A lot can change in a year. These days, life seems to fly by and it’s easy to get lost in the days and weeks which quickly turn to months, without doing the things we enjoy. Before we know it, half the year is gone and we still haven’t started a load of things we’ve been meaning to do. We forget about picking up a new language, or learning how to cook healthier recipes, or make time to exercise more, or go see those things we want to see. Life gets busy, but the way I see it, we need to do those things in the here and now. As grim as it is to think about, it’s only an assumption that we will make it to a ripe old age and retire with time, money and energy to do the things we want to do now. It’s important that we get fulfilment in life, and that we’re able to be proud of what we’ve achieved. Whether that is as simple as getting out of bed, showering, saving up for a holiday or completing a marathon. It took a long time to have this mind-set change and positive outlook on the things life throws at us. A lot has happened throughout my life to get me to this stage where I feel I can do whatever I want, and achieve anything I set my mind to. To me, it is important to talk about my journey as open and honest as I can, which is why I have partnered with Georgia from The Lone Wolf Pack to fight the stigma around mental health problems.
Personally, I had a hard time growing up once I reached adolescence, never fitting in with girls because I was too boisterous and rough, and never fitting in with boys because of the age they were. I struggled a lot as I reached my teens and found myself becoming more isolated and reserved, oblivious to what was going on inside my own mind. I started to have panic attacks, and many nights where I felt horror at the thoughts that seemed to fill my head and deafen my ears. I would argue with my parents for no reason, and stop talking to my friends, instead turning the volume up to max on my headphones; blasting some heavy metal and noise that drowned out the rest. Apparently, I was intent on giving myself tinnitus but thankfully, I never quite managed that. My school, and every other one that I know of, never gave any education on what mental health was, or the problems that are sometimes encountered with it. This left a very dangerous environment for me as a young teen, as I was left to google my symptoms, and we all know what google is like. This led to a lot of research and an obsession to learn what was ‘wrong’ with me. I took every online test I could and started to talk to people who felt the same sense of confusion and sadness; we all seemed to be desperate to diagnose ourselves with labels so we could at least name what was going on.
This obsession to learn what was happening inside became a very self-destructive habit, and I soon became more depressed. Having uncontrollable panic attacks almost daily, a loss of thought, feeling and sense of self. I would skip school and hide out in fields to sob. My attendance got worse, I got in trouble more and then argued more with my parents in turn. I suppose, now I can look back with some perspective and say those were all signs that I needed to ask for help. However, I never reached out for help, or even thought of telling anyone of my troubles, all of which took me down a darker path to learn how to cope alone. It is difficult to describe what depression feels like, some people simply think it is low-mood, but its so much more and less than that. Depression is a never-ending contradiction of feeling everything so raw and shutting down to feel nothing at all. Finding that switching my feelings ‘off’ was a way to help, I started to bottle up all of the guilt and anger and self-hate. This was a major point in my earlier timeline where things started to go even more wrong.
I was fourteen years old when I first self-harmed. I did it because I couldn’t feel anything, I was numb for months on end and completely out of touch with reality. I forgot how to process emotion, how to even categorise what myself or other’s felt, and I considered myself a void that constantly sucked up positivity, happiness, and enjoyment. At this point, I could not bare to not feel anything, it was eating me up inside like gangrene to a foot. I cannot remember exactly how I hurt myself, I think my brain has blocked that off as an unconscious measure to defend itself. I can, however, remember the aftermath of the realisation of what I had done. I’d never felt such defeating sorrow, remorse or pity, but I had felt something at least. I am not embarrassed of how I tried to cope with depression at an early age, I just feel never-ending sadness that this is how other people are trying to cope too. Outsiders would look at self-harm and think that that person wanted to kill themselves, but for me, that was not true. It was my anchor to not being numb, but it was also irrevocably self-destructive; causing riots in my mind and breaking my heart. I only wish people like me were told of or educated to try different ways to cope, ways where we did not have to inflict pain on ourselves to feel something.
