It’s #TimeToTalk day. If you haven’t been following the live feed over at Time to Change, get on that pronto. And right now, right here, I am going to talk about mental health. Time to scram if you can’t deal with some psychiatric realness.
I get depressed. Like, really, really depressed. Locked in the bathroom, laying your head against the cold porcelain of the sink, wanting to sleep for eighteen hours a day, worried that your emotional numbness means you’re not human anymore kind of depressed. Since growing out of the hormonal hell that was my teens and early twenties, it’s got much better, but it still visits occasionally.
Several years ago, I was hospitalised and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (quite the combo). I was given some tranquillisers, referred to group therapy (on a Monday morning, not great for someone so committed to getting their career off the ground), and waved goodbye.
The NHS is an incredible service, one of our society’s greatest achievements, and something we should absolutely protect. Mental health services are overstretched, especially in densely populated areas with high levels of poverty like Hackney, where I was living at the time. I do not blame the overworked professionals I came into contact with during my time there. But I do think I was allowed to slip out of the net – stamped with a diagnosis or two, given some heavy-duty prescriptions, and off you go.
Luckily, I had some very supportive friends, who put up with some very dramatic behaviour from me. Lots of late-night phone calls, crying down the line, desperate to talk. But I don’t think the diagnoses I received were right. I was depressed, no doubt about that, but my depression was reactive. I’d just finished university, where, although I initially find it hard to adjust socially, I eventually felt at home, surrounded by like-minded people and in the safe, supportive institutional environment.
I didn’t get the degree I wanted. I wasn’t able to get into academic, which was my initial plan. So I moved to London very quickly (too quickly), found the first job I could (even though I had no interest in advertising sales), and threw myself into a whole series of short-lived relationships. I was not doing a very good job of looking after myself.
It all got too much, and that’s how I ended up in hospital. I would be back there only a year later, for a shorter stay this time, but for many of the same reasons. Add a deeply unhealthy relationship into the mix, serious self-esteem issues, and that was pretty much the bulk of the next few years.
I can’t quite pinpoint when things started looking up. But after years of misery, I got out of that relationship – I am a proud member of the Failed Marriage Before 30 Club – my career started picking up, I rebuilt the friendships I had strained so severely before, and I got out of London.
Things aren’t perfect now. I don’t think they ever will be, and that’s okay. I take each day as it comes. Disasters and personal crises still happen, as they do to everyone, but I don’t immediately react in the most dramatic and self-destructive way anymore. I feel sad, distraught even, but I talk to people. To my partner, to my friends, to family, even colleagues. Because – and you will have heard this a lot over the course of the day – talking saves lives. It saved mine, on numerous occasions.
So I won’t hide my mental (ill) health. I will talk openly about it, to whoever wants to listen. If you need someone to talk to, please just drop me a line. The internet is a wonderful thing, especially when you can find solidarity and support at the end of an email, a tweet, a WordPress post.
Look after yourselves and each other.