer from mental health issues’ is a bold statement. It also leads us to believe that depression and anxiety is within the minority – when in fact the statistic should read ‘1 in 4 people a year will be medically diagnosed with a mental health issue a year.’
People go misdiagnosed
If anything, this only tells us how many people go misdiagnosed as a result of our NHS falling apart. I am one of the 25% who was diagnosed. Moderate to Severe Depression, to be precise. I was diagnosed at 16 years old and immediately put on SSRIs with no therapy or counselling. I never had any ‘check-up’ appointments in which I was asked how I was getting on. It was just me and my pills.
Well, I say me and my pills. It was me and my pills and a whole bunch of other things I can’t exactly go into detail about, as I am sure if I went into detail I would have many turn their noses up at me and say ‘See, that’s your problem – that’s why your brain’s messed up in the first place.’ And thus, this is the issue we have today. People such as myself are too afraid to be open and honest with the world about our mental health due to the fear of being stigmatised, ridiculed, outcast or even attacked. This has to stop.
Many don’t know about my childhood
The thing is, many don’t know about my background. Many don’t know that I suffered a life-threatening disease known as Encephalitis at the age of nine. The disease floods the brain with water, causing over-swelling, and leaves the majority of those who suffer this illness either brain-damaged or dead. I was induced into a coma, and during this time I experienced many otherworldly experiences, such as seeing people that weren’t there, people who I thought had died.
Many don’t know about my childhood. How I hated break times during primary school because it meant I either had the choice of curling up into a ball and waiting by the steps in the rain for the doors to open once more, or to play ‘Power Rangers’ with the other children, in which I was always the monster and they would beat me up.
I developed intense separation anxiety with my mother, who couldn’t even go to the shops without me panicking senseless about if she would return. I used to play OCD-like mind-games, such as ‘If I step on this stone 77 times, she will return back home safe.’ I prayed to gods I didn’t believe in, a trait I still do today when the same kind of feeling with my current partner kicks in.
No siblings, no friendship group and no feeling of existential security, led me to become isolated. I would gather all my teddies, put them in a circle, grab my deck of Uno cards, and each turn I would move to the left and pretend to be that teddy playing with their cards – each one with a separate personality, a different way of playing. Sometimes I did this simultaneously, with games such as Mario Party, all four controllers plugged in, and just me playing. My best friends were my Pokemon and my brothers and sisters were figments of my imagination.
The overwhelming sense of fear
Of course, you could imagine that when I started adolescence I had a mind that was already warped. All these things previously mentioned don’t come close to the overwhelming sense of fear I had, lying in bed at night, looking up at the ceiling, wondering why I was alive and what would happen when I died. I began to wish not that I was dead – but that I was simply never born.
Of course, no-one would know about this. Nobody would understand why my quirky quips and desperate attempts to be funny would be seen as different or unusual. My excessive drinking and party habits were a result of being with people who could tolerate me, because like me, they were a bit mental too.
A ‘Fuck You’ to the normal people
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I began to make friends near the end of primary school, and although bullying and segregation was still rife in high school, I began to make friends and began to feel included. It should go without mention that my dress sense, hair style and all of that would become more and more outrageous. A ‘Fuck You’ to the normal people with their normal lives, a rebellion against others. I was special because I was segregated, I thought I might as well act it.
My popularity began to increase at 15, in a place in Leeds City Centre, with all the other weirdos and outcasts and Scene Kids and Goths and this, that and the other. There, drinking at 1 pm on a slab of concrete was socially acceptable, and tripping on random pills was a great way to make friends. I began to feel a sense of home.
A fresh start?
I thought going to college would only enhance my new-found popularity, but instead it turned me, twisted me into a mess. I became spiteful, abusive to the ones I loved. Trying to mask my personality, who I truly was, I began lying compulsively.
I began university with a different name – thinking it was a fresh start and I would leave all my mental issues back in Leeds. It did not help. It was school all over again. Segregation and avoidance. There were 12 people in my dorm, and after the first week not one would invite me anywhere. Two weeks, and I spoke to nobody. 300 people on my course in my year alone, and by the end of the year I only spoke to one.
I had become a caricature of myself – a bizarre entity which entered rooms and spun up whatever kind of entertainment it could. Not in the means of bitching, rudeness or hatred. But with endless jokes, dancing and celebration. An atmosphere to coat the room which I had previously cried in the night before. At one point I was kicked out from a nightclub because somebody had told security I was on drugs due to my excessive dancing. (Protip: I wasn’t on drugs.)
Anger and impulsiveness
Anger and impulsiveness became the norm. One time I went to a club with people who I thought were friends and they all left without me. I spent 6 hours dragging a 200 kg metal table back to my apartment, through the busy roads and crack of dawn, a mile uphill and then up four flights of stairs. Why? Not a clue. (Fun fact: That table now resides in my parents garden 300 miles away from my apartment.)
Medication helped where it could. At one point in college I was studying 11 hours a day whilst holding down two jobs. I used to wake up at 8 am on a Sunday morning and get the bus to college where I could study in peace. I loved studying, and left college with the highest graded diploma possible, despite the partying and heartbreak and whatnot. I’m not quite sure how I did it.
Medication with no guidance
However, medication with no guidance is a liability – between the years of college and university I saw little improvement, and by my second year at university I was unable to focus for more than ten minutes. The lack of friends in classes and in the town itself caused me to drop out. I finished the course over two years later, with some unorthodox help to get me by.
By the age of 17, I had suffered my first substance-induced panic attack. A psychotic episode which must have changed my brain chemistry a ridiculous amount. From someone who would jump in at the chance to explore the realms of consciousness, I became too afraid even to take my medication. At the age of 20, I stopped taking anti-depressants. My dreams had become far too vivid and I was beginning to sleep 18 hours a day. At one point, I slept for 36 hours and missed mine and my ex-boyfriend’s three-year anniversary. I woke up and got drunk by myself.
