Never give up
I’m not famous and most probably never will be. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own story to tell. At 18 years old it’s not like I have learnt everything or indeed that I know who I am or what I intend to do with my life for the next 50 years. But I have experiences that not everyone has been through, experiences that I now feel ready to share, not because I want attention or recognition, but because I want to help people. If my story can touch just one person out there then my job is done. I want to make an impact on someone, and I truly hope that person is you.
First hit 2013
As a naïve fourteen-year-old, I had never really come across mental illness before. I thought, like most people, that depression was an emotion, much like sadness and that anything ‘mental’ was to do with mad people locked up in cells. It was only when I had uncontrollable urges to cry during October half term of 2013 that I felt something was wrong. I had experienced the trauma of my sister going to university without noticing the huge gap in my life it would lead. Sport was my subconscious way of dealing with those kinds of stresses. But one Saturday in early October during a football match against Leighton Park Rangers, I jumped to head the ball, and was pushed from behind which left me with mild whiplash, and a pulled ligament in my upper back. I was off sport for a few weeks, and during that time my mental health deteriorated. I also lost a lot of weight. When my injury had recovered I really struggled to enjoy anything in my life, even the sport that I loved so much. My dad decided to ring the GP and book an emergency appointment. I could barely speak, and had lost any self-belief or confidence I had.
“You’re not a happy bunny, are you?” I remember Dr Kirkham saying to me. He immediately prescribed fluoxetine, despite the side effects of suicidal thoughts most prominent in under eighteens. The next three weeks, were the most difficult I had ever had to endure. I legally had to be in school, but often went home straight away. I kept myself very much to myself and refused to let people know I was struggling. I was still very confused about what it was I was going through, why I couldn’t enjoy anything, and how a medication could help something in my head. Luckily for me, medication did work, and by the February of 2014 I was becoming the girl I once was, with a new-found strength in my own abilities and a confidence that I’d never had before. I still cringed a bit inside when someone said they were ‘depressed’ when really they meant sad. My knowledge of mental health, how to maintain it, how to spot symptoms in others and myself, the treatment (or lack of), was heightened by my suffering, and I see that as a positive. However, the fact that someone has to go through depression or something similar to learn about it, is not how it should be. If more people spoke out, that would most definitely not be the case.
I thought everything was normal that overcast Thursday in early December. The morning brought about its usual commodities. Six thirty AM saw my human alarm clock knock gently on my door, cradling a steaming cup of tea.
“Have a lovely day, Ruth, see you tonight.” She said the same words everyday, whisked away in her parting as my mum rushed back downstairs to whip up a caesar salad for lunch, down her own brew, and gobble some toast as she dried her hair. This was all I saw of my mother these days, as a new job in London meant twelve hour days left her fatigued and tired much of the time. I missed mum waving goodbye to me in the mornings, I missed mum picking me up on a Monday evening after hockey training.
It was only once I had heard the gentle roar of the car engine, and the crunch as it crept down the drive that I stretched and got up. I padded into the bathroom, nodding to my dad in passing on the landing, mumbling something inaudible. I stepped into the shower, and the either scalding hot or icy cold water flowed over my body. For a few moments I felt completely at peace with myself and my surroundings and fully relaxed. That was until I remembered how much I had to get done that day, how many tests I had, how late I’d get in after training….that now probably wasn’t the best time for procrastination and I really needed to get a move on if I were to catch the seven thirty bus. Feeling fresh and smelling fruity, I stepped onto the cold tiles and wrapped a fluffy towel around my body and another over my drippy hair. I always took this opportunity as I brushed my teeth to look in the mirror at the girl staring back at me. It was the same girl that stared back at me yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, but today something felt different. I searched for something, anything physical that made me different but there was nothing. Then I saw it; it was my eyes. Deep blue, they reminded me of the infinite oceans. Despite displaying an element of beauty, there was something more distant and malevolent hiding within. Dark black orbits surrounded them from sleepless nights, and there was crystal tear in the corner. Suddenly all the pain I had been hiding for months and months stabbed me in the heart. I felt worthless, useless and alone for the first time in my life.
