Everyone has a story: My story is about how finding my voice, gave me the strength
to get help to overcome my problems with mental illness.

Have you
ever experienced sleep paralysis? Well that was how I lived my life and how
mental illness made me feel, I was trapped in my own mind, trapped in a
narrative that I hadn’t written for my life, but by mental illness. I could see
things happening, but when trying to speak out about it, I felt powerless.

I am a child of DV, an only child who lived in a home where
domestic violence occurred regularly against mom and myself from the age of 6
until I was 12 years old when we fled with the clothes on our backs. Domestic violence triggers a child’s
brain to become wired to expect danger and to become fearful. It traumatised me
and shaped my view of the world, it set me up for a lot of what transpired in
my life as a result of it
.

While the violence continued at home nobody knew at school,
I was too ashamed of being further bullied and judged, but what kept me going
was an inner resilience, the need to protect my mom and the feeling that I wanted
my life to be better. Through all the dark times that feeling never went away,
I threw myself into daydreaming about being in another life, wishing my life
away, I was fanatical about music and magazines they allowed an escape from my
life at home, often in my mind I imagined what it was like to be an adored and ‘normal’,
so far away from my life at home.

At 14 I was taken into kinship care when my mom attempted
suicide.

Feeling both guilty and innocent tears you apart – guilty
because  somehow I thought this was my
fault, or at least that I could or should have done something to stop it
although I did try many times fighting him off my mom; but then also innocent
because none of the abuse was done or condoned. Trying to make sense of these
issues when you’re young, especially when you feel you have nobody to turn to or
confide in, is horrible.

I developed a mental illness of PTSD, depression, selective
mutisim, anxiety and panic attacks. I self harmed by over eating so I was
bullied at school for being overweight, I was an extremely quiet and timid
child. The selective mutism began after an experience when I
spoke out about the domestic violence, but instead it back fired on us. That
experienced had me believe that speaking the truth caused trouble started
fights. So I began to hide the truth I began living a lie.  Like Maya
Angelou said ‘mutism is like a drug’ you don’t have to do anything.

Like many people with mental health issues, I didn’t let on
to anyone what was going on inside my pretty much all of my life. It was like I
had a rain cloud over my head all the time.

Avoidance of my issues and not
seeking help

As I grew
older into my teens and into adulthood my mental health problems, and the
reluctance to stand up for myself created problems in every area of my life
from friendships, relationships and employment.

Due to my lack of self worth I created unbalanced
friendships by putting everyone else opinions and views above my own. I hid
behind dominant characters. I’d rather be upset than see someone else upset,
even if they were the one in the wrong. The need to people please, caused people
to expect more and more from me and disrespect me, but I had set the standard
for that behaviour. I based myself worth on the amount of friends I had and how
popular I was even if the friends were no good for me.

In 2005 I moved to London after being made redundant from my
first job and struggled with life on my own I had friends around but I found it
really hard being away from my family and began to become unwell but couldn’t work
out why plus my hair started to fall out, I went through lots of tests and was
finally given a biopsy and diagnosed with SLE lupus. This was a further blow to
my self esteem and the hardest part was having lost my hair, I could handle everything
else but it felt like life was just having another jab at me and my sense of
self worth.

I always thought I was an over-thinker, a bit paranoid and
odd, but that everyone had their issues, this was how life was, so never really
questioned it and nobody else did either, but deep down I knew something wasn’t
right.

Strangely it seemed perfectly normal for me to be like this,
despite it evidently affecting everything from relationships with friends and employment.

To add to everything, my drink my spiked on a birthday night out in 2010 which left me lifeless and an ambulance was called, a friend told me that she thought I was dead as there was no sign of life from me. Instead of receiving any understanding I was left embarrassed, ashamed and shut out by friends and a family member for it happening. I was so embarrassed and angry at myself, it just added to the drama fueled situation that my life had become and I shut myself off from everything for a while. 

Then there was the many jobs I had. I was bullied and harassed by
one manager, belittled by another who caused me to have a breakdown and from 2011 I spent months unemployed because I couldn’t face the prospect of putting my trust in
another boss.

I then experienced a car crash just before new years eve and although I wasn’t badly
hurt it was another blow to the thought that my life was ‘doomed’ and that I shouldn’t
be here anymore. I’d just had ENOUGH!

I regularly thought about committing suicide, and once
started looking up ‘painless ways to die’ on the internet, but stopped when I
felt guilty about leaving my family.

Sadly I had no idea
how to better my life I felt trapped by my circumstances
, I often felt
suicidal and began to look for ways out although
I hid behind a smile.
I was miserable, I was mentally unwell and I didn’t
know where to turn.

My life HAD to change, as it was out of control, but I
didn’t know how. However that change came after I experienced

The change

In 2012 I finally decided to seek help. I’d been sitting in
my mum’s spare room, staring into space for days on end with no job or idea of
where my life was going id hit a wall. When I saw a woman on TV describe her depression
and panic attacks.  It was then that I realised
then that was what I had been this experiencing all this time, I contacted a
friend who encouraged me to see my GP! Which I did, told him everything and was
immediately put on antidepressants and booked in to see a cognitive behavioural
therapist.

