Saturday, 22 September 2018

Am I happy?

Oops I did it again, didn’t I? I made promises to stay active on this blog and I let it fizzle. You see, dear readers who are left, my life has gone a bit crazy recently. Just after I wrote my previous post on tattoos, I got a new job, went away for two weeks, started said new job and generally got caught up in a tornado of routine a la Dorothy. On top of dating, having a social life and sleeping, this blog has grown a few cobwebs.

So here I am sat with a cup of coffee in hand and I figured, let me check in with my potatoes, catch up and have a discussion. When faced with what I wanted to write about, I went through body confidence, sexuality, my hair and came to mental health. I realised I have never written about my mental health, and while I have hinted, I am not a subtle human.

I suppose I should begin at the beginning, and go on till I come to the end: then stop. Ten points if you know where that is from.

When I was nine, my parents divorced, it was messy, sad and traumatic. When I was ten, I started self-harming, when I was eleven, I became depressed, by the time I was thirteen, I was starving and purging. Fast forward to December 2017 and I just cracked: mental health had won and I no longer had the strength to fight it anymore. The choice was simple: end it or get help. I chose to get help.

I could take you through year by year, and carefully document every step and progression down the dark rabbit hole, but the reality is it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how my mental health developed, it doesn’t matter what my triggers are, hell it doesn’t even matter what I do when I have bad mental health days. What matters is that I tell you how I rationalised, normalised and accepted it.
In December last year (2017), I sat alone in my GP’s waiting room preparing myself for the worst conversation I would ever have. I felt dizzy, nauseous, alone and I wanted to run away. I said to my friend, ‘I can’t do this, I want to leave.’ She told me, ‘if you leave, I will drag you back kicking and screaming, you have to do this.’ So, I did. I sat in front of my doctor and through copious amounts of crying, I told her all my dark secrets; it was like a cork had been pulled, once one came out, it all came spilling out.

She took one look at me and said, ‘you need help, urgently.’ It was, thankfully, the wakeup call I needed. Initially, I was told to come back in a week before taking steps towards medication, which in hindsight was a fantastic thing for the doctor to do. It allowed me to process the day, before taking that first step. I needed to accept that this was the start of a very long journey.

Going home and telling my mum that I had “suspected” (you don’t get diagnosed until after seeing a therapist normally) depression, generalised and social anxiety and BDD was tough. No parent wants to hear their child has an ailment they can’t cure, but it also opened the channels of communication, something I am forever thankful for.

I went back the next week and when asked how I felt, I said, ‘good, I feel really good.’ While this did not mean that all my problems had magically disappeared, it did mean that I finally had hope for a brighter future. I was prescribed 20mg of citalopram to be taken once a day, every day. Taking that first tablet was a weirdly overwhelming moment for me. I had spent so many years wishing I could get my ducks in a row, so to be taking that first step was incredibly humbling. I felt like I had started to slay my demons.

Fast forward through two weeks of weird side effects, nothing terrible, but for reference, I had a numb leg, dizziness and I felt tired constantly. I was also very thirsty all the time. For anyone considering medication, trust me when I say, the benefits outweigh the negative. There are horror stories about side effects but when you really need medication-take it, it can improve your quality of life in a few months and for me, it saved my life.

As January rolled around, I was feeling better, having been on my anti-depressants for a month, but there was still the large thorny forest of my past to deal with (imagine the prince fighting Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.) It was now time to tackle that monster; it was time I found a therapist.
Now finding a therapist you gel with can take time.

Before I start talking about my experiences I would like to point two things out.
1)     I am aware of my privilege at being able to go private
2)     Just because I was fortunate enough to find my therapist the first time, this is not always the case, but keep going because you will find one!

I found a therapist who lived near me, wasn’t horrifically expensive and had dealt with issues similar to mine. One week and a couple of emails later, I was ready to meet her.
Now, if you are like I was, an emotionally cut off hermit with severe social anxiety, being told, ‘you are going to go to this person’s house and tell them all your secrets,’ is slightly terrifying. Nevertheless, I pulled up my big girl pants and I went off, ready to face my demons.

I won’t go into detail what happened in subsequent sessions, there was some pretty, some not so pretty, some scary and some cathartic. However, one thing remained consistent, I knew I was getting better. I stopped having panic attacks, my anxiety was not constantly hanging around, I no longer looked at myself like I was disgusting and most importantly, the self-harm was no longer consistent.
The months went by and I got stronger, I am stronger, and then a day rolled around in April that I no longer felt I needed my weekly therapy sessions. This is not to say I was suddenly cured; that is the problem with mental health, chances are you will never be cured. It is not an illness that one day you can have a test to get told, ‘yep all gone!’ Instead, you learn to manage it.

The most important lesson I learned throughout my journey was the importance of communication; I had previously been so scared to talk about my struggles, my feelings; I was closing myself off and it was holding me back. However, I learned that if you need to talk and want to talk, chances are there will be people there to listen.

Mental health, unfortunately, is so stigmatised. It is still something spoken about in hushed whispers and with an air of shame, but the reality is millions of people suffer from mental health issues, and millions of people live with them daily. It is not about how many times you fall down, it is how many times you get up. Mental health is not a marathon, there is no easy fix and it will take years to be at a place where it no longer affects you, for some, that place never exists.

Everyone has ways to manage their mental health, be that holistically, medically, or through self-care, as long as you are being healthy, safe and responsible. When one is in the darkest depths, it is easy to feel alone, unfortunately, the mind is a powerful tool, and can make you feel isolated. I learned I am not alone. There is always someone at the end of a phone, a friend, a family member, even a doctor who is waiting to listen.

It took me 11 years to get help after the trigger event; 11 years of heartache, sadness, loneliness, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal tendencies and a great big pile of shit. 11 years and I would not change anything; those aspects of my past made me, me.
If you ever need help, please find the strength to get it, because even one step can change your life. When I think about how far I have come in a year, I am so thankful that I can say I have my life back.

Belle is the editor behind The Hairy Potato; she describes herself as a Pinup Potato and proud Intersectional Feminist. Although by day she works in social media, her passions include writing, reading and finding fashion that will make her stand out. Rarely seen without her red lipstick, this mid-century maven is always ready for a debate with a glass of whiskey and a slice of pizza!

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