Harry Potter, caramel cardigans, tumeric, and stigma

My morning routine is pretty standard; I wake up to the sound of my alarm ‘flow’ and try to figure out why I’m still so tired, despite using my sleep aids. I listen out for the creaks and squeaks of the stairs and door hinges and wait for the shower to free up, I do my make up, sometimes attempting a cat eye, which often looks like I’ve framed my eyes using a Sharpie instead of with the intended subtle flick, and then I do my hair.

Until a few months ago I only wore my hair parted to the side, this was in part due to style trends but also due to two insecurities. The first being a squint in my left eye, which has since been surgically corrected, and the second, a scar in the middle of my forehead at the start of my hairline.

My forehead scar unlike Harry Potter’s doesn’t have a cool backstory about battling ‘he who shall not be named’ as a infant and bringing about a whole epic saga involving trolls and magical goblets; for starters my scar is sort of an oval shape, as opposed to a lightning bolt, and I didn’t get it from sacrificial motherly shield love, I got it running on wet cobblestones on the way to school.

Like many of my memories I remember moments of it in vivid detail but have trouble recalling other parts, often drifting between interpreted memories and real ones.

This is what I remember: I was on my way to primary school with my mum, it was Spring and raining heavily, I was running ahead of her (perhaps with excitement as school was a place I enjoyed in my early childhood), I came to the cobblestone path near the green space on our route and slipped forward, unable to break my fall I smashed headfirst onto the path.

My mum screamed to the heavens and held my caramel cardigan to head in an attempt to subdue the bleeding, I began to cry once I noticed I was bleeding and my mum attempted to comfort me. She took me to my school, where my headteacher, Ms Peacock, advised that the nearby doctors surgery may be able to help, unfortunately because this was not my registered surgery we were turned away. My mum took me home, and after explaining to my dad what had happened, he placed tumeric on my cut in order to heal it.

Growing up, in a British Indian household, it was commonplace to favour natural remedies to treat ailments; echinacea and homemade masala chai were often used to treat cold or flu, seeking help from an actual doctor was often a last resort, and was often discouraged if the treatment could be replaced by a herbal alternative in order to keep sanctity in the community.

For a wide variety of ailments natural remedies do have their benefits, to this day I still make masala chai every time I have a congested cold, but some ailments require a bit more than tea and spices to fix.

Speaking from personal experience, my elders held particularly damaging views of mental health. Often if someone was mentally unwell, the supernatural and superstition were often cited as the causation for it. Growing up I often heard stories about relatives in India who been possessed by a ‘djinn’ as cautionary tales, their mental instability tarring them with the derogatory term of ‘pagal’. A chemical imbalance in the brain or trauma was often complete devoid from any reason as to why the person was suffering, and instead they were often ostracised by the community because of it.

I was 13 when my mum first took me to the doctor for my mental health, she had found and read my diary which described my first documented thoughts of suicidal ideation and depression, at the time I was being bullied at school to the point where I was told by one person to “go die in a fire” after I revealed I had a crush on them, and added to that my home life was particularly turbulent due to my parents’ divorce. Sitting in the doctor’s office with my mum, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and betrayed, as my mum explained to the doctor that she didn’t know what to do and that most Indian families wouldn’t come to the doctor for help, but we weren’t like most Indian families and she didn’t know what to do. This was her last resort.

No constructive help came from that appointment, the doctor said due to my age it was most likely hormone related, and my mum declared that the end of it. I stopped keeping a diary, fearful it may be found, and I buried my emotions, bottling up my sadness until it erupted.

I was 15 when I made my first attempt on my life, I was in an abusive relationship at the time and I saw it as an escape. I made my second and third attempt when I was 20 and 21, again I saw these as a means of escape from the situation I was in at the time.

Following a doctor’s appointment after my second attempt, I found out this was in part due to my previously undiagnosed PTSD, depression and anxiety. My doctor commented that she was surprised no one had diagnosed me sooner, and also that many BAME people suffer from mental illness in the UK due to lack of sunlight. I was given a prescription of antidepressants. referred to a therapist, and put under the watchful eye of the mental health care team.

I was finally receiving the help I sought out almost a decade earlier. I often think back to sitting in that doctor’s office with my mum at 13. If there wasn’t such a damaging stigma of mental health in my community, would I have received the help I desperately needed sooner?

The stigma surrounding mental illness as something shameful or insignificant is incredibly damaging and is one that needs to go.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/


Wobbles and blips

On Thursday, I had a bit of a wobble with my mental health, and with my journey to improve it.

Following a large work event, myself and my colleagues went to a bar to unwind and celebrate a job a well done, a combination of anxiety, sleep deprivation, and not really having eaten anything all day resulted in myself becoming blackout drunk. I woke up the next morning having lost my phone and parts of my memory.

