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.
My first panic attack aged 14 years left me feeling sick. My heart started pounding and I became dizzy. I couldn't breathe properly and experienced an overwhelming sense of fear - but of what, I didn't know.
School life was hell. Name calling - it hurt. Head flushed down the toilet - humiliating. Teeth knocked out - embarrassing. Skull fractured - I wanted to die.
My parents were at their wits end, pain etched firmly on their faces, searching for answers.
A family friend invited us to their stables and as a weekend surprise we drove to Thorness
Bay.From the moment I entered the yard I stood transfixed, transported from a place of hate and fear, to world without worry.
Dusty, with his large pink nose, munched away on his hay completely ignoring me. As I watched he wandered over to me, intuitively knowing what I needed, head resting against mine.
Over the weeks we built a relationship. He never judged me or expected anything in return. The bullies continued unabated, their words turning to physical violence. With Dusty I could pour out my deepest worries and fears without the feelings of guilt in burdening my family. He enabled me to 'exist' in a cruel world, wearing a brave face to those closest to me.
Through the darkest of days we shared great happiness and sorrow, helping me to see the simple joys in life.
'Sticks and stones can break my bones', so the old rhyme goes, 'but names can never hurt me'. But as I soon discovered, to my detriment, we know only too well that words do wound, even fatally - I am one of the lucky ones and found the help that I needed.
After a particularly bad beating it was Dusty who finally helped to put me back together like a broken jigsaw. I have been greatly strengthened by my profoundly insightful equine teacher, walking beside me in my times of need.
Over the years the horses have been a constant in my life. Having a calming, soothing effect on my, at times, stumbling efforts to be part of the human race. You never know around which corner the dark shadow of depression may be lurking.
So why speak out now?
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 given moment.However,I realise bullies will never change their ways, but rather it is how we cope with their actions that will make the difference. I also want publicly acknowledge the kindness, wisdom and hope these beautifully powerful creatures are able to share with us in abundance.
I trust that, 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.