It’s been a long day of seeing patients and, as I finally allow myself to relax into my seat on the packed, rush-hour train, that’s when I feel it.
The wave of numbness that had disappeared for a while but always seems to return.
A weight settles in my forehead and all I can think about is getting home and crawling into bed. I begin to dread having to wake up and face the world tomorrow.
That’s when I realise I’m starting to get sick again.
It’s not the first time that I’ve been depressed. Far from it. I’ve been living with it for more than a decade; the ups and downs of my illness carving a path through my adult life.
I first became ill after starting university, shortly after moving into student halls. To say that I wasn’t coping in my completely new environment would be an understatement.
Alone in my university room, it felt that my whole world had come crashing down around me, and I felt the sheer hopelessness that accompanies an episode of depression.
Desperately trying to make myself feel something, I binge-drank spirits and threw up noisily, telling my new friends that I wanted to kill myself. At other times, I took myself for long late-night walks across campus, lying down on the cold hard ground, trying to take the edge off the numbness.
Eventually I began to self-harm, addicted to the rush that came with translating my mental anguish into physical pain.
Recovery was slow. I reached out to my GP, and a wonderful counsellor at my university wellbeing hub. I’ll always remember him and how he helped me. Eventually I would start medication, but not for a number of years.
Since then, the depression has returned at irregular intervals. I used to be able to tell you exactly when each episode occurred and how long for, but I’ve lost count over the last couple of years.
It’s frustrating, and sometimes I have to remind myself that progress isn’t linear. It’s normal for lapses and relapses to happen along the route to recovery, and I mustn’t give up.
Now, making my way home after a busy day at work, I’m able to cope a lot better with the way that I feel. In the 10 years since that first episode, I’ve learned how to support myself; what the early warning signs are, how to cope with my symptoms, and when to seek professional support.
My depression isn’t any less severe, and my suffering isn’t any less painful, but over the years, I have learnt to manage. I haven’t self-harmed for many years, and I no longer put myself in compromising situations out of desperation.
Yet, it still hurts, and it’s probably time for me to have a break from work to recover.
This lived experience is what made me want to train as a therapist in the first place, leaving my editorial career in book publishing after reevaluating my life during the pandemic, in order to have the chance to put what I’ve lived through to good use.
You certainly don’t need to have experienced severe mental illness to be a good therapist, but it does help.
The empathy that I’m equipped with is something that just can’t be taught, and I’m able to connect with my patients in a way that feels genuine.
While it’s not appropriate for me to share my personal struggles with my patients – their sessions are about them, not me – I’m able to have a deeper sense of understanding of what they might be going through.
I can hear what you’re thinking – should I even be working in mental health if I suffer from a mental illness? How can I help others when I can’t even help myself?
I understand the concern, I really do, but it’s a lot more common than you might think. Hoards of staff working in mental health services have a history of mental health difficulties, but most don’t speak openly about it because of the stigma.
More from Platform
Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.
Find some of our best reads of the week below:
An anonymous writer describes the moment he found out his boyfriend was HIV positive and hadn’t told him.
Adee Phelan made millions in his job as hairdresser and salon owner, all without being able to read. Now in his 50s, Adee is starting to learn.
Mr and Mrs Smith lost their 17-year-old son Harry to suicide a decade ago. Harry took his own life on results day after not getting the AS Level grades he was expecting.
And Maggie Redding, who along with her wife Sylvia, lives in a LGBTQ+ friendly retirement complex, explains how homophobia doesn’t stop once you reach your 80s.
That’s without considering anyone who develops a mental health problem over their years of service. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, anyone can be vulnerable to experiencing mental health difficulties.
Opening up to close colleagues has been eye-opening. I’m far from alone in my experiences, and my ability to reflect on my own experiences has helped me to develop as a practitioner.
I hope that one day it becomes easier for mental health professionals to speak about their own problems, and for there to be an open and reflective space for us to learn from our own struggles.
For me, working in mental health has helped to bring new meaning to my life. Helping others makes the years of suffering seem worth it, and I’m proud of the work that I do.
I haven’t fully ‘recovered’ and I don’t know if I ever will. The recent relapse of my symptoms, which was unwanted but not a surprise, indicates that I’m going to need some time away to look after myself and heal. I’ll be honest, living with a mental health condition that keeps returning can be disheartening, but giving up isn’t an option.
Once I’m better, I’ll be back continuing my work with patients, helping them to get back on their feet just as others have helped me. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever wondered whether you could use your experience to help others, this is your sign.
The National Health Service needs people like us, and what you’ve lived through will be an invaluable asset.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
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