Having got dressed into my suit and coat, as usual there was no time for breakfast, nor time to dry my hair. Every morning inevitably turned in a ‘wet hair and coffee-to-go’ morning.
Headphones on and staring blankly out at the passing Bedfordshire countryside, I was lost with my thoughts. The Climb by Miley Cyrus came on, and I have never felt more connected with a song. Lyrics there’s always gonna be another mountain, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose felt like they had been written for me at this moment. I suddenly felt the urge to cry. I think this is the moment my mind realised it was back where it had once been before. The rest of me refused to acknowledge it.
All through that day at school I felt distant, quiet and flat. My friends may have seen something was up but didn’t say anything. I needed to talk to someone. I couldn’t keep going like this. I was being destroyed from the inside out. I imagine mental illness to ‘infect’ the brain and gradually, once it’s messed about with your head, move to your limbs, weakening every nerve and vessel in its path until eventually reaching your heart, where it destroys every emotion, every hope, dream and aspiration. That’s when you need help. I kept saying to friends I need to talk to someone, but didn’t have the courage until the afternoon. My biology teacher, Mr Donoghue, was someone I got on very well with, and was a genuine guy. I was meant to be in English at 2.15pm, but instead I followed his class up to the computer suite. It took me 45 minutes to pluck up the bravery to pull him aside.
“Can I have a chat?”
“Of course, no problem.” His Irish twang made me feel slightly more at ease. He took me through the double doors to a quiet corridor where he looked at me expectantly.
“I’m just really struggling.” I managed to force out. There were tears in my eyes, and my voice wavered, but I refused to cry. I didn’t want to look as weak as I felt. But at the same time, I was fed up of trying to be stronger than I felt.
“Well that’s ok. We all have a lot of time for you here. You work hard, and I can let your other teachers know to take some pressure off. If it’s anything at home, or pastoral troubling you, I’m more than happy for you to talk to me about it.”
“I just don’t know how many more times I can get hit.” I was babbling now, but I had to hint that it was something more than academic stress.
When I left that room, I knew I was in the same place I’d been three years prior. Depression is something I never ever thought I’d have to go through again. I took pride in my recovery. People knew my story, and knew how far I’d come. Now the person most regarded as strong and inspirational was weaker than ever. I felt like I’d failed my friends, my peers, my family, myself. I couldn’t bear to put my parents through it all over again, it felt so unfair on me and more importantly on them.
I caught sight of Minnie and Amber up ahead in the corridor and I ran to embrace both of them, at the same time breaking down into a fit of tears, anger and fear. A teacher walked past.
“Is everything ok?”
Amber reassured him “She’s just a bit upset.”
“Well you look after her now.” Knowing that someone who I’d never actually met before still cared about my wellbeing gave me some comfort. I remember that night going to bed thinking it feels like I have been diagnosed with cancer. And I know that’s a terrible thing to think, but that’s how it felt.
The following days involved countless breakdowns, opening up to many members of staff, distancing myself from friends and lacking all concentration in lessons. With the Christmas break looming, we all hoped with the help of a rest and a reset things would look up coming into the spring term, and I would go back to the usual bright, enthusiastic Ruth that everyone knew and loved. I wished that more than anyone. Unfortunately, that was not the case. For someone who lives off other people’s company, humor and also giving my time and support to them, my life became unbearably difficult incredibly quickly. I had waited four months to spend quality time with my best friend, role model and sister, Becky, but I couldn’t even sit down and chat with her. It took me three weeks to tell her exactly how bad I was feeling. Of course, she was so supportive, and wanted the best for her younger sibling. I appreciate it’s hard to see someone you love in pain; physically or mentally. During a time where so many are spending time with family, giving to others, appreciating life, I felt so alone, like God was punishing me for something I hadn’t done. The smile I put on during Christmas was truly exhausting, and despite wanting to start 2017 with a new hope and a new perspective, January brought with it, instead, a new depth of darkness that completely enveloped my life and the lives of people around me. Starting medication should have been my savior, it was in the past, and I was optimistic that it would help me get to where I wanted to be, which I thought was reasonable. I’m not blaming my GP, as it was me who rang up and said I wanted to start the Fluoxetine, however having been on 10mg a day in 2013, starting on 20mg seemed risky. I wasn’t in a good place to argue, and quite frankly would’ve consumed anything to stop the pain I was experiencing. Five days later I was in A&E. Self harming is not something I had ever done before, nor do I recommend anyone else doing it. It just seemed the right thing to do that Friday evening. I felt hopeless, and harming myself did not relieve any of that anguish, nor did it feel like a release, however it didn’t make anything worse, which I saw as a bonus. I used my old pen knife from scouts, and the cuts were not very deep. I’m glad I did it though, because I really hate to think what the next step could’ve been. I was going to tell my parents when I was ready. However, my dad noticed the scars on my wrists on Saturday night, and was horrified.
