28/04/2017 11:34 BST | Updated 28/04/2017 11:34 BST

Do I Look Like The Face Of Mental Illness?

That was a question I posed to a group of psychology students as they rattled off words to describe the way they expected me to look like - spotty, lank greasy hair, terrible teeth, stooped over, dirty, uneducated, aggressive...

They were shocked, ashamed and surprised by their own preconceived ideas of what someone with previous psychosis, anorexia and suicide attempts would actually look like.

I was not at all surprised sadly as I've heard it all before. I've even been told that children have to be kept away from people with "those illnesses".

Stigma is dangerous, as is silence.

Hence why I speak out as I want everyone to know that you should and must never judge or have preconceived ideas about anyone with a mental illness as it just perpetuates the myths and stigma, which is damaging in society as a whole.

I was very ill - in fact I was sectioned into an adult acute psychiatric unit at 16 years old to keep me alive. I was heavily sedated and medicated. Intense therapy. I could not communicate. I lost all my social skills. I was a very lonely isolated young lady. My weight dropped to extreme levels and my body started to give up. I was at the mercy of the illness as well as psychosis, depression, OCD, anxiety and huge suicidal tendencies for the next few years.

Luckily for me, the incredible multi-disciplinary team on the ward saved my life. They were the most amazing people who treated me with huge respect and dignity. They stayed with me 24 hours a day even if at the time I hated it - guided me, gave me strength - I owe them my life at NHS Tayside and for the rest of my life I will never forget them. Each and every day I live my life with huge gratitude to them all.

When I was finally discharged I had no idea who I was, or what had just happened to me, and why had my brain chosen to almost kill me, what was my purpose in life?

Even after years of inpatient and outpatient therapy I was still unsure of who I was. I felt mentally fitter - however there was something missing. Even after years of inpatient and outpatient therapy I was still unsure of who I was. I felt mentally fitter - however there was something missing.

I felt I needed a more robust understanding my own mind to allow myself to be a fully functioning cognisant person.

This was an instinctive desire I had and knew I had to find the answers. But what was curious was no one had suggested it to me - it was a natural progression and one which was intuitive.

The one thing I did know was that the knowledge was hidden in books.

For the next few years I would go to the library and read or listen to audio tapes.

I would select a book based on the blurb and it would open another door for another book.

By the time I had gone through neurology books to Robert Pirsigs Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Scott Pecks' The Road Less Traveled, Carl Jung and Freud and various ones in-between I stumbled across Abraham Maslow's book Motivation and Personality, published in 1954 (second edition 1970) that introduced the Hierarchy of Needs to the world.

It was the biggest revelation of my life and completely changed it for good - if you can imagine a Holy Grail of light shining from the pages - that's the effect it had on me. It was an inspiring moment and one which has got me to who I'm today.

My whole self flourished as each page turned. By the end of the book I felt like I was starting to understand myself and why my brain had created the monstrous anorexia. It allowed me to become mentally fitter each day and make sense of what had just happened.

I literally became who I was meant to be - slowly and with tentative steps - but I had to be patient as I knew that I was on the path of "self-actualization" something I had no idea about until I found this book.

I'm lucky though as there are thousands of others who are stuck in a rut or confused by the complexities of their own self and mind but I hope one day they too can find the road they need to come out the other side.

In my talks I explain the whole journey and hope it helps others seek out further information that I know from experience can make huge differences to lives. The feedback I get from people is inspiring to me as so many have went out and really worked hard to discover themselves through various different ways.

Patience, persistence and honestly are the best tools you need on the journey... from experience nothing of huge value comes quickly - this is the long game for the rest of your life.

We are a progressive society and I hope the views on mental health will also follow that path the more others speak out.

Last week there was a game changing momentous 30 minutes when Bryony Gordon released the podcast of a conversation with Prince Harry. There was a 40% increase in calls to helplines within 48 hours of that being aired.

Its music to my ears to hear how impactful this was...It did more for awareness than many years of campaigning could ever do and one for which many, including myself, are incredibly grateful for.

Mandy Stevens also wrote an incredibly insightful piece about her own experiences when she became unwell. This was published on LinkedIn and it was brilliant as it was from a clinician's perspective to becoming patient and how it can happen to absolutely anyone at any time.

But the message from all of this is loud and clear...

There is hope of recovery so please speak out and don't stay silent.

Tina x


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