*A huge thank you to Elissa who submitted this blog! We welcome contributions from our community members.*
It had been a hard year. Actually, ignore that… it had actually been a pretty hard 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, the last 20 years haven’t exactly been fantastic but the last 5 had really changed everything. I want to say it had been a hard life but I can’t really say that, can I? Some people have it so much worse than I do, compared to some, my life is luxury. I’ve had that said to me a few times and they are right, 100% correct, and I used to think that maybe I was moaning about nothing, maybe there was nothing in my life that was hard to deal with, it was just me.
I had those thoughts for a long time; that it was my fault I was finding life difficult because maybe I expected too much. Maybe, like most of us, I had read too many glossy magazines and scrolled through too much social media and totally lost a sense of reality.
Perhaps I wanted my life to be like the ones I saw on the screen; I wanted to be thin, beautiful, talented, rich and famous…maybe that is why I found my ‘ordinary’ life so hard.
It wasn’t just that though, it was actually that I had been dealing with varying mental health issues in many ways over the last 20 years and I hadn’t even noticed. It wasn’t until I began talking about how I felt or what stopped me from doing things in life that I realized this.
Someone very wise pointed something out to me that I hadn’t really thought about before. The fact is true, there are plenty of people in the world worse off than I am, plenty of people worse off than you reading this right now; those who have to cope with unimaginable situations in life. But understand this – I only have to deal with what my own life throws at me. That may sound shallow or selfish but just think about it for a while. Mentally and physically it is my life I have to get myself through every day; all the ups and downs, the heartbreak and sorrow, it is all mine.
Yes we can, and should, help others but when it comes down to it, you have to help yourself.
So yes other people have it worse but I don’t have to live their life, I have to live mine and you have to live yours. We are all living the same hell, just with different demons. Both you and I can say it has been a hard journey so far; mentally, physically and emotionally. So very hard.
The Mental Health Jar Analogy
The same wise person I mentioned above, who has helped me through so many years, also gave me an analogy to help me understand why I felt the way I did. You may have heard of it before and there are many different versions used to explain the same scenario. It can either be a jug or a jar or a vase, filled with pebbles or marbles or water. I like to use the “jug of life” that is filled with water, so that’s the one I will use for this piece.
When most people think that they have hit rock bottom, when they can’t go on anymore and all hope is lost, they usually think it is the most recent event in their life which is the cause. This is not always the case; think of a jar or a jug, it can hold a lot of water, right? Well, every single thing that has happened to you in your life that has knocked your mental health in some way, no matter how small, is just another droplet of water in that jug. Every cruel word spat at you, every embarrassing moment you have had to endure, every punch slap or kick you’ve taken, every time your heart broke and every time you lost someone you loved forever…all of that is in the same jug.
It fills up each time, little by little, and you can go on for years without noticing.
Some people are lucky enough to never notice because there just isn’t enough to fill their jug up even half way; but for some of us, one day, there will be something that will be just too much and the jug will suddenly start to overflow.
I should also mentioned there is thought to be genetic factors that fill this jug too, we all have some sort of genetic vulnerability to mental illness, some more than others. Add in the environmental factors of your every day life and it can get quite crowded. When the jug is full of water and it starts to spill out all over the place, that is the precise moment you feel like you can’t take anymore.
When we hit that moment is usually around the time we realize we need help, although so many feel they don’t have that option. That is the cruel hard reality of mental health and mental illness, that even now it has a stigma attached to it, that it is something you shouldn’t talk about. No matter how many people suffer or ultimately take their own life, it just doesn’t seem to be an important or valued subject in life to so many.
But what you really need to do to help yourself is to get some space in the jug. If you never deal with what is at the bottom or middle of the jug then you will never have enough room to cope with everything else life will throw at you.
The Breaking Point
I got to that point a few years ago, where my jug had started to overflow and I couldn’t stop the tsunami that was coming. Some of the thoughts that went through my head make no sense when I look back now but at that moment they were all consuming. The panic, the night sweats, the nausea, the shaking, the stomach cramps, the paranoia; it was too much. I lost over two stone because I didn’t want to eat, I looked tired because I didn’t sleep anymore and I looked unwell. I felt empty. I felt numb. I felt nothing.
Why didn’t I eat? Well, what if I had suddenly developed an allergy to something and I didn’t know or what if I got food poisoning and got really sick? Why didn’t I sleep? Because every time I closed my eyes all my regrets came back to haunt me. I didn’t want to go out and see people because I had forgotten the art of conversation and wanted to be left alone, I was safe on my own. I skipped work because sitting in a meeting room with the door shut gave me a panic attack.
