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Saturday, January 09, 2016

My Story | Mental Health

Mental Health seems to be a hot topic at the moment. 

People more than ever feel comfortable opening up about their struggles and experiences with mental illness. I've known many people who have previous struggled or are currently struggling with anxiety and depression. I, myself dealt with depression for 14 years of my life.


My depression was triggered immediately when my dad passed away. My dad and I were best friends - we were very close and my whole world crashed when he died when I was 8 years old. I've been told by friends over the years that I never actually tell them what happened to my dad. For some reason I always just assume people know as it's been such a prominent event in my life, but for those of you who know nothing and need some backstory this is what happened.

Every Friday night my dad would go to the pub in Charing Cross for a beer with his mates. As he was leaving he pressed the button to walk across the street, waited for it to turn green, walked across and then just as he was about to finish crossing the road a taxi pulled out from behind the stopped car and hit my dad. He became a quadriplegic as a result of this accident which meant he spent weeks in hospital laying flat on his back, unable to move. He had metal rods holding his head in place so his back didn't break even more. A couple of months later he was eventually transferred to a different hospital and over the course of about a year he was able to sit in an electric wheelchair and control it by using his palm (he could not move his fingers or his lower body whatsoever).


One day dad decided he'd had enough of being in hospital and he was going to come home. So that Sunday he left the hospital with no intention of returning. We had made so many plans to fix up the house so he could get around easier, we were going to get a car that had controls he would be able to drive. We thought it was the beginning of a new life. A harder one than he had before, but still a life. On Tuesday morning I went in to say goodbye to Dad before mum took my brother and I to school. I hugged him and said "I love you, see you when I get home from school" and he kissed me. Hours later towards the end of my lunch break, one of my classmates came up to me and said, "where have you been? Your mum is looking for you!" I immediately went to the office where she was waiting with my brother and was told that Dad had an accident while in the shower and was at the hospital and we had to leave right now.

Honestly the next part of the story is a blur. I remember getting to the hospital - mum went in to see dad but I can't remember if he was alive or dead. Then she came out and said to me "do you want to see him? You won't get the chance again but he won't be the way you remember." I remember being really confused as to what I should do - of course I wanted to see him, but the way mum worded things confused me and I didn't know what she meant. I went in by myself, held his hand, and said something that I don't remember anymore. And that was it. The last time I saw him.

The day of his funeral. That morning I woke up in the early hours of the morning and saw angels. They were moving very slowly and matched my sad mood. I don't know why I am smiling in the picture - I'm not sure I knew exactly what was going on.

He died on Tuesday 14th March, 2000 and his funeral was held exactly a week later. My mum got me this necklace and gave it to me the day of the funeral.

Mum has told me since that Dad woke up in the middle of the night before he died - pointed to the end of the bed and said "what's that?" Mum said there was nothing there. Dad claimed it was the Angel of Death - a tall black man wearing a black robe, which I wholeheartedly believe. I actually just had a freaky thought regarding his birthday and date of death whilst writing this. I do think what happened was fate and was meant to be - that doesn't make it hurt any less at all but it does provide some reason, which is all I ever wanted when I was younger.

I wrote this when I was 8 or 9 when my mum was in the process of going to court against the taxi driver that hit my dad and caused the accident.

I was never officially diagnosed by a psychologist and I never took any medication for my depression. I've never been someone who takes medication unnecessarily (even if I have a raging headache I just let it go away naturally instead of taking something for it). Especially as my depression was caused by an event - one I had to overcome.

Shortly after my dad passed my mum noticed how much I was struggling and acting out more than normal. One day she took me to see a therapist and I just sat in the corner of the dark room crying; I didn't say a word. Throughout the very few sessions that I went I never said anything - she attempted to get me to draw my feelings which made me angrier as I had no drawing talents and she had no idea how to connect to me at all. I ended up refusing to go to any more sessions and just bottled my feelings up even more. I was absolutely heartbroken over the loss of my dad - my favourite person in the world, and things got even worse when my mum met her current partner just one year after my dad passed away.

Barely two years later we moved from our house in Sydney to the Gold Coast, where we still currently live. I felt like I was truly being ripped away from everything to do with my dad and that every moment and memory I had would be gone. The house we lived in was in the same street that my dad lived his whole life. My brother and I attended the same school that my dad did as a child. At the end of our street was the Church where my parents got married, and where my brother and I were christened. It's the Church where both my grandmother's and dad's funerals were held.


I understand now why my mum decided to move. Everything in Sydney reminded her of dad. She loved him so much that she couldn't bare to go to the same places that she once went with him. I can't say I've completely let go of the resentment I feel over the move; I think I would've healed much more quickly if everything I knew and loved and was comfortable with wasn't ripped away from me.

By now I am just finishing up grade 4 and from then up until my high school graduation things stayed pretty much the same. I changed schools and managed to make a couple of friends (who I'm still friends with now), but I would very rarely leave the house on the weekends, was very antisocial and not enjoying my life whatsoever. Most of my weekends were spent watching episodes of One Tree Hill. I wholeheartedly thank that show for getting me through the roughest years of my life. I honestly am not sure if I would still be here without it.

Throughout my whole teenage years I refused to have any photos taken of me as I didn't want to remember anything as my dad wasn't here. Any time I look at the few pictures of myself as a teenager I feel so sad - I can see how angry and hurt I was. I also got uglier and fatter as time went on and I didn't want that to be captured either.

I put on a lot of weight over this time as I was very inactive - all of my exercise and health revolved around my dad so when he died I stopped loving all of the activities I once loved because I was doing them with him. My weight gain has continued until this day (although I am finally planning on doing something about it and getting healthier in 2016).

