For Mental Health Awareness Week this year Second Step Communications Volunteer Claire has used the theme of surviving or thriving to look back at her long history of mental illness and reflect on when she’s been surviving and when she’s been thriving. If you'd like to share your experiences please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Everybody who lives with a mental illness is a survivor; don’t let anybody tell you differently. We all find different ways to survive and getting through each day when we are ill is pure survival and that is something we are rarely given credit for.
Historically, I’ve been the Queen of Bad Choices. I have bipolar and over the years have ticked all the boxes when it comes to becoming dependent on things I shouldn’t to help me cope. From drugs and alcohol, to food and cutting. None of these things were good for me but all of them helped me survive and manage extreme mood swings, severe depressions, and manic highs.
Surviving can also take the form of not engaging in life, just passing each day hoping nothing bad will happen. When anxiety is so bad you don’t leave the house, even opening the front door is too much. This was surviving for me, I was alive, but I wasn’t living. One week merged into the next. The phone would ring and I would jump, my heart racing, if I didn’t know the name on the caller display I would hang up so I didn’t have to speak to anybody. My life was insular, I became introverted, my depression feeding on my anxiety and vice versa.
For many years I didn’t thrive, I honestly didn’t know how. I had many bad habits that made me think I was thriving, mainly being an alcoholic, which is extremely deceiving. But then I started to listen to my body. I began mindfulness and I meditate almost every day. I’ve discovered it helps me understand where my moods are and how I am feeling so I can decide how to approach the day.
With the help of a dietician I changed my diet and no longer binge. I eat a full healthy diet, cooking from scratch. I’m allergic to wheat and I avoid dairy which helps me understand some of the issues I have had with food over the years. I’ve been clean of drugs for 12 years and from alcohol for five years. It’s a great feeling to beat those demons once you realise you have them.
Second Step’s Community Rehabilitation team helped me overcome my fear of leaving the house. With their support I started walking every day. I’ve lost almost 30kg which has given me a new lease of life. I thought I was stuck as this obese woman and I’m not. Suddenly I’m able to wear clothes I used only to look at and admire. I can bear to look at myself in the mirror, and I like what I see for the first time in my adult life.
I’m now volunteering at Second Step with the communications team. I used to work in digital marketing so this team is the perfect place for me to use my skills. It’s great to spend time in an office with people who I don’t have to hide my bipolar or who I am.
A truly important change has come from my ability to embrace the bipolar. I’ve spent my whole life fighting it and now I’ve accepted it. I know I have it, I know I will still get sick (and yes that’s going to royally suck), but I’ve accepted it’s here and it’s here to stay. And this has made me feel stronger and more able to try and live a full life.
My experiences have shown me ways to thrive. If I can do it I know loads of other people can do it too!