First thoughts when glancing at these pictures are perhaps: happy, self-assured, living life to the fullest or maybe even fulfilled. But I guarantee, you weren’t considering the words: mask, barrier, delusion, scared or depressed. But I was all of those things when each of those pictures were taken. When I was being care-free jumping off boats on holiday with my best friends at 18, or even at university (albeit the first-time round) when I was also 18; even when I was living the summer of a lifetime in America at 19. And as much I wish it were not true and I could present myself as fully healed today, even at 21, I am still fighting a battle which sometimes feels like I am drowning in. I have lived with and am still living with depression and anxiety noticeably for me since I was 15 years old. That’s not to say I haven’t encountered varying times of severity and relief with my personal mental health struggles but it has been a constant weight on my shoulders throughout my adolescence and beginning of my independent adult life. I am fortunate enough and proud to be writing and sharing my story with you all today because for the first time since I was 15 years old, I can see the light at the end of the cataclysmic journey of self-despair and mental torture. I can finally see how I am stronger, more self-aware and understanding of my mental state now than I was 6 years ago, than I was 2 years ago; even than I was 6 months ago.
I wanted to take the step to be completely open and honest about my journey and demons on my blog today; in support of Mental Health Awareness Week. I feel that it is so important for those struggling to realize that they are not alone, YOU are not alone; no matter how long you’ve been fighting – for one day or 6 years, or even longer – you’re story, your beautiful mind and mental well-being matters and people care about you, I care about you. These are words that I truly mean and wholeheartedly stand by because everyone deserves and needs to read, understand and process this message because there is help, support and fellows out there. You just need to be brave enough to take the hardest but most worthwhile step – ask for help, talk to someone, share your feelings, your struggles, your story. Be it a friend, a family member, GP/health professional or a stranger. Admitting that you need help and acknowledging something is wrong is the hardest part of the struggle. Even if from this, you decide that you aren’t ready for that step then just do not give up the fight; by reading this you are helping yourself already.
Personally, for me I didn’t recognize the extent of my struggles and depression or even acknowledge its existence until one night when I was 19 I broke down completely. I was stuck, frozen in a ball on the floor of my room for hours; rocking back and forth in absolute tears and despair. I was so unhappy and had never felt so alone and separated from the entirety of existence. I was honestly at the lowest of lows and completely petrified still by my inner demons, telling me that I had let everyone down, everyone hated me and I didn’t deserve anything or even be here anymore. Before, everything I’d been feeling for years, each individual corrupting thought, feeling, emotion and action of self-harm had been isolated from the other; but now in that moment marked the capitulation – one raw outburst of distraught and destructive depression.
From that moment, everything change for the better. After hours of crying, verbally abusing and physically hitting myself, I gathered the courage to lean over the banister and push out the cry for help. The monumental moment which marked the absolute crushing of my soul but also the saving grace of my life and Heather as I knew her. It was then when I called my mum to my room and managed to admit to her that I was not ok, I needed help and I didn’t know what was wrong with me or when or how I’d lost my self, my inner sense of being, the fun bubbly Heather, the real me along the way. But, I knew, I wanted to fight for the rest of my life to get her back and make it up to my family who’d I’d lashed out to for years in frustration with myself and as a barrier to deflect from my deep rooted issues. The next day, I called the doctors and everything changed because I was no longer letting my mind and depression rule me, I was breaking free from the chains that bound me to the illness and was no longer acting as a slave to it; I was writing my own narrative, ruling my own Heather journey – taking control. And I still am. I now know that on that day I took the first and hardest step, which was onto the road to recovery, because of that step I’ll be ok and in that moment I knew I’d one day finally be able to recognize myself again – the unpredictable hazardous being that is Heather. Ultimately, for me that moment is one of two in my entire life that I can pinpoint as “Finding Heather”.
This by no means is the entirety of my story or my struggle but I wanted to make this post to symbolize the importance of reaching out, asking for help and what a change it can make. Also, I want everyone who reads this to take away that no matter if someone is smiling or laughing that it does not always mean they are ok, happy or mentally stable. I cannot emphasize how often people tell me I do not suffer from a mental illness because when they see me I am always smiling. But, that is my coping mechanism, I deflect, I put up a mask and hide the inner dark disturbing havoc of my mind. So please never make assumptions of how people are feeling or what they are going through. You can never know and the person them-self might not have even admitted it yet.
I know not all of us have mental health struggles and my personal journey by no means covers even 1% but they all carry the same message and sentiment in my eyes. I guarantee if you haven’t encountered mental health struggles yourself then you know of someone who has. Reach out to them, let them know they are not alone. Or if it is yourself who feels like you can barely breath, asphyxiated by you own thoughts, then I urge you to reach out, ask for help and support. I hope me opening up shows that depression, mental health does not define you, there is hope and you will get better, you are not alone, we just need to stick together and raise awareness of this very real and very debilitating illness and personal struggle.
Thank you very much for reading, I hope I have managed to get my message across. I am Heather and I can finally say I am found.