Telling my story for World Mental Health Day

Telling my story for World Mental Health Day

Trigger warning: suicide, mental health, depression. There’s also quite a few swears.

The last time I tried to die, nothing happened to push me over the ledge. Nothing, in particular, was wrong. Nothing more than usual. I was depressed, and I was suffocating, sad, and my mind was full of nothing. 

But nothing had happened. 

I was just as sad as I had been the day before and the day after. It wasn’t a big deal, you know, and there wasn’t this significant catalyst or trigger that caused me to choose that day.

I was just done. I’d been sad for as long as I could bear, and I just wanted to lie down and take a break. 

I’d been sad for a while, years at this point, and I was tired of it. This day is so insignificant that I don’t even remember the date, just that I was almost 22. 

I could tell you about the years that took me to this point—the mounting pressure in my mind. The pretending to be okay. I mean, people knew I was sad and depressed, but I’m not sure if many knew I was that sad. Everything felt so pointless, and I was exhausted by it all. 

Honestly, this whole time of my life is a chapter that I don’t really dust off and read too much. I have accepted who I was, and now she’s wrapped up somewhere inside me. I try to be gentle with her because she’s still healing. 

I was drowning and decided I didn’t want to drown anymore. I just wanted to have drowned. Basically, I was over it. I was out. This wasn’t my first attempt, but it was gonna be the last, and I was okie with that. 

So, I did it. Sweet dreams, loni. 

Except I woke up to very kind paramedics about to break my front door to rescue me. 

Not everyone was so kind. The nurse in A&E treating me called me stupid and told me that there were cancer patients that would kill to be where I was. So yeah, that obviously helped a lot. 

I had some fluids and hung out in A&E while waiting endlessly for a psych consult.

The psychology consultant was freshly qualified and had the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. His face is a blur now, but his eyes were intense. I guess he said I was fine because I went home. 

Bundled into a cab with my best friend back to our flat in Surrey Quays, where I’d been really sad and tried to die. And now here I was again, alive. 

I was diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder, aka borderline personality disorder, around this time. Many things now made sense, the instability in my mood, the spiralling, the struggle with rejection or abandonment. I’ve grappled with this diagnosis over the years, holding it in my hands and looking over it from all the different perspectives. For all the negativity associated with BPD, it still fits like an ugly, well-worn coat. I wish it didn’t, but it does, and it’s mine. 

Sometimes, it gets worse before it gets better

Alas, dear reader, it doesn’t get better yet. I wandered into an intense relationship with a boy who wanted to save me. Swinging between love bombing and telling me that I was terrible, it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to live this way. 

It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to wake up and tiptoe around my existence, and I didn’t have to dance around all the broken pieces strewn across the floor. I didn’t have to worry about whether I made eye contact with another human or acknowledged another person and what would wait for me at home.

I wish I could tell you that I realised all this for myself. But I didn’t. Two years into our relationship, I’d finally managed to pull myself together enough that I finished my last year of university and got my first proper job. Two months into my new job, I came home from work one day, and he was gone. He’d moved out of our flat without telling me.

I was stressed and confused but sitting on the floor of a flat that looked like it had been ransacked and robbed, I could breathe. I was 24 and realised I’d been holding my breath for years. 

I moved in with my sister, and I learnt to breathe, in and out, in and out.

I was sad, but in and out. In and out.

I felt things were a bit shaky, I tried to get help, but unfortunately, I didn’t want to die this very minute, so it probably wasn’t that bad, and I should return when it was. I’d waited almost twelve weeks to be told that I couldn’t be helped. Luckily, I never felt suicidal enough again to go back for their help. Probably for the best, as I’d have died before I reached the top of the list. 

This was all in 2013/2014, and I can only hope that things have improved in the past eight years and that there is more support for mental health. But I doubt it. 

Over the years, I’ve had various support, from worry management courses to lithium, DBT to anti-depressants, but the thing that has stuck, the thing that has helped me is to get to know myself. It’s doing the work, talking therapy, questioning why you feel a certain way, developing healthy coping mechanisms—confronting the pieces of me that were a bit jagged and getting to know them. Holding them out in front of me to inspect the cracks. 

I know myself really well. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Like a dentist with their little pen torch and poke-y thing, I’ve spent years examining myself, my reactions, triggers, what hurts, what causes my mood to spiral, how quick it can happen, and what brings me back. I’ve poked the bits that hurt and those that don’t, just to see what would happen. 

I know that eating well and moving my body makes me feel good, and I know getting to be myself helps. I know that I need reassurance and positive reaffirmation, and I know that disappointment of any size is sure to make my mood crash. 

Celebrating birthdays, celebrating healing

On 5 October 2015, the day I turned 25, I wrote myself a letter. I wasn’t happy yet, but I knew I could be. I couldn’t believe how many moments of joy I was having; how fun life could be. Sure, it was pretty shitty at times, work was wild, and I didn’t trust anyone not to hurt me, so I’d been intentionally single for the past few years. I decided to theme my years going forward, setting an intention for the year ahead. 

Most importantly, I didn’t want to die anymore. 

I felt lonely a lot of the time and very often felt incredibly sad, but I wanted to be alive. It wasn’t lonely like I didn’t have people around me; it was lonely like no one understood me. Like no one could see me. Like my presence didn’t make a difference. 

And although this pointlessness had made me feel a bit deathy in the past, I was feeling it, examining it, and it wasn’t consuming me. I wanted to be here; I just felt lonely and sad. 

I was about to start my master’s degree, and I had no idea what the next year years had in store for me. 

By 5 October 2016, I was halfway through my master’s degree, and I had a boyfriend, Scott, I was living with a housemate that I liked, who made me laugh, and I felt at home in myself. I was waitressing, freelancing as a writer, and doing my master’s, it was hard work, but I was juggling. 

