Trigger warning: mentions of self harm and suicidal thoughts.
Not a trigger warning: this is really fucking long.
As Mental Health Awareness week draws to a close, I think that it’s uncomfortably likely absolutely nothing will change, despite the myriad wonderful people writing, speaking and doing incredible things to raise awareness tirelessly every day. It’s this dedication that will foster real change, and it’s why I decided to throw my voice into the melee as well.
What I want to talk about is something positive, though. Despite what appears to be willful ignorance from peers, family members, strangers, medical professionals or whoever was the last person to say something stupid to you, there are some truly fantastic people out there who provide support, encouragement and recognition.
I’m not saying there are a bunch of people who could cure me or make my symptoms ease up; some of the time, the last thing I want to do is speak to someone who may dare to show concern or ask how I am. It’s exhausting trying to pretend to be ok, even if deep down I know I don’t actually have to do that. This is my issue, and is not the fault of the people who I can recognise as being key in my life and who are still there for me.
It seems fitting to round the week out with a post about these people, my cheerleaders, people who have maybe done more for me than they realise. I’m glad I’m in a position to acknowledge them, because there have certainly been times where I’ve been convinced that everyone hates me and no one gives a flying damn in hell about my “problems”.
These people have made a difference, no matter how small or big, and have never let my problems stand in the way of maintaining positive relationships.
My old boss, turned friend
A few years ago, I was working in a job that I didn’t really mind, but knew wasn’t going to sustain me forever. One day, a woman walked in who used to work for the company but had been made redundant. I was surprised to see her back, but pleased, as I’d got on well with her. She was coming back to head up some risk management on a new contract the company had won. I happened to be undertaking some of the financial work for this new contract, so our paths crossed a fair bit.
Eventually, it came to light that she’d need a helping hand, and I jumped at the chance to apply. I interviewed for a job on her team, but didn’t get it. Fast forward a few months, and they needed more help on her team. She encouraged me to apply again, so I did, and this time I landed the job, thanks in part to her encouragement and willingness to help me. I was working on a team with my new boss and my friend, so it was a pretty decent situation and I was happy (side note: when I moved to this new team, they employed two people to work on my old team. One of them was my now-partner).
Throughout my time in that role, my boss pushed me. Not in a horrible way – she pushed me to do things I would never have done of my own accord simply because she firmly believed that I could do it, whereas I would never entertain the idea of being in any way competent. She encouraged me to enrol into a course that would teach me how to be a trainer; after a few months I completed it and started helping out with delivering training.
I hated this at first. On more than one occasion I burst into tears prior to the course starting, such was my anxiety and conviction that I was going to utterly and irrevocably fail. She was kind but firm in her beliefs and assisted me to keep going. So I did – mainly because I didn’t want to let her down – and slowly, my confidence grew.
After a year or so, my boss was promoted, and her position was made vacant. Of course, she practically forced me to apply for it, and from everything I had learned from her I managed not to fluff the interview and was awarded the position. I had to take on line management of a few other people, which I’d never done before. She assured me I would be great, and weirdly, I was.
A few months after my promotion, my mental health took a real nosedive. I started to have a few days off sick, nothing major, but I pretended it was due to UTIs (some of it was – yuck – so I just kept up the pretence). I came in to work one Monday with my arm bandaged up beneath my shirt and conducted interviews for new members of my team.
Eventually it got to a point where my boss had to have a review with me because of my sudden increase in absence. I started to toe the party line about UTIs, but stopped myself, burst into tears and confessed the truth. She was fantastic with me, so kind and supportive.
I for once I didn’t feel ashamed of how I was feeling. I recognised it was a problem, but I spoke honestly and frankly to my boss, HR and more senior members of our team (my boss’s bosses). I was surprised at how kind everyone was – they allowed me to work from home on days I didn’t feel well, they kept up a constant dialogue with me and never pressured me with threats of unemployment.
I am still friends with my old boss, and the team I used to manage. We all formed these ridiculous bonds through our perseverance during hard times and our horribly puerile senses of humour. Since our departure from working life together, my boss has actually employed my partner in her new organisation. She is honestly a fantastic manager, excellent at her job (she never gives herself any credit) and a wonderful person. I can never thank her enough for her unwavering belief in me and her kindness throughout my period of illness. She was the reason I never felt I had to worry about work, and actually allowed myself to have a healthy balance between work and my mental health.
