Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My battle with mental illness (Mental Health Week)

I've been battling different forms of mental illness my entire life. The dominant form being depression which has affected my life since I was a pre-teen. At other points in my life I have self-harmed, had an eating disorder, and had issues with anxiety and panic attacks. Today I thought I would tell you a little something about my experience with all of these. Mental illness is something that is very close to my heart and I hope that by sharing my experiences that I can do my part to spread information, encourage understanding and abolish the stigma that I feel is still attached to mental health issues.


To myself, I've always believed that I've been battling depression since I was 11 years old. I kind of pinpoint the turning point as my parent's divorce but so many other things led up to that, I think. Low self-esteem due to a toxic home environment. Constant moving led to my isolating myself. The pressures I was under to live up to high academic expectations. There are so many different aspects of my childhood and upbringing that my depression could have originated from but I think it began as a combination of all of the above.

It was worse as a teenager. I was already going through so much at home and really failing to meet my expected potential both in middle school and high school and it led to some awful coping mechanisms. Especially in my teenager years I felt very low for a great deal of time. I hated myself and could find no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I often thought of suicide and felt like nobody cared. I had no thoughts of the future as I couldn't see one for myself. I slept a great deal, I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't concentrate in class and did very little coursework. At times, I wanted to get certain things done and found myself physically incapable of accomplishing even the smallest of tasks.

Over the years, I've found better ways of coping with it. It's never gone away, but I feel like I'm better able to see the signs of a depressive mood coming on. I try to maintain regular exercise, eat better, actually SPEAK about how I'm feeling. It isn't perfect though.

Self harm

At my worst, as I was heavily depressed and having suicidal thoughts, I also self harmed on a regular basis. I had no outlet for how I was feeling. Even now I have a hard time dealing with really strong emotions and (now) instead of facing them head-on I bury them inside me. As a teenager, though, this method did not work at all and the pain that I inflicted on myself was a small way of expressing the feelings that I had no idea how to cope with.

It was also rather gratifying as a method of self-punishment. I really don't want to dwell on this aspect of my life as it really brings back strong emotions and feelings that I still don't know how to process. This was a really difficult thing for me to overcome, finding other ways to relieve built-up tension. I ended up reading several books about self-harm and knowing I wasn't alone in it helped a great deal as well as having several healthy relationships in which I was able to see myself through them and could have a better understanding of my own worth.

Eating disorder

As a teenager, I had an eating disorder. The symptoms of my eating disorder are closely related to bulimia nervosa, though I rarely purged my food. Instead, I'd binge and follow it with days of starvation. The periods of starvation lasted longer and longer and I'd feel faint and pass out. I remember passing out one time in the bathroom and I hit my head on the toilet bowl quite badly.

To this day I still hold onto feelings of shame and guilt around food. I still struggle with binge eating and also struggle to eat regular and healthy meals. I believe my eating disorder is so tightly wound together with my self-esteem that it is hard for me to fully overcome this. I've also read that bulimia is another way of expressing emotion which I still struggle with. I've always had issues with my body-image and am constantly on exercise programmes and different means of dieting.

Anxiety and panic attacks

And finally, we have my anxiety and panic attacks. I suffer from social anxiety - in which I feel excessive anxiety about social interactions. Not just common fears such as speaking in public (holy crap, I can't do that!), but also meeting new people, being in new environments where I will worry about what other think of me.

At some points in my life I have not been able to eat in public, I'm not able to do certain activities where people might see me, I cannot comfortably walk into small shops on my own. I cannot be late into a tutorial for fear of people turning to look at me. In some cases, it is impossible for me to actually speak in a social setting for fear of embarassing myself. I really struggle to go to new places and will avoid all of the above if I can. Both as a teenager and now.

