Talking about mental health is hard. Partially because it has been seen as a taboo for a long time, and partially because it is simply hard to explain what is going on inside your head. But things are slowly changing. I have created an interview series about mental health to share with you all. Please remember how personal each journey is, and opening up about it is scary and leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. Without further ado, I shall begin my first mental health interview!
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Alison from The Nut Factory. Hi Alison, please tell me a little about yourself.
My name is Alison. I’m a stay at home mum to two little boys and I live in country Western Australia. I blog about mental health, talking about my experiences and really anything mental health relate that grabs my interest.
What is your mental health diagnosis?
I’m diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. I once carried the label of borderline personality disorder but I’ve been told that no longer applies. I don’t believe I ever had this in the first place but that’s another story. I also have panic attacks and struggle with self-harm sometimes.
What does this mean in simple terms?
Depression causes periods of low mood, I become unmotivated and disinterested in just about everything. Sometimes it can cause bouts of anger which I almost instantly regret. Anxiety makes me worry about anything and everything that I shouldn’t. Social anxiety makes me cautious of other people and makes it difficult to connect with others and make friends.
How old were you when you began to have symptoms?
I think I probably started showing symptoms in my early teens, though I was never officially diagnosed with anything until I was seventeen.
Does your illness affect your ‘normal’ life? How?
Social anxiety is the biggest thing that holds me back. I have trouble meeting new people and making friends because I’m too anxious to go out and do things. I avoid large crowds like the plague. I have trouble knowing how to talk to people and what I should be saying. I’m always worried that I’m bothering people or just sounding like an idiot. Conversations don’t flow very easily for me so I tend to avoid saying anything.
How long did it take you to seek help?
I had an older friend who I was very close to as a teenager. I confided in her about most things and it was her that put me on the path to receiving help. She recommended a youth group which I checked out and they helped me get a diagnosis and treatment. This was probably about four years after I started showing symptoms. I have been in and out of treatment since then.
What treatment(s) have you found works best for you?
I take medication and have done for a long time. I also am a client at Community Mental Health (CMH) and I can talk to them whenever I need to, usually weekly appointments, and they also help me when I need to see doctors.
Do you find the current provisions for mental health in your area are good enough? How do you think they could be improved?
I live in a small town so expectations are a bit lower I guess. The choice of doctors is limited to non-existent and they change frequently. It would be nice to have some consistency and perhaps some more options available if you don’t find the first person is a good match for your needs. But again living in this country makes it difficult because no one wants to work away from the city and when they do they don’t stick around.
What has been the best/most helpful coping strategy/strategies for you?
This might sound weird to some people but I’m loving fidget spinners at the moment and have built up a little collection of different ones. When I get anxious I fiddle with things and sometimes when it’s really bad I end up scratching the skin of my hands till it bleeds, often not realizing that’s what I’m doing till it hurts. Fidget spinners are small enough to be carried in my pocket and give anxious hands something to do that isn’t as destructive.
I also rely heavily on writing as a coping mechanism. I use my blog to write about my experiences. Some of the things I write about my family and friends didn’t know previously so it’s an easier way for me to explain things to them. Also when my anxiety is at its peak I have trouble verbalizing things. “Selective mutism” seems to be a term that’s used in my file (when I get a peek at it) and by doctors, though other doctors disagree in this being the right term. Anyway, when it gets this bad I write letters to doctors, therapists, whoever needs to know, in order to explain what’s going on because no matter how hard I try it isn’t coming out my mouth.
What has been the hardest part of your journey?
There have been many difficult points in my journey but one that stands out it the “selective mutism”. It is incredibly frustrating to know exactly what you need to say but not have your body co-operate. This happens mostly in times of high stress, at times when people need to know what’s going on in order to help but I just can’t spit it out. Sometimes this makes things worse, especially if medical staff don’t understand what is happening.
Have you found those around you treat you differently?
Some people do. Some don’t know how to react when they see I’m having a hard time or they catch a glimpse of my self-harm scars. Some people have been quite rude about those, but thankfully that doesn’t happen often. For the most part, though people are supportive in the best way they know how.
What do you wish people wouldn’t say to you?
“You’re not alone.” I know people mean well when they say this but it’s starting to seem like a cheap catch phrase when they don’t know what else to say. I know other people have these feelings but that doesn’t change the situation for me right now. It sometimes even makes me feel worse that there are other people out there feeling just as crappy as I am.
How can those around you help you?
Just be there. Listen when I need to talk/vent, spend time with me doing normal stuff, invite me to go out even if I say no, it’s nice to know that someone is thinking of me.
What is the one thing you wish people would understand about your mental health struggle/mental health in general?
I’m trying to get better but sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I just want to sink into that black hole and never come out and it takes all I’ve got to fight back against that. I’m doing the best I can and some days are better than others. Some days are brilliant in fact. But having a good day does not mean I’m magically cured. This is something I’ll quite likely have to deal with for the rest of my life and I cannot change that. All I can do is keep trying.
Are there any websites/groups/etc. you recommend for helping to cope with/understanding/information on mental health issues?
I love reading different people’s stories from The Mighty and just generally cruising the internet reading other people blogs. I’ve ‘met’ a few people this way and it’s nice when you get to talk to someone who gets it. I’ve been a member of several Facebook groups but am no longer in them as I find it hard to keep up sometimes which just adds to my anxiety.
What is the best advice you have for someone with a mental health issue?
Reaching out and asking for help when you need it can be a difficult step to take, but it is the best move you can make. It might not always feel like it, and some days can be downright painful and make you feel like giving up all together BUT you can feel better. It takes hard work and a lot of tears but you are worth it. Don’t give up!
Thank you so much for the interview, Alison.
Read other mental health interviews here.
If you are struggling with talking about mental health issues, read my top tips on how to start the conversation.
Alison is a stay at home mum to two little boys. She blogs about her journey with mental illness with the hope to break down stigma. She believes the more we talk and share about our struggles the easier it will become for others to reach out and ask for help when they need it.