I’d say this was an obvious choice, but sadly for a lot of people, it isn’t. You can never predict how anyone will react to your mental ill health, and that includes those closest to you.
When I was about fifteen, my parents found out that I’d been self harming. They were upset, confused, worried, and a whole variety of parental emotions that thankfully I’ve never had to experience. I remember my mum taking me to our GP who dismissed it as ‘hormonal’. Cheers, mate. I ended up going to see some sort of mental health professional, but it wasn’t really much use as I didn’t want to be there.
At the time, I don’t think I really knew what depression or anxiety were, it was just my way of coping with the world. I can’t remember how long it took, but I came out of the other side relatively unscathed, and was a fairly well-adjusted teen and young adult. When I was about 22, my mental health took a turn for the worse. I had just started a new job, a proper, big-person job. My old job was full of people my age, most of us starting our first jobs out of uni. This was a job full of grown ups and other awful things like that. My anxiety skyrocketed, and I was signed off for a couple of weeks.
I remember my mum coming over on the train and taking me to the Samaritans. She wasn’t allowed to come in with me, so she had to go off on her own for an hour or so. I remember her telling me about finding a cafe and having a cup of tea, and (presumably because I was so fragile) it really upset me. The thought of my mum on her own, waiting and worrying about me was too much. Never mind that she was a grown adult who was more than capable of looking after herself for an hour. Things like that still get to me sometimes – it’s incredibly patronising of me, but I think it comes from my constant need to try to protect people from anything and everything.
My mum came to my rescue when I was all adrift, I had no idea what would help me but if it hadn’t been for her I might not have gone to the doctors or anything at all.
I went back to work after those two weeks off, and managed quite well. I went back to my doctor who tried to prescribe me anti depressants, and told me how long the waiting list was for counselling. I took matters into my own hands, and sought counselling from a charity that I attended for two years.
After that, I was fairly stable until four years ago. Things got bad, and on one night when I’d had too much to drink and a horribly awkward encounter with my ex and some friends, I ended up in the hospital because I’d self harmed. I hadn’t intended for it to be quite as severe as it was, it was just meant to be a cheeky little cut, but it was worse than that and I needed stitches. Oops.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide this from my parents, so instead of waiting to see them and the inevitable questions about what this horrendous scar on my arm was, I made the phone call the next day. I can’t remember if it was that same day, but I’m pretty sure it was, that they came to see me. I know my mum, and there wouldn’t have been any question about it. She was probably already in the car before I’d hung up the phone.
Bless them, they didn’t know what to do with me and I didn’t know what I needed, but they just needed to see I was ok. I don’t remember what happened that day, but now they knew about it I felt a sense of accountability so I made a doctor’s appointment the next week.
As I said, that was four years ago and the support of my parents has been unwavering. They live a couple of hours away, but will always offer to come and see me if I’m feeling unwell, and also manage to respect my wishes if I’m too ill to do anything. When I appealed my dismissal from the first job I lost, my dad spent a whole afternoon sitting at my kitchen table looking things up and writing things down for me. They both came with me to the appeal (we didn’t let my mum actually come to the meeting, for fear she would throw something or threaten violence and/or legal action).
My mum has offered to come to doctor’s appointments or psychiatry and psychology appointments with me. She wouldn’t even be allowed in, she just wanted to be there. A year or so ago, maybe more, I’d gone back to see my parents but had forgotten to bring my medicine with me and didn’t have a prescription to hand to get any replacements. I became really unwell after missing a couple of days, and my dad drove me all the way back to Liverpool to sort myself out.
They’ve both read this blog (hi mum and dad!) and have praised me and my writing to the high heavens. Which of course is what parents do, but I’m glad I don’t feel the need to hide it from them. I also think it has helped them to understand even more.
My parents have been brilliant. I know my mum is a huge worrier, and I am very bad at letting them know when things aren’t going well because I want to protect them from it, I don’t want them to worry. I realise now that they’re parents and they’re probably going to worry regardless, so I’m trying to be a bit more open. Despite my various woes, they still think I am top banana and believe that I can do whatever I want.
