When it comes to mental health, stigma and discrimination continue to abound. But one way of creating an open and safe space for discussion to happen is by sharing stories. By telling your story, it can normalise the conversation and encourages others to do the same. It has been shown that storytelling can cultivate empathy and compassion and that it can help us to feel like we are not alone.
In our new series, we will share personally written pieces from people who have gone through/are going through a difficult mental health journey. We hope it inspires you to speak up and speak out.
Please note that while SAFMH commends the person who is kindly sharing their story here for their honesty and bravery, we do not automatically align ourselves with and/or endorse all the viewpoints raised. SAFMH promotes and advocates for inclusive and empowering medical and mental health services and for persons using these services to adhere to their treatment and consult practitioners about any concerns they may have.
I had a, mostly, happy childhood. Active and healthy, I was a quirky child – an introvert who did not make friends easily, which led to me being bullied as a child. I failed to learn basic boundary setting in my family and in the outside world. As a teenager, I began to experience depression and turned to alcohol and cigarette smoking to fit in and be cool. My schoolwork began to suffer and I went from being an academic child to failing subjects at school. I also became friends with “the wrong crowd”.
I met my ex-husband when I was 14 and we started dating when I was 20. Although we drank together a lot, he was an incredible support to me when my dear father died when I was 24. This was a turning point in my life and was when my drinking began to become alcoholic.
I became an attorney and, in one of my first jobs, I experienced burnout for the first time. I was working for a legal services company and consulting up to 10 clients with serious legal problems a day. It was a daily assault, and the company gave us no support, technically or emotionally. I was physically unfit and my smoking and drinking continued. I failed to learn the basics of work/life balance at a young age. Burnout was to be a theme of my working life. I could not say “no” and set boundaries at work. People-pleasing was the norm for me – I feared not being liked and appreciated.
In 2004, I had a traumatic miscarriage and began to experience sexual harassment and bullying at work. My marriage began to fall apart. Although I was in therapy at that time, I lost twenty-three kilograms in the space of three months and experienced a mild nervous breakdown. I made no lifestyle changes, nor did I leave the company where the toxicity was making me physically and mentally ill.
My husband and I decided to separate, and my drinking became much, much worse. I would drink at home, alone, often. It was around this time that I joined Facebook, which was new technology at that time. My experience of social media has been that it is very bad for mental health. It made me depressed and paranoid.
My first psychotic break occurred on Facebook in 2009. I received incorrect medical advice and had to be involuntarily hospitalised in 2010 when I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. My private psychiatrist over-medicated me for ten years. I gained thirty kilograms and experienced extreme depression- to the degree that I could not work or function for long periods at a time.
My last psychotic break was during COVID-19 in 2020. I have made serious lifestyle changes since that time. I have consulted numerous psychiatrists – my advice to anyone suffering from a mental illness is to do this at the outset. I am on less medication than I have been on in 11 years. I have done research into the gut-brain health connection and eat a balanced and healthy diet. I exercise frequently, but, more importantly, I have two years of sobriety under my belt. I practice a twelve-step programme and am supported by a community of recovering alcoholics.
I have been privileged enough to have been able to afford extensive therapy and I have found cognitive behavioural therapy to be the most helpful. I have done a lot of research into the treatment of schizophrenia in other countries and am particularly interested in the Open Dialogue approach (which is offered in Finland, Denmark and England) and meta-cognitive training (which is offered in Germany) I set boundaries with everyone now, there are no exceptions. I also no longer people please and do things so that people will like me. I am not on Facebook or Instagram. I am not depressed, probably for the first time in my life.
Anonymous suggests truly investing in your treatment. This could include supplementing your therapy with positive lifestyle changes as well as ‘shopping around’ to find the right therapist and psychiatrist for you. There is no one size-fits-all approach to therapy, and the professionals and therapy that works well for someone else might not work as well for you.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing bipolar episodes, always seek the help of a mental health professional. If you are interested in connecting with the organisation in your province, feel free to reach out to us via our enquiries Help Desk. For those who are looking for more guidance, you can head to our website and check out our Information Library.
If you or your loved one is feeling hopeless and/or having suicidal thoughts, please call the SADAG Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393. These numbers are free and counselling is available in all 11 official languages.
Image: Emma Simpson on Unsplash