Living with a mental illness
Our guest blogger talks about her past in the care system and learning to live with depression and anxiety.
Living with mental illness, Living with my friend
I didn't realise the impact that my childhood was going to have on me. Being abandoned by my mother three times throughout my childhood; neglected by my father who was an alcoholic and a gambling man. I still love my father very much as he didn’t abandon me like my mother did, even though my father was to make many more mistakes.
When a family friend abused me, my father took this news really badly and ended up seriously beating his friend up. He later died, so my dad went on the run. He took me with him at first, but later I was to return all alone with a fake name, twelve years old standing alone at Luton airport wondering what was going to happen to me. I saw my mum out the corner of my eye - she had come to pick me up - but sooner rather than later my mum abandoned me for the third time. She left me standing in the court room, where my fate was to be decided - was my mum going to keep me or was I going to be made a ward of court and returned to the care system? My mum just left me, saying she didn't want anything more to do with me.
All alone and back in the care system, where, in what would start to become a routine, my foster father took a liking to me and started to abuse me. My foster mum hated me because she knew what my foster dad was doing, she didn't care as she was a sad woman who needed to have a man, she hated the attention he gave me. For me, this was normal life - everywhere I ended up that was what I expected to receive. Who could love me? I was damaged goods and besides even my own mother couldn't love me.
In and out of care until I was released into the wild and all I knew was how to be sexual. For years I lived my life, had children by a man who controlled me by beating me up and spying on me so that he could feel like he had control over his life. He thought I was the answer to his messed up life but the fact was, I was just as messed up.
Years went by and I met a new friend called depression, this friend didn't mind who I was, where I had come from, in fact I was perfect. This friend knew they could control me. How could I explain the overwhelming feeling of being introduced to this new friend? It was weird - I didn't want to get to know this new friend, I was trying to battle with my new friend to leave me alone, but they didn't care. I lost complete control and found I was isolating myself from everyone who cared for me. I didn't care and I would sleep for days, weeks without talking to anyone. I would ignore the phone calls from worried friends, my new friend had taken me over.
One day I saw myself in the bathroom mirror - "who is that? OMG it's me!" - I had allowed my friend to slowly take control of who I was...I didn't see it coming, slowly waiting, my friend had been preparing for many years to take over and to destroy the world that I had been waiting for, for so long. My friend the past had finally taken a hold over my total existence, and I couldn't explain why I was feeling this way. It was so overwhelming, I couldn't control myself from slipping away from everyone around me, isolating myself thinking this was the best way, why would I want my friends and family to see me in such a bad way? To see I haven't bathed for weeks, brushed or even put a comb through my hair. I wouldn't eat, wouldn't leave my house, I completely locked myself away from the outside world - my home was my only safe haven.
Only occasionally would I speak about my mental illness, and people would look at me in dismay, some people would say how on earth can you neglect yourself in such a way? And maybe they were right but I can't control the power that hung over me.
I hated feeling this way, I felt like a fraud, I just thought I was going through a bad time as in the past I have felt depressed and have been able to sort myself out but this time it was different. What started with weeks and weeks in bed turned into months, my whole life was crumbling down around me and again I had no control, I felt like I was going mad, scared of my own mind. Something had to change but I was so low I just couldn't leave my house.
One day something changed inside me, I couldn't let my friend control me any longer, I had to get help. I finally turned to a really good friend who wasn't judgemental and I knew would understand and she took me to my doctors where I just broke down. My doctor referred me for an assessment and I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety and OCD and was put on a high dose of meds and CBT. Unfortunately, ten years on I still haven't recovered. My doctor has told me that I most likely had some form of mental illness as a teenager but it didn't get recognised and just kept going until my mind couldn't take it any longer.
I found that the CBT and other therapies weren't working. I kept relapsing and I couldn't stop thinking, analysing my life. I must be able to find an answer but it wasn't to be, my childhood was with me no matter what.
I had to try to learn to understand it, and so two years ago I started attending Parliamentary meetings for looked after children and care leavers and through these meetings I started to network and I now volunteer as a parent help line adviser at Youngminds, the UK's leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people and to empower professionals, carers and parents. I have now realised that I will never forget my past, but I could use the experience to help others. I've done a couple of articles and I really want to write a book - not just about me but the complete breakdown of the services that were meant to protect young people like me. More people need to speak so that things change and who better than those who have survived the system?
So for me it isn't about recovery it's about learning to live with my new best friend 'mental illness'.
Our guest blogger can be followed on Twitter at @keeleydear
For more information about YoungMinds' work with looked after young people visit our website.