ONCE MENTAL ALWAYS MENTAL?
ONCE MENTAL ALWAYS MENTAL?
Looking back, I can pinpoint my life’s highs and lows to what mental illness I was suffering from at the time.
The loss of my Grandad at 13 saw me turn to self-harm and this is where my relationship with mental illness began. When control was taken away from me, a break up, a falling out, a life event beyond my control, I would try to take it back by asserting control the only way I knew how; self- sabotage.
I believed punishing myself was the answer to any problem. I was on and off medication and counselling never really stuck for me. When I was high I was okay, functional and dare I say it; ‘normal’.
When I was low, I was at rock bottom with failed suicide attempts and I would always go back to punishing myself until I moved on from the latest episode.
It was as if I was on a rollercoaster from my teenage years to my early twenties, not knowing who I was, where I fitted in and rebelling at everything. I was the girl who ruined ‘her pretty little face’ with multiple piercings and tattoos that went out drinking every night and thought affection came from one-night stands.
I was the one who took too many drugs to fit in and be liked. I met my partner at 18, and in the ten years together my mental health has been all over the place. Depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, self-harm, eating disorders, abusing medication, PTSD and PND.
As I suffered before, perhaps I am more susceptible to suffer again. Perhaps I never truly worked on the core issues and they have always lurked in the back waiting to come out again when control is taken away.
I turned to my partner recently and asked if he regretted meeting me, that he ended up with the mental one. I felt myself defining myself by my mental illness and feeling ashamed I had suffered, that I was a burden to him. That I am holding him back and he should be off living a care free life. Never once have I thought of my physical illness (a thyroid disease) in these terms so why do I feel like this about my mental illness?
My rock bottom was 3 years ago when my son was born with an undiagnosed heart defect. He stayed in NICU for 9 days and in the 7 days I was in hospital I barely ate. It was my way of coping with the situation. When we went down to London for his heart surgery I had been abusing medication and not eating properly for months. I decided that Elijah’s condition was my fault and so I punished myself again. I felt as though it was me who grew him, me who didn’t do it properly. I was angry, bitter and resentful to everyone with healthy babies.
I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I began to write to process the past 18 months. It helped for a while, I began to move on, but I became pregnant again, and the fear that we would relive what we had been through was too much. I became depressed but being pregnant I couldn’t resort back to my old habits. There was someone inside me who relied on me. I put so much pressure on myself to not get ‘ill’, again last time that when things started to fall apart of course I did.
I played the blame game, guilty that I was tainting another one of my children’s first months. It took time but one comment from my partner turned it around for me. He said this wasn’t the real me, this was something inside of me making me feel like this. I began to view my mental illness in whatever form it came in (currently PND) as a separate entity to me.
I am not just suffering from a mental illness, I am a person and I will not let it define me. In the fog you cannot see the light, and it is hard to think of a time you will ever feel like you again. But, a time comes where you just feel slightly better, then slowly and surely you become you again. You need to do what you can to get there and never feel guilty. For me it was medication, it was sleep and making sure I ate and drank. I had to take care of myself and then I knew I was stronger to fight the mental illness I had.
I think perhaps it is just the way I am, the way I have been brought up. I am susceptible, and I think I always will be. I think I will always have to battle mental illness in one way or another. Whether it is keeping it at bay, asking for help, keeping it in check or kicking it’s arse it will always will be there.
Just like my physical illness I need to maintain, look after and nurture my mental health it doesn’t make me mental.
It makes me human.
WRITTEN BY VICKI COCKERILL
Vicki Cockerill is a NICU/ CHD Mum of two boys, a freelance blogger and social media adviser, Co- Founder of @KnackeredandNorwich social club and maternal mental health advocate.
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Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.