I’m too embarrassed and ashamed to ask what I did in those blackout moments, but whatever it was I deeply regret.

Over the past few months, I have been actively trying to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, after connecting it to heightened feelings of depression and suicidal ideation, especially when I am already feeling low.

Despite alcohol acting as a temporary break from my reality, once its effect have worn off I am left in an emotional pit of despair, catapulted back into the reality I was attempting to escape. Even though I know this in hindsight, I still have blips which blind me from common sense, resulting in situations like Thursday.

When I drink in excess my mind sets itself to autopilot. I’m unaware of how much I’m consuming until it’s too late, and I lose control of my reality, with my mind slipping somewhere else entirely.

When I drink like this I’m often in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, such as crowded or unfamiliar places where I feel out of place, this causes me to feel on edge and triggers my anxiety. In these situations I use alcohol to drown out my anxious thoughts and fears, and also to fit in with those around me. If my peers are drinking, I often will too. It’s unhealthy but in that moment it’s a mechanism to cope.

I think its a fair assumption that most people have a desire to fit in and be a part of a community, to be liked, and to be wanted. In order to do this we follow the status quo of whatever situation we find ourselves in, so that we are not ostracised or rejected, this can sometimes lead us to do dangerous or harmful things at our own expense.

I am not holding other people accountable for this desire, I have my own free will and am in control of my actions, but although I know I shouldn’t feel the need to change myself to fit in with others, it is often easier to assimilate, particularly when you are already different.

Throughout my existence, I have often heard that it is cool to be weird, that normal is boring, and having a brain that isn’t wired quite right is just a fun quirk.  An example of this being the portrayal of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ in film and television, which often romanticises mental illness as a plot device for the protagonist to fulfil his role as the saviour.

In reality mental illness isn’t fun, quirky, or cool. It’s exhausting. I would love to have a normal brain; one that isn’t damaged in anyway, that’s chemically balanced, that isn’t deafeningly silent on some days, and an carnival of chaotic thought on others. I would love a brain that is calm and works in harmony.

However, I know that in my present state this isn’t a possible reality for me, there isn’t a quick fix that magics away my problems, some nerdy guy in a vintage band t-shirt isn’t going to swoop in and save me. If I’m going to survive I’m going to have to save myself.

I’m going to have to learn to control the wobbles and blips and to identify there causation, but I also need to accept that I’m human, and humans are flawed. Some days I’m going to have bad days, and that’s okay. I’m going to have wobbles and blips, and that’s okay. I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.

I will keep trying to identify my problems and also continue to work to overcome them. It’s a process of trial and error, but I hope that one day I will learn to control the darkness and the fragments in my mind.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/ 


 

Finding my balance

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me, and offered their support. Your kind words and actions mean a lot to me and I appreciate them, and you.

When I’m struggling to cope with my depression I often forget that people genuinely care and love me. I convince myself that I am unlovable, unwanted, and unworthy of kindness from others. I focus on the love and the affection that is missing from my life, craving it so much it blinds me from the love and affection that surrounds me.

Depression is selfish in this way. It floods my mind with negative thoughts and convinces me I don’t know how to swim. It is often accompanied by anxiety, which can lead me to over analyse things, through a mindset of catastrophic thinking. I become afraid to tell anyone about the negative thoughts, out of fear of being judged or considered a burden. It convinces me that if I hate myself, then others must too.

This is however false; I am not a burden, and I am not widely hated or disliked. The support I have been shown over the past few weeks is evidence that I must be a half decent human being, if people are willing to lend a helping hand, and effectively fight to ensure that I stay in their lives, even on the bad days. I apologise for not recognising this sooner.

In the past I was afraid to speak openly and honestly about my mental health. I believed in the stigma that surrounds it, and I was scared that if people knew about the carnival inside my mind then they would disown me or use it to harm me in some way.

Some people have left my life when the topic of my mental health has come up, which is upsetting, but many people have also stayed.

Mental illness can be a difficult thing to cope with, especially when it is seemingly destroying someone you care about. When those some have left, I find myself wondering in moments following their departure how or why they have left, especially if they claimed to care about me. In hindsight, I can find reasoning in their decision. There is sadness for things lost but there is also appreciation and happiness for the things found.

In learning to control the carnival in my mind, I need to identify the good things in life, instead of dwelling on the negative and allowing myself to be blinded by it. In order to aid this need, I have started to keep a daily log which notes three things I have accomplished or enjoyed in my day.

I can’t change my past, and although there are things in it that I regret, I can learn to accept it as part of my history, and use it to shape a better future.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/