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What 3 years out of inpatient has taught me

CW- talk about mental illness, hospitalisation

11th August marks 3 years from my last inpatient admission- a date I'll be honest for a long time never felt possible. I was the classic revolving door patient; told I'd never recover and that this was going to be my story for the rest of my life. But this isn't going to be a blog about how sick I was and how I am so much better now, I know some people do that and that's fine but for me I don't think telling people about my sickness is helpful and focusing on such negatives is only going to lead to comparisons and sadness. I am going to focus this blog on what I have learnt in the past three years, not just in relation to my mental health and recovery but also in terms of myself, becoming an adult and fitting back into real life after years of institutionalisation.

Understandably when you are in the world of mental illness it's all consuming and seems the only safe place. It's bizarre but for me when I was sick, I felt in a weird way safe in knowing how it would be. There wasn't as much unknown or uncertainty. In a strange counterproductive way, I found comfort in knowing my life was going nowhere, hidden behind my illness, with no expectations or responsibility. The world seemed so scary, it was this large unknown - life is an up and down journey full of unexpected turns. I knew if I gave up my illness, I was left exposed to this with no excuse or protection. Don't get me wrong, I hated being unwell, I hated how I felt, hospitals, appointments, all the pain I and my family were in. But for so long the fear of the unknown was even scarier.

I remember my last admission, that fateful night replays in my head like a stuck CD. As much as that was truly one of the most traumatic evenings of my entire life, it was the tipping point for change. They say you have to hit rock bottom before you can find the strength to fight, that evening I hit a new low. It didn't change there and then mind you. I didn't walk out cured and like I love life let's go!! I went out broken, angry and even more determined to self-destruct. I walked out of that building an empty shell of a person who genuinely believed they were such a burden on society, a waste of life and a horrible human being. The days after were kind of a blur, I was so empty and broken, just breathing was an almighty effort that seemed almost impossible. I'm not exactly sure how I got out of that place but life just went on - I was living moment by moment. It was the summer holidays so my mum was off and I guess we just did everyday things. At the end of August I got a job working as a 1-1 Special needs teaching assistant at the school my mum worked at. It was a last-minute panic as they needed someone to support this child to start school and so I reluctantly agreed. But that little child truly did save my life. It's amazing to think that something like that can turn life around. Someone I never expected to come into my life but who took it on a new path which truly did change everything. I worked at that school for 3 years before spreading my wings this September after getting into drama school to do a foundation year!

Don't get me wrong there are still so many ups and downs, I've made attempts on my life in the years since but never have I got to the place where I've had to go back to a psychiatric inpatient unit and that for me is something I will forever be proud of. Part of my discovery has been accepting that there isn't a ‘Happily ever after’, it’s not like the princess books. Or it’s not the same, unlike the stories we don’t stay there – there is no end happy place - real life involves going through the stages of a princess book multiple times. It means we get to a happy part but we won’t stay there forever- there will be further challenges and difficulties but hold on to the fact that happiness will come back around. I read this analogy in Chloe Hayden’s book and that book truly was amazing- she is by far my biggest inspiration! I've never been into 'celebrities' but she is something different ;D. It's hard to come to terms with the forever up and down nature of life, especially as someone who feels emotions so deeply. I take everything to heart and feel things so intensely that it can become all consuming. It's something I am still working on but for me the first step was realising that this was actually something I struggled with and being able to admit that this is the way I feel about things. When I'm in the thick of the dark moments the first thoughts are that I'm never going to get through this. The walls come in and sadness covers me like a blanket, engulfing me. It's in these moments I need others to help remind me that this too will pass. I need them to validate how I feel and to hold me until it goes. To be my lifeboat while I feel like I'm drowning when in reality though the sea is choppy my head is still above water. For me this is such an important lesson to be learnt, that our journey will have many battles but every battle lost does not mean defeat in the war. Life truly is a rollercoaster which when ridden by a neurodivergent can reach some real high highs but in turn also some low lows. People say you can't enjoy the happy moments without the sad and while I can see what they are trying to get at, that can feel scary especially when the sad times for some of us can be so so dark and isolating. Having a plan for those times (made when you are well) can truly be lifesaving.

That's another thing I've learnt in these past three years. Something which annoys me in a way as it means all those who said it to me over the years were right- and we hate people being right! You can only help someone who wants to be helped. I never understood this for the longest time - and while I still believe people should do everything in their power to keep someone safe and alive until they are able to want the help, no one can make you get better. There is no CAMHS magic wand (if you know you know!) or pill that you can take which cures it all. There is no sick enough to get better and no number of horrific experiences that then warrant worthiness of recovery. This is a bitter pill to swallow, and one I refused to swallow for so so long. To be honest I've probably only fully swallowed it in the past few months. Feeling that lost, isolated and broken is something no one can understand unless they've been there. It truly is a feeling which cannot be put into words or expressed in any form. I can think back to those moments and I want to give that girl a hug, tell her that it will get better but I know what her response would have been. That I didn't understand or that there was no way it could or even if it did it would just get worse again so what was the point. That last point is one that I come back to very often, pretty much every time I struggle. I have seen that there are good times, that the harshness of that pain doesn't last forever however it has always come back. For a long time when people would say but it will pass and you will have good times again or they would say but you don't always feel this way, I would revert back to the fact that yes that may be true but it always comes back. And the pain is just too much to bear. I would love to sit here and say that this goes away completely but I would be lying. Those feelings do come back, I still struggle at times, I have bad days, bad weeks and I even have times where I feel this world is too much for me. However, what I would say is that the positives in my life pull me back in the other direction. My goals and my hopes of what I want to achieve. The feelings do become less intense and there is light within those dark moments, the dark overwhelming times become less frequent and I realised that when they come asking for help is okay. I'm not in some sort of game where I need to hide these feelings, talking and opening up are the best things I can do. I truly can feel their grip lessening as I speak about them. And if I'm being honest one of the biggest reasons, I keep going is to shove it up all those who never believed I could - got to love being PDA!!

