We live in a world where suicide is the biggest killer in men under the age of 45 and is rising in young women too. We live in a world where phrases like ‘man up’, ‘grow some balls’ and ‘crying is for babies’ are still said to people when they are vulnerable and reach out for help. We live in a world where people bravely open up about their mental health and struggles, only to be called attention seekers and mocked.
We live in a world where people are fighting to change all of the above.
Talking about mental health is one of the biggest and most important ways in which we can change this and this week’s interview is with someone doing just that. At just 20, Mei opens up about mental health with a maturity and clarity beyond her years.
Mei told me that she wanted to do this interview to help someone else out there – with words as honest and open as this, how could she not achieve that goal?
I first started struggling with my mental health around the age of 11 and it got really bad around the age of 13. I had suffered some childhood trauma and, after a hard time in school, I slowly cut myself off from the people I loved. I started self-harming around this time too, which is something that I still struggle with now as a 20-year-old.
Getting the help I needed, especially at such a young age, was very much a fight, but once I was referred and in the hands of a mental health team I began my recovery process.
At the age of 18, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder. This is something I am still learning about and understanding how to cope with. Having mental health issues is most certainly difficult and draining, but I am in a much better headspace than ever before. So, in a roundabout way, my mental health journey has been chaotic, eye-opening and exhausting.
When your mental health is in a bad place, how would you describe it?
I find it really difficult to express how being in a bad place feels. It’s a feeling that no words could ever describe how horrible it is, but I guess one of the best words to use is ‘hollow’.
On the really bad days, it feels like anything that could have ever possibly been good is black. It sometimes feels like there’s a giant black fist in the middle of my throat that just gets tighter and tighter, like I’m being crushed from the inside and there’s nothing I can do about it.
As someone who hasn’t experience it, it’s hard to begin to imagine what living with that feeling must be like. What things have you done to try and overcome this?
Up until last year, I was under the care of a mental health team. I was provided with therapy, a psychiatrist and a crisis team. I have also been on medication for a number of years, so these are my ‘foundation resources’.
Outside of this, I try to read and write as much as I can. Writing is the one thing that has remained my passion throughout my mental health journey. I also try harder to speak about how I feel and leave the house as much as possible.
Mental health and illnesses like depression are often caused by ‘invisible killers’. Why do you think there is so much stigma surrounding getting help or opening up about mental health?
I think people are often scared of what they don’t understand, which I suppose is reasonable in some respects but when it comes to situations like being open about mental health it is SO important to have that space. I think the stigma comes from the fact that mental illnesses are ‘invisible’ and this leads people to think that because you cannot see it, it cannot possibly exist. This is obviously wrong and this way of thinking stops people being able to come forward to talk about how they feel because they think ‘what could other people possibly do to help?’
In my experience, a lot of people don’t understand that sometimes people have these illnesses for no reason other than a chemical imbalance and that it is not as easy as just getting up and getting on with things. I am also highly aware that the stigma towards men having a mental illness is very different and a much more toxic situation.
What do you wish people knew about mental health that perhaps they might not?
Mental illness does not have a specific type of person that it effects – it can happen to anyone, of any background and any circumstance. You don’t need to be in a terrible space in your life to be affected by mental illness. Check up on your friends and your family – you never know who might need you.
I’ve been told that living with mental health issues, even when you are in a good place, is like waiting for an unwelcome visitor because you just never know if or when it will come back. What is it like for you to live like that?
It’s unnerving. I feel somedays I create my own anxiety by just waiting for the anxiety to come. Having Borderline Personality Disorder makes dealing with emotions really difficult, so some days when the ‘unwelcome visitor’ is not around, I am feeling as though I could do anything I wanted. This is also something that is quite hard to deal with but I am slowly getting better at!
You sound like you are in a positive place at the moment and feeling confident enough to tackle things that come with your diagnosis. When you look to the future, how do you feel?
Uncertain. I think about the future a lot. I spent most of my childhood believing I would never make it past the age of 16, let alone 18 and now I’m 21 this year. It is quite nice to think about the future and not be absolutely terrified.
That must be a wonderful feeling – you really have come so far. If I suspected someone I knew was struggling with mental health, how do you think I could I support them?
Ask them! Every person is different and therefore every person’s needs are going to be different, but it’s super important to ask people how you can help them or ease anything they might be feeling. I actually wrote a blog post about mental illness and being in a relationship which you can read by clicking here!
To open up about this is incredibly brave and incredibly strong and I really hope you view yourself in this way because what you’re doing, even though it isn’t easy, will help so many people. How do you feel about yourself right now?
I am proud. I’m nervous and scared too, but mostly proud.
If you could speak to someone who is struggling, what would you say to them?
You’re going to be okay. It might not be tomorrow or next week or even this month, but you will be okay. If you think about it – it’s always ended up okay or you couldn’t possibly be reading this. You’re needed, loved and so, so worthy.
If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?
I have to see the light in myself in order to see the light in anything or anyone else.