“I’m not everything I want to be, but I’m more than I was, and I’m still learning”
After the success of Mental Health Awareness Week (last week), I’m thinking there’s quite a few new readers… So, in case you’re one of them and you don’t already know, Lauren is one of my best friends who I’ve known for fifteen years now and on May 18th, 2021, she gave birth to her beautiful baby boy; Greylan. Within days of his birth, I was obviously writing a blog post for him (DEAR GREYLAN | MY BEST-FRIEND HAD A BABY BOY!!! | I'm NOT Disordered (imnotdisordered.co.uk)) and now that it’s his First Birthday, I was inspired to write this piece about everything related to growing up and mental health…
MY CHILDHOOD – FROM RABBITS TO SINGLE-PARENTING
Having been a psychiatric hospital inpatient a number of times and for lengthy periods of time, I met a lot of inpatients whose childhood was incredibly sad, difficult, and traumatic. To be honest, I think that before I heard of such upsetting childhoods, I had thought that the happiness of mine, was completely normal and how it was ‘meant’ to be done. It’s meant that in knowing these people, I became so much more grateful for the fact that in my childhood, I was surrounded by love, encouragement, support, and kindness.
The largest notable part of my childhood that has affected my mental health journey, was when I had two black and white rabbits called Thumper and Happy and they had babies. We didn’t know that you shouldn’t handle the babies (kits, I think they’re called) and so the rabbits killed/ate them (something which is actually a well-founded fact: 6 Main Reasons Why Rabbits Eat Their Babies (Tips to Stop) (atshq.org)). So, professionals deemed this ‘trauma’ to be a direct influence on the fact that my visual hallucinations from the Transient Psychosis I began to experience when I was eighteen were rabbits. Horrible, dirty rabbits that left me either speechless and terrified or screaming and running away!
I guess that another element to have had an impact on my mental health journey, was that I was brought up by my Mum because my Dad was nowhere to be seen not long after my birth. I think that the most important part of this was that all through my childhood, I didn’t miss him, or even really think about him. Nor did I ever consider my life to be any worse off because of his absence. If anything, I was so incredibly grateful to my Mum for leaving him because when he finally made the effort to come back into my life in 2011, I saw that he really wasn’t a nice person (that’s me trying to be polite because really, it’s a huge understatement!). So, the one impact it did have when my mental health deteriorated, was that my Mum went through a lot, and I wondered whether that might have been somewhat lessened or easier if she’d had someone else to lean on.
THINGS I WISH I’D KNOWN WHEN I WAS YOUNGER
So, this bit… I don’t want it to seem like I’m saying my family (actually, most of these things were more appropriate for my schools to have taught me) did anything wrong in not telling me these things when I was young. It’s just a double-edged sword because on the one hand I’m so grateful for a naïve, child-friendly upbringing, but on the other hand, I wish I hadn’t been so naïve because I might not have been so shocked and stunned into silence when all the bad things started happening…
What abuse and rape are
The sex education I had at school went so far as to teaching us the super helpful ‘how-to-put-a-condom-on-a-banana!’ Oh, and an explanation on the hardship that is sanitary towels! Which meant that I had no idea what rape and abuse was. I mean, they weren’t even talked about in the media that much at the time either. So, when the abuse started in 2006, and then the rape happened in 2007, the only real indication I had that there was anything wrong with it, was that it felt wrong. It hurt. And surely no one should be purposely hurting another person? Especially when that other person is pleading for it to stop.
What to do if you’re being abused
My lack of understanding and knowledge around abuse and rape was really highlighted by the fact that I had no idea what to do about it. I mean, even if I had known, one typical route of people to report abuse to, was completely out the window because of the position my abuser was in. And in so many ways and for so many reasons, my abuser manipulated things enough for me to lose faith and trust in absolutely all of the other people I could have confided in.
