I’ve been told that growing up I was a bubbly and confident child, until I started school, where I was a victim of bullying. Looking back, it’s funny how from aged 4 to 14, the types of bullying I experienced didn’t really change all that much, the bullies just got a bit nastier, a bit older, and did things a little differently. I experienced; hair pulling, being called names such as ‘fatty’, people making fun of my family, people whispering about me but so I could hear them, being purposely left out, being taunted on social media, etc.
Overall, due to these initial experiences, I spent the majority of my life being a very unconfident person, with serious self-esteem issues, and what seemed an innate self-hatred.
All of these experiences, thoughts, and feelings, led to a crippling journey with depression. A journey I am still on now, though little did I know that’s what it was at the time. Depression shaped my actions, and rather than talking about the symptoms and feelings of depression, I’ll tell my story about the effects of my actions- actions I took whilst suffering from a mental illness. But more importantly, I wanna talk about the good that’s come from the bad.
For as long as I can remember, I only ever saw myself as unlikeable, and unlovable. I was always a last resort, never a first choice. I wasn’t popular, funny, pretty, or desirable in any way, to any one. Therefore, I did my best to retreat, withdraw, and hide away, so as not to annoy anyone with my presence. I was quiet, shy, and feared being the centre of attention.
Around the age of 14 I hit my first ever rock bottom.
Rock bottom #1
I felt completely lost in a world where I believed no one could possibly understand me, or help me, and I would never have dreamt of burdening anyone by asking them to, anyway. I had no idea what to do, and all I wanted was to disappear- to die.
I remember walking to a friend’s house one afternoon on autopilot. When suddenly, with what seemed like no warning, I collapsed onto my knees and cried like I had never cried before. I cried from the pit of my stomach, and I screamed where I knelt. It was as though the physical and mental exhaustion and inability to cope had burst free and broken the dam I’d built to block it all out. I felt physically sick, and all I wanted was an answer- how could I get out? How could I end my life without hurting my loved ones, and without the risk of survival? After about 10 minutes, I managed to pull myself back into reality, and carry on as if nothing had happened, back into autopilot mode.
I was self-harming. I was desperate to hurt myself- because I hated myself. I hated myself for being so ugly, fat, unattractive, unconfident, unpopular… but I was also desperate to feel something. Feeling pain was better than feeling nothing at all. No one knew anything about what was going on, because despite common assumptions that people who self-harm are seeking attention, attention was the last thing I wanted. I covered up the scars on my arms every day, and every night, and feared anybody finding out.
I was creating fake profiles on all sorts of different chat rooms, and social media’s, pretending to be somebody I wasn’t; pretending to be the person I wished I was. I was older, pretty, slim, a model, had boyfriends, large groups of girl friends, lived alone, etc. I immersed myself in this persona I had created, it became a form of escape for me. I talked to hundreds and hundreds of strangers online, and had no idea of the real danger I was in.
Eventually I crumbled. One day, I sought out my head of year at school, and confessed everything I’d been feeling, everything I’d be doing, and all the terrible things I’d been thinking. Soon after that, I was referred for a mental health assessment, which led to me receiving counselling.
The next few years of my life were better. Much better. I came out of my shell, made great friends, and had hope for the future, rather than the dread I had grown accustomed to.
So now we’ll fast forward a few years… Thankfully, I was still in a semi-hopeful state of mind for my life, but I was definitely still experiencing the wrath of depression. I was on a dating site (a dodgy one, that concentrated on ‘larger’ women, as I thought that would be the only way I could find a man: if they knew what they were signing up for), and really wanting to find ‘the one’. I was desperate for the security I thought a relationship would give me, and also desperate to know if I was even capable of being loved by someone.
Having never been on a date before; when one of the most handsome men on the site asked me to meet him for dinner, I couldn’t believe my luck. I met him just 3 days after our initial messaging back and forth, and was the last of the 2 of us to arrive at the restaurant. I walked in, and he was stood at the bar with his back to me, looking around the room; I recognised him straight away. My cheeks instantly flushed and my heart raced- he was fucking gorgeous. Tall, lean, slick and handsome, dressed in a fitted suit that looked dreamy on him.
My instant reaction? There was absolutely no way he was looking for a girl like me.
But, much to my surprise, we had an absolutely wonderful evening, and it felt like the butterflies that were fluttering away inside my stomach, were fit to break out and fly away. He text me straight after he dropped me home saying what a great evening he’d had and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, we set our next date for bonfire night, where he invited me round his house to cook for me.
Alas, it was another perfect evening with amazing conversation. We had so much in common, and after we’d sat chatting for a while post a lovely meal, we noticed there were fireworks going off outside. He grabbed my hand, pulled me over to the window, where we stood watching, and then his arm was round me, and we were kissing. I thought I would explode with happiness.