So, I had tried two ways to cope. Both were not sustainable, and both made my depression worse. Turning my feelings ‘off’ led me down the path to self harm, and I did not want to follow that path any further. Self-harm made me feel so worthless and small, that I had started to have suicidal thoughts to end the conflict that seemed to haunt me every day. Contradicting those thoughts, I took action to try and reach out for help. I was sick of crying in the shower until the water went cold, sick of wearing long sleeve tops and bandages on my wrist, sick of being sick. Strangely, I think I will always recall the first time I told someone of my struggles. I was not too close to her, but I knew she was a sturdy rock that would know what to do when I didn’t. I saw the pain in her eyes as I showed her my wrist, and she held me as I started to sob. Overwhelming amounts of feeling hit me, I felt guilt for what I had done; relief for her accepting me; and pride for finally facing myself head on. She asked if she could bring someone else to help, I said yes. And so began my road to learning about depression, and more importantly, how to cope with it.
It took me five years, countless failed attempts at therapy and endless conversations about anything and everything, to feel a little more balanced and like I was in control. These were the hardest five years I experienced, and I won’t go into them today. What I want to talk about, is how talking saved my life. Through talking about the complicated feelings I felt, I was able to understand myself more, and the way my mind worked. I was able to address my depression head on and be in control of it, notice when things started to get worse, and put my coping mechanisms in place to prevent it from overwhelming me again. Don’t get me wrong, I relapsed during these five years and had more really dark times, but I was able to overcome it.
The key to coping (for me) was to listen to myself. I have always been creative, since a very young age when I wanted to be an author, and then a singer, actor, artist, photographer, poet, and writer again. I find that now, I am very self-reflective and dig deep to uncover any concerns I have and understand my emotions, thoughts and feelings, and where they come from. Using this creativity as a tool to express my inner-most feelings, I picked up a lot of creative based subjects during my time in school. With art, I used a lot of etching and black materials to show how I felt, making the pieces very personal and intimate to me. Drama helped me become more grounded, and my teacher was one of the most supportive people I could have asked for. I was able to experiment within different characters, and empathise with other people’s pain and situations too. With photography, I took a surrealistic approach and came up with some hauntingly dark projects which seemed to help me cope. I suppose, creating was my first positive coping mechanism, and still is. Within all of my work, I try to show an element of escapism, or use the work as a measure to temporarily escape.
This time last year, I was traveling around Australia and New Zealand, in awe by the views my eyes took in, but feeling so very alone and astray inside. Traveling and seeing beautiful places is what makes me happy, but last year I did not feel happy. Honestly, I felt a lot of guilt over a relationship that ended and an overwhelming ache for myself, because I did not know who I was. Bear in mind, I still don’t know who I am completely; and that is okay as people are always changing and growing. But, this time last year I felt utterly out-of-touch, and struggled to even do things I would have normally enjoyed. When I returned to the UK, I tried my best to encourage myself to grow. I planned a couple of adventures, and met a new friend whom I hold close to my heart, probably because she’s a deadass savage like me. Really though, we just get each other and both enjoy traveling. I traveled to the Highlands of Scotland and Isle of Skye, and then to the Lake District, and finally the Peaks. I kept feeling increasingly lonely despite the fact I was doing something I was supposed to enjoy. In November, things got really bad and I cancelled my trip to Scotland last-minute to try and get better.
Finally, after two weeks off work, I gave up trying to help myself, by myself. I rang into work and talked to my manager about how much I was struggling, and he helped me get to someone who could help me. Luckily, I work in an environment where mental health problems aren’t taken lightly. I am grateful beyond words that it is taken seriously, and can’t imagine how hard it must be for people in the workplace when they don’t get any support. After another failed therapy attempt, I agreed to try once more with a new therapist who turned out to really get me. I have officially been discharged and I’m back to feeling my normal self again. I’ve taken several trips since, which I have wrote about in my previous posts, and I’m happy to be enjoying it again.
Point is, I was given ears that listened, arms that knew when I needed to be held, hands to hold through darker times, and love from my friends because they knew I was struggling. I now try to be all of those things back, because I don’t think anyone can manage all that negativity by themselves. I try to encourage people to talk about their struggles, and ask for help when they need it. Together, we can build a community where it is safe to talk about these things that aren’t easy to talk about.
MIND is an amazing charity that tackles mental health problems with education and support for people around the clock. Georgia, founder of The Lone Wolf Pack, donates 10% of every purchase to MIND. You can see her beautiful designs here, all inspired by the struggles of real people.
I also want to say THANK YOU to Afnan and Andre who are two very talented buskers whom donated all of their earnings to MIND the day of this shoot. What a generous pair, hopefully you'll hear them perform one day down Northumberland Street.