by Marie, See Change Ambassador
I remember the first time I opened up to someone about having mental health difficulties. I hadn’t been feeling right for a long time but couldn’t put my finger on it.
I fluctuated between sleeping a lot or not sleeping at all. I wasn’t eating properly, and I felt sad all the time. I knew that something was up, but I didn’t know what.
Nothing had happened. I hadn’t experienced something traumatic. I had no reason to feel this way. But I knew that I didn’t like it. I remember mentioning it to someone at the time. “I feel on edge all the time for no reason. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I have that horrible sinking feeling like something bad is going to happen.”
“We all feel like that sometimes.” was the reply. I know now that it was true. We all do go through difficult times and experience ups and downs. But that wasn’t the reply I had been hoping for at the time. I felt like I wasn’t really heard. I had reached out and told someone how I was feeling, hoping that they would see that I wasn’t all right and that I was struggling. But my problem was that I was so good at hiding how I felt from the rest of the world that when I did reach out to someone casually, I felt like my feelings were rejected and invalidated.
I felt judged. Not because of what I was going through. But because what I was feeling wasn’t legitimised. I didn’t feel heard, and it made me question what I was going through. Maybe what I was going through was normal teenage angst, I didn’t know. But looking back now I can see that it wasn’t normal to have a dark feeling over you every day. So dark that you went to bed to avoid it or couldn’t think of anything else because it was so overwhelming.
I stopped eating proper meals because I believed that I didn’t deserve to eat. I was afraid to tell anyone about my newfound preoccupation with food because I wasn’t underweight. If anything I was above average weight. I felt I would be judged. There were people who had ‘real’ problems. People who were dying of cancer, or people who had life-limiting illnesses and here I was doing this to myself. I was afraid to reach out to anyone again and tell them what was going on. The problem wasn’t so much the fear of judgement from other people, but the judgement I had for myself. My ‘problems’ seemed miniature compared to other peoples’ problems. There were people dying in wars around the world. There were children starving in absolute poverty.
I convinced myself that I could stop worrying and feeling down if I tried hard enough. Surely if I was tired enough, I would fall asleep. If I was hungry enough, I would eat. It seemed perfectly easy. But then it wasn’t. Fast forward a year later and I was extremely depressed and battling what I now know was an eating disorder. If I hadn’t shown such utter contempt and judgement towards myself, I might have reached out to my GP or a family member earlier.
My judgement and shame resulted in me getting myself into a really bad mental state. Maybe things would have been different if my friend had really listened when I first reached out for help. But my friend isn’t to blame as she didn’t realise the sheer distress I was in because I hid it so well. I minimised my own pain which meant that she minimised it too.
If I was to offer any advice, I would say to someone – you don’t always need a reason to feel bad. It doesn’t matter why you feel bad, what matters is that you get help to address it sooner rather than later. Try to be honest and open with someone about how you are feeling. You don’t have to put on a brave face. If you do reach out and don’t get the response you want don’t make the same mistake I first made. Don’t let your own self-judgement and the fear of judgement from someone else put you off.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following