It dawned on me recently that my life has been somewhat a mystery to those whom have discovered me through being mentally ill, and in my own way, trying to air out my thoughts and feelings over the last few years. I suppose the journey that leads me to the now began in 2013. I had been suffering from mental ill health for some ten years by this point and I had had more than my fair share of conflict in life. I had decided that in 2013 the best way to proceed, following a life of traumatic events, would be to go on to study at the local college.
Sure enough, in the Summer of 2013 I went to Stockport College’s open day event whereby prospective students would be able to enquire about the courses available with the varying tutors of said courses. Knowing little about the education system, I went along beaming with all sorts of ideas of what I may be able to study. I distinctly remember thinking about psychology and how I would like to put pen to paper regarding my own psychological theories. I soon found out that I was aiming a little high for college study. I was confusing college with university study. Of the subjects I enquired about, many were packed into level 3 access diplomas and I did not have a mathematics grade of C or above to be able to enrol for an access course. I thus enquired about what I could study with the college. I soon found myself in the room where the GCSE maths stall was set out.
I enquired about Maths with little in the way of surety that I would take it on at all. Never the less, I took a test prepared for prospective students to see where my maths skills were up to. Although with hindsight the maths test seemed simple, I was pleasantly surprised that I got 14 out of the 15 questions correct. I had expected to do much worse given my long hiatus from education; it had been 16 years since I had left full time education. Following the test, I met with a tutor whom told me of her own journey with mathematics in later life. She had begun studying for a maths degree in her thirties. This, while also bringing up children. Inspired, I went on to enrol for the course. It was part of my plan to move on from a past littered with trauma and conflict. In my early twenties I used to like to go out to dance, and from time to time, I would also perform as a DJ, though I mainly kept this as a hobby, with a full-blown life of other commitments.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I truly began to reflect on the former decade and how I would like to move forward in my future. You see, at this stage of my life I had only just come to terms with an assault which had occurred in 2004. I had spent from 2004 to 2009 working towards taking those responsible to trial. In 2009, the case collapsed. This was because my legal aid had been stripped; my chance of success at trial was deemed to be poor. It took me two further years to come to terms with the long legal journey that began in 2004. Its fruitless conclusion left a bitter aftertaste. A deep depression followed. It wouldn’t be until the April of 2011 that I felt able to let go of what was. Additionally, I had only just begun to feel that I knew how to do it; I decided that I should destroy all records to do with my legal journey.
I chose to destroy documentation to do with my legal journey because I would re-read correspondence over and over. In doing so, the documents would trigger emotion that I found difficult to control. While living alone, it proved difficult to distract myself with daily human interaction. I found myself brooding. This lead to me triggering with ptsd fight mode responses quite often. With no one around that I could air out my thoughts to, I would find myself on social media making the same points repeatedly to anybody whom would listen or engage with me. I had realised this behaviour was unhealthy for me and that the files needed to go. I burned them one April morning in a field close to my home.
By the time 2011 came, and just as I was attempting to distance from my overuse of social media, my cousin died. This became headline news nationally, though the reasons why are irrelevant to this blog entry. However, what is relevant is that this event and what was to follow clashed with the year I had finally felt that I had found closure regarding my own turbulent history. It ripped my world apart. Online abuse soon followed. There were those whom were outspoken about the details in the media that would transpire about my cousin’s life and subsequent death. It took me a further two years of navigating the social media realm with a new impetus in my social networks that perhaps had people look at me in a different way. It was also new artillery to level at me for those whom had previously spent their time abusing me online. It would not be until around the Summer of 2013 that this would all fizzle out for me, and not before I’d completely ‘skitzed out’ in trying to fend off a never-ending stream of online abuse. And so, I found myself in Stockport college, investigating the potential of me taking up further education and setting my life off in a new direction.
Maths class started in September 2013. I would have two-and-a-half-hour tuition sessions twice a week in the older part of the college. It was literally like going back to high school. The way the college was set out, and the building itself, harped back to my high school of the 90s which was very 1960s/70s in its aesthetics. Maintaining a Facebook profile at home allowed for trickles of abuse to continue. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that I decided that I could no longer weed out friend from foe and that it was also distracting me from my studies. My prior activities online had collided many kinds of folk together in what seemed like a good idea at the time but would transpire to perhaps be a bad idea. I decided to go for it and delete my profile. I distinctly remember thinking that I know where all my friends and family are in life, and that I would no longer need a Facebook profile that was convoluted in its purpose for me. This would give me the chance to take college study more seriously. A leap of faith was what I believed I needed. I remember thinking back to the burning of my legal case files in 2011, and how liberating it was to let go of the old. If I am going to study for a new start in life, I would have to let go of the old is what I came to believe.
Moving into 2014, I began to have misgivings about my choices. A deep depression ensued. I felt that I had nothing. I was nearing the age of 33 and thus far, I felt that I had nothing that could show what I had done with my life since leaving full time education at the age of 16. All I had was maths, and in between I would be sat at home without a Facebook profile to socialise with friends and family. I set up a Twitter profile to have some sort of connection with the world at large. However, being in the grip of a deep depression made for my twitter feed becoming a place to air out my worst to anyone that might listen. My feed became a moan of everything that had happened to me over the former decade. I deemed the people whom had been active through that decade would probably find me online in the end, and so effort was put into ‘telling’ people, out there somewhere, to keep out of my life and that I had now moved on. I believed that with deleting Facebook I had made a definitive choice in my future. I just needed to convince those whom came looking for me that those choices were fixed; the abuse of me online was to be over. Musical activities online were to be over. My future was to be ‘normal’, whatever that meant. I knew it meant study in the short term, but I was still pondering where my life would lead in the medium and the longer term.