The CBT in particular was great for the fact that I could
let all my thoughts and feelings flood out without the fear of burdening
anyone. Combined with the medication, within a few months I felt a difference.

I had to take back
the narrative in my life, I had many contributors writing my story but I was
the only one who didn’t have a pen. I finally spoke out to a good trusted friend
and admitted that I needed help.

I removed the many acquaintances’ and toxic friendships and
simplified my life and began a journey of self love and care. I went through therapy was put on anti
depressants but found a love of writing; it gave me that power to reconnect to
who I truly was
. It allowed me to understand why I was, the way I was, and
make sense of everything. It gave me the opportunity to make peace with my past
instead of tormenting myself with the memories. The opportunity for expression
allowed me to feel empowered and for the first time in my life, I felt that my
voice mattered and I began the long journey of my recovery.

What helped in my recovery?

Writing was that ‘thing’ for me, but you can SELF Care in a
form that feels comfortable, be it sports,
exercise, music, and art, poetry, keeping a journal or a blog, or spending time
with good friends, family members, and children.
It is very important to have
somewhere to offload and speak out because, no matter what anyone tells you,
you are important, your feelings do matter and they need to be expressed and
not kept inside of your mind. I find writing helps me because I can slow down
my thoughts and look back at them from the outside in and make sense of
everything.

But was still very fragile, so when a friend angrily contacted
me why I hadn’t been in touch, I broke down. I couldn’t talk to her as was
crying so much, (my health in general was a mess, I’d lost weight, and my blood
pressure had become dangerously high). I’d had just had a panic attack that
very same day that was when I decided to WRITE out my feelings in a blog,
knowing I wanted her to hear what I was going through. The next day I emailed
it to all of my friends and family, hoping they would read it and finally
understand.

I was completely overwhelmed by the support received, messages
telling me how brave I was, how well I’d hidden so much, a friend  had cried reading it because she really had no
idea that things had been that bad. The writing turned into a regular blog
‘Free Your Mind – Pain to Peace’, which gave me a different perspective,
looking at life ‘inside out’. I was never a good speaker or talker, but found
that writing really helped and felt comfortable.

I finished the counselling after around 12 months, and the
medication about 6 months later, when I felt I could manage my depression.

In early February
2013 I met an inspirational counsellor called Ursula James at a talk who told me
that my blog was the perfect therapy. She gave me confidence to focus on my
writing to get better and also help others.

As time went on, the blog received more and more followers,
some of whom commented that writing was something that they were curious about
using to try to express their feelings, but didn’t know where to start.  I then went on to make a Facebook page
including a closed group to support people experiencing mental health problems
linked to domestic violence, encouraging them to start to write creatively. In
the space of just 12 months, attracting over 30,000 followers to my blog social
media sites.

Things have grown beyond my wildest dreams. Free Your Mind
now carries out school workshops and have a local support group for people
experiencing similar problems in conjunction with Rethink Mental Illness and
have gained amazing support from the public and the press. The best reward is
when I receive testimonials that my work has saved people’s lives when they’ve
been a dark place.

I went from contemplating
suicide to creating a supportive organisation that now helps to support other
Children of Domestic Violence to rebuild their sense of self, through the
medium of writing and telling their own stories, and educating others about
mental health in creative ways.

By looking at the milestones in your life, you can start to
look at those feelings and situations from an outside perspective like you
would when advising a friend. This is how we can help others to learn about and
discover themselves. It’s a lonely process and in a way it should be, because
your interpretation of your life should be just that – yours.

The reason why I and many others felt lost in life is
because we look to others to find our value, where we should be going and who
we are. It is important to strip some of that back, stop and feel and go where
those feelings take you. It’s not an easy, quick and painless process, but it’s
so valuable and healing.

I believe that those who have dealt with a mental illness,
know and have seen life in ways so many others won’t, they know a pain and
perspective so many never will. You could say that those people have had a
lucky escape, but we are the lucky ones.

WE have faced incredible, tragedy, pain, confusion hurt and
sadness and we are still here, still going, still trying, still breathing.

Saying how you
feel is healthy, seeking help healthy.

I  spent my life
learning how to suppress my true feelings to keep everyone else happy, my turn
point came in realising that I was doing myself a disservice because I forgot
my right to be able to live out loud and be happy.

Lessons

The biggest lesson I
learned was that you cannot find peace by avoiding life. If you don’t heal from
your past you will continue to bleed forever,
things must be faced in order
for you to move forward, the ugly truths we don’t want to talk about, the
things hurting us and understanding that
taking care of your mental health comes first and should be a priority.

 In opening up, it
allows us to be authentically who we are and get the help and support you need,
that is what I call freedom. Don’t
be afraid to ask for help or seek it
. Speaking out made all the difference
it was the step which opened doors to help and support for my recovery. Life
isn’t perfect and I still deal with anxiety and depression sometimes but now I
no longer keep it to myself. Help and
support is out there we just have to seek it.

A woman with a voice
is strong by definition, but the search to find that voice can be difficult,
but worth it.

Know that, she who is brave is free.