I hope that by sharing my story of mental illness I can raise awareness and encourage others to share their stories. I have post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and mild social anxiety.
I have always suffered from social anxiety. As a young child my social anxiety was so bad that I was afraid to ask the other children to play with me and I was unable to do this. During my late childhood and early adolescence I was very anxious about meeting people for the first time, talking in a group of people, making presentations and interviews were my worst nightmare. However, it got much better. I am now able to talk without any anxiety when I am in groups of people that I do not know for example at support groups. I also have lots of friends in different circles and I have sang and read out my poetry on my own in front of audiences. Furthermore, after a lot of preparation for a university interview for the first in my life I did not get incredibly nervous during an interview.
I would say that I definitely experienced depression for about 7 years from around the age of 9. I remember crying every single day at school. For years I hardly smiled, became very withdrawn and was generally morose and glum all the time. I changed schools due bullying I experienced but this didn’t solve the problem. Although I made a lot more friends and had these two girls I hung out with I was still very withdrawn and generally sad all the time. It was a friend I made at this school whom years later said, ” you were depressed as a child.” At the age of 10 years old I started to have feelings of self-hatred.
I remember things being better when I was 12 at the start of secondary school. I think I was closer to being in a normal mood. However, it was at the age of 13 that I had one of my worst episodes of depression. I was most certainly depressed then. I isolated myself from everyone at school and stopped talking to them. I felt numb and like a zombie all of the time while at the same time I was constantly crying, often every day. I felt worthless, hated myself, lost interest in everything and stopped making an effort at school.
At this age my suicidal thoughts started. From the age of thirteen for years after I would often have this thought that I would like to sleep forever because I wanted to get away from all the pain. I also figured out my preferred method of suicide.
I was still depressed and withdrawn when I moved schools again at the age of 14.
It was when I was 16 and went on a trip abroad with a load of girls at my school for a month that I realised that my mood swings that my mother just thought of as “teenage mood swings” were not normal. One day I would be very talkative and enjoy myself and the next I would be annoyed with everyone for no reason and just want to be alone. I also had frequent outbursts of crying all the time. After coming back from this trip I suddenly realised that the reason I had thought everyone else was perfect in comparison to myself was because they were all balanced whereas I was unbalanced mentally and emotionally. This was when I looked up all of the mental illnesses online and started to think I might have bipolar disorder even though I didn’t think I’d had a manic episode. I think I was just very aware of the early warning signs and I predicted what was going to happen later.
During my last two years of school my depression was shown in my tiredness. I would nap about twice and sometimes three times a day every day as I was so tired. I also isolated myself from everyone again and generally did not feel happy at all in myself.
It is hard to tell whether I had a manic episode during university but I have had friends tell me that looking back I was definitely up and down during my first year of university and one university friend told me regarding my probable bipolar disorder diagnosis that she was glad I got the right diagnosis, thus implying that I had it. I definitely had a few episodes of depression during my first year of university as well as periods of normal mood. When I was depressed I became withdrawn again, wasn’t myself and I slept a lot like during my a-levels.
It wasn’t until a week after I had finished my first year of university that I finally went to the doctor and told them I was depressed. I think I had been so used to having depression that it was not until I not only lost interest in everything but was simply unable to do anything that I finally got help.
Whilst I was depressed I slept about 12 hours a day, had difficulty concentrating, had very low energy levels and had suicidal urges.
The doctor prescribed me anti-depressants which I’m sure would have helped me if I hadn’t been on the bipolar spectrum. Firstly I became extremely suicidal; I would have urges to kill myself all the time in every way possible wherever I was. These extreme suicidal urged continued for months even after I stopped taking the antidepressants.
Possibly the worst thing that happened as a result of antidepressants was the fact that I became manic or hypomanic. I suddenly went from having no energy to having tons of energy. Next, I started having bursts of creativity all of the time and I wrote lots of poetry and even started writing a novel. Everything was fast, I talked fast, typed fast, did everything fast! I genuinely felt like I was on drugs, colours were intensified and I could see individual streaks of light on the walls were more intense than others. I also was very irritable at times and caused lots of arguments with my parents. Furthermore, I was very impatient; at one point I couldn’t bare to wait at all at any restaurant and had to go on walks during dinner. I also only slept for 5 and a half hours a night which was a lot less than my usual 9 hours.
The worst things about my manic episodes were my hallucinations and the fact I couldn’t concentrate for more than half an hour. The fact that I couldn’t concentrate for more than half an hour meant I was unable to go back to university and study.
My hallucinations really scared me. They started with auditory hallucinations; I first heard church bells ringing at 4 am in the morning. Then, I heard cabaret music at 4 am in the morning and later I heard a plane going off in the toilet. After this I had visual hallucinations every day where I would see dots and blobs of coloured light moving that I knew were not there. These hallucinations really frightened me.
After taking Quetiapine and then Olanzapine my hallucinations and my hypo/manic episode eventually went away after a few months.
I am now taking Lamotrigine as well as a very low dosage of Olanzapine for my depression that occurred after my four month mania ended.
I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of multiple sexual assaults that I have experienced. As a result of EMDR treatment I have managed to drastically reduce my symptoms such as exaggerated startle response and daily triggers and get closure. I am hardly ever triggered and no longer jump at every single unexpected noise.
I am a lot better now as a result of medication, therapy, exercise and support from friends and family. However I still have some way to go in my recovery. I am staying strong and having hope that as I am 80% in terms of my mental wellbeing that I will be able to go back to university next year.
Cat H is a modern languages student, a poet and a blogger. She loves traveling, reading and watching foreign films.