Charlotte Underwood (Guest Contributor)
My mental health journey has been a long one, spanning over two decades. I am almost certain that I was born this way, always a little bit different to the others my age. I have always edged on the side of caution, I live in survival mode and I am always ready to run, literally or metaphorically.
Part of this, for sure, could come from the trauma I endured as a child but even on my better days, on ‘sunshine coated’ childhood memories, I still felt out of place. By the time I was 14, I became so uncomfortable in my own skin that I began to drink, so much that by the end of the year I could call myself an alcoholic. I would self-harm, try to stop my breathing, bash my head or anything to get the thoughts out. I was seriously ill and no one knew it, not even me.
I knew that I needed help at this point, though it is not always that simple or easy to find. What has helped me the most though, is my own resilience and ability to fight for my own life. I noticed that I was not like anyone else, and this isn’t always a bad thing. However, when I felt like I couldn’t do my exams or less, that I couldn’t deal with friends or family and that essentially, I couldn’t face anything that was outside of my room – this was a warning sign.
It wasn’t easy, to start, to be able to talk about my feelings or to find the support I did need, be it from someone else or from myself. Looking back though, it has taught me that while I went without help for so long, I am still here and I still found some of the help I did need.
I learned over the years that my mental health is more important than any exam, relationship or job. I learned that my mental illness is a valid thing and it does not need to be limiting, but it can be a very real reason not to do something that poses risk to my wellbeing. I understood that I needed to respect myself more and to stop living for others, I learned the value of my own life and how to appreciate it.
I can say the obvious, like I always do, and say that writing has helped me the most. I found it incredibly helpful to write down my feelings and see them in front of me, they don’t seem so scary that way. It also helps me to understand something when my head isn’t such a mess that it’s impossible to organise without a little bit of aid. In more recent months, I had learned to say no, to not overwhelm myself or pressure myself to do things that I do not want to, I learned to be selfish without being nasty about it. I also find that having cuddles with my dog is a magical thing.
However, this doesn’t account for 80% of how I survived this existence. As a child, I loved to play outdoors, run around, draw and dance to music, all things that I didn’t consider as self-care at the time but I would totally recommend for anyone, even adults. As a teen, I tried to talk about feelings to my friends, so I discovered a voice, which could help me in the darkest times. But most of all, my father helped me the most, he gave me constant, unbiased and loving support, I could talk to him about anything. The biggest part of recovery is an outlet, which all of these suggestions are, but having someone you trust and can talk to, that is something we all deserve and need.
No mental health journey is simple and they are certainly not linear. There will be good days, bad days and days where you feel nothing at all. How we manage it, that all depends on who we are, so don’t be alarmed if what works for me, doesn’t work for you because there are so many ways to help your mental health and you will find your own way. The best bit of advice that I can suggest is simply that you matter to this world and that you have more control of it than you think; don’t ever sell yourself short.
Charlotte Underwood is a mental health advocate and blogger. After a long battle with mental illness, she aims to get people talking about mental health. This is her first post for this blog and we hope you have learnt something from it. If you have enjoyed reading this then please also check out the interview we did with Charlotte for our ‘Ordinary people living extraordinary lives’ Ordinary people living extraordinary lives: Charlotte Underwood