I’m very, very lucky to have a good relationship with my parents and I am thankful for that. I am very lucky they’ve supported me even if privately they haven’t had a fucking clue what to say or do (my dad has come out with some absolute corkers – nothing horrible, just hilarious). I hate to be a source of worry for them, but what can I do? I can’t magic myself better, and even if I was absolutely fine I’m sure they’d still find something to worry about. It’s just what (my) parents do.
There are two years between me and my sister, so we’ve always been pretty close. She is one of the most wonderful and ridiculous people I know. Of course as teenagers we fought, but I’ve been lucky to have her around, and lucky to have her in my corner, which she inevitably always is and has been.
When we were growing up, she paved the way for me. When I started going out drinking (in the local park, keeping it classy as fuck), she persuaded my mum that it was alright to let me go and not keep me in the house where I should have been instead of drinking cheap beer on the streets. As long as they knew who I was with, where I was and I was back home by eleven, my parents let me go and I have my sister to thank for that. Although it sounds terrible, there was a huge group of us who spent the summer after our GCSEs in that park, and I made some friends for life in my fellow drunken teens.
I don’t see my sister as much as I see my parents. She lives back in Yorkshire now with her fiance and cat, so she’s geographically much closer to my parents, but isn’t always around when we go back to visit. I always appreciate time with her when I do see her, though. She has always been completely understanding and supportive of me and my various mental quirks, and she suffers herself. That’s not my story to tell, but I didn’t really know the extent of it until the last few years. I think she may have been trying to protect us all by not telling us, but once I was completely open about things, she confided in me a bit.
I don’t think my sister has ever told me that I can’t or shouldn’t do anything. Like my parents, she perhaps sees things in me that I don’t see. She is a teacher now, and much as she worries I know she is fantastic at her job and the school are lucky to have her. She regales me with stories about the kids in her classes, and she has this amazingly ridiculous way with words that means a lot of what comes out of her mouth is comedy gold.
She can relate and understand if I tell her I’m having a bit of a rough time, and sometimes we can connect over our shared ability to have a shit fit about something completely benign. I know that she has felt a sense of responsibility as the older sibling, and possibly because my mental health problems appear more ‘out there’ or ‘serious’. They aren’t at all, it’s just affected me in a different way. She loves her job and throws herself into it 100%, whereas I have not found that passion for anything and have used it as a reason to be even more down on myself. She functions at a high level of anxiety that I would probably struggle to function at; these things just manifest themselves differently and it doesn’t mean either one of us gets to win the ‘Most Mental’ crown (it’s probably a pretty even draw).
When together, I have no doubt that my sister and I are excruciatingly irritating to be around. We find the same things funny, and wheel out the same tired in-jokes to the despair of our family and partners. We report back to each other on funny things our parents might have said or done – it’s important to keep in the loop so we’ve got some good material to goad them with the next time we’re all together.
She is getting married in a few months, and I hope that by standing with her and helping her through the day I can repay some of the support she’s shown me through the years. I will be bursting with a whole slew of emotions on the day, but I hope I can keep myself together to relieve some of her anxieties with some well-timed comedy bombs.
It feels as though there are too many to talk about, really. I got lucky in the friend lottery. A lot of my friends I’ve known since school or uni, so there’s a sold ten-to-fifteen year bond with almost all of them. Even one of my more ‘recent’ friends has been kicking around for six or seven years now.
There are a particular few, though, who have been invaluable throughout my mental illnesses.
I’ve had one friend since the first year of uni. We formed a large, pretty close circle of friends at the time, and though some have drifted in and out, me and her have been solid from the start. She doesn’t live close to me any more, but we text constantly (and I mean constantly). We see each other a few times a year, and she invariably cries every time we meet because it’s important to have a lot of feelings.
She has her own significant struggles, and is therefore one person with whom I can be entirely honest about how I’m feeling – even if I do not always choose to do this. There is something comforting, although others may not see it this way, about being able to casually mention feeling suicidal and knowing that the other person just gets it and isn’t going to judge or call every emergency service in the land in a panicked frenzy. It sounds as though I am making light; I’m not, but we just understand that this is a feeling that will happen to us at times and it’s ok to talk about it. It takes away a bit of the gravity if you can just mention it as casually as you might mention feeling anxious about something.
