“Go to your GP. There is help. Right?”

** Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault, abuse, eating disorders**

I have been in the mental health system for nearly 16 years now, and I still have no idea what’s wrong with me. Initially, I put wrong in inverted commas, but you know what? It is wrong. Having spent my life fighting with feelings of utter desperateness, self-harm, suicide attempts and ideation, chronic depression and anxiety, social paranoia, desperately low self-esteem, all the while engaging in hugely damaging behaviours to try and numb the pain and being made to feel by society as both a drama queen and fundamentally damaged – that is wrong.

That is mental illness. Here is a sporadic account of my experiences of this, with a focus on behaviour and the mental health system – if you’re reading this; I suspect you don’t need me to describe the feelings in too much depth. This is an incredibly long story that would take a dissertation to write, but I have tried to keep it as brief as humanly possible.

I have been diagnosed with all the usual suspects – depression, borderline, bi-polar.

Every psychiatrist, and there has been dozens, has a different theory. None of them really ‘fit’. I was equally amused and incensed that my current psychiatrist on a recent discharge form from an inpatient stay boiled it down to ‘PD’ [personality disorder]. 16 years of juggling by mental health professionals and it’s got me down to two, medically controversial, initials. That’s it solved then, brilliant. I can go about with my life now.

And then there are the questions – Why? Why is she like this? What happened to her?

Yes, admittedly, I have had a considerable amount of trauma in my life – physical, emotional and sexual. However, none of this trauma happened before I first became seriously depressed.

I saw my first psychiatrist whilst still in primary school, and was on anti-depressants and benzodiazepines before I reached double figures. Don’t raise your eyebrows medics, it might not happen now, but trust me, in 1996 it did.

My first inpatient stay, totally inappropriately on a general pediatric ward, coincided with my first blow-job, and the start of over a decade of damaging sexual behavior in a misguided attempt to improve my self-worth. I was twelve.

By the time I was 17, I had several more psychiatrists, inpatient stays and a kind but ultimate fairly ineffective therapist under my belt. I had also had far more than my fair share of contact with predatory paedophiles, a marijuana habit, was six stone lighter with an eating disorder and had taken my first class A drugs.

I hit the golden age of adulthood, moved away and was chucked out of the pediatric mental health system to fend for myself in what I could not have anticipated was the brutal transition from child to adult services.

Then, at 18, I discovered – I mean properly discovered alcohol – then it got really bad.

Alcohol followed by sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. It is a minor miracle and serious statistical improbability that I have never caught an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). And then finally, a meaningful and loving, if exhaustingly volatile relationship turned my life upside down and I finally felt some peace and happiness.

However when my epic first-love relationship, and in my head my only hope of ever being valued as a person and not a vagina, inevitably ended, I had a spectacular breakdown. The months are a blur, but all I know was there were dozens of ambulances, wonderful paramedics, horrible policemen, nights upon nights in accident and emergency dealing with emotionally dead and professionally reckless duty psychiatrists. Screaming and screaming for help at the top of my lungs, and mercifully, a self-less and devoted best friend screaming by my side.

Despite being labelled as ‘urgent priority’ for treatment in the NHS, it was a solid 2 years later, as I was preparing to move away from university and the city, that I was offered proper treatment. Could this be referred to the NHS service where I was moving? No. 24 months, ‘urgent priority’ and back to the bottom of the queue.

The private system was little better. I was privileged enough that I could seek treatment at the all-star Priory where I always enjoyed keeping an eye out in the waiting room for Kerry Katona. Having inadequately trained therapists to treat me, they referred me to an alternate private service which wrote back to my psychiatrist that my needs were ‘too complex’ and my case was ‘too difficult’ for them to treat.

A hop, skip, and a rape later we’re in 2011 and I am finally, finally, getting proper treatment. I have an NHS psychiatrist (who as I may have mentioned, I am not overly impressed with) but two wonderful private therapists who not only feel they can treat me, but desperately want to. They actually care about my well being, which in my considerable experience of the mental health system and the professionals within it, is woefully rare.

I am not ending this with sunshine and rainbows. Often with mental health, there isn’t a neat happy ending, and I think that is really important to say. Things are still extremely difficult, I am still in and out of hospital, and no one really knows if I can get better. It has been decided that drugs, in the medicinal sense, can’t help me.

But there are people trying to help me.  I still have the unconditional love of the best friend that any human being could ask for, and many more wonderful friends, albeit not in the same city as me. I am finally facing up to my damaging behaviours, this is an uphill struggle but I could not recommend it more highly to anyone suffering with mental health problems. Abuse of sex, drugs and alcohol will not help you – ever, escape now before you end up in stirrups being examined for evidence.

I am more confident about myself than I have ever been – and am fighting myself out of the clutches of the beauty fascism in the media that has warped my sense of worth since I was old enough to know what a stone was. I may not have a boyfriend, but as someone recently said to me in therapy, for which I am eternally grateful: “You haven’t been single for 3 years. You have been drunk for 2 and a half years and single for 6 months.”

The worst part? I’m ‘normal’. I can defend myself, I can ask for help, can argue my case and am actually pretty damn good at it. I am intelligent, articulate and very high functioning, and it has STILL taken me nearly 16 years to get proper treatment, and even now I am paying £110 an hour for it. Good luck searching for help. It’s like a needle in a haystack in a field full of gargantuan sized haystacks, but it can be done.

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