My mental health issues first began when I was around 10 years old. I can remember realising that I was ‘different’ to my peers and that I didn’t really like the same things or play in the same way as them. This is where my friendships began to become more distant and fractured. I tended to stick to just one friend who I could get to know and trust. However, this soon became a problem when more children wanted to join us in our play. I couldn’t cope with that, it was just too many people to try and appease all at the same time!
My transition from Primary to Secondary school was not straight forward either. I had one close friend and a couple of acquaintances, that I was banking on being with me all through school. I didn’t really think about the possibility of other children being brought into the equation! Upon getting to Secondary school, things were very different. The children all wanted to act ‘grown up’ and not play anymore. I stood out as different and quite quickly became a target for a small amount of bullying and more hurtfully, a large amount of exclusion.
Although I had a few acquaintances and got along with everybody due to not involving myself too much, I withdrew from even trying to have close friendships and just focused on being myself, doing my school work and throwing myself into my childhood obsession…Horses!
My downward spiral
At 16 years old, I went to College in Gloucester to study, yes you guessed it! Horse Management. It was here that my mental health deteriorated rapidly.
I arrived knowing no-one and desperately wanted to fit in. I met new people that I had things in common with and it felt great to finally connect with people in a way that felt natural. However, these new friends were different to me in that they had mostly come from large towns and cities and were much more ‘street wise’ in a sense but also much more ‘wild’ in others. Desperate to ‘fit in’ and be liked, I engaged in the same habits and behaviours as many of them. I wanted to experience life how they had and be able to talk about the same things. I drank alcohol, smoked, partied hard and eventually met a boy.
This boy who thought that he was a man, took my virginity, my money, controlled me and cheated on me multiple times before I realised what was happening and walked away. I was 17, extremely naïve and vulnerable and had no guidance. I thought that I was ‘in love’ because he charmed his way into my heart and then broke it into pieces.
I managed to scrape through and pass my course, but then followed this by starting a new course and then dropping out after a year, because of the self-destructive path that I was on.
It was the beginning of a very dark spiral. I fell into the path of drinking excessively, smoking pot daily and continually getting with unsuitable men to numb the loneliness, pain and
feelings of shame and failure. Unfortunately, I found myself in numerous unsafe and difficult situations including getting my drink spiked and being sexually assaulted.
All of this left me with anxiety and in a deeply depressive state. I hated myself, I thought about harming myself and wanted my life to end on numerous occasions. I remember at one point, driving and thinking about crashing my car into a tree and all the pain instantly ending. The one thing that stopped me from following it through was the realisation that I could end up staying alive but in a paralysed state and that would be even harder.
Out of the pain and darkness, came hope! I had a wonderful friend, who despite her own struggles, had kept in touch with me and although she was living quite a few miles away and working, she checked in on me and visited, even allowing me to come and stay with her when I needed to. It was just after Christmas, and I had been visiting her. She asked if I would like to meet someone who she had been introduced to by a friend. I agreed and on New Year’s Day we went and met a guy in a snooker club!
This was the most wonderful thing that could have happened to me. Despite my head being all over the place and my behaviour even more so, he took the time to get to know me and we connected in a way that I never had with anyone else.
I came away from college, took a gap year in Bristol and we moved in together.
I was still all over the place and hadn’t dealt with or confronted any of the pain and difficulties from my past, but he became my rock, my safe place, home.
The ‘Real’ world
Everything seemed so perfect, I had a partner, we were living together, we both had jobs (albeit mine was a temp office job) and although we struggled and my partner was away most of the week, things ticked along nicely.
But…. It wasn’t all rosy, my partner was away a lot of the time and I felt really alone. My job, which started off ok, became more and more stressful as they began to recognise that I was a quick and efficient worker (because I wanted to be liked and fit in) and they piled more and more work on the ‘temp girl’. I became completely overwhelmed, which wasn’t helped by a bullying older woman purposely trying to make me look stupid by directing the phones to me when I was already obviously struggling and making me answer the phone to foreign customers that I couldn’t understand.
I eventually left that position to enrol at university on a teaching degree. This was my chance to be a ‘grown up’ and develop a career! I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get my teeth into learning again! I had really missed the academic work and the stimulation, being in a mind-numbing office environment.
The very same week that I enrolled on my university course, I had a massive surprise! I had been feeling sick and dizzy and had passed out, so I went to the doctor and to my complete surprise, I found out that I was pregnant!
