My name is Joy, I’m 27 years old and I live in Bedfordshire. I love reading, cross-stitch, card-making, singing, and watching films. I graduated three years ago with a degree in Creative Writing and, in September, I will begin an MA in English Studies. I’m passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness, and about enabling people to tell their stories. I would love to travel, to help people, and to have a family of my own.
However, that is easier said than done. When I was sixteen, I began to self-harm. I’d experienced years of trauma, my self-esteem was at rock bottom and I felt I had no-one to turn to. I was shy, told to stay quiet about what had happened to me, and unable to say, “I need help.” It escalated quickly. By the time I was seventeen, I was suicidal, self-harming on a daily basis, and still trying to maintain a façade of wellness so I could get through my A-Levels and go to university.
After I began attempting suicide, it was clear to everyone around me that I wasn’t okay. I was referred to my local mental health team, received pastoral support from my church and eventually went to a residential programme. At first, it seemed that I had recovered. I managed to stop self-harming for a few months, my mood had picked up, and I began looking to the future. I completed a pastoral leadership course and then went on to the University of Derby where I studied Creative Writing.
I was finally where I had wanted to get to, but I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. Again, I was bullied and again, I experienced trauma. I believed I had a label on me that everyone could see, saying: “Already damaged, break me some more.” In my last year of university, I was struggling to make it through each day. I was at my lowest and desperate for a way out from the pain I was carrying. Upon graduating, I tried to scrape my way through work because I wanted my family and friends to see me doing something with my life. I worked for a mental health charity whilst covering up my arms that were riddled with scars.
My mask soon dropped. After five weeks of work and another suicide attempt, I was admitted to hospital. I was so ashamed that people would know I couldn’t cope after trying so hard to pretend otherwise. I was in hospital for ten weeks, which was then followed, in quick succession, with three other, shorter, admissions. This was in 2013.
I would love to say that my life has turned around. I would love to say I’m doing all the things I hope to do. But I want to be real. Mental illness is difficult. My diagnoses are numerous and often hard to manage on a day-to-day basis. There are days when I don’t want to meet anyone or talk to anyone. There are days when I wonder if I will ever be able to work again. There are days when I fluctuate between despair and apathy many times. They are the dark days of mental illness.
Jemma Wayne, in her book After Before, says, “You mustn’t be ashamed. You’re not responsible for what others do to you. Only what you do to yourself.” So on the days when I remember what has gone before, I also remember what I can do for myself today. Some days it’s about getting up, putting my make-up on, and sitting in the library with a book. On other days, it’s going to my therapist and saying, “I’m struggling.”
I know there are many battles ahead and that I’m not where I want to finish up. But sometimes the greatest lessons come from the journey and not the destination. Mental illness may always be my experience. However, in writing about it and claiming it as my story, I don’t have to let it be the definition of me. I am also the things I love, my passions, and my hopes for the future.