Hello everyone and welcome to my first mental health post! Yay fun times!
So basically I thought I’d start off by giving a little bit of a back ground on me and the reasons why I had developed depression and anxiety. It is a bit of a long, tough read so if you’re worried that you might get upset or that it might possibly trigger any mental illness you might have then it’s fine if you don’t want to read this. I want to point out that I’m not doing this for sympathy, nor am I blaming any one. I just believe that the best way to have people understand about mental illness is to be completely open and honest, so that means that I can’t leave out the sad stuff or the stuff that I think contributed to my depression. My aim is just to raise a bit of awareness for people who suffer with mental health issues by telling my story and maybe even reduce some stigma and myths.
Looking back to my life before any mental health issues became apparent, I think I could have been classed as your average obnoxious child. The most important thing to me while I was at school was my friends. In high school I had two best friends E and A (who I won’t name properly just in case they wouldn’t like me to). We were actually very like Harry, Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter. E was very clever but was way too modest to brag about it. She looked a little like a female Harry with dark hair and glasses. A was also extremely clever and used to love laughing at the made up spellings and grammar I would invent. I didn’t help this by making her a ‘Happy Bithday’ card one year. She had brown ‘bushy’ hair like Hermione. I wasn’t as clever as either of them but prided myself on providing the ‘comic relief’ and so I was more like Ron. Also I’m ginger so that might have had something to do with it. We were inseparable and just had the most fun ever together! I remember quite a few lunch times where we’d be having so much fun we’d forget to go and get food.
Well life was going along pretty normally up until around 2003. At this point I was told that my dad had been diagnosed with liver cancer. I was about 14 at the time and so I was spared a lot of the actual details to try to protect me. I’m not completely clear on all the exact details of what kind of cancer it was and how it affected him but I did know that my dad was not eligible for a liver transplant and so his cancer would be fatal.
At the time I didn’t really appreciate how serious my dad’s illness was. I think it was played down a lot to me because my parents wanted me to be able to continue school normally and they didn’t want to upset me. I remember that not a lot changed to begin with, but after a while I started to realise that the illness was real. I remember waking up one morning and going to the bathroom and just seeing a mess of hair all over the bath. It really shocked me as I wasn’t expecting it at all. As I said, no one ever really told me what was going on with my dad because they didn’t want to upset me. All I knew was that he went to visit the hospital sometimes but I wasn’t told about his chemo and how it would affect him. After that my dad started to lose a lot of weight and really look deathly ill.
After about a year the medication that my Dad was taking started to really affect his moods and emotions. He began to very sudden mood swings between being ‘yampy’ to angry or depressed. He went through a stage of being very hateful towards my mum which upset her a lot and was starting to switch to being mean to my older sister. Again, no one explained to me that this would happen because of his medication and I was completely under prepared. I actually started to get really angry at him because all I could see was that he was upsetting my mum and acting weirdly, I didn’t understand that he couldn’t help it.
Before I knew about the cancer I had joined a religious group. I didn’t realise that it was to do with religion to begin with as at first I was just invited to go the cinema with a friend from school. After that we started meeting at her house to do fun things but steadily it became more and more focused on Christianity. I enjoyed it and became religious myself and actually asked to attend a Christian summer camp for two summers. My parents were not happy about this at all, my Mum had been brought up Catholic but now deeply resents religion and my Dad had never been a religious person himself. This caused a lot of tension in my house and I felt like I was constantly in conflict with them. When I found out my dad had cancer I told my group and they assured me that if I prayed hard enough that he would be cured. So I prayed and prayed but he just got worse. The leader of the group asked me (a 16 year old at this point) if I would let her come to my house so that she could lay hands on my dad and pray for him to be healed. I knew that this would be the last thing my Dad would want so I said no.
I knew that everything was getting much worse when my mum started talking about my dad going into a hospice. It was decided in the end that he would stay at home for as long as possible but when he got into the final stages he would move to the hospice. A nurse came to visit him one Tuesday and put him on a morphine drip. I think that there were plans to move him into the hospice the following Monday. That day and evening he just stayed in bed in a drugged up stupor. I could tell everything was getting very serious. My sister was at uni and my mum had asked a family friend if she would bring her home as my mum didn’t want to leave my dad. I knew that there was no use in praying for my dad to get better now so I started praying for him to live just until the weekend so that we could spend some proper time together before he went to the hospice. While my sister was being brought home, my mum told me to go and sit with my dad and talk to him. He was in bed but was so drugged up on the morphine that I doubt he knew I was there. I talked to him though and tried to make him feel better. He suddenly sat up and was trying to get out of bed. I didn’t know what to do so I went to get the nurse who was with us. The nurse came in to the bedroom and asked my dad what was wrong and if he wanted something. My dad said ‘Anything to get rid of the pain’ and fell back onto the bed. He started convulsing and was staring wild eyed at the nurse. I dashed out onto the stairs and shouted for my mum who was in the living room. She ran upstairs and I was taken outside by a family friend to wait for my sister. I prayed that my sister would make it in time to say good bye to my dad. After a few minutes, a car pulled up and my sister jumped out. I told her to hurry and she threw herself upstairs. She arrived seconds after my dad died. I was made to wait out on the landing while the paramedics rushed in. My mum thought about trying to revive my dad so that my sister could say good bye but they both decided it would be too cruel.