I've suffered panic attacks at really stressful times in my life. Changing schools was always very upsetting for me and I used to get panic attacks before walking into a classroom where class had already started. The anxiety I felt was at such high levels that I felt like I couldn't breathe, my heart would race and tighen, my palms would get sweaty, I'd feel dizzy and the fear would just take over. Every single time I had a panic attack, I always felt like the only way I would be able to breathe again would be if I raced to the library. The library always had a calming influence on me. I feel very lucky that I have not experienced a panic attack in many years.


I always felt alone in the things that I experienced. As a teenager, I was never comfortable with anyone enough to talk about my depression, my self harm, my eating disorder or my anxiety. Only through books and through this blogging have I felt any sort of outlet for the things I've gone through. Thank you for your support and for listening.


  1. *HUGS* This was such a brave and important post.

  2. That must have been a really hard thing to write; really brave. I can identify with so much that you say, and appreciate how hard it is to both work through and accept these things as part of your life. Want to say well done, and good luck.

  3. The biggest hugs I can give. That must have taken a lot for you to write this post and I congratulate your on your honesty. I can also identify with some of the things you said, but have found over the years with the support of my husband I am a lot more positive about things that I used to be.

  4. Thank you for sharing: I'm sure this must have been incredibly hard to write, but as you say, knowing other people feel these things too can really help. A lot of this really resonated with me. *hugs*

  5. A brave and brilliant post. I hope many people read your eloquent account.

  6. Thank you for writing such an honest post, I can only begin to imagine how hard it was to write this all down let alone make it public. Some of this really resonates with me. Sending lots of hugs your way. x

  7. Massive hugs from me, too, and thank you for this wonderful post. x

  8. Thank you for being so brave and honest in posting this wonderful post. My heart goes out to you. I suffer from a form of depression, it's hard to deal with and sometimes you don't know where to begin. But it does sound like you have made a start. I hope many people can read this and know they are not alone. I am sorry to hear that you felt that way. If you ever need anyone to talk to, I'll always listen. Hugs and you are in my thoughts. x

  9. A wonderful and very brave post Michelle. I can identify with a fair bit of what you've said about yourself and know how hard it must've been to not only write this down, but actually press that 'publish post' button.

    Thank you, and ((((hugs)))).

    P.S. My son just asked me what I was reading about, so I told him I was reading about a lady who had been very sad. He said you could borrow his teddybear to cuddle ... but he wants it back in a week ;-}

  10. Hi Michelle, I just wanted to thank you for writing such an emotional post - I can only imagine how hard it must have been to share with the world. I can completely relate to a lot of what you mentioned, I've suffered with depression since my teens and still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

    There is still such a huge stigma around mental health issues which can make it so hard to talk about, especially with people who have never been through it. If you ever want to chat I'm here for you :o)

  11. Hi, thank you for writing such a honest and emotional post. I can only imagine the courage it took to not only write this post but to also hit the publish button.

    I can relate to a lot that you have mentioned in your post. I suffered from depression in my teens and it was a dark time in my life as I felt there was not to live for. Fortunately I made it through that time in my life however my depression still creeps up every once in a while.
    I also suffered severe panic attacks in my teens to the point in which I could not leave the house. The main reasons for me suffering panic attacks are the same as yours. At this moment in my life my panic attacks are not so severe and I am proud of myself for coming through that point in my life.
    Thanks you so much for writing such an amazing post. Sending hugs :) x

  12. Thank you Michelle for sharing with us. It must have been really difficult for you writing this, and even worse going through some of the stuff you have gone/continue to go through.
    I cant imagine what its like going through some of the stuff you have been through. I haven't experienced anything on the scale you have and I just want to let you know that I admire your strength and if you ever need someone to talk to, you know where I am. *huge, massive, bear type hugs* xxx

  13. You've put in words what many of us can't...myself included, and had the courage to hit publish button, so a big hug from me.

    I can empathise with some of what you've shared, depression being the main one, and also to some extent social anxiety and panic attacks.

    Thank you for your courage in taking the time to write and share.