The last few years haven’t been without difficulty; she has had some very intense struggles, and I have not wanted to ‘burden’ her with my own. Through all this, whether we’re talking about our shit mental health or not, we have kept talking. She has taught me enormous volumes of things that I could only hope to teach someone. She is immeasurably bright and hard working, getting her PhD during what was one of the most difficult periods of her life.
We are at a stage where we always know what to say to each other, and if we don’t, we’ll just say that. Although it has been disgustingly hard for her these last few years, supporting her through it has probably made me a better person. I understand more now, about grief, illness and the spectrum of emotions one can feel in these circumstances.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that our relationship is almost sibling-like. We just know and understand each other, we know when to be honest and when to let the other figure something out on their own. We share the same political and social beliefs, core values, love for animals (the shittier and more decrepit, the better) and of course, sense of humour (in that we find ourselves hilarious and no one else does). I could not, and will not, imagine my life without her in it.
There are two friends that I’ve had since school in varying degrees. One I was friends with from an earlier point, but we didn’t see much of each other throughout the uni years. The other I became friends with later, but we saw more of each other after school and through uni. They are both extremely close to each other as well, and saw each other throughout uni and beyond. Now we are all adults, we form a very close trifecta of brilliance.
One of them is a musician, one of them has climbed more mountains and undertaken more daring outdoor pursuits than I could ever dream of. They are both, without fail, supportive, kind, caring, funny, gentle, talented and wonderful. I have been bridesmaid for both of them, and despite my woes about bridesmaiding, being present for them at such an important time has been my pleasure.
We can share honestly our emotions, and know when we need to put ourselves first. We champion each other endlessly. We share our vulnerabilities, our successes and our laughter.
Without these friendships I would suffer. It’s a simple statement, but these are the ones I know I can rely on to be honest, trustworthy and non-judgmental.
My partner and I have been together for nearly four years, and have lived together for nearly three. He has never been a stranger to my mental health issues, he knew about them before we even got together.
It feels as though our relationship has been dominated by my mental health as I’ve been unwell pretty much the whole time. My partner has had to deal with self harm incidents, panic attacks, irrational thoughts and a whole host of other things. He has had to keep me safe, reassure me and calm me down. He has done all of this without complaining once.
If I am having a panic attack, he knows what to do and how to help me calm down. He stops me from mindlessly picking at my skin when I’m agitated. He managed to get me to a point where I go and tell him if I have any dangerous urges rather than attempting to carry them out. He has taken medication or sharp implements and put them in safe places so I don’t use them to harm myself.
I don’t know if I’m the same person he fell in love with, but our bond is incredibly strong now, either as a result of or despite the trials I have put our relationship through. I often apologise and feel guilty because he helps me so much; he tells me not to, that I help him as well. It’s true to a certain extent, our anxieties seem to slot together enough that if something needs to be done, at least one of us might be half-competent at doing so.
Honestly, anything that I can write about him feels trivial. He is honest, caring, funny and loving when I am at my best and my worst. We rarely fight, largely because I know anything I might pick up on as an irritant is usually down to anxiety and isn’t worth the bother. He has encouraged and backed me now I am not employed in a sensible, salaried way and always tells me to do what’s best, not what I think I should.
Our difficulties have not been solely down to my mental health; we have each lost jobs, my partner spent an uncomfortably long time out of work but never stopped supporting me. Our lives and relationship have never been ‘perfect’, and our ability to stay together during the little piles of shit we’ve waded through is testament to our commitment to each other (and his endless patience).
My partner is dyspraxic, and as such has some anxieties and compulsions about the way he likes things to be done, largely because he had to learn how to do so many things he isn’t naturally programmed to do. Thankfully, I’ve taken this in my stride at least as much as he has my issues, and together we make it work.
I worry about him endlessly, and the stress he must endure trying to look after me as well as the strain it puts on our relationship. A lot of this is projection – he at least appears to be functioning at his usual best despite our hardships. Despite the ups and downs, we are happy and thankful to be together. I hope when life throws a bit more positivity our way we can take to that as easily as we have the negativity, and experience the joys a solid relationship can bring.
For fuck’s sake, this post is enormous. Without these cheerleaders, I’d probably be in a very different place. I don’t know where that would be, but having these people in my corner has become essential. Relationships aren’t always perfect, and I’m happy to acknowledge that. These, however, are the ones that persist despite imperfections, and the ones I know I can count on, whether they’re family or not.