One of the worst things, which I know a lot of people have a variation of, is trying to leave the house. A simple task for most but I couldn’t just lock my front door and walk out, I would have to check every room and every plug socket, make sure the oven was off even if I hadn’t used it, check that the back door and every window was locked even though I knew they all were. And if someone interrupted me in the middle of checking I had to start all over again. It often took me so long to leave the house that I just decided not to go out. It was easier.
It was like I was living with another person in my head, telling me to constantly check things over and over again and if I didn’t something bad would happen.
I never wanted to find out what the bad thing was so I just did it. I needed help because I couldn’t take it anymore and I knew if I didn’t ask for it this would not end well. I wanted to live, I wanted to find a way out of this mental mind game I was playing with myself.
So that is what I did. I got help. That wise person I spoke of is my counsellor/therapist. It’s been years now and I still go sometimes because my anxiety and OCD raise their ugly head and although I know how to deal with it much better than before, there are still moments when I think “here we go again”. I actually had one of those moments quite recently, I just suddenly seemed to be spiralling out of control and I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to go out all the time, I drank more and I even started smoking again; I was desperately trying to find the person I used to be that I had lost so many years ago and it was fun for a while until it all came crashing down. My body was physically, mentally and emotionally drained by the end of the year and I ended up being physically unwell for nearly 8 weeks.
Antarctic Fire Angels
It was while I was off trying to deal with this crazy rollercoaster I had put myself on for the last few months that I came across something quite phenomenal on social media. I had spent weeks not feeling well, weeks scrolling through every possible social media platform you can think of and I had given up. I just scrolled aimlessly on my phone and wondered what happened now in life. After many weeks I came across a post about a team of female firefighters called ‘The Antarctic Fire Angels’. I read it and was truly blown away, it seemed they had done an expedition to Antarctica and all in aid of helping mental health charities. Amazing.
It wasn’t until I came across the same post again a few weeks later that I realised my mistake. They hadn’t done the expedition at all, this was due to happen in 2023, this was just the start of their journey. I had always loved writing, it had been my escapism and still is; I have had poems published before and books I’ve written that are sitting ready to go out into the world. Not expecting anything and having nothing left to lose I messaged them to see if they had a blog or anything similar and offered to help out in some way. The rest, as they say, is history.
I am now part of their team as official blog writer, they have been so kind and so welcoming, I am truly humbled by it. To explain why I wanted to help and how I would fit the ethos of their team I shared some of my story with them. I couldn’t, and still, can’t get my head around it; here are 6 inspiring women, squashing stereotypes, pushing boundaries, inspiring the next generation and tackling mental health head on and they wanted me to help. Me, who is just never quite good enough.
It has given me something to focus on, a path to use my skills to share an epic journey with others and all whilst raising money for charities that help people who struggle with mental health every day. If my part can help even one person on their mental health journey then it will have been worth it. I will be forever grateful I got a response to my message and it just goes to show, if you never try you never know. I am part of this journey now for the next few years as official blog writer, right up to the point they go to Antarctica and when they come back. I’d like to think over the years I’ll also make some new friends out of it, because we could all do with some more of those in life.
I have found a way, for now, to help myself in my mental health journey and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am proud of myself and gaining confidence, enough to approach and guest blog for the wonderful ‘Band Together Community’ and others.
Blogger, Mental Health advocate and Voice Over Artist in training.
Anyone who wants to check out the blog and follow this incredible journey with us, the links to the blog and social media accounts are below;
(Logo art by Gartista).
“What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help.” said the horse. (Charles Mackesy).
I never thought I would need help. I never thought that talking about my entire life to a total stranger would make any difference at all, but it has. Not everyone will understand what you are going through; it is hard to understand if you have never been through anything like it yourself. From the outside you never really know what someone is going through in life. Never judge and please, be kind. Always.
So, what was it that had filled my jug? Bullying, a lifetime of never fitting in and feeling different, a lifetime of being told I was not good enough and feeling alone, losing too many friends and family, never being thin enough or pretty enough, the stark realisation of our mortality and a lifetime of feeling that I would never be truly happy again after that feeling was taken away from me when I was just 4 years old.
So far I am right, but I hold out hope that there is happiness in life for me to find.
I could keep writing but perhaps all of that is for another time, maybe as time goes by it will be easier to write about my story and what it was that finally released the tsunami from that jug. Perhaps I will feel empty and numb for a long time to come but I am finally learning to understand myself after all this time. Just remember, no one ever said life would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it. It is worth it, it might not seem that way every day but it is and you have to keep telling yourself that.
I had hit rock bottom and I am still here. I am bruised, broken, exhausted and a different person to who I once was but I am still here. Never give up, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a way out which involves asking people for help. No matter how hard it is, every time you get knocked down, get back up and get back up stronger.
You are unique, you are beautiful and you are enough.