“What’s that on your arm, Ruth?” He dropped to his knees. “Have you been hurting yourself? Why….?”
I started to cry. It pained me to see my dad so disappointed in me, as I just want to make him proud. I could see the concern and worry in his face, and for the first time I think he really understood the pain I had been experiencing. He took action and rang NHS 111, who then asked to talk to me for an assessment. Because I had been having suicidal thoughts, which involved jumping in front of a train, I was advised to travel to Bedford Hospital and be seen by a psychiatrist within the hour. I was shocked. I had never had to go to hospital before, and never in a million years thought I’d end up at A & E for my mental health. We waited for six hours that night to be seen by the psychiatrist on duty at 2am, by which time my mum had driven all the way down from Yorkshire to be with me. I remember calling her during that waiting time, and saying ‘I may have reached rock bottom. But at least things can only get better from here onwards.’ To display that positivity in such a distraught state is testimony to my character, I hope. We were transferred to the psychiatric waiting area after about four hours, and I was last to be seen. This meant all four of the other patients were in a worse situation than me, which sickens me even today, and I really do hope they are doing ok now. The Mental Health Assessment lasted for 45 minutes, and revealed a lot, although probably not enough. I was asked if I felt safe to go back home. I wish I could’ve said yes without giving it a bit of thought, but I couldn’t promise I felt 100% safe. That’s why the option of staying over in hospital that night was given to me. Although there were no beds in the adolescent Mental Health Unit, I could’ve stayed in the children’s ward, where I would have to be watched 24/7. I said I would go home, mostly for my parent’s sake. I couldn’t bare putting them through any more pain. I would be called by the CAMHS crisis team in the morning (well the same morning…) and be seen by them again in the week. The psych hugged me when we left, and said she wished me the best. Probably one of the proudest moments of this journey was getting out on the football pitch at 2pm the same day. I wasn’t going to let this destroy my passion for the second time. Dad had a word with my manager, Laurence, who was very supportive and said it was one of those personal battles that you’ve got to fight heroically. This is the first time I saw it as a strength, not a weakness. Surely I now have skills and experiences that others do not possess. If I wasn’t strong, determined or persevering I quite simply would’ve given up on my battle, and as the title suggests I never give up.