It couldn’t have been going better, until he pulled away, took my hand and started to lead me out of the room and up the stairs. I was hesitant, I didn’t know what to do. I had never done anything with a man before that point, and didn’t know if I wanted to- but didn’t want to seem rude, I wasn’t sure what to expect, etc. We didn’t have sex, but we did get intimate, and he was the first man I was naked in front of. He could tell I was nervous, and was comforting, and reassuring, telling me he thought I was beautiful.
I left his house that night in absolute certainty that I had found Mr. Right.
And then, in the space of just 2 days, it ended before it had even started. His kind and chatty texts stopped as soon as I had left his house that night, and it wasn’t long before he had just stopped contacting me completely, with absolutely no explanation.
[Explanation later found- he was a dickhead.]
Rock bottom #2
I was young, I was naïve, and I was hit so hard by this quick and unexpected rejection by somebody who I had completely invested in, in such a short space of time. It confirmed everything I had always felt about myself; I was unlovable, unattractive, unworthy. Why did I ever fool myself into thinking he would have chosen me?
All this confusion and anxiety inside me that I’d been carrying for all my life, boiled inside me, combined with hatred, bitterness, exhaustion, exasperation, anger, sadness… and then it happened: it erupted like a volcano and destroyed me.
I changed, completely, overnight.
The next 2 years were quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. I went from being a cautious, quiet, friendly person, to being a rebellious, emotionless, risk taking, person, who didn’t care about a thing.
How did I channel this?
I cut myself off from everyone. This was also to do with misplacing my trust in people who abused it- but unfortunately I took it that step further, and instead of just cutting those people out of my life, I cut everyone out. I still wanted their friendships, I still cared about them to an extent, but I didn’t want them to care for me or ask me about my life, because that had now become a very private thing, enclosed within some very high walls. I was determined not to let anyone else inside, ever, ever again.
I became cold, calculated, and numb.
I lost my virginity to a man I met online, in an awfully shabby hotel room, and I never spoke to him again. I drove there to meet him knowing full well what I was about to do, without feeling a single thing- no nerves, no caution, no wondering what it would be… I felt nothing, my mind was blank for the whole 45 minutes I drove, and for the whole night proceeding.
This was the start of a chain of pointless dates and one-night stands. I was using men, as much as they were using me… I wanted their gaze, to feel like I was wanted and attractive, because it validated me. But I let myself believe I never wanted more than that. I kid myself I didn’t need more than that. I thought I was mysterious and independent, but in reality, I was so terrified of being hurt that I pushed people away before they could have the chance to hurt me.
What I was doing was very dangerous, but I did it because I was so out of touch with my emotions, and I had no regard or interest in the value of my life. What did I care if the man I met in the middle of nowhere raped or murdered me? So be it.
In my routine of chatting to men online, I started speaking to a man, who it transpired I had quite a spark with. We chatted for a while, we met up, the usual happened, but no matter how much I told him I wasn’t interested in anything more, the ‘more’ gradually arrived. We slowly but surely developed a relationship, and the days of recklessness seemed to be gone.
We were a great pair! We made each other laugh, we shared the same opinions on things, and we fell in love. It was always a complicated relationship, but we were best friends. For the first time in my life I experienced what it felt to be truly cared for.
After just under a year we ‘broke up’, but continued on as if nothing had changed for another few months. It seemed that neither of us could move on and be happy, without the other.
Another few months down the line, and after some snooping on social media, my world came crashing down.
I found out he was married, and had a child.
As I mentioned; our relationship had always been complicated. There were a lot of rules about the time we could spend together, when I could call him, etc. but I always buried my suspicions, looked the other way, and believed the lies that he told me: that he was busy caring for his recently widowed mother.
We met up and I confronted him, as a teary, snotty, mess. I know despite his wrongdoings that he had loved me, but this was the end for us. I would never have willingly entered into that relationship, had I known what I found out, and now I knew, I couldn’t continue with it. However, it was so hard to see the man that I had loved, and try and apply this hate to him that I felt. It just didn’t fit.
Rock bottom #3
You know when you cup your hands and pick up sand, but it just falls through your fingers? I felt like that was my life. I had no control or grip on it.
I had based my happiness on another human being, and now it was gone again. I felt like I’d been so stupid.
I prepared myself for the next round of shit that had usually come with hitting rock bottom, however, after a few weeks of not eating or sleeping, of crying myself to sleep, I surprisingly felt… ok. There were even some days within the first few weeks that I felt happy.