As a child I had this idea that adults had it all together, that as an adult you had the answers, you didn't get anxious or upset and you knew what to do in every situation. At one point adulthood scared me more than anything. I mean I ended up spending pretty much my whole year before my 18th birthday sectioned due to where this fear led me. I have recently found out this fear of growing up is something many autistics struggle with and it explains a lot about my life if I'm being honest! I'll let you into a secret - adults have even less idea about life than children. It was when I got my job at the school and I realised all these people who I'd viewed as perfect adults with it all together, teachers in charge of young minds were all as broken and bonkers as me. Of course, that's a bit of an exaggeration however it was so enlightening to see that actually this picture I had of adults was in fact a complete delusion. It was in a bizarre way so reassuring. I mean I don't wish suffering on anyone but to know that there was no such thing as making it and that I wasn't a failure of an adult really helped. That actually navigating life is hard and it's challenging but it's also exciting and special. This realisation was another big step in my recovery it meant just maybe I could give this adult stuff a try, maybe it wouldn't be the end of the world to just throw myself into the weird and wonderful thing we call life.

I’ve also realised there is no one set path in life, that there isn’t this finish line which is success and you cannot be behind in your own life. When you spend so long unwell, kept away from life, barely surviving, when you come out the other side there can be this feeling that you are behind. That you aren’t successful and that you need to catch up. This is something I personally have really struggled with. By the time I got out of hospital most of my peers had finished their degrees and all I had was my GCSE’s, they had ‘professional’ jobs, partners, homes and some even had babies! This left me in a panic, believing I was too old to ever achieve what I wanted or anything at all for that matter. This led me further down a negative path believing I had failed and that recovery wasn’t worth it because what did I have left to live for. There is no single path, age is just a number and success is what you make of it. These are all true statements but definitely easier said than believed. These are things I have to keep constantly telling myself. My goal in life is now to do as many different ‘careers’ as possible, I want to experience as many different things as I can. I don’t want to be limited to just one path but to follow where life takes me. I still have moments where I feel behind, when I think if I start uni next year, I’ll be 27 when I finish. That frightens me- that feels too old but says who. I feel like I’m six years behind where I should be but that is a measure that society has made us believe in when in reality there is no time frame on life. There aren’t or there shouldn’t be goal marks on when things need to be achieved by. I think if this was spoken about more often that it would help so many young people struggling with their mental health. There is so much pressure put on your future, on exams, on success, on achieving things in a timeframe and knowing exactly what you are going to do with your life. When the truth is none of these things are actually hard and fast rules, just societal expectations which we as the next generation need to stand up to and fight against.

However, the biggest learning curve has been in understanding myself. In finding out who I am, what I am about and what works for me. This is of course a work in progress however the more I learn about who I am, my talents but also my difficulties I am better able to navigate life and advocate for what I need. Finding out I am autistic and ADHD, what that means to me (as it’s different for everyone) has been life changing. I am still on this journey of discovery but the more I am able to understand myself the better I am able to help myself. How can I expect other people to understand and accept me if I can’t do that for myself. Finding out about neurodivergence has been an eye-opening experience and one that has left me with questions but also answers and a community of people like me who understand me. Through finding out about myself, I have found a purpose in wanting to help others, to educate and to advocate. I have found my love for the creative arts, for writing and for expressing myself. I am finding who I truly am, not who I thought I had to be and that is something I am really grateful for. To find true acceptance to be able to move forward in recovery, it takes understanding and accepting the true you, finding your own passions and interests.

I have truly learnt so much in these past three years, more than I could ever fit in this one blog. I have learnt both positives and negatives and I have moved further forward in my recovery then I ever dreamed possible. It’s interesting as while you are living it, you never feel like you are making that much progress but when you look back, I can see the miles and miles I have come. I’m oceans away from where I used to be. I have done things I would have never ever thought possible. I mean I write this on the train by myself to London- this is the girl who never used public transport, who would only ever go to Costa with her mum and believed going to a city meant you were almost certainly going to die. I am commuting each day to my course over an hour on the train, I have made friends, I have been out, I’ve spoken to people, I have passed my driving test. From that person locked up on 2-1 in a psychiatric intensive care unit to this person now truly shows how many miles apart we are.

However bad things feel right now, however impossible things seem I urge you to have hope. I can empathise with you, I have been there on my own journey, I have sat there with zero hope and just fear. But there is a life out there, a life you can make for yourself. Follow your own path, not the path others want for you but the one you believe in. It’s been a scary journey, life is scary but the alternative for me was a hell of a lot more scary.

2023, 2022, 2021


Lots of love

Hannah :)xxx


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