I was evicted
At this point I was living in a house with three people I barely knew. My only friend and partner had moved back up north, and so it was just me and my job at the Chocolate Shop. Literally just that, for six months. My friends became my smokes, my jagermeister, my chiptune and my Game of Thrones subreddit. I wouldn’t get home from work until 9 pm, and became too afraid to flush the toilet for fear of waking the girl up in the room next to me and then being sent a string of messages asking me to be quiet so she can sleep. I was evicted a month later.
At this point I began self-medicating more than ever before. I began taking neurotropic drugs, research chemicals, and basically anything to put me in an altered state of mind – I had decided I loathed my sobriety as that is where the typical definition of one’s natural ego lays.
I hated myself
To put it bluntly, I hated myself. I became somewhat expert at hiding behind my own face, and suddenly I found myself in positions I wasn’t even qualified for. Business Developer, stockbroker, model. Everything but what I wanted to be.
What I really wanted to be, I dropped when it became overwhelming. Because like anyone with depression, we don’t quit because it’s simply ‘too hard’ in the brain. It’s physically detrimental. The ‘greying out’ whenever you try to focus on something for 5 minutes, the migraines developed from trying to be productive, the muscle tension and inability to eat in social situations.
Mental health issues are not just mental
Mental health issues are real, and they are physical. Still to this day, I daydream about being able to work on animating 8 hours a day like I used to, I daydream about all the sick ass music videos I could make or the cartoon of Clyde the Reaper in training. I daydream that I can focus and be happy at the same time. I daydream of being passionate about something I felt long ago. Daydreaming about writing a book on my life, I snark to myself at my pseudo-narcissism and scold myself for thinking ‘Why would anybody be interested in me?’
I remind myself of the times children would lie to me about whose game it was on the playground so I was forced to retreat to the bushes, pretending the Pokemon in my game boy cartridge were real, and that they cared. I thanked them for being good to me, and swore to them I’d become a Pokemon master. Now I can’t play the game for more than 10 minutes without greying out. Imagination runs thin, and knowing they’re not real makes me scold myself harder. Grow up, Megan.
Here we are today
Add this to the cauldron of god-knows-what which I call ‘My Life’, and here we are today. A 24-year-old depressed being whose anxiety levels and mental health issues are so intense it has caused me to lose jobs, relationships, and friends. I have recurring dreams that I am 15 again, hanging with old friends from high school. Waking up, I realise those days are nearly a decade ago and here I am, clinging on to the good times and not letting go of the past.
I try to sleep again, counting from 1 to 10, hoping the dreams will take me somewhere where I belong. I’m sleep paralysed. Human figures loom about the room and loud classical music is playing. Has someone put headphones on my ears? I cannot tell. Reminiscences of vivid dreams sing to me. I have no idea what is real and what isn’t. My depression personified at the edge of the bed, looming closer and closer, mocks me. I spend half a day’s energy in 20 seconds trying to break out of this hellish dimension, wake up, and immediately fall into paralysis again. I curse myself. I’m stuck in a loop.
A snowball effect
I wake up again. It’s 4 pm. I check Facebook accounts of people from the same school I just dreamt about. One’s a pilot now, the other a high school teacher. Many live abroad. I scroll down, their timelines full of friends tagging them out from events recently attended. Then I look at mine and shake my head at the amount of half-arsed memes I share, emitting to the world ‘Look at me! I have nothing better to do in my youth!’ I lie down again and count to ten once more. This time there are fractals beneath my eyelids emerging from last night’s previous sleep disorder. I lose myself in them.
You can’t pinpoint mental health down to one issue, it’s a snowball effect which starts off as a snowflake, a fresh feeling of ‘What’s this?’ Before you know it, an avalanche occurs and you are submerged in the stuff, overwhelmed by the feeling of coldness around you, unable to know which way to go.
I wrote this today because I want to encourage others to be upfront about their issues. What I’ve written isn’t even a fraction of my symptoms. It’s not a scratch on the surface of the shit I’ve done as a result of this bloody illness. I want those who bully and bitch about others to stop and ask themselves ‘Why?’ Why do they spout negativity towards those who drown in it every night? Why is that person the way they are in the first place? How can they help?
I also want to take this time to write a few phrases. Repeat them to yourself, and then ask if they’re really useful things to say to someone with a mental illness. ‘What have you got to be upset about? There are kids starving in Africa!’ ‘You’re female and could get any guy you want, why do you feel so lonely?’ ‘Cheer up’ ‘Don’t worry’ ‘Why don’t you just grow up?’ ‘You’re a man. Act like it.’ ‘Maybe if you tried more you would feel better’. ‘You will never achieve anything so long as you’re like this’. Or the wonderful ‘Only you can change how you feel’.
And to wrap this all up, I want everybody here to know and understand that the fall of our NHS, and the lack of empathy the government shows, mean that there are hundreds of people every hour contemplating suicide because the eight month waiting list to be seen by a professional is simply a joke. The number of times I have tried to see a professional in the past year and only been brushed off with the usual ‘Have you tried exercising?’ is a joke.
Mental health issues have become a joke
The fact that children, such as myself one time, are being prescribed neurological mind-altering drugs with no follow-up appointments or counselling is a joke. The fact that mental health, the lack of public sector funding and the constant price increase is barely even mentioned in any parliamentary meetings, whilst hundreds of conservatives would rather have discussions on whether their pay rise should be 10 or 20 percent, is a joke.
Mental health issues have become a joke and it’s time we get serious.