It takes a lot for me to ask for help. Exactly three years ago, when I had completed my fifth week of working for a mental health charity, having hidden how much I was struggling with my own health, I was admitted to hospital for what would become a ten-week stay. I was 25, with no work history and no relationships to speak of, but I had a recently acquired degree, so I was so determined to do what I felt was expected of me as an adult. To do so, I suppressed my own needs, masking desperation with eagerness. I wanted other people to see that I was a productive human being. I did so at the cost of my mental health.
In the three years that have followed my hospital stay, I have had other, shorter admissions, crisis interventions, two years of therapy and at least fortnightly appointments with my community mental health team. I’m 28. Definitely an adult, but still feeling like a failure.
When I heard my care coordinator was leaving, the me who still has such a desire to appear well and capable decided that I could try to manage without support. After all this time, surely I should be able to manage living? With our last appointment being tomorrow, I was ready to try and support myself. Within days of making this decision, it became evident that it wouldn’t be a good idea. In fact, it would be dangerous. On a daily basis, I still struggle with keeping myself alive. I struggle not to harm myself. I struggle not to curl up into a ball and give up on life. “But you should be able to do this by now.”
In trying to look like what I think an adult should be, I push aside my mental health diagnoses. If I’m not able to work, if I can count my friends on no hands and if I’m reliant on regular support to keep myself alive, I can’t see myself as a worthwhile individual. I tell myself that my poor mental health needs must be hidden if I’m to do anything with my life. But this is where it went wrong before.
This week, I asked for help. I phoned my care coordinator ahead of our final appointment and told her that I need to have regular support in place for the foreseeable future. She told me that my psychiatrist had said he was “concerned” about me being without support. I can’t manage my day-to-day life without the guidance of mental health professionals. I’m not working. I have no salary. It feels like failure.
For the last eleven years, my life has been filled with the ups and downs of mental illness. It has seen suicide attempts, repeated self-harm, disordered eating and desperate sadness. At times, it has been unbearable. I feel so indescribably sad that I’m not able to do what I would like to do. But my decision over these last few days has been to accept who I am right now. I am a person with mental health issues. I don’t want to be defined by them. but they contribute to who I am and what I can do. To accept myself is to accept the state of my mental health.
It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help. Though my voice shook as I said I needed support, I felt empowered. It is strength to say that I can’t do this on my own. It’s strength to take who I am right now and still make it through a day. It’s strength to craft a story for my life that includes the challenges that mental illness brings. We are strong.