My 8th Birthday when Dad was still alive vs My 10th Birthday nearly two years after he died. 
I remember not liking it if people even uttered my dad's name or told stories about him. One Christmas we went to stay with my mum's family and someone said his name and I literally stormed out of the house, slammed the door and went and sat by myself outside. For some reason I hated people bringing up my dad in casual conversation when I was still grieving so much.

I managed to make it through university and I noticed that it hurt less. I think having a new environment really helped me to gain confidence in myself and to let go of a lot of the negative attitude I had picked up in high school. I still didn't get any help for my mental health during this time. What made me finally decide to see a psychologist was the tv show My Mad Fat Diary, which was released in January 2013. I first heard of the show on Tumblr and knew I had to check it out. I remember crying to much watching it, and relating to the main character - Rachel (Rae) - more than I had any other character. Seeing how much she progressed from seeing a psychologist made me realise that it was time for me to do so.


All it took was a quick Google search for psychologists in my area and I picked one straight away who I thought I would get along with based on their name and picture (coincidentally, her name was Rachael, just like the character in My Mad Fat Diary). In the first session I told her so much - I cried as I told her the basic story of everything that had happened - how my dad died, how I reacted, how I felt, how angry I was at my mother... and I felt so good afterwards. To be able to finally talk to someone and just word vomit everything I had kept inside for 13 years was an absolute relief.

I kept a journal of my progress and would write after each session with Rachael. I noticed that I was finally opening up and slowly letting go of a lot of pent up emotion and pain. Then just a few months after starting the sessions, Cory Monteith died - just hours after I had gotten my first tattoo. I was absolutely devastated when Cory died and it still hurts me to this day. I was a huge Glee fan and had always adored Cory and the way he portrayed his character, Finn. Both Finn and I lost our fathers when we were young so I had always connected to him. The loss of Cory set back my progress in therapy because it brought back those all too familiar feelings of pain, grief and loss of love that I was in the process of letting go of.


I continued to see Rachael up until December 2014. We had cut back my sessions from bi-weekly to monthly, and I realised around August 2014 that I was no longer getting anything out of the sessions - that I didn't need them anymore and that I was healed. It was actually a really strange thing to accept that I was normal - that I wasn't broken anymore. A large part of my identity was my depression - it provided me with excuses and reasoning as to why I was the way I was, and once I didn't have it anymore I felt lost and would think What Now? I was stuck between who I was for 14 years of my life, and who I was going to become.

Sometimes I still feel like I'm stuck in between and I'm not really sure who I am, or if the other foot is going to drop and things will become what they were again. I think a large part of my creativity, imagination and passion is due to my depression and what I had to do to try and find happiness during that time. In a way I feel like at 23 years old, I am who I should've been at 16 years old; like many years were wasted, that I'm behind where I should be. But I honestly wouldn't trade everything I've gone through for anything. I can't imagine not being who I am, having had the experiences that I've had. I'm more understanding of emotions and feelings than I would have been without this experience. I am able to truly relate to people and their struggles, and to do my best to help them through.


I have fears related to everything I've gone through. I've noticed a truly horrible pattern. My dad died when I was 8 years old, and my dad's dad died when he was 8 years old. I am honestly so scared that pattern will continue on when I have kids - I hope and pray all the time that it doesn't.

Nowadays I feel really good. I still have sad moments and moments where the grief is hard to deal with, but it isn't consuming anymore and my life doesn't revolve around it. It took me 14 years to heal but I finally got there and I'm the happiest I've been in my whole life. I didn't even know what happiness was during that time. I suppose everyone defines happiness for themselves, but for me it means feeling secure in myself, and not being dragged down and self conscious all the time. Not being afraid. Feeling free.

If you're struggling with mental health, please, please seek help. I know how hard it is and how it's easier to just keep everything inside than to even begin to open up to someone else, but there are people that can help you and that care about you.

Do little things each day that push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Tell someone something that means a lot to you. Do something out of the norm. Set small, achievable goals - even something as simple as drinking a certain amount of water each day. Those little things contribute to the bigger picture of health and happiness. It gives you confidence and bit by bit you love yourself more. 

If you're struggling and ever want to talk to someone, you can email me at notxpictured@gmail.com - I can't promise I'll be able to help but I do promise to listen. ♥

8 comments:

  1. Oh Erin this made me cry reading it. Thankyou for being so personal and sharing all of these intimate things like diary entries and letters. It's sad to hear what happened but I'm glad you finally built up the courage to seek help with depression. Wish you all the best for the new year! xx

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    1. Things are really good now but I think it's still important to share and hopefully let people know that you can come through the other side, and things do get better with time. I really appreciate your comment Amy, thank you so much ❤

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  2. Oh my goodness, such a journey to have gone through and to still be going through, definitely so much courage to have pushed through and found help and happiness, I'm sure your Dad would be amazingly proud of you :)

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  3. Oh my goodness, that is quite the story. I have to say that I just stumbled upon your blog and reading that was so touching! adaatude.com

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  4. Wow, Erin I have no words really apart from what a horrific thing to have had to endure and go through. I really admire you bravery and your strength and my heart goes out to you. It's incredibly inspiring to see how much progress you have made and a very moving account of what you've been through. Lots of love and thank you for sharing this. xx

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! It's really difficult writing about experiences like this but comments like yours make me feel like it's worth it. ♥

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I appreciate every single comment and do my best to respond to every one. If you would like to connect further you can find me on twitter at @BeingErinBlog.