My wonderful friend, Leanne, created the jewellery collection Sunflowers For Jacqueline in loving memory of her best friend Jacqueline Boulton. £15 from every sale of the Sunflower Ring or Sunflower Pendant goes to Rethink Mental Illness Charity.
Over the past few years writing this blog I’ve touched briefly on various mental health problems I’ve experienced but I have always kept it brief.
Mental health is something I have struggled with for the past five years and still struggle with greatly. I always see Mental Health Week and World Mental Health Day come and go and think I really should share my experience but I always stop myself thinking I can’t possibly help you when I haven’t figured out how to help myself yet.
I was going to do the same today, just brush past it. Maybe tweet my support, tell people to reach out, “a problem shared is a problem halved” but how much of a hypocrite would that make me? Silencing my own experience whilst encouraging you to be vocal.
So here we go, let’s talk about it.
My first mental health problem came when I started college. I was so very happy and excited and bubbly until I started taking the pill. I quickly became depressed. I became short tempered and angry, confused and at times suicidal. I thought my family hated me, my friends hated me, I felt like a burden, a worthless outsider. I used to get so angry I would physically beat myself. Even if someone else had done something to upset me, in my mind at the time it was always my fault, I must have done something to make them act that way and I deserved to suffer for it. This sounds ridiculous I know but it was horrific. It got so bad that it’s left dents in my muscles that won’t ever recover without surgery. Luckily my mum saw the signs straight away and back to the doctors we went to change pills. But it was as if the damage was already done, the next pill had the same effect, and the next. So I gave up on the pill altogether. I spent months trying to get back who I was before. I don’t think you can ever truly go back to the person you were before a mental illness but I did get much much better.
By the end of my first year of college trying to overcome my depression thew me into a whole new mental illness. In an attempt to give my racing mind a rest and release some endorphins I joined a gym. It was great to begin with, it was helping a lot and I was feeling much more energized but it quickly turned into an obsession. I didn’t realise until over a year later that I was suffering with Anorexia. I would only eat once a day (when I was with my family so I had to). I would lie to my mum about what I’d eaten throughout the day (I’ve never been a good liar). I would go to the gym for hours, only ever doing cardio. I’d watch that “calories burnt” on the cross trainer like a hawk, making sure I’d burnt off at least twice the amount I’d eaten and I felt light headed before stopping and dragging myself back to my car.
Looking back what scares me the most is that I had no idea. I thought I was too big. I looked at girls on Instagram and thought ‘I need to lose more weight to look like her’ when in reality I was under 7 stone.
My turning point was when I spoke to a personal trainer at the gym. I’d been to a Yoga class and stopped her afterwards to ask for some training advice. I showed her images of the women I aspired to look like and she told me no amount of training could make me look like them if I didn’t gain at least 10 Kilos.
This confused me profusely at the time but I went home and did some research on building muscle and tone and bikini fitness physiques. I realised she wasn’t lying and decided to start training with her. She gave me a diet plan to help me gain weight and it was really fucking hard, I won’t deny that for a second. Stretching my stomach hurt and meeting the calorie requirements she set made me feel physically sick but I was doing it. I was feeding myself and with healthy food too. It took four months for me to gain 7 Kilos, I was so proud of myself. Then I got ill and lost 5 Kilos in 2 weeks. I was devastated.
It’s a very confusing time to look back at because I really felt like I wanted to gain weight and surely that meant that I wasn’t suffering from Anorexia anymore? But instead of becoming obsessive with getting skinnier and being on a constant caloric deficit, I became obsessed with eating X amount of protein, carbs & fat. I became obsessed with exercising every day for hours. I still had this body image obsession, it had just developed into something different.
It was during this time Dylan was diagnosed with a chronic illness and his doctors told us he had 6-8 months left.
I’m sure you can imagine my depression came back hard at this point. I can’t recollect the time very well at all, I really struggle to remember the whole of 2013.
At the beginning of 2014 I was doing much better mentally, I came out of a relationship that wasn’t doing me any good and I spent a lot more time with family. We were on borrowed time with Dylan now and he started to show symptoms of his illness. It started to feel very real but we were all doing our best and being our strongest to make the time we had left as good as it could be.
Dylan passed away in October 2014 and grief has been ruling me ever since. I don’t have the hindsight to explain this like I have with my other experiences but I will say that I’ve never felt something so simultaneously painful and numbing. I’ve written two blog posts on grief before which you can read here and here.
I think it’s important to know that grief can cause a lot of mental health problems. For me it brought back my depression in a big way and brought anxiety too.
I don’t feel like I’m in a good enough place to talk about my current experience with depression and anxiety. I do feel much better at the moment than I did last year. Last Autumn and Winter were particularly bad. But sadly it’s no guarantee that things are on the up. The last three years have taught me that grief is a real rollercoaster. Sometimes you feel like you’re living a semi-normal life and you’ve got a firm hold on things and then all of a sudden you’re struggling more than ever.
I’m so grateful for my mum and Sam for helping me so much every single day.
I think back to Sam’s birthday last year and I feel so ashamed. It was his 21st so I wanted to do something really special. I booked a trip to Lapland to stay in a glass igloo, it was the best holiday I’ve ever been on. I was suffering so badly at the time, I was short tempered and over emotional. I’d planned to take Sam Husky Sledding but there wasn’t enough snowfall so we couldn’t go and I just cried and cried, I felt like it had ruined the whole holiday. I know how ridiculous that sounds, trust me. But I had this idea in my head and it didn’t work out and I couldn’t handle it and I broke down. It might not sound massive but if I was feeling well I would have just said ‘no worries, is there anything we can do instead?’ and that would have been it. I’m frustrated that I let something so small get the better of me and taint a wonderful experience.
I’m so glad I’ve found someone strong enough to withstand the bad times and patient enough to wait for the good times to come back around. I just wish we could go back and re-do some of the amazing things we’ve done in the mindset I’m in now.
I’m so grateful for my family, my friends, Sam, and for the internet giving me a place to share and connect with so many of you lovely humans.
Unfortunately I don’t have a 5 step plan to combat mental illness but I do have a big heart and open ears and I hope you can find some solace in my experience.
I’m always available on Twitter, Instagram or on email if any of you want to reach out privately.
Just please don’t bottle it up: reach out to someone and let help in.
Take care of yourselves.
All my love, Chloe x