Some of my earliest memories are of whispered voices in my head, moving pictures and sinister figures that haunted me. I was an anxious, sad child who came across to everyone else as shy. Inside my four-year old mind, I was battling demons nobody else could see or hear. My mind was like a war-zone, so much noise and my thoughts raced too quickly for me to even keep up.
I was constantly scared, I always felt as though demons were watching me constantly and that everyone around me was reading my mind. Over the years I was brought to many professionals by my parents in hopes that someone would be able to pin-point why I was so withdrawn. I was terrible in school, always forgetting things and had zero concentration. I failed to progress through stages as quickly as other children and I spoke very little. Some family problems made things harder and I became worse when my little brother died as I did not know how to cope at such a young age when I was already struggling.
There seemed to be no answers for my parents. Many child psychologists and other specialists tried to figure me out but I would not speak which was not helpful. It is hard enough to talk about these things as an adult, as a child it was near impossible. The words would never come and I was too young to understand how my mind differed to others. Eventually at the age of twelve I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and some slowed cognitive functioning. I continued on, in my own little world of fear and constant trauma.
My teenage years were really hard. Everyone was growing up and becoming their own person and I just felt trapped. I was so anxious all the time, worrying and panic attacks became a regular thing. In my desperation to appear normal I would just copy what all the other girls did. Spoke the same words, looked the same and followed their lead when it came to social norms so I would not stand out. I even sometimes pretended to like boys that I had no interest in and generally made a completely fake persona. My Mum was diagnosed with cancer and I felt useless to her as I did not know how to help. Things got worse and worse, I self-harmed constantly, ensuring that I always had a sharp object at hand and hid the scars from everyone. I was sexually attacked by a figure of authority who was an older man and this messed with my head even more. He took away any self-esteem I had left.
In my late teens, I attempted to end my life. I desperately wanted an out, the paranoia never stopped and I thought there was no hope of ever making a change. As far as I was concerned, there were no options left. I took an overdose and was not found until the next morning. Waking up in hospital, I was pretty inconsolable. I tried to pull medical equipment out of my arms and screamed that I wanted to die. I was put in a psychiatric ward. No one understood why I had tried to end my life. I tried and failed to explain to doctors what was going on inside my head. The main doctor kept interrupting me, as far as he was concerned he had me all figured out. He called me an emotional, attention-seeking teenager who thought self-harming scars were cool. He told my parents there was nothing wrong with me and said “she’s not even got a mild form of depression.” After that, my family had no chance of finding out what was really going on. It was not stubbornness on my part; that doctor had knocked me back so much and I feared that reaction from them.
After that life went on pretty much as normal. My parents continued to support me even if they did not really understand the extent of my problems. My friends however did not. I was branded an attention seeking liar. They said I was fine, there was nothing wrong with me before so why was I suddenly so sick. They even tried to tell people that I was faking it, they turned many people against me. I started going out with an amazing person and they encouraged him to end things with me. Thank God he did not listen, he stuck by my side and is marrying me anyway. I received apologies years later but I don’t think they will ever really understand the damage they did. We were young, people grow and change so I fully forgive them. One person failed to apologise and has kept the hate campaign going for years, it’s their problem not mine and I hope they find happiness eventually.
I continued to see the same doctor from the hospital. He put me on anti-depressants, he spend the majority of every session we had telling me to get over myself and that I did not really need them. That sounds like an over-exaggeration or me pharaphrasing, I wish it was. I began seeing a social worker who was actually really helpful. He was encouraging and believed in me a lot but unfortunately it was not enough. My condition deteriorated constantly. My mood went from one extreme to the other. I would be euphoric and bursting with enthusiasm, my thoughts raced, and the world was fantastic, I could do anything when suddenly it would all come crashing down. I would feel depressed, sad and alone with no motivation. My anxiety levels went through the roof, I was nervous and frightened of doing the smallest of tasks. Little quirks of mine became obsessive compulsive. Touching things a certain amount of times, finger tapping and twitches. I have little facial motor tics which I have always been self-conscious about also.
I still heard voices, had delusions and paranoia which I could not make sense of. I felt that everyone was out to get me, I was constantly suspicious and on edge. I was losing touch with reality completely. Everything combined wreaked havoc on my physical health as well. I regularly went back to my old habit of self-harming. I had chronic insomnia and did not know how to make it all go away. This all led to a breakdown which brought me to A&E with cuts all over me where I started screaming about hearing voices. And just like that my worst kept secret was offically out. My parents brought me to a clinic and I was sent to a psychiatric hospital. My Mam was amazing throughout and gave me so much understanding as did my Dad. My ever loyal boyfriend supported me as well and I gave it my all. They suspected that I had Schizoaffective Disorder which is basically a combination of Schizophrenia and Bi-polar disorder. I was put on A LOT of medication, the side-effects were horrendous. I was dizzy, nauseous, and in agonising pain due to stiffness. My speech was slurred and I developed Restless Leg Syndrome. My limbs would uncontrolablly frantically move. I felt numb all the time and my peripheral vision was gone. It took a long time but my medication was gradually reduced. I was accidently withdrawn cold turkey from one particurlar drug which has it turned out I needed. I had what they called a bad reaction. I was like someone on an acid trip and this would randomly strike me while the reintroduced chemicals tried to work their way back into my system. I went through a psychosis treatment programme and cognitive behavioural therapy. When I got out of hospital I was institutionalized and found the real world difficult. I was ultimately diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
I would love to give this story a happy ending. It’s more of a bittersweet one. Years later, I am still sick, still have the same symptoms and I fight every single day. I got tired of mental health professionals giving up on me. It’s disheartening being referred to people who cost hundreds of euros per appointment who seem at a loss as to how to help me and then just refer me on to someone else again. It’s a visious cycle. I think they just get overwhelmed. Bless. I have slipped through the cracks in the system. It’s been a rough few years, myself and himself seem to have the worst luck at times. There was one thing I wanted my whole life, it kept me going through all the bad times and recently that dream finally came and was snatched away quickly. I have to try now to move on without it. My brother had an accident and now has an acquired brain injury which has had a massive impact on his life and ours. My lovely grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. And then my Mum died last Christmas. My grandad followed her a few months later. Mam was the most important person in my world, she was a brave, wonderful person and the best mother I could have ever asked for. She understood me in a way that only a mother can. She battled cancer for nine years and passed away on the 21st of December 2015. We buried her the day before Christmas Eve and I miss her with all my heart.
But I did say bittersweet didn’t I? I’ve got some great things going for me too. I am engaged to my best friend, we have been together for eight years now. We are finally tying the knot on our nine year anniversary next April. Since going public with my story, I have become an ambassador for See Change, been interviewed on many fantastic shows and been published in some of the biggest news outlets in the country. I regularly give talks on mental health and hopefully I help some people along the way. It has given me confidence that I never knew I could have and writing is like a form of therapy for me. I completed a radio brocasting course with Beat 102 103, WLRfm and WIT at the beginning of the year and I have now gone back to college to study Journalism. As down and out as I probably sounded a minute ago, I am actually doing reasonably okay. I have good days and bad. I try to focus on the positives as much as possible. I keep my head above water and always do my best. My best might not be great at times but whose is? If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that happiness is a state of mind; it comes from within. I find “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger” is some what true. But personally, I think it should be “What ever doesn’t kill will only try again.” And again. And again. Scrapping yourself off the floor every time, facing your struggles head on and taking full responsibility for yourself and your own happiness; that’s what really makes you stronger.