For UK national helplines for survivors of any type of abuse: National Helplines | The Survivors Trust
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate
A very common misconception in mental illness that it doesn’t affect certain people, like celebrities, people who are rich and famous, those who seem to ‘have everything’ e.g., a job, a home, a family etc. The thing is, ‘mental health’ is something we all have, and so you could easily argue that this means absolutely everyone has the potential to become mentally unwell. Not recognising this; can give you all the feelings ranging from guilt if you are unwell but appear to ‘have everything’ and inequality if you’re making comparisons.
The actual truth and reality of psychiatric hospitals
I remember when I was young, and I asked someone what the place was at the top of this hill in a nearby town and I was immediately flooded with a ton of stigmatised and discriminatory assumptions of what a psychiatric hospital is. I was told they cart you from your home, force medication down your throat, keep you locked in a padded room, and do electro-shock therapy. Needless to say, that when I was admitted to one years later, I was absolutely terrified and extremely reluctant to go. Had I known the truth that psychiatric hospitals aren’t all that I was told, I might have actually asked for help sooner than it being forced upon me because I’d made a suicide attempt.
THAT FEELING THAT THE ABUSE HAS ACTUALLY CHANGED YOUR AGE
A number of professionals (mostly Psychiatrists but also a few Psychologists and Psychiatric Nurses) have commented that since I disassociated during the abuse (my memories of it are of ‘me’ watching it happen from the ceiling to some poor girl that I couldn’t help), it sort of paused my age. They said it was one of the many reasons why – for so many years – I struggled to control my temper, to regulate my mood, to maintain relationships, to maintain reality…
The reason I believed them was because the memories and flashbacks of the abuse were so completely in control and constant that I couldn’t believe they were ‘over.’ And this is why I often put ‘physically over’ when talking about the abuse because in my opinion, abuse doesn’t just ‘end’ when the actual act or behaviour is done. Initially, for me, that meant feeling as though I could never really move forward. That I couldn’t progress in any way because the abuse was holding me back.
HOW MY MENTAL HEALTH HAS PUT MY LIFE EVENTS BEHIND EVERYONE ELSE’S
Spending three years in and out of hospitals and then two and a half years as a psychiatric hospital inpatient, I was pretty much incapable of having a ‘normal’ life. I mean, being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act in a female only ward, makes it pretty challenging to go on a date, never mind get a job or have a baby!
Unfortunately, my mental health declined during my A Level exams and my offer to study Law at a University was squashed when I made my first suicide attempt on the day I had three back-to-back exams. So that put my education – and then career – massively behind my friends’.
Then, I was in the specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home for two and a half years so the relationship I had been in before my admission fizzled out and being straight on an all-female ward, meant there was no real opportunity to start up anything new! So, my love life fell behind…
HOW I STOPPED CARING ABOUT FEELING BEHIND(!)
I won’t lie, it took a while; and in all honesty, sometimes it’s something that I still struggle with… And the most helpful tool I have that stops me from curling up into a ball and crying hysterically at the thought that I should be so much further along in achievements than I am; is concentrating on what I have actually achieved.
Focusing on them and being proud and content with it all, can be so powerful in leaving me with the notion that everything that’s gone on has been worth something. That there’s been a point to it. That all the bumps in the road, the pausing of my age, and the instances of my ability to live a full life being taken away, happened for a reason. And it wasn’t about teaching me more about mental health and the realities of psychiatric care or the existence and impact of abuse and rape; it was about providing me with the opportunity, experience, and motivation to create I’m NOT Disordered and to reap all of the incredible achievements and experiences that have come from it.
I’ve talked before about how as my blogging career progressed; I’ve felt as though I’ve found a purpose in my life. That before I’m NOT Disordered, I thought my purpose was to commit suicide and hope that doing so would draw attention to the failings of mental health services. But once my blog started to grow and develop into something way beyond my wildest dreams, I found myself believing that I was destined to do this – to blog and all of the things that come with it. The thought that my experiences and my writing can help others is the most rewarding and comforting feeling and it genuinely makes me grateful to be alive. And to me, if I’m happy to be alive, that’s all that matters – not whether I have a baby on the way, or a relationship destined for marriage… I’m alive, and I love that.
WILL I EVER GROW OUT OF I’M NOT DISORDERED?