I had spent so many years building walls, being hard faced, and not caring, that this had seemed to form a new found confidence in me, and the ability to cope with copious amounts of crap. I realised that actually maybe this relationship I thought was perfect, really wasn’t? Maybe, me being out of it, didn’t mean I was destined to go back to pointless flings. Maybe, just maybe, it had shown me I deserved more than the flings, and more than him.
I took that time, and those feelings, and really reviewed where I was at in my life. Did I want to spend my life never truly feeling satisfied or happy because I was determined not to get hurt again, to just turn a blind eye to what could be? Or did I risk the hurt, and chance the possibility I might find happiness, if I just let myself be free.
I took the gamble.
I spent time investing in myself for the first time ever. I joined the gym, I got a new job, I saw more of my friends, I learned to say ‘no’, I steered well clear of men for a while, and I spent more time with my family.
After the years of not knowing who I was, I finally felt a little more grounded in my sense of self. I was living for me, and wanting to live. I stopped telling myself things that weren’t true, like; I didn’t want a relationship, I didn’t want my own family, I didn’t want happiness. Because actually, those were the things I had wanted all along, more than anything, I just hadn’t wanted to be vulnerable.
After a while, I re-entered the wonderful world of online dating, and went on a date with a nice looking lad called Oliver. This was the first date I’d been on where I had been truly myself. I even dribbled my drink down myself at one point (accidently, not on purpose). We talked lots, and I let myself be mundane, I didn’t even try to be sexy and sophisticated (like I had done before).
After our date, I wasn’t expecting to hear from him again. I had mentally prepared myself for a gruelling time of dating, before finding somebody I connected with… but sure enough there was a second date, and a third, and it was scary, but amazing! I was totally falling for this guy already, he was kinder than anyone I had ever met before, funny, and down to earth. He wasn’t a middle class, middle aged, business man looking for one thing. He was just a real person, with a beautiful soul.
Seven months on, and Oliver is living with me, and I couldn’t even imagine feeling more loved and accepted. He’s seen the best in me, the worst in me, and all the bits in between, and he’s still here, still loving me, still letting me love him. I am not scared or cautious to invest in Oli, because he is beyond worth investing in, and he has also invested in me. He chooses me time and time again, and each time it takes my breath away.
So, where am I going with this 3 page essay?
Ah, yes, the silver linings!
So, all in all, that’s 3 major rock bottoms I experienced in my life, with spurts of serious depression on and off throughout. So what are my silver linings?
If I hadn’t have reached the bottoms, I wouldn’t have…
Learnt that a problem shared in a problem halved
Realised who my true friends were
Learnt that I had nothing to lose by coming out of my shell, and not hiding myself away
Experienced my first date! Regardless of what came to pass, that’s a milestone, and it was still a great date
Learnt to guard my heart
Got over my shyness, and gained confidence
Learnt to feel free to speak my mind
Seen the best and the worst in people
Seen the best and the worst in me
Had fun in the process! It wasn’t all bad, all of the time. Some of the dates I went on, and the nights I had, were great, and no different to what other women experience. I learnt to let my hair down.
Experienced falling in love
Experienced heartbreak and came out the other side
Experiend betrayal and came out stronger
Been strong enough to walk away from someone who had a hold on me
Been able to look at my life and make constructive changes
Become unapologetically myself
Learnt to care again
Met the kind of man I thought didn’t really exist, I met the man I want to spend the rest of my life with
Learnt that being vulnerable is one of the bravest things you can be
Basically, this has been a really long, drawn out way of saying: life has loads, and loads, and loads of shit times.
Whether it’s circumstantial, a mental illness, or both: life can be really hard, and really tough. But for every bad experience you have, and for every down phase you go through, there is always something you can take away from it that you didn’t have before. A lesson to learn, a feeling to cherish, a new characteristic, or even just the desire never to be in that place again.
And it’s not as simple as up and down. You don’t start at the top then just pelt it down to rock bottom, it’s a journey. One day you’ll be feeling awful, and the next you might be ok… your rock bottom may last moments or it may last months, and the recovery isn’t simple.
I started off as a young, naïve, loyal, sensitive, and kind person, and over time I changed. I changed into a not always nice, quite cold person, who was determined to be alone. Now I’ve become a confident, kind, strong, loyal and driven person, who will definitely not take any shit, but is sure of my morals, and I won’t deny, I 100% do care.
Had I not been through all that I’ve been through, I would never be the person I am today.
You have to go through life, learning the lessons and taking the punches, because they will mould you and shape you into the warrior you’re destined to be.
Most importantly, try to remember: the bad times, make the good times even better.
If you’re struggling with a mental illness, why not seek help? It won’t solve your problems, it won’t change you overnight, and it won’t rid you of your mental illness. But it may just give you that support system you need, and the skills to cope. It could help pull you through, and get you to the other side where you’ll be a stronger you.