I started experiencing problems with my mental health before I'd even discovered that mental health was actually a real thing. Anxiety has plagued my life since early childhood and reflecting on it now, acknowledging the fact I, a 4/5-year-old child, was suffering from crippling anxiety nauseates me.
Attending a birthday party was one of the most fear-inducing experiences of my childhood, for a reason that is still completely unbeknownst to me today. As time ticked on and a party drew nearer, excitement would turn to sheer dread. My dad would drive me to the venue but I would become so overwhelmed with nerves that I'd very often be sick, lose control of my breathing and would just sob profusely. Inevitably this all ended with me begging my dad to take me back home again, where I would feel safe and at ease.
But anxiety didn't restrict itself to just birthday parties, no. Anxiety invited itself into my life, forcing its way through the door no matter how hard I pushed against it to keep it shut. Anxiety was very much that one person you really don't like, walking into the room at a party and regardless of how much you try to ignore their existence, you still feel their eyes searing into the back of your head. Anxiety became a part of me and I became a part of it. So much so I became somewhat of a seasoned veteran with disguising my strange mental illness. Anxiety moved in and no matter how many times I tried to summon an eviction, it never left. But I learnt to live with it.
Until one day, an unexpected visitor came banging on the door. Something they called, depression. I'd seen it before, taunting my dad and bullying my older sister. I was quite a bubbly person growing up, always making a conscious effort to make friends and to achieve my goals - even with that creepy anxiety fella stalking me. But in 2014 things started changing for me. I finished school with no idea of what I wanted to do next, whilst my friends and my boyfriend at the time were all moving away to start university - I was stuck. With each day that passed, I fell into a deeper depressive state. I literally spent my time sleeping the days away because I had no reason to get up at all. I was on a high dose of medication but that only suppressed my problems.
Then came the worst day of my life. July 20th 2015 - I was 19-years-old and only 8 weeks away from starting university - my dad left for work and never came home. He didn't actually turn up to work at all and after what felt like a lifetime but what could have only been no more than an hour of him being reported as a missing person to the police, his body was found - he'd taken his own life.
The news shattered me. I collapsed onto the floor, screaming. The silent killer had taken my best friend away from me forever. My last text from him read 'I love you so much baby girl, don't you ever forget that', sent (probably) moments before he bowed out of life. He never got to see the copious amount of texts I had sent to him begging him to come home and reassuring him that I loved him so very much.
Almost 2 years down the line I still refuse to believe that he's gone. I refuse to accept that he won't be there to see me graduate. That I won't ever hear my future kids call him grandad. He won't be there to walk me down the aisle when I get married. It kills me every time I think about what I would give just to have him hug me one last time.
And this all makes my depression harder to live with. I write because I have nobody to talk to about my feelings. I cry when I'm alone because it's the only time I won't make anyone feel awkward. People think I'm being moody a lot of the time when in reality I'm just trying to deal with the sadness my depression brings. Losing my dad has turned what my depression was, completely on its head. I carry an overwhelming guilt for not being able to help him and I don't know how to deal with it. I've just learnt to disguise it.
Watching the BBC's 'Mind Over Marathon' documentary inspired me to open up about my own struggle with mental health. It made me realise that even when you feel so alone, there's always someone else in exactly the same boat as you. Mental illness has no race, no religion, no gender, no sexuality, no status. It affects people of all ages, of all shapes and sizes and of all nationalities and ethnicities. Writing has an incredible capacity to educate and with education comes great power to change - so I write about mental health a lot, in hope that I can help to inspire change in the way we view mental illness. I look forward to seeing a day where we we see a decline in suicide rates among men and where people can talk about their mental health openly without the dread of an attached stigma. A day when people get the professional help they so only deserve without fear of being judged or deemed as weak. A day when mental illness is seen as normal. I live to see that day.
If you're struggling with your mental health:
Samaritans - 116 123