I saw my sister and my mum crying and decided that I couldn’t cry yet because they needed me to be strong. I didn’t let myself cry until the next day when I went to have a shower. While I was away where my mum and sister couldn’t see me, I collapsed in the shower and sobbed my heart out. When I came back out of the shower I resumed being strong for my mum and sister. I had promised my dad that I would look after them. I also felt as though I had no right to cry in front of my sister when I had had the whole evening with my dad before he died. I tried to think of myself as lucky and scolded myself when I started to feel sad and want to cry.
After my dad died, life went very sour for me. I tried to find comfort in my Christian group, but I was told that as my dad wasn’t a Christian, no matter how good a person he was he would be in hell. I don’t think I can describe accurately how much this upset me. I wanted to be able to take some solace from the fact that my dad’s suffering was over but now I’d been told that he was going to spend the rest of eternity suffering in hell. I couldn’t recover from my dad’s death because I believed he had gone on to a place much worse. I was in agony over this and blamed myself for not praying hard enough or for not being a good enough Christian for God to answer my prayers. A while later I bumped into one of the girls from the Christian group and we started talking about my dad. I asked her, if I was supposed to be going to heaven because I was a good Christian, how could I be happy there if I knew all my non-christian family were in hell. She told me that God’s love is so great that when I was in heaven I would forget about my family on earth. At this point I decided that religion like this was not for me. Since then I have never been able to go back to religion. I’m not against religion at all, far from it. I think religion is a brilliant thing as it can give people hope and love even when they lose everything else. As long as you don’t try to press your beliefs on others I think that everyone has the right to worship any religion they wish. However for me religion has been ruined by the people I trusted and I don’t see myself ever returning.
After some time off, I went back to school to carry on sixth form. At this point in time I was going out with a boy I will call P. I thought that I was in love with P and would try to spend as much time as I could with him. When I found out about my dad’s illness, I spent more and more time with P and he welcomed it. I didn’t realise that he was taking me away from my friends and making me more and more dependent on him. When I returned to school I was still suffering from the loss of my dad and was no longer the fun person I used to be. For a while my friends were brilliant and tried to stand by me, but soon they began to move on with their lives while I stayed stuck grieving. P drew me in closer and for a while I felt ok with out my friends. Soon I began to miss them though and the relationship with P began to get more and more disturbing. I didn’t like it at all and decided to end the relationship. P did not accept that the relationship was over. He would wait for me outside of every class and follow me as I walked in between lessons. I received a lot of emails from him, some trying to convince me to come back, some threatening. I started going out with another boy called S who was much older and so wasn’t at school. Once while I was out with him, P kept relentlessly ringing my mobile, so S finally answered it for me and told him (actually very politely) to leave me alone and stop calling. In response P hacked into my emails and read all the ones I had been sending to S, writing one to S from my email address saying that I didn’t love him and no one would ever understand me like P did. The same night he rang my house but my mum answered instead of me. He was vicious with my mum, telling her that I had claimed she wished I’d never been born and that she was turning me into a bitch like her.
The reason why I’m going into all this in so much detail is that he put on a very different show in front of my friends. He actually really scared me and I would try to ignore him when he followed me around school, but there would be times when I had enough and I would scream at him to leave me alone. What my friends saw was poor P heart broken because I had dumped him and now I was being horrible to him. My friends had moved on and were living happy lives without me. In sixth form it was allowed for us to go into town for lunch if we wanted to. I used to go with P but now found that without him, all my friends would go off with out me and he would be waiting to try to see me. I spent most of my lunch times in my final year of sixth form in the girls’ toilets as I knew P couldn’t follow me in there. Sometimes he would still be waiting for me when I came out though. I remember one time crying in the form room at the end of lunch when one of my friends came in with some of her own friends. She asked me what was wrong and I told her that I didn’t feel like I had any friends any more and I was lonely. A girl from her group said sharply ‘well, have you tried being a bit happier? You’re so depressing to be around’. P continued to follow me until I finally left sixth form for uni. In the pictures of my last day at school you can see him lurking in the back ground.
Just to make this clear though, I don’t blame my friends and I don’t blame P. We were all very young and very few of us had ever experienced death. They were only 16 themselves and they still had lives to live. I don’t think that my friends could appreciate how much I was suffering after my dad died and I would like to think that P was just a very confused young boy who couldn’t see how much he was hurting me. I could have been a lot better behaved myself and I know I was difficult to be around. I was young too though and I didn’t know how to cope.