Constantly in the back of my mind was that I would let something drop, and it would be like before. I was going to find myself spiralling again. It’s a lot of pressure, waiting for yourself to fuck up and ruin everything you’ve spent years re-building. I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to juggle everything and had evidence that I couldn’t handle everything. Plus, as the love-bomber frequently reminded me, I wasn’t that good of a writer, so it was only a matter of time before other people realised. 

Turning 26, I decided that my theme for the year was going to be “fuck it”. 

I travelled, fell in love, finished my master’s, and jumped to freelancing full-time. I embraced everything I had. I learnt that I could trust myself. I realised that I worked things out. I land on my feet, and I’ve got my back. And maybe others do too, but I knew I could rely on myself to work stuff out. I tried to worry less that I was going to fuck everything up and burn it all to the ground.

The night before I turned 27, I asked myself what I wanted for the year ahead. Could I dare to aim for happiness? No, not yet. So, this year’s theme was to be brave and kind, but without forgetting my fuck it attitude from the previous year. I wanted to have more courage to say yes to more stuff. And equally, say no to more stuff too.

Honestly, this was 50/50 successful. I am a recovering people pleaser. 

Fast forward a few years, it‘s my 30th birthday, and I’m blowing out candles that have been put into a stack of pancakes. Am I happy yet? 

I can’t explain the absolute shit-show of a situation I was living in; Scott and I had moved to Weston-super-Mare to care for Scott’s nan, we were caught in the eye of a hurricane of drama, I constantly felt like I wanted to scream, but was I happy? Absolutely. 

When I turned 30, I looked back over the past five years to when I last thought I was the happiest I could be, and I’m amazed at how my scope for happiness and my capacity for joy has increased by about a million per cent. 

I was chasing happiness like it was this elusive thing. And I learnt that contentment, found in the small moments, the little bricks of life, are what builds happiness. I also learnt that happiness isn’t the absence of sadness. Sadness may never leave me, but I now know that it doesn’t have to consume me and doesn’t have to take me off my feet.  

And often, when I say I’m feeling sad, I’m not feeling sad; I’m caught in the limbo of nothingness. You know the creepy, weird spiral hurricane drawings children do in horror films; that’s how my mind feels when I’m “sad”. 

A few days ago, I turned 32 and celebrated my 32 turns around the sun with five total strangers. I had a last-minute place on a co-working retreat. Sat on the beach, someone asked me what I’d learnt and what I’m taking forward to the new year. I thought for a minute about how to summarise everything that I’ve learnt, and I said: 

You are your most important thing. 

I’m two years on from the candles-in-the-pancakes moment and ten years on from where I was when I last tried to die; I’m a different person, and I’m unrecognisable. 

I know for an absolute fact that I was a nightmare to be around between the ages of 16/17 to 22/23. If you knew me, if you got to see me behind the pretending-to-be-fine mask, I was crushingly sad, and that made me difficult to be around.  

Ten years on

It’s been roughly ten years since I tried to die, and I don’t know how to talk about this. It’s like something that happened to someone else. I know myself so well; I’ve worked so hard on self-awareness that there’s almost a clinical separation between who I am and who I was. 

I know how I feel about it, though. I feel proud, I feel grateful, and I feel so impressed by myself. Sure, I had support, but I clawed my way out of that hurricane to build myself a life that feels like me. It can all end, one way or another, and I don’t want anything but a life that feels like home. 

Now, I feel almost like there’s a karmic balance waiting to be repaid, and I’m terrified of death coming for me before I’m finished. There’s so much I want to do. So much living I have left to do, so much I have left in me. There’s so much I want to achieve, experience, create, and become. 

For a long time, I felt ashamed of my feelings and my history with mental illness, and I was worried that it would lead to judgement and impact the people who wanted to work with me. This feeling hasn’t gone, but I found enough stability and trust that I work with good people that will judge my work and not my experience with mental health. 

I have worked hard to recover, become self-aware, and use myself to help others. I am almost fully trained as a coach, a certified Happiness Facilitator, and a Mental Health First Aider. And it’s important to me that I can support others and that I’m able to be more than empathetic. I can also be helpful and supportive. 

Why am I writing this all down now? Throwing it out into the abyss for someone on the internet to maybe read? 

There are several reasons, but the most important, or the most relevant that I’m willing to say out loud are: 

  1. I’ve just turned 32, it’s been ten years since I last tried to die, and I feel like I’ve lived 100 lives already. 
  2. For a long time, I swallowed down my mental health experiences and diagnosis of BPD because I was ashamed. And I was sure people would judge me and hold it against me (and honestly, I’m probably not wrong)
  3. Recently, I’ve been struggling. Not the way I did ten years ago, but there’s been big changes and stress, and I’ve felt overwhelmed. But I’ve got a support system, I’ve built some positive and healthy coping mechanisms, I limit the amount of pretending that I’m fine, and I just go and lay down on the floor when I need to.  
  4. I don’t know if we hear enough about the people that have made it out of the darkness. And I want to provide a beam of hope for those still feeling alone in their sadness or lost in the dark. 

The most amazing thing I’ve learnt about myself recently is how resilient I’ve become and how much capacity for joy and happiness I’ve let in, even in between the big life moments that feel a lot. And the best thing is that now I can appreciate how much joy I have, plus how much my capacity for happiness has grown. I can see all my potential lying out in front of me. Past me’s would never have even considered that I was capable. 

If you’re struggling, please don’t feel like you have to go through it alone. Speak to your GP, and you can self-refer through iapt for talking therapy, the NHS has different options available. Plus, you can call the Samaritans free, 24/7, on 116 123. 

Published by Saloni Chamberlain

Turning words into stories with feeling.

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