My Mental Health Story
January 22nd 2016 is a day that replays in my head everyday. "I'm sorry her heart stopped beating" the doctors removed his glasses and revealed his watery eyes "I'm afraid there's nothing more we can do" he continued. My mother was gone and that moment was to haunt me for months after.
I went into a state or simply existing, my depression became worse and I'd drift from day to day. I was afraid to sleep because when I woke up I would have to come to the realisation of my loss all over again. I couldn't see why everyone's lives were allowed to go on as normal and why it hadn't stopped like mine. I couldn't see why at 24 I still couldn't catch a break.
My depression started when I was about 14. I didn't know what it was at the time but I knew I felt different. I had low self-esteem, a negative self image and was battling long term medical conditions. I had been diagnosed with Marfans Syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissues which can affect the heart, eyes, skeletal system (which it did with me) as well as many other parts of the body. I started to develop a hate for my body because of this. My mum was in and out of hospital because of her Marfans and I was passed from pillar to post because of It. I was so unhappy and my suicidal thoughts started young, there were many nights I slept with a knife under my bed hoping I had the courage to slit my wrists... but I never did. And I thank God for that now! I was always a very loud and popular child but nobody knew I was actually crying on the inside.
Despite a fairly happy life, depression followed me into my late teens and early 20s. And when my mum died due to complications with her Marfans, it was like my depression had multiplied tenfold. I pretended I was fine and strong for so many months after, I never really broke down and hardly showed my true emotions. I kept thinking that this would also be my fate in a few years and these thoughts drove me crazy. I was barely surviving and felt like I had no purpose. This led to more suicidal thoughts but the thing that stopped me in my tracks was the pain my family were already in, I didn't want to contribute to that.
Shortly before my mother passed away I had quit my receptionist job and decided to pursue my childhood dream of being an illustrator. After the sudden tragedy I vowed never to draw again. I didn't want to do anything that made me happy because I felt l guilty about enjoying life without my mum. I had no passion or drive for anything, let alone art but months later a friend suggested I try to draw something. I told them I didn't have anything to draw but I was told to draw my feelings, and that's what I did. My first illustration was a self portrait of me crying, holding a mask of me smiling.
I had unlocked a secret therapy, art! I created a series of art I entitled the 'Emotions Series' which was a body of digital artwork that explored mental health. I was using my art to heal but began to realise it was resonating with others. All of a sudden I was doing interviews online and on TV, I was asked to do exhibitions and I was getting commissioned for work. Things really started to turn around, I began to thrive.
The only issue was that I was opening up. I was telling people about my mental health struggles, my depression, my anxiety. I hadn't really opened up before because I felt I couldn't. I was brought up in a Caribbean household and in my community weakness is not really something you share. Mental illness is shrugged off as 'having a bad day' or 'having the blues' when it's so much more. You're encouraged to get on with life because there's nothing wrong with yours. Getting African and Caribbean communities to understand about mental health is an ongoing challenge, it's sometimes seen as this imaginary, western construction when in fact it's very real. Nethertheless I had taken this brave step and I had decided to share these struggles, despite how people would view me and I got so much positive feedback!
Finding something constructive to do is really important when dealing with mental health problems. I put my energy into art, started writing poetry again and went to church more. This saved me. Turning to other negative vices like drugs and alcohol doesn't help, it makes you feel worse and instead of making you forget your pain, it increases it. A wise friend once said 'positivity breeds happiness' to be happy you must surround yourself with things and people that make you feel happy.
So here I am, 25 and still alive! The pain I've been through has shaped me. And what I try to remind people of is that there is always hope. Long live the rose that grew from the concrete! Sometimes our dark times can lead us into the light and then beautiful things can flourish.