March came, and having gone through a difficult winter, not least with a form of stalking around my home, I rang a form of mental health services in Stockport. I believe I had perhaps mentioned my worsening depression to my doctor, and that I will have been tipped as to what support is available. I came across Stockport Mind and their services from searches online. I rang up the telephone number provided and was told about their drop-in service in the town centre. Having described symptoms of deep depression and fleeting thoughts of suicide, I would get a call back some days later to make sure that I was OK, and to reaffirm the invitation to come along to the drop-in service. I distinctly remember thinking after the first call, that I had felt alright for a few days, and so did not need to attend. I was thankful for the call back. I soon attended the drop-in service where I was met by the woman whom I had spoken to on the telephone.
Going to the drop-in service that Stockport Mind & Pennine Care NHS operated proved to be somewhat the lifeline that I was seeking. I now had two commitments a week away from my address; home was somewhere that I wanted to distance from to get away from the noise in my locale. There was oftentimes distraction around my home address. I found the drop-in intimidating at first. Walking into a room full of strangers was no easy task for me. It would have been all too easy to turn away once I had arrived. I put aside my feelings of discomfort, deeming my life required me to do this.
I cannot remember if my Maths exams were in the May or June of 2014. The journey to them proved to be full of obstacles for me to overcome. I had mental health problems that would affect me until today, while my physical health was not up to much either. I had bouts of chronic toothache, and social issues continued to burden my life at home. As the exams came closer, I began asking questions of what is next for myself? There were those in my class whom were inspired to investigate access courses at the college. Access courses lead to university study. Thus far, I did not believe I would be the kind of person that would or could go onto university, but the idea of doing further college appealed to me. I decided that I might give it a go, and that I would not necessarily need to attend university if I did not want to.
I got my Maths exams result in the Summer and panic stations were over. I had gained an A. I didn’t know whether to be pleasantly surprised or look back on the year’s events, suddenly realising that they had perhaps cost me an A star. I don’t think that I would have thought it possible for me to attain an A star, but in seeing that I achieved an A with so many problems along the way, I was sure my best was yet to come in terms of study. Over the summer I would take out a course that I was able to study on my computer at home. This was in IT.
I felt that my Maths grade had made the choice in whether to take up further education at college for me. I thus enrolled on an access course in the subjects of Creative Writing, English Literature and Media. The course was due to begin in the September and would see me attending the college nearly every day of the week. I had no idea about what kind of degree I could do following it. I essentially didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to advance in college following success with Maths.
At the same time as enrolling for access at the college, I was offered the opportunity to take up training via the mental health services provided by Stockport Mind. They had trained me in the key themes of mental health, and through a partner organisation in Stockport, had offered me the chance to volunteer on site. This enabled me to take on further study in Health & Social Care. It seemed so simple to me. I could go to college through the week, and while attending therapeutic mental health centres whom would help me with my own mental well-being, I could become qualified in support work. It would take little more effort than I was already putting in I deemed. Perhaps only one further assignment a month. I was aware that some of the assignments were evidence-based discussions centred on activity in my volunteer role, and so it was a no-brainer to me. I could convert my own mental health support and volunteering role into a qualification with relative ease. It was here that I pondered on my future with mental health and that it perhaps could be a new career in the making.
College was going well. My first three assignments produced two distinctions and a merit. In the degree route that I was looking at, I would only need those assignments to be two merits and a pass. It seemed I was excelling, and in some ways, it gave me food for thought, in that I may be wasting the opportunity presented. I was doing exceptionally well, yet the degree route that I was looking at required far less of me. I began to downgrade my efforts somewhat, gauging that I didn’t need to put as many hours in at home.
As October 2014 came to pass, I started becoming unwell, both physically and mentally. The same issues that had reared their head in the previous winter, and had threatened the maths course I had enrolled on, began creeping in as the winter drew in. The days and the nights grew colder. My accommodation needed modernising. Each winter would give rise to physical illness in myself, due to the cold and damp conditions at home; I was unable to heat the property properly and this was what impacted my physical and mental health each winter.
Working through the winter on college assignments became increasingly difficult. I began to lose consciousness at home while trying to study. I had to come away from college. It was in a lot of pain across my body. I believe I was suffering from the effects of hypothermia. Moving into 2015 saw my health continue to decline and in the space of that winter I lost over three stone of body mass. It was here I deemed that I would probably not be able to catch up with college work, and that I would most likely have to leave it there for this academic year. I had more luck with my Health & Social Diploma. With flexibility at the heart of the course, I was given an extension and went on to complete it later in 2015.
Since 2015, my overall health had continued to decline. While it is true to say that I recovered from the hypothermia in 2015, my body was not left the same. I believe that hypothermia impacted on my thyroid, knocking on to hormone production. Anxiety exploded into being for me in 2015 and has been with me to a greater or lesser degree ever since. Having started my mental health journey via primary care in 2014, as of this year, I am a fully-fledged service user in secondary care. With the aid of medication, and the removal of stressful factors in life, my anxiety is now somewhat under control.
Following three difficult years, 2018 is most certainly the start of my full mental health journey. I am thus far enjoying the revelation that it has become for me. I am learning so much about myself and while banding around talk of ptsd for the past 14 years, it is only since gaining secondary care support that it finally feels real to me. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is a condition taken seriously by the medical profession at large.