I rang my partner and told him to sit down! I cried because I was shocked, terrified and overwhelmed, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep this little person growing inside me more than anything in the world! We would make it work.
Hardest part of my life
Without a doubt, the next few years were the hardest I have ever been through and I hope to never have to go through them again!
I struggled through university, feeling incredibly vulnerable and judged due to being only 21 and pregnant. I felt exhausted. Everyone else was getting pissed and partying, enjoying themselves and still getting good marks! I was working my butt off, my partner working away most of the time, trying to do uni, a part time carer job and run a home. My grades reflected this and I felt low and as if I was a failure. Money was a struggle for us with me at uni, with a home to run and knowing we had a baby on the way. We were also renting a tiny, draughty flat with limited access up some steep, slippery steps which was dangerous for me, the more pregnant I got.
We decided to bite the bullet and bought a flat. We moved nearer my family but still near enough to work and uni which unfortunately did give us the added pressure of a longer commute. Not long after we moved our baby was born! A beautiful little blonde haired, blue eyed girl. I fell in love instantly and immediately felt like I never wanted to leave her!
Unfortunately, the pressure was on to complete my degree and get a job because money was tight and with a mortgage to pay and a little mouth to feed, things weren’t about to get easier!
My mental health deteriorated again, I had the pressure of completing my degree, a partner who was never around, a young baby who I had to leave at 4 months old with a stranger, when all I wanted to do was be with her and very little support because we lived too far away from either set of grandparents for them to be able to help us.
I went to my GP who said “most people who are depressed have lost their job or their husband has had an affair, I just don’t know why you are depressed?!”
I felt like such a failure. Here I was with a partner who was working his arse off to support me, a beautiful baby girl and the chance to fulfil my dream career. Who was I to be depressed? The GP reinforced me negative self-belief that I was a failure and I set to work putting even more pressure on myself to be the perfect mum, wife and student.
I even had blood tests done to try to work out why I was feeling so tired and low, check my thyroid and iron levels etc. All came back normal. I was just completely exhausted!
I eventually changed GP and found out that I had PND Post Natal Depression. No wonder!
She gave me a prescription for some anti-depressants and told me to speak to the health visitor, which I did. They kept an eye on me, but weren’t much help and the pills helped by numbing my pain so I could carry on working myself hard.
I managed to finish my degree, I also managed two house moves, to get married and became pregnant with my second daughter by the end of it!
Still full of pain from the past, tired and feeling numb, I carried on through life and had my second child, a beautiful brunette, blue eyed baby girl!
I managed to stay home with her for the first 6 months and then I felt I should try and get a job to take some of the pressure off financially. As I had been ‘supported’ financially throughout the uni years, I felt pressured to get out to work and pay my share. It also gave me the opportunity to be ‘me’ again and have some adult contact, as that was rare being at home with two little ones on my own most of the time. So I got a part-time job at a preschool and then a year later I became a childminder while my children were small. I struggled massively but got through it somehow and my mental health was still a bit hit and miss but the anti-depressants were numbing the pain!
When my eldest daughter started school I recognised straight away that something was ‘different’ about her. After a lot of struggles trying to get anyone to listen to me (including my partner) we managed to get her assessed and she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of Autism) and ADHD (Attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder), as well as coeliac disease (an auto-immune disorder).
I researched everything I could get my hands on and soon recognised that I had very similar traits to my daughter and that although I was ‘different’ to her, I could also have something going on.
I contacted my GP and although she wasn’t sure at first, because she had never heard of an adult woman having either diagnosis! She referred me on and at the age of around 28 years old I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD and so much of my struggles in life became clearer!
In fact, many of my family members, including my husband and younger daughter, have recognisable traits.
How has being diagnosed helped me?
At first it was just a huge sense of relief and an explanation to why I am slightly ‘different’ to other people. For example; I obsess over certain subjects and hyper-focus on them, I have set rituals which I have to carry out and I find social situations extremely difficult among other things.
Then I went through a phase of being annoyed that I had this and even more annoyed at everyone else for not understanding it. This led to some more ‘numbing’ and self-destructive behaviours.
Some days I feel proud of my ‘differences’ and other days I feel extremely frustrated at them.
The biggest thing that has helped me
I have learned that I don’t need to use impulsive behaviour like a drug to make me feel better, I’ve learned that I don’t need to use drugs, alcohol and sex to numb out the pain.
I’ve learned to get to know myself, every single inch of me and learn to love me for who I am.
I am not my Autism and ADHD, I am me and just happen to have ‘differences’