Decade Challenge: The slow decline of my mental health

Dec 28, 2019 · 6 min read

I started this decade as a 15 year old who thought I was just starting my life. I was finding my feet, I had lots of friends and thought I was going to do okay in life. I spent a lot of time with my best friend, I had people who wanted to spend time with me, I thought I was really happy. And I was, if I ignored the way I was being treated at home, the verbal bullying I was experiencing at school and the battle with my sexuality that was raging inside my head.

The start of this decade was also when I first started recognising my underlying mental health issues (but they weren’t as understood or spoken about as much as they are today). I struggled with going to school — or doing pretty much anything that wasn’t hanging out with the people I was already familiar with. I was constantly arguing with my family and feeling increasingly trapped in my home. The place that should have been safe and welcoming. I was always having faults pointed out or the blame for anything going wrong placed firmly at my feet. I didn’t know how to escape it but, for the most part, I managed to ignore it. 2010 was also the first time I ever met my dad, which was an added dose of complicated feelings.

At 15 I thought I was so cool — and I was, in a way. With my friends I exuded confidence. I was the life and soul of the party (I was, at one point, one of the loud, obnoxious teenagers I now roll my eyes at). But then things started to change. My friends started to realise their goals but I still didn’t have a clue who I was or what I wanted my life to look like. Boys started entering the equation too. I couldn’t tell my friends that I wasn’t interested so I made up crushes and even tried to have a boyfriend once (although, I had around one friend left at this point and she implied that if I didn’t date him she wouldn’t be friends with me anymore. What could I do?). I was very sad, very lonely, and very anxious. At 17 I ended up in A&E with a suspected heart attack. It turns out it was a severe panic attack and I ended up with a long list of mental health diagnoses.

After that my mum started to get sick of me (even more than she already was). She couldn’t understand why I was so anxious or why I cried all the time. She would say things like “get a grip” or “do you think anyone else is sitting at home crying about you?”. She would also call me loving names like “pathetic” and “loser” which is now, several years later, still a daily mantra I practice inside my head. Life was unbearable at home and I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t go to my grandparent’s because it would make things worse at home if I did. I couldn’t shout back at my mum because it always made the arguments worse and I couldn’t stand the days of silent treatment afterwards. I also couldn’t talk to her in a calm manner because I would be accused of being patronising, and I couldn’t ignore her because she would get up in my face and hiss “how dare you ignore me, who do you think you are?” I had nowhere to run to. All my friends had ditched me because they were theatre people and I was not (I’d also lost most of my confidence by now). I haven’t even started talking about my mum’s scumbag boyfriend, nor can I. I was so lost and so scared, but nobody knew. I feel guilty about even typing this out because, even though I have got some nice memories of my mum, I’ve tried to minimise the trauma I felt because she’s always told me that she was a great parent and loads of people have it worse. She was probably right; there wasn’t much physical violence (only the time she broke a hairbrush on me an the few times she threatened to stab me to death). But the emotional abuse and neglect was enough and, if I’ve learned anything from this decade it’s that your trauma isn’t invalidated just because some people have it ‘worse’.

In 2013 I went to university. I’d always had visions of escaping far, far away but I didn’t manage it. I was set on a gap year but I was forced into uni so had to make a snap decision about where to go, so ended up in the city I’d grown up in. I moved into halls but couldn’t hack it at first. That’s when I first noticed how loud it was inside my brain. Everything I do has a running commentary; “don’t do that, you’ll look like an idiot”, “you shouldn’t have said that, they’ll think you’re stupid” “don’t try to cook that because you can’t”, “if they see you eating that they’ll laugh at you”, “don’t ask them to hang out outside of uni, they’ll say no”, “they’re only hanging out with you out of pity”, “you’re being too quiet, say something”, “you’re being too much, shut up”. That’s when I realised it was easier to shut out the world and spend most of my life in bed — and push away the friends I did have before they abandoned me. I did spend a summer in the USA though, which was both the best and worst summer of my life.

In 2016 I graduated, and had a holiday to Tenerife to celebrate. I hated every second. Because of that holiday I got talked about behind my back and called horrible when I was trying to salvage my fractured friendship group. It was like being a teenager again where nothing I did was right. Right before my graduation my mum started an argument because she couldn’t understand why I was stressed (jut like she started arguments before I moved to halls before doctors appointments and before my first GCSE exam). My friends stopped talking to me after graduation, probably because they deemed me too boring and I wasn’t boy-obsessed like them. What followed was a lonely, awful two years cumulating in a long bout of unemployment and a mindset I never wanted to return to. I was working in an industry I hated. There were some perks of the job like meeting famous people, moving to Edinburgh briefly and free tickets to shows. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do and I couldn’t stand going to work every morning just to be shouted at my entitled middle-class wankers who couldn’t understand why I was making them adhere to the terms and conditions of a voucher they’d bought. In January 2018, I rage quit (and by rage quit I mean cried to my boss and cried harder when he looked very unhappy with me).

After I left that job I couldn’t find anything I wanted to do. The only thing I’d ever been sure about in my whole life was that I wanted to help people, but all I was being offered were bar jobs (not that there’s anything wrong with bar jobs but I couldn’t hack it). It was the worst year of my life. Towards the end of the year, I finally found an amazing job (which, 12 months on, I have been promoted in), started my dream masters and moved into a better home.

2019 hasn’t been easy. I’ve finally stopped talking to my family as I’ve realised that I can’t start to heal while they are squashing every little bit of progress I have made every time I see them. I could no longer stand being treated like a child, having my mental illnesses invalidated, and being told that they didn’t want to come to see me because I basically wasn’t worth it. My mum has told me all my life that she doesn’t like me so I need to start finding people who do.

And that’s where I’m finishing the decade.

I’m without a family and facing the prospect of Christmas and New Year alone. But I’m okay with it in a way. I do miss my family and some days it’s hard not to break down about how it’s all ended, but then I remind myself that I’m worth way more than the way they’ve always treated me.

2020 is the start of the rest of my life — and I’m kicking it off with a trip to Krakow and a psych appointment!


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