“You’re loud and always laughing, you can’t have something like that!” Well, that is where you’re wrong. So very wrong.
Phobias, anxiety, depression. They’re the words that if anybody hears one mentioned, they’ll brush it off and pretend they didn’t hear it. Or, if you’re lucky, they’ll mutter an “I know how you feel…”
Sadly, the reality is that more people are struggling with the above than first meets the eye, despite mental health becoming a more and more talked about subject. I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, it’s bloody tough. And that is why I’ve sucked up all my courage to tell you what I’ve been through – what I’m going through. Stop reading if you wish, but this is just one story in absolutely millions.
One afternoon in Year 8 I felt seriously ill. I can recall it very easily – sat in English, watching Treasure Island. I even remember exactly where I was sat. I wasn’t physically sick but something from that moment on changed, something which has shaped my life ever since. It affects what I do, how I do it and, most of all if I do it.
It didn’t bother me too much at first. Then, after a few days, I grew tired of feeling physically sick. I hadn’t been sick, but the feeling was growing much stronger. 13-year-old me was starting to get a bit irritated.
Constantly feeling like you’re about to vomit gradually got worse, to a point where I was speaking to a couple of friends about it, asking if it was normal. They said I should go to the doctor and I did.
I got sent for blood tests and in the meantime was told that it was probably a virus.
By now, this had been going on for a good few months. Things become a bit blurred here, but I know that everyone was starting to get a bit fed up of me complaining that I felt ill.
My blood test came and went, and as the doctor predicted, nothing was wrong.
I’m not saying people didn’t believe me, but my parents certainly blamed it on ‘growing up’. “You aren’t actually sick, so what’s the problem…”
The children’s doctor gave me some anti-sickness tablets and I started taking them, fully believing that after six months, the ordeal would finally be ceased. How flipping wrong I was. Apart from making me feel very dizzy, the tablets did nothing.
I struggled through Year 9. By now it had got to a point where feeling sick every minute of the school day was becoming a bit too much. My attendance slipped and I was doing absolutely everything to avoid sitting in assemblies.
One day it snapped. I couldn’t stop crying and I didn’t know why. The thought of going to school suddenly seemed like the worst thing ever.
I had four days off- Monday to Thursday. My Head of House was told what was going on and I finally went back to school on the Friday, armed with a ‘time out card’, entitling me to a 5-minute break if I needed it. I never used it, just kept it in my bag.
I still felt sick, though.
My mood was becoming worse and one night I broke down in front of my parents after getting very angry at them. I remember screaming and shouting, frustrated with everything. They decided that I should get some help and the doctor referred me to a place called The Junction. Honestly and truly I can say that the place was fantastic. But I didn’t see that at first.
I protested about going there, thinking because I was receiving counseling I wasn’t normal. I wasn’t cool.
I cried when I said goodbye to my counselor. She had been a great help and for a short while, almost everything felt brilliant.
I had a relatively new group of friends, and I spoke to a girl who was going through a very similar sort of thing to me. She’s now my best friend. It’s funny how that happened, sitting in maths, both of us talking about how we felt.
I got through Year 10 and entered Year 11, House Captain, Prefect, and not giving a damn about what others thought of me. I’d stopped caring what the boys thought of my appearance and just settled for being me. I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t one of the popular kids and I was fine with that. I used to be thankful that I wasn’t one of them, bowling down the corridor twenty minutes late to my lesson because they’d been ‘speaking to a teacher’. In all honesty, I couldn’t wait to get away from them.
With final exams approaching, the sickness got worse. For the science exam in Year 10, I’d sat at the front, right by the door in case I needed to get out. But now, the teachers believed I was better. I was pretending to myself I was better. Because I was, wasn’t I?
My attendance was good and I was working incredibly hard, wanting to do well in my subjects.
The first examination day dawned and I pulled myself through it. Looking back on it, I genuinely have no idea how. I used to write a couple of sentences, feel as if I was about to be sick, down a few sips of water, wipe my clammy hands on my skirt (lovely, I know) and stare at the clock for a minute, working out exactly how much time I had left. Could I get out if I needed to?
One exam was particularly bad and I truly believed that if I didn’t get out, I was going to be sick everywhere. The head rush got worse and I found myself panting, gasping for air. One of the teachers caught my eye and I quickly focused back on my paper, heart racing.