One of my favourite bloggers; Victoria Magrath of inthefrow, recently decided to change her username on Instagram to just her first name and whilst she hasn’t said anything similar to this question, her decision inspired me to ask myself this…
When I started blogging as a psychiatric hospital inpatient, my goal was to shed light on mental health and improve the understanding my friends and family (they were my only target audience at the beginning) had. Which meant that I just assumed I’d probably stop when I was discharged from the hospital. I mean, the professionals gave me a very wrong understanding of recovery because I thought that once you were in it, that’s it; you were better and there would be no more difficult days. So, what would I have to blog about? Why would anyone want to read about a life that was more ordinary and easily understood? One that was totally normal and average?
It meant that when my discharge began being discussed, I was immediately considering ending I’m NOT Disordered. And then I got a few horrible comments from readers, and it was like that saying ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back;’ it made the decision to quit a whole lot easier and whole lot less debateable. I became pretty confident and certain, so I closed down the blog. And thought that I would never look back…
For almost two months (the only time in nine years) I wasn’t a blogger. And do you know, it was probably the hardest time of my blogging career – harder than coping with the horrible comments that led me to the decision to stop blogging in the first place (ironic, huh?)! It kind of makes sense though considering how passionate I felt about my blog being my purpose in life. Like, if I felt that way, how could I be surprised that being without it left me feeling so unsure and confused around the person I now was, and the things I should be doing with my life. And so, in October 2014, I started typing again.
In a way, I’m glad I had that little ‘time-out’ because it really revived my dedication for, and my enjoyment of, blogging. It helped me to see that it is truly where my heart lies, and in seeing this, I wonder whether there would ever be a time when I would ‘grow out of’ it. I mean, I think it’d have to take something pretty big and special to stop me now because how could I do that when so many amazing things have come from, I’m NOT Disordered?
It's not all about me though, to consider quitting, I’d definitely be thinking about all of you amazing readers of mine! I’d be putting a lot of thought into the notion that I would let you all down. That it would be like deciding me and my thoughts and feelings are so much more important than all the people who have literally made my blog into what it is today. Everything that’s come from this, is thanks to you. So no, even taking into account the unpredictable nature of mental health and life in general, I’m NOT Disordered, and I will not be going anywhere soon!
THE IMPORTANCE OF ALL THE CHILDREN IN MY LIFE
Being a survivor of abuse and rape, has really affected by thoughts and feelings around sex and around having a baby. I mean, of course it’s incredibly hard to see something that was hurtfully forced upon you just being casually talked about between some friends who are actually eager about it and enjoy it when it happens to them. It’s like… All during the abuse I would feel so alone because I didn’t tell anyone it was happening and because there wasn’t much in the news to signal that I wasn’t the only person in the world to be going through this. So, with the abuse ‘finished,’ you’d think I would feel less alone, but when topics like this come up, I feel like the only person experiencing all the thoughts and feelings that go through me.
So, recognising that there’s a very real chance I might never had children naturally, means that when my best friends have babies, I’m incredibly happy and proud because it feels like the closest, I might come for a while, at least.
My first best friend to have a baby was Ellie who had Jonas not long into my mental health deteriorating, and that meant I didn’t get to really be a part of his childhood. So, when Ellie went on to have Emmy (yes, I named my cat after my goddaughter) not long after my lengthy psychiatric hospital admission, I was made up because it meant I had the opportunity to really see her grow from the very beginning.
Then, before I knew it, I have six children in my life! Ellie went on to have Kasper and Magnus, Sophie has Freya, and Lauren has Greylan. And I think that the thing I love the most about each of them, is their innocence. I love to see them starting out in life completely open to be taught absolutely everything. To think that my best friends – and hopefully me – can influence their thoughts and feelings on the world and their understanding of others; is so rewarding and comforting. It leads to me to think that there’s six children right there who are very unlikely to not hold any sort of stigma or discrimination – particularly around mental illness.
To finish up, here’s the video Lauren created on her YouTube channel which is also inspired by Greylan’s Birthday…