It's OK To Say: Clipper Round the World yacht race sailor reveals her own experience of mental health
PUBLISHED: 14:14 16 November 2018
Being ill sucks. No matter what’s got you down – the flu, a broken bone, diabetes, cancer – it’s a horrible place to be. Your body is weaker and less capable. The drugs you take mess with your mind and your moods and sometimes can make you feel even worse than when you started. Mental ill-health is no different. The brain is an organ, and like any organ, it doesn’t always function to the medical standard of “normal”. Mine certainly doesn’t.
For me, depression hit when I was very young although no one understood what was going on at the time, least of all me. I remember feelings of isolation, loneliness and being “different”. Everyone seemed to be better at everything than I was. Even if other kids invited me to their houses for playdates or told me I was their friend, I didn’t believe it. I thought they were just feeling sorry for me and it made me withdraw further. As much as I wanted to feel as if I belonged, I just didn’t. I couldn’t. It’s a feeling that entrenched itself into my psyche even as I grew and graduated and began a career. I overcompensated and hid behind a façade of being relentlessly optimistic and always ready to please…even though inside, I was craving something, some intimacy, that I couldn’t articulate.
The nice thing about having a career was that I was good at it. Always a strong academic performer, the idea of being able to throw myself into work and ignore the desperation of my social life was wonderful. And so it went for many many years. I did well for myself and my occasional break-downs were masked, dealt with and swept under the carpet as quickly and quietly as I could manage. I dealt with the symptoms and not the cause.
At the end of 2015, it all came to a screeching halt. I messed up professionally, my relationship was in tatters (nothing new there) and everything I thought I knew about myself was in question. I spiralled downwards. Being in that place makes you numb. There is no up or down, there is no light, there’s no value to you or anything around you. I once heard it described as if you have a swarm of flies buzzing around your head – you can’t see, hear or feel anything other than those revolting little black beasties around you – and I think that’s a good analogy.
I was lucky. I picked up a phone and called for help. Mind (the mental health charity) were on the other side of that phone and they talked me down from the ledge. They gave me some tangible steps I could take right there and then that I hadn’t even conceived of. A sliver of light appeared and I took a tiny but significant step.
If there is one thing that I’ve learned through my recovery, it is this: Talk about it. Once I started to open up to friends and family about what I was going through, it was like a dam broke. I wouldn’t say it fixed everything but by showing myself in a vulnerable state and STILL receiving the love and support that I did made me realise that I didn’t need to be superwoman. I didn’t need to be perfect. People loved me warts and all.
Over the last three years I’ve been able to realise a lifelong dream to sail across the world (well, half of it but still!) on the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Through this I’ve had an opportunity to raise money for Mind in Mid Herts and help them continue the incredible work that they do to ensure everyone touched by mental ill health receives the respect and the support that they need. I’ve also been given opportunities to speak both publicly and in print about my experience and show people that just because you’ve suffered mental ill-health, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve something remarkable. Whatever remarkable means to you. Honestly, sometimes just getting out of bed should be heralded with a trophy and a roaring crowd.
One of the Clipper catch-phrases is that Courage is Contagious and I truly truly believe that. I hope that my story has given you the courage to stand up and proclaim: It’s OK to say.
Follow the campaign on social media: Facebook: It’s OK To Say Instagram: its_ok_to_say Twitter: @ItsOKToSayUK Website: www.itsoktosay.org.uk (coming soon!)