I’d convinced myself that I’d failed every course. I’d spent half of each exam thinking I was going to throw up. That meant I’d limited myself to half marks right away. I’d failed. All the hard work and I’d let everyone down.
Results day came and I’d hardly slept the night before. Opening the paper I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’d done pretty damn well.
I loved that feeling – happiness. Seeing a few letters on a piece of A4 had changed everything.
Reluctantly, I’d decided that I was off to a grammar school to do my A Levels, even if I’d always protested that I wasn’t going to go there. I’d always believed I wasn’t good enough.
And then it all came crashing down.
Starting a new college was okay. I only knew five people and from the very start there was a vibe…it was the students that had been there for five years versus the new kids.
I hated the first couple of weeks. I came home every night, regretting my decision to go there. Why hadn’t I gone to the sixth form like everyone else? They were having a great time there – frees, hardly any homework, boys! Crikey, I missed boys!
After the first half term, it got better. Yes, there was a lot of pressure but I had made some good friends. Some classes were even enjoyable!
I’d love to say that it was happily ever after but that’s not the case.
The sickness got worse than ever. I’d sit in lessons, gulping my water, shaking, heart racing, sweating, the list goes on. Every day there was at least 10 occasions where I felt as if I was physically going to be sick. I’d desperately comb my hair with my fingers, glance around the room. What did these other people think of me sitting here like this? I was some sort of freak.
Christmas last year was where things started to go downhill dramatically. I was working a lot in retail, revising for mocks (where there was extra pressure considering the environment) and I had family over. I hardly slept, feeling sick to the bone every single minute of every single day and night.
One English lesson things were so bad that I had to go to the toilet. I’d never done that before. In the five years of dealing with this, I’d never walked out of a lesson. But now I had – I went to the toilets and drank my bottle of water, shaking like a leaf.
A friend came down after a while to see if I was okay and eventually I went back up to class. People asked if I was okay and the teacher asked if I wanted to go to medical. Deep down I knew that I probably wasn’t physically ill. It was just me.
My fucked up brain.
Something snapped then, and that afternoon I vaguely told my form tutor what was going on. She emailed my teachers and unknown to me, she rang home to speak to my Mum.
I hadn’t even told her properly how I felt again until now.
I told her and I went to bed that night feeling different. Strange. And I couldn’t put my finger on why that was.
I woke up the next morning and it felt as if the walls had caved in. I’d never felt like this before and as soon as I went downstairs I started crying. Uncontrollable sobbing.
I could not feel like this any longer. The sickness had to stop.
We went to the doctors and I picked up a referral card for a mental health service based in town. Unlike before, I was more than willing to give it a go and an initial assessment was quickly arranged.
The school was told and I went to my assessment, crying my eyes out. I didn’t want to go to college. College made me feel so, so terrible.
I had some time off but kept battling through. I cried a lot now and it was touch and go whether I’d go to Greece – a trip I’d been so desperately looking forward to. Numerous teachers spoke to me, asking whether or not I was capable of going. I wasn’t going to give in because I was having a bit of a rough time. I wanted to see the home of Plato and Aristotle.
I went. Somehow, I got up and went. Parts of it were hell, but I did it. I had a falling out with my group of friends at college – I’d been making things ‘awkward’. It didn’t help that my closest friend on the trip was ill and wasn’t able to go. My other friend quickly replaced me for someone better and I was feeling left out.
I managed a whole week back at college after that but then things quickly collapsed. I don’t know what exactly it was, but I think it was the realisation of what I was trying so hard to cope with. The sickness feelings had turned into feeling rock bottom. Completely unwilling to do anything. Five years of this and the reality had dawned on me – why did I feel like this? Why wasn’t it going away?
I’d always blamed the classroom environment, but I realised that it wasn’t just that. For a long time I had been avoiding public situations: the cinema, parties, going to town, going out out in town, even food shopping. Anywhere where I couldn’t make a quick escape if I needed to, I would avoid. Avoid as if my life depended on it.
The mental health service suggested I went to my doctor and tried medication. I did and the doctor gave it to me.
I was on Sertraline 24 hours before it made me feel as if I was dying. I freaked out during a lesson in school, got sent home and cried a lot more. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t want to eat and I felt dizzy beyond belief.