The last thing that I will talk about from my time at school is how I was treated by a teacher called Mr D. He taught me in my favourite subject (which I won’t mention just in case) and even though he was strict with other pupils we always got along really well. When I came back to school after my dad’s death things changed. We had never fallen out in the past and my work had always been good enough, but all of a sudden he seemed to just hate the sight of me. He would begin every single lesson (and that is no exaggeration) by yelling at me for not being good enough and then would ignore me for the rest of the class, never actually telling me how I could improve. I would try to keep out of his way at the back of the room and get on with my work quietly but I would envy the rest of the people in my class. There were only four of us and he was always pleasant to them. It was at this point that I started to become suicidal. My school was quite big and was split by a road into two sites. Most of my lessons were on one site but my lessons with Mr D were on the other. I used to fantasise about walking out onto the road and being hit by a car so that I wouldn’t have to face him any more. I was tired of being embarrassed every lesson by him yelling at me and being told all my hard work wasn’t good enough. My other subjects began to suffer as I put all my spare time into producing work for Mr D, but my efforts were just ignored.
One time I turned up to the lesson and he wasn’t there. It turned out that he had gone off work for a while for an operation and we had a supply teacher instead. I was horrified to see that the other three pupils had a list of instructions from him on what they were to do while he wasn’t there. I had been working in a conjoining room the previous lesson and it was then that he had told the others what to do on their work. I had no instructions given to me. I told the supply teacher this and she tried her best to work with me. Mr D was away for about a month and in that time I followed what the supply teacher told me to do. One day I turned up for the lesson and Mr D was back. He raged furiously at how poorly my work was coming on and I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there while he yelled into my face and disappeared into the back of the room after he was done to cry.
About this time life at home was getting bad too. Because my sister was at uni it was just my mum and me in the house together. My mum was grieving too and didn’t really know how to cope. A lot of the time she would get angry and would take it out on me by shouting at me. This is completely normal and I don’t blame my mum at all, she was hurting still and missed my dad so much. Sometimes though, because I was upset, it would be hard for me to concentrate on my homework to get it done. One day I had a lesson with Mr D in the afternoon and I knew I hadn’t done enough for him. I spent the whole of lunch time desperately trying to do something that would do, crying in a panic. I knew that what I had done wasn’t good enough and I knew I couldn’t face another cruel berating. I plucked up my courage and told my form tutor, Mr B (who was my favourite teacher and a lovely man) that I was scared to go to my lesson with Mr D. I can’t remember how he reacted but I know he told me I didn’t need to go this time and that I should tell my mum. I hadn’t said anything about how Mr D was treating me up until now because I was worried about upsetting my mum and I was afraid that no one would believe me. I told my mum that night and she said she would have a meeting with Mr D to discuss it all. In the meeting he was lovely to my mum, said that he was completely surprised by how upset I was and that I was probably being sensitive. After that he ignored me completely in his lessons. This was at the end of the year and so I didn’t have many more lessons left with Mr D anyway. Even now I burn with injustice every time I think about how he treated me and got away with it. My mum sometimes laughs about it but I know I never can.
The reason why I am mentioning this is that this was the beginning on my anxiety linked to my depression and the first time in my life that I had been suicidal. As angry as I will always be at Mr D for treating me like that less than two months after my dad died I know it’s not all his fault. I heard off a friend that his operation had been to remove a cancerous growth. I don’t know if this is true or not but if it is then I could maybe accept a little bit why he treated me the way he did. Maybe he was scared for himself and was just lashing out like my mum did (and like how I did myself sometimes). Maybe me being around grieving for my dad was too much of a reminder for him. I would like to think that it was for these reasons that he was mean to me. I don’t think he ever realised how much he affected me.
So to summarise, from when I was 14 to when I was 17 my life took a very sudden change in course. A lot of very different occurrences and circumstances combined to make a kind of ‘perfect storm’ and all the stresses caused me to become more and more depressed. I couldn’t grieve for my dad properly because of my religion issues and probably wouldn’t have let myself if I could because I wanted to look after my mum and my sister. I was troubled by my ex and my teacher but had no friends to go to who I could talk about it. I’m not trying to place any blame on anybody but this is what upset me the most at the time and why I’m still struggling to cope with my dad’s death. This was the beginning point of my depression.
I’m going to leave it there for now and continue with my uni life in my next post. I’m sorry if this has been particularly heavy to read or if I’ve offended anyone. At the time I didn’t speak to anyone about what was happening to me and as a result everyone thought I was coping ok and left me to it. Maybe though if I speak about what happened to me now, others who are struggling might be brave enough to talk themselves.