Saturday, 7 May 2016
ME TOO by Aimi Cree
It was always my greatest hope that my first real written account of my mental health journey, would be one full of hope and encouragement for those newly or currently suffering. Like many of us who have struggled with mental health issues, if I could choose to gain only one thing from my experience, it would be to help just one person and offer them a refuge. A sanctuary. A tribe. A big, bold rallying cry of "Me tooooooooo!!!" until they no longer felt alone or ashamed. To reassure them that no, they are not crazy and yes, the sun will shine again and that there's nothing that they could do or tell me that would make me judge them in any way. My illnesses have made me think, say and do some pretty extreme things over the years so I will not think you're weird, just that you're hurting and afraid. And are tired. Oh so tired.
Whilst I'm pretty open about my mental health issues, I don't think I've ever written my diagnoses down in one go, so *deep breath* here goes: since suffering a breakdown in 2008, I have been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalised anxiety disorder. I have endured panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and self-harm. I also experience social anxiety and have traits of borderline personality disorder as a result of living for years with unresolved trauma. So as you can imagine, sometimes it gets messy. I've been hospitalised and made attempts on my life. I've also experienced euphoria and the overwhelming agitation that resides at the other end of the spectrum.
But what that doesn't tell you is that I'm also a well-meaning vegetarian with a penchant for Alan Partridge, Tolkien and old skool jungle. It may be my mental health "CV" that shouts the loudest, but I am also a devoted mother, partner, sister and friend. I trained and worked as an actress and am now the slightly frazzled person you'll see tearing up the road on the school run (time-keeping has never been my forte!) before agonising over which ready meal/duvet set/pair of pants to buy (decision-making also not a strength!) and then rushing home to belt out Les Mis, at full volume. At times I am over-whelmed by my diagnoses but with patience, professional help and A LOT of support from friends and family, I am able to find my way back to me and feel happy, once again, to be alive.
To anyone who is suffering and needs to hear this right now, I am so sorry this is happening to you. It is horrendous and unfair. You are not weak, or deeply flawed, you are UNWELL. It is beyond your control, you did not choose it or encourage it but rather you have been worn down by the weeks, months maybe years of trying to fight off a cruel and relentless illness. But I promise you that there will come a day when you will slowly start to feel that vice like grip around your chest begin to fade. That twenty tonne weight you are dragging around with you will gradually begin to dissolve and your mind will stop punishing you, 24/7. One day, you will be able to sleep soundly again. I promise.
Take each day, minute by minute, hour by hour and if something feels too much, do not beat yourself up. Lower the expectations you place on yourself and be as kind to you as you would be to a friend. Try to count your victories, no matter how small. There are days when just brushing your teeth is a massive achievement. And as much as you can, reach out to others, particularly those with shared experience. That was one of the greatest helps for me. Lean on those who offer to carry you, you would do the same for them, if you could.
It will not be without setbacks. I'm writing this feeling pretty floored by a recent nasty bipolar episode, having had almost a year of relative "stability" for me. So I'm angry at my brain and feeling exhausted from the gauntlet my mood has just run. But I know I need to try to remember how far I'd come in the months before this wobble and, too, need to hear my own message of hope:
"You've been here before and recovered with time. You can do it again."
It's always so easy to say that to other people but the hard part is believing it yourself. I'm trying to learn the art of self-compassion (any tips would be gratefully received!) and release myself of the guilt I feel about the 'burden' I place on everyone else. My amazing mum recently said to me, "If you think this is hard living with you, I couldn't go on, living without you. I do it because I love you." I know I feel unworthy of this love and ultimately need to work on loving myself. And on that note, if it's an option, get yourself into therapy. It can be tough-going but will arm you with coping skills you may one day need.
So it's time for me to put my money where my mouth is and reach out to this wonderful community, that is growing day by day. If we can reach out to each other, we can use our collective voice to shatter the stigma and obliterate the shame.
With love and understanding ...
"Me too. Me too".