And I had a field trip to go on in three days time.
It came around and I’d agreed to go. I knew how important it was for my A Level. I’d been told if I didn’t go, I may as well not even sit the paper. They’d had a girl last year who’d felt ‘a bit nervous’, she was fine. I’d be fine too.
I got up, already packed and got in the shower. As soon as I got out I fell onto the bathroom worktop, crying. I sat on my bed sobbing, on the phone to my Dad (who was at work) telling him I couldn’t do it.
Mum took me to school and I sat with Head of Geography and the pastoral carer of Upper School. This was the first time my teachers had properly seen how I was. I was in floods of tears in front of them. They realised that I wasn’t fit to go and I walked back out of that building, ashamed, seeing all my peers looking at me as they got on the bus.
I was a failure. I couldn’t even go away for a few nights with my friends, to a place that I loved.
Now, doing any work was like climbing a mountain. The medication seemed to be doing nothing and my attendance was dropping at a scary rate. Essays would take hours and exams were near enough impossible.
I was falling behind.
People ask where I’ve been when I do go to college on the odd day I can and I just have to say ‘ill’. “Are you better?” they ask, and I shrug, “I’m getting there.”
It’s not even the sickness feeling that’s the worst now, it’s the knowing that I’ve missed out on so much. It’s the feeling I can’t live up to my own expectations and get those As.
I have a phobia of being sick and it has destroyed friendships, opportunities, and day-to-day life. I pretended that I was fine for such a long time until it snapped and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.
But it will not get the better of me.
I want to be happy, I want to achieve my dreams. Even if it’s going to take a little longer than what it was perhaps going to.
I don’t like crying, but I don’t like feeling trapped in social situations either. I don’t expect people to understand, for even I don’t understand why this all started in the first place. Perhaps it was a boy calling me a ‘fat c***’ in Year 8, or the boy I liked making pig noises at me. I know I cared a lot about what people thought of me after that.
Sure, I may seem confident on the outside, but I’m struggling a lot.
Me, not wearing makeup, not wanting to learn French, not wanting to go out on a Friday night is not me.
Maybe now, I look back and think it’s a bloody miracle that I hold down a job, battled in silence for so long whilst doing so many extra-curricular things. Journalism. Tutoring. Dancing and competing all over the country.
Perhaps that was my way of immersing myself in my own little bubble.
I don’t want people to judge me on this story, but I’ve had to tell it. It’s some stupid hour and I should really be asleep. But I had to get it out.
Yes, I have made mistakes, and yes, people can think I’m weak, stupid, an attention seeker.
Just, let me tell you this.
Please do not judge anyone until you’ve been in this situation yourself. I want to be normal, I want to be able to sit through a lecture without working out where the nearest toilet is and whether or not I’ll be able to get there in time. I want to live like a normal teenager who gets too drunk at Missoula, but not have to worry about where the closest exit is.
Like I said, I don’t expect people to understand; how can they if I don’t even understand it myself?
It will get better, though. It has to. And I will do absolutely everything possible to make sure that it does.
I’ve been in flight mode for a long time. Soon I’ll be able to go to the cinema, or a restaurant and not search frantically for an escape. It’s just going to take time…
I wrote the above in April when I was at my lowest point. Then, I thought that I would never, ever see the light. But I did, and I for one could not be happier right now. Sure, I still have my off-days or times when I get anxious about using public transport.
But this year, I have gone from not leaving my house to getting an unconditional offer at my 1st choice university and doing very well in my A Levels.
I have gone from not being able to speak to strangers to working with the top Formula 1 team.
But, perhaps the biggest thing, I have learned that however dark your blackest moments are, if you hold on, things do get brighter.
Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of; it needs to be spoken about. People didn’t take me seriously because, with mental illnesses, you don’t get the physical symptoms of being ill.
It isn’t like having a broken arm – you can’t see the pain that someone is feeling on the inside.
That aside, I truly have been one of the lucky ones. I have read so many stories about people losing their fight, or not seeking help quick enough.
I shall use my own demons to make myself a stronger person. Becuase those who have struggled mentally often are the strongest, even if it takes a bit of time.
I never intended for this to be published, ever. Yet, now I am happy with the place my head is in, I thought I ought to share it.
I am so proud of myself, and I’m not scared to admit that. It has been a bloody hard journey.