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A.J. Higginson Headshot

Sticks and Stones...

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Until now I have been ashamed of and never fully embraced my illness. There has always been a stigma attached to mental health issues and I would only ever share my fears with friends and family.

My anxiety and depression are a direct result of horrific bullying. Something so traumatic and terrifying that it almost killed me.

As a teenager it was hard to imagine a life without anxiety, fear of taunting or physical abuse. I certainly didn't expect it to carry on in to adulthood.

It is something that has literally coloured everything that I have ever done since, but it has also enabled me to see things very differently and put all of those feelings in to my writing.
The most part of my high school years was a living hell because of who I wanted to be - me! I've never wanted to hurt anyone and naively couldn't understand why someone would want to hurt me simply for the life I was trying to lead.

At 13 years I was caught innocently kissing a girl. I hadn't even heard of the word lesbian. From then on my life was a nightmare.

Name calling - it hurt. Head flushed down the toilet - humiliating. Teeth knocked out - embarrassing. Skull fractured - I wanted to die.

Relentless. Every.Single.Day.

My parents were at their wit's end.
I can't specifically recall the first time I cut myself, but I remember that I used a fresh razor from the bathroom, the dragging of the blade across my skin. It gave me such an enormous sense of relief. I didn't notice the pain or the blood. I used it to castigate myself for being the terrible deviant and person that everyone thought I was.

My first panic attack aged 14 years left me feeling sick. My heart started pounding and I felt dizzy. I couldn't breathe properly and felt an overwhelming sense of fear - but of what, I didn't know.

Leaving school was a huge relief and the bullying stopped, the depression lifted and I could breathe again. But somewhere I felt a shadow was constantly following me.
I went on and lived the life everyone else wanted me to lead and spent night after night fighting my thoughts and chasing away my demons.

In my twenties it reared its ugly head again, a black mark striking through me when I felt as though I had failed myself or others. The scars on my arm a permanent reminder of the past , present and future. I wanted out.

Hospitalised for eight months I nearly lost everything - my boys, my family and myself.
I couldn't cope with every day tasks, couldn't breathe through the panic attacks. The love and support of my family pulled me through the darkest of days and twelve years later here I am.

So why now? Why open up to the world?

Maybe I hope, possibly in vain ,that the bullies will see the consequence of their actions and just maybe it will stop it happening to one other person? My illness isn't visible. I still have that cloud which shadows me, threatening to drown me in a sea of self-doubt at any time. However,I realise bullies will never change their ways, but rather it is how I cope with their actions that will be the difference.

'Sticks and stones can break my bones', so the old rhyme goes, 'but names can never hurt me'. As I have discovered to my detriment this week , and the last five months, if that was ever true it was in the innocent times. The years before the trolls crawled out of the internet sewers where they lurk and from which they spew their filth.

Now we know only too well that words do wound, even fatally - I was lucky and have found the help that I need.

I can truthfully say that there feels there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have the most wonderful girlfriend who is supportive, kind compassionate and understanding. My family does not have an issue with my sexuality or illness and love me unconditionally.
I hope that I can, by speaking out from the heart, and using my voice, the words may be of use and a platform for others to learn from.

Mental illness does not make me weak or define who I am, but rather empower me to live life to the full.

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