  14. This was very courageous!! Good for you for writing-and posting-it! It's very hard to be so open with reality.

    You were not alone, not by far.
    I went through almost each of these things, and I know my teenage son did too. You were not-and are not-alone!

  15. I agree with the other commenters that this is a really brave post. As someone who has met you, in some ways I was surprised by this post because I would never have guessed you struggle with these issues. But then I suppose we all put on an act a lot of the time. I really admire you for speaking up and being honest.

  16. Again what everyone else has said, this is such a brave post and I'm sure it has touched a lot of people. Being honest about mental illness is what we need more of, so that the stigma can be over!
    Hugs x

  17. As above, a marvelously brave post! After reading it, I was hoping to do something similar myself, we'll see if I follow through. I was also hoping to put up a comment that better expressed my appreciation for this post, but I figured I should just comment with something, rather than waiting for the elusive "right words," to come to me.

  18. I tried to leave a comment the day you published this on my iPod, but it didn't work. :(

    I am really proud of you for being brave enough to do this. It really gives people a sense of relief to know that they are not alone, and hopefully you will know that you are never alone either.

    Mental Health Week is a really worthwhile thing to do - have loads of respect and admiration for you x

  19. I agree that this is a really brave post. I can relate to your descriptions of depression and social anxiety. You're never alone in these things.

  20. Thank you all for your lovely, supportive comments on this post. I was really quite nervous posting it. All of your comments mean such a great deal to me and I've cried several times reading through them. I shall try to respond to you all via email, but some of you do not have email addresses attached to your profiles ...

    Kenny - I really look forward to reading your own battle through some of these issues. I think it's really important to talk about these things openly, but it can very difficult.

    I completely understand about not finding the words, I feel that way all the time, thank you for commenting anyway. I really do appreciate it :)

    Fiona - Thank you very much. When I first started my mental health week, I didn't really expect many people to take notice at all. I love how much it has helped me and I hope that in some small way it has helped someone else as well. Thank you for your kind words!

  21. I can't even begin to tell you how brave I think you are. Your blog post moved me so very much. You know, I don't think I have words - because soemtiems I just believe that offering words seem to be so trite in the face of everything that you've gone through and in various ways still are going through. I do applauged you for speaking out so honestly and bravely about it and already believe that in doing so, you're just one step closer to healing every day.

    I can relate so to your social anxiety problems as I am the same. I'm chronically insecure and feel so awkward around others. It's this constant battle to remind myself that I actually am someone worth getting to know - not just a walllflower who belongs in the shade. You may never know it, but your post has helped not just me, but others who have read this but not commented. You are the bravest blogger I know.

  22. Argh. It turns out quite a few of you do not have email addresses attached to profiles. Here we go...

    Steph - Thank you. Your support means a lot to me.

    Reckless Librarian - Thank you, it was quite difficult to write but I felt like I needed to be open about these things. Knowing that I'm not alone with these things and that people like you are so supportive of my journey mean so much to me! Good luck to you as well.

    Susie - Thank you so much. It was incredibly difficult to write this, it dredged up so many hard emotions and memories. But I think I needed to wade through them in order to move on in small way.

    Vivian - Thank you. I felt so nervous and vulnerable posting this that it makes me very relieved and encouraged with all of the support that I have recieved.

    Jenni - Thank you. Going through it all again was incredibly difficult, as was hitting that publish button. I deliberately posted it on a day that I knew I would not be near a computer all day for fear of the response. I had no need to worry it turns out.

    Luisa - Thank you so much. It makes me cry (all over again) knowing that there are such lovely, supportive people out there.

    The book bee - Thank you. For your kind words as well for sharing your experiences as well. It's a wonderful thing, feeling like there is someone else out there who knows what I have gone through and what it's taken to move forward from it.

    Lauren - Thank you. I think it's a really apt observation, yours. We all do put on an act throughout our lives and I've gotten quite good at hiding what I'm going through.

    Louise - Thank you. I really do hope that I have helped in some way, speaking about what I have gone through.


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