I turned 37 at the beginning of the month.
Not a milestone age, not a particularly memorable age to most but I realised something, well, a few things, about my mental health.
In November it will be ten years since I left Francis Dixon Lodge and finished a year-long programme of group therapy.
I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality while I was there (a diagnosis that was a long time coming).
It was life-changing. I’m not saying everything changed overnight, or that I walked out of the place with perfect mental health but I did stop self-harming regularly, I learnt a lot of ways to cope, and I was no longer suicidal. I spent another year or so seeing an Occupational Therapy, attending coping skills groups and Mind before I met my wife and my life turned another corner.
I’ve self-harmed a few times over the last ten years, but nothing in the last five years or so. And my mental health has not been perfect but considering how bad it was, this is so, so good.
I do feel like ten years of my life went missing between the ages of 17 and 27.
I’ve always said my depression kicked in around 17. A lot was going on back then, I was failing my A-Levels, had a crush on my best friend, my dad was drinking a lot and I was struggling. My OCD was getting worse and my allergies were really bad (my legs swelled up to three times their size and a trip into the fields would swell my eyes shut).
I’ve always equated my depression and my mental health as whole with those couple of years. As if it spiralled down from there.
However I came to the realisation that it probably started a lot earlier. When I was 13.
When I was 13 I was already a socially anxious kid, I had entomophobia and telephonophobia and that was also a pretty bad year. My dad got beat up in front of me and my sister while we were walking home one night with my nan. I caught the measles, rubella and whooping cough, and had an inflamed gall bladder and I was off school for the better part of a year over all. I was becoming isolated at school. I was a free-school meals kid and couldn’t afford to go into town for lunch. My friends rarely stayed in school with me.
And when I was 13, my insomnia kicked in. I rarely slept more than three hours a night until I was well into my twenties.
It occurred to me this week that really was probably the start of it.
The End Of It?
There’s nothing I can do about the past. I get that. The problem I’ve always had is that I understand myself too well. I understand my mental health problems, the causes, the symptoms, the but that often just means I am my biggest critic.
I know why I am feeling bad, surely I should know how to feel better.
It invariably does not happen quite like that. In fact, the best I can do nowadays is just to ride it out. I’ve done therapy (a few times), changed my medication, sorted my hormones out so that’s one less issues. I’ve got support structures. I know what to do.
But mostly, I just have to ride it for however long it lasts. Depending on how bad things get. I’ve turned down a few referrals to the mental health team because I truly believe there is nothing else they can do for me.
And most of the time I’m okay. And better than that I am happy. Whereas 12 years ago, I was unhappy and living with depression, and severe suicide ideation, self-harm, pica, anxiety, social phobia and the worst of the BPD.
Now I am happy and living with depression and anxiety. It’s a world of difference and that is probably where I am always going to be with my mental health.
And that’s okay.
There isn’t always a cure, but there is often a better.