TW: mental health, suicidal thoughts, counselling, therapy, abortion, sexual assault
When it comes to mental health, we’re always told to speak up. We’re implored to share our stories in the hope that it’ll make us feel better and allow others to provide us with the help we need. Of course, there is a good sentiment behind this. Nobody should suffer in silence and by reaching out it can make a positive difference. But do we need to bare all to gain the empathy and understanding we deserve? I’d argue not.
Sometimes the things we keep to ourselves are just as important as what we share. Recently I have learned that while there are parts of my story I should speak out about in order to help myself – and hopefully others – there are things which, for the sake of my sanity and safety, are just for me. As you share your experiences with mental health, remember you do not have to share anything you aren’t comfortable with. Your story is yours to tell and you should never have to justify your mental illness with any reasoning.
Going to therapy took me many years. At first, I denied that I needed it. Most of the time I felt fine – “normal” if you will – and the moments of darkness were few and far apart. Over time however the gaps between the hard times grew shorter and the moments became longer and harder to deal with.
“As a coping mechanism, I shared my stories with whoever would listen”
As a coping mechanism, I shared my stories with whoever would listen. Those who encourage people who are struggling with mental health to come forward needn’t have bothered with me. I wrote blog posts and poems about what had happened to me. I opened up to anyone and everyone who would listen. Pillow talk consisted of an in-depth look at my past experiences. As soon as I had one too many wines at a hormonal time of the month I’d apologise for being negative and struggling with panic attacks as though they were all my fault.
It was only recently I admitted I’d suffered trauma and, rather than looking at each experience separately, realised how they’d affected me as a whole. Luckily I live near an affordable therapy centre, who charge an amount for each session based on your income, meaning I could skip the mammoth NHS waiting lists and extortionate private therapy fees that prevent too many from accessing help. Straight away, I opened up and started to spill every detail of everything that felt important to me, from the trivial to the traumatising.
During the first two sessions I was honest about feeling suicidal. I spoke about what others had done to me, and how I had treated others; the way I’d been betrayed by those closest to me, and the resulting inability to trust; the lack of control I had over my body and my feelings; the suffering I put myself through because I was wholly convinced that was what I deserved; my desperation to feel loved but my unwillingness to let anyone love me; a deep fear that I will never achieve all the things I would like to.
I remained stoic and dry-eyed as I recounted tales of a lost girl in a world that always seemed to fight back. I was calm when questioned about how I coped with going through an abortion, A-levels, sexual abuse and strained relationships on my own, by 18. At one stage my therapist expressed surprise that verged on concern that, given how much I had already told her in two hours, I seemed to hold myself together.
After that second session, I stepped out into the dark, wet Edinburgh evening and, as I splashed through unavoidable puddles on the way home, burst into tears. I’d waited so long to share these stories that I’d forgotten the worst details of them up until then. Talking had never been a problem for me and simply explaining the past seemed simple, but when it came to really revealing the truth and processing things, I wasn’t as resilient as I thought.
“Remember first and foremost: be kind to yourself.”
While it is good to share and it is beneficial to be as open as possible in the correct environment, it can be extremely triggering to relive past experiences. The most important thing I realised in this is that I don’t have to share anything I don’t want to, and neither do you. Should you feel like you need to speak to somebody, please do – but remember first and foremost: be kind to yourself.
Going forward, I will continue to share what I want with those who care about me – and in the trusting, safe space of the therapist’s room – but I will no longer feel like I have to prove that I my struggle with mental illness is justified by oversharing – especially if that oversharing ends up being harmful to me.
If you have been affected by suicidal thoughts, help is available. The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or via www.samaritans.org. If you’re having immediate serious thoughts of harming or killing yourself, seek immediate medical attention: call an ambulance if you can.
Further information regarding mental health can be found on the Mind website – including their info line where they may be able to direct you to local and affordable services. If you find talking on the phone difficult, IMAlive provides similar support in an instant message format instead.