Phoebe's Story - Mental Health Awareness Week

As you may have seen we have been posting stories through out the week, however we were only able to record a small amount. While running this campaign I have been sent some beautiful words, I want to share them with you because I believe they are important. If you would like to also share your story we encourage you to use #storiesformentalhealth

Thank you so much for being part of a powerful movement! 

This story is from Phoebe Douglas, I cannot describe how overwhelmed I am by this writing. I known Phoebe for a long time, in this piece of writing you can see her honesty, understanding and light shine through. Inspiring in so many ways, one being that she is not afraid to admit the harder or angrier parts of her journey. She has put a unfathomable amount of hard work into make her life better. I am so proud and I love you lots Phoebe. 

I have always been an anxious person, I can’t remember my first panic attack because they have been so recurrent throughout my life, I have always been shy, I never made friends when we went away on holiday I would watch my younger sister play with other kids and feel jealous, and I have always been sensitive, I have never watched the moment Bambi’s mother died and not shed a tear. I guess that’s just who I am. But anxiety became a problem for me when I was about 16/17, I started to bunk off school a lot because I felt too anxious to leave my house, I lied and told my parents and teachers I had a stomach issue, for a while everyone thought I had IBS. But I got through school with reasonably good grades and it was presumed the natural progression for me was university.

The idea of moving to a new city where I knew no one filled me with dread, so despite all the advice I was getting, I decided to get a shitty job in a coffee shop and stay in London instead.
And that was the first-time depression reared its ugly head. I hated my job and the only relