FROM SURVIVING TO LIVING: MY MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY
From an early age, I have battled with depression and anxiety as quietly as possible; I was never properly able to voice my feelings without them being diminished, shot down or completely ignored. For years I was ridiculed and judged for not wanting to be a part of groups, frequently isolating myself from people, and breaking down at social events from parties to minor gatherings. After a life-changing event, at 18 I have now begun to find ways to manage my mental health and take care of myself, rather than ignoring or avoiding my issues.
A common reason for the dismissal of my feelings and emotions was that I could not show weakness as others relied on me to be “strong” in order to support them. My problems were to be put on hold in order to help others, and this eventually became a method of escape. By outwardly presenting myself as positive, confident, and seemingly ‘strong’, I could avoid handling my own mental health and focus on dealing with other people’s issues. Though helping others felt momentarily beneficial, it did nothing other than chip away at my own strength in the long-term. I had built up this false persona, and completely abandoned my own needs which were rapidly getting worse.
For example, I started my own blog to encourage others to love and be themselves, posting videos and articles expressing the importance of self-love. I would receive messages from people thanking me for the advice and for being such a positive platform; online I was an advocate for happiness, in reality, my life was filled with constant anxiety, dangerous overthinking and heavy depression. Friendships faded and disappeared as my anxiety led me to believe nobody really wanted me there, and I deserved complete isolation. My favourite pastimes from writing to walks all became unappealing, my days were spent in bed for hours, even days at a time. I was consumed by panic attacks; an overwhelming feeling of fear stemming from the smallest of thoughts, leading to me hyperventilating, my heart racing and uncontrollable crying and gasping as if being suffocated by the fear of inadequacy and unbearable thought of this state lasting forever.
I never dared speak on these feelings and thoughts, in fear of going through the same dismissive comments I received growing up, or letting down the people who now relied on me to be happy and support them. I ignored everything I felt, I thought it would be easier to suffer in silence so tried to focus on my education, and hope the pain would just go away by itself. This was until my panic attacks got worse. It got to a point where life felt unbearable. Going to school was agonising, instead I would lie in bed telling myself there was nothing left in life for me, nobody needed me there, and nothing was ever going to get better. I attempted to take my own life mid-2017, and upon waking up the next morning, knew it was time to tell somebody how I felt.
After finally confiding in close friends, I was shown love and support for a part of me that I had told myself nobody would be willing to accept. Together we slowly found ways to encourage me to bring structure back into my life. I slowly picked up writing again, reading, walks, meditation and using essential oils to bring myself peace. I focused on positive energy and taking care of myself, and slowly started to build myself up. After enough encouragement and support, I agreed to seek professional help, as my friends and school guidance counsellor still worried about my wellbeing.
I visited a doctor who prescribed me medication for my anxiety attacks and recommended a variety of supplements and bioactive formulas to help with my serotonin levels, insomnia, lethargy and other symptoms of my depression. In addition, I am on a waiting list for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT breaks down the stronger factors of your problems and helps you understand and tackle them. While medication can ease physical symptoms, it cannot completely get rid of your negative thoughts, and psychological research (e.g. March et al, 2007) has proven the effectiveness of using the two treatments simultaneously. By using the two, I hope to learn about and manage my thoughts and feelings, in order to go forward and tackle my mental health problems as a whole.
Through this difficult time, my love of writing had declined, even though it had once been my escape from a painful reality. However, I recently picked up the pen again and wrote a spoken word piece about my experience. For the first time, I shared my work on social media and it was the most terrifying thing I’d ever done! After sharing it I received so much love and support which was the last thing I expected. I had people telling me that I had helped them put their feelings into words, and reminded them how worthy of life they are despite their battles. I honestly felt such a warmth in my heart knowing I had led people to understand they are not alone.
My journey with mental health is still a rollercoaster, but can honestly and happily say I am miles and miles ahead of where I used to be, and am so proud of myself for getting this far when one year ago I would never have expected to be sitting here! I am making progress each and every day, and am able to openly tell others about what I’m going through. I am also now able to explain how mental health affects me and so many others, advising others of the best ways to communicate with people they may be worried about and learn more about mental health issues; This will help so many people understand that somebody’s cry for help is being misconstrued for apathy or being a ‘bad friend.’
If you yourself are struggling, though I know it is easier said than done, tell somebody how you are feeling. More people care than you know, and they want to help you! Most importantly, take care of yourself, you are the most important thing in your life and always will be.
Written by Maja Antoine-Onikoyi
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