I’m Still Standing

On 9th July 2018 I sent this text on the way to my first appointment with Dr Stephen Pereira. ‘This has been a long journey for me and this is my last resort today. Whatever anyone thinks I have tried since last April – I’m fighting something I can’t fight’.

That date will be ingrained in my mind until the end of time, as it was that day when I walked into his office, I had finally met the one professional who just listened.

No one can scan your brain to work out what is going on with your mental health, that is what your psychiatrist is for – a person that interprets your words to help get your head better and that is what Dr Pereira did for me and still continues to do so, to this day.

I am now over two years on from that desperate day in July 2018, when I uttered the words I had uttered so many times for nearly 18 months, ‘I just can’t carry on feeling like this anymore’.

Two years on from that day, I am getting stronger and recovering slowly but my head and my heart have taken quite a battering. I’m not quite sure which has suffered more.

Two years ago, I struggled to dress, wash, walk, eat, sleep, cook, read and watch TV – every basic daily task was like climbing Mount Everest. I could not get my brain to function, to tell my body to function. The way I explained it at times, was to say I felt like my brain had been damaged.

So now two years on, I am proud of myself and thankful to those around me who have got me to where I am today. And when people ask me how I am, I answer in Elton John’s immortal words, ‘I’m Still Standing’.

Once I was on the road to recovery (many days are still tough), Paul and I started to discuss our mental health journeys. What makes us both angry, is how many professionals just don’t get it – they can’t feel the pain and suffering, physically or emotionally, that you have been through, unless they have personally being affected by mental health. They can study and get qualifications but there is no better qualification than living it. When we say to people we understand and get it – we really do.

So we discussed a starting point to be heard and Paul who had listened to only one podcast series ever, Jamie Laing’s Private Parts, decided that a podcast was a good way to give us a platform to build on.

Due to the battering my brain had received through wrongly prescribed medication and ECT on my head (Electro Convulsive Therapy), I struggled to sleep at night for many months, so I started to spend a lot of time on mental health forums. I realised that people just needed the most basic of support, asking the most simple questions about mental health that I could answer and also most importantly, they needed someone that just took the time to listen.

I would spend hours on forums; there is a lot of bad advice given out and also too much talk about medication – that is one area that should be left to the professionals – my standard answer being, ‘medication is not one size fits all. Listen to your own body and if things don’t feel right, go back to your doctor’. I started to get lovely comments about the support, advice, understanding, and non-judgmental way I wrote to people. The most moving message that I received was from a young girl who said, if it hadn’t been for me, she would have taken her life that night, I knew then I could do more to help.

The main goal of the podcast is to talk about the reality of mental health and break the taboo that still surrounds this topic. We make it clear every week that we are not doctors, therapists, counsellors or psychiatrists but speak through lived experience of two people who found themselves in hospital through no fault of their own. We want people to understand that we were ill, desperately ill and mental health issues can make you extremely ill. We could not have willed ourselves better, tried harder, made more of an effort, or mended our brains by running, thinking positively or doing yoga -we were well past the point of any of those helping, that’s for sure.

I now have a passion for something that three years ago I would never have imagined would have interested me. I have come across all walks of life since becoming ill and people still don’t want to talk about mental health. It’s not hard for me to put myself out there – I am proud of my journey and more proud of my survival. I have been told at times it may be best not to talk about what happened to me. My question to those people is always, ‘Would I be told to keep quiet if I had cancer for 3 years?’ The answer is always no, so what have I got to be ashamed about my mental health?

I can fight the professionals forever more and the medical profession as a whole that let me down, but for what gain? Or I can work on developing a positive platform to help people get the help I so desperately cried out for. I can use my fight to be heard, to support and encourage others to shout a little bit louder to also be heard. And in by doing so, hopefully get them one step closer, to getting the help they need, to stop them from giving up. That is the best legacy I could possibly wish for.