I was actually grateful I went to A & E, because it sped up the process somewhat, as I was seen by the CAMHS team two days later, instead of sixteen days later. The appointments were useful up to a point, but not much advice was given. It was more about keeping myself safe, who to call, where to go if I felt the same way again. This did not help me uncover the underlying issues as to why I felt like this. My last appointment with the crisis team was on the following Thursday. It was a bright morning, and I was in a good mood. Obviously that’s what they saw and so released me, to see the normal CAMHS team. Looking back, I think this was a mistake. One good day doesn’t mean you’re ok, and equally a smile doesn’t mean you’re not crying on the inside. An alcoholic can be sober, does that mean he’s cured? I appreciate that hundreds of other young people were in a worse place than me, and needed that help a lot more than I did. I guess the 0.7% of the NHS total budget that goes towards CAMHS can’t really stretch far enough. As I obviously hadn’t had enough assessments, I had another with a Polish psych, whom I couldn’t really understand, and much of what she was saying I knew exactly where she was going with it. She prescribed me Sertraline, which was another SSRI (selective serotonin reabsorption inhibitor), 50mg a day (although I later found out I should’ve started on 25mg/day) , which she would increase by 25mg every 2 weeks, to reach the peak at 4 weeks. I hesitantly agreed, and started the course that same day. This was a mistake. It felt like it wasn’t me thinking the thoughts that I had, but I was thinking them. One night I crept downstairs, numb of emotion. My bare feet pressed on the ice-cold kitchen tiles, and my devil-possessed hands delved into the medicine draw, completely detached from my body, but ordered by my ill godforsaken mind. I took the tablets, all forty of them, into the living room, and slumped into a chair. The room was dimly lit. The TV was on, but I couldn’t hear a thing. My hands trembled, and tears drowned my eyes. “Do it”,“Don’t”. Those two words ping ponged around my brain for an hour, but time had no meaning. I tried to contact someone, anyone, but everybody was busy. I was alone. So much potential, so many aspirations, but I was plagued by an illness that no one could see. Something made me make a decision. Whatever it was- maybe my family, my friends, some hope….I don’t know, but whatever it was, I am immensely grateful for. I breathed a sigh of relief and now I am forever grateful that I could breathe that sigh of relief. I think sometimes it takes something devastating, to really put things into perspective. To know that I made it through that night on my own, makes me proud, and I know if I can do that, I can do anything. It’s so hard to think I was actually going to end it all. I had worked hard to be where I was, and suddenly in the blink of an eye it had all been taken away from me, so much so that I didn’t see the point in carrying on. I couldn’t see any light or any worth, and that is such a horrendous place to be. The main message I have clung onto is this ‘It WILL get better’. No matter how bleak or how dark life gets, there will always be a light, and you will appreciate the light even more, having been stuck in the dark for so long. The good times will be magical. Laughter will be contagious. Friends become family. Family becomes so much more. You realise all your goals are achievable, and slowly you start to love yourself, even more so because you’ve had to work so so hard to be that person. I owe a lot of people a lot of time, and now I’m in a good place to help others, and I have recently come to the realization that, in fact, that is the reason I am on this planet.
For a while I’ve been living two different lives. There’s the life that everyone sees and there’s the life that only I see. People describe me as confident, cheerful, bubbly, yet behind all that is someone who struggles immensely with mental health problems. I continue to fight demons, big or small, everyday. It doesn’t change who I am, it’s not something I’m ashamed of, I am not defined by it, it is not my identity. That doesn’t make it easy at all. It’s not easy for anyone who is struggling. Therefore as a society we are inclined to shy away from the severity and seriousness of the situation. Every 30 seconds one person in the world commits suicide because of depression. Why is no one addressing this? I didn’t want to be another statistic, but I very easily could’ve been. This must change. I’m sharing my story because I want people to realise that it’s ok not to be ok. Everyone has their own battle to contend with. Everyone is human, and we all fall down. We all need to stand together and help one another, we are all on the same team. I was scared of opening up to people for fear of seeming weak. In a society dictated by other people’s judgement, it’s no wonder that people are afraid of voicing who they really are, how they’re really feeling. But there is no ideal and no perfect. Everyone is entitled to be who they are, and everyone has a voice that deserves to be listened to. The amount of support and guidance I have got from being honest has been humbling. People who have had similar experiences, have had no experience at all, people who know me well, people who don’t know me at all, my friends, my family, my teachers, my teammates, my managers, my boss….everyone has leant me an ear when I needed one, a shoulder to cry on, a quiet place to sit, time to be alone. The truth is, if you have time for others, they will have time for you when you really do need it. Without the support I was blessed with, I honestly don’t think I would still be here. It’s not weak to accept that you are unwell, and to take the time you need to recover. The differences in care and attitudes towards mental and physical health is appalling, and needs to change. Someone with a mental illness is often in more danger to themselves and others than any physical illness. We need to speak out and speak up, and fight back against the stigma and ignorance. I believe in a world where embracing your light, doesn’t mean ignoring your dark, and one where we are measured by our ability to overcome adversities not avoid them. Strength is not never showing weakness, strength is asking for help. The only way we’re going to defeat a problem that people are battling alone is by standing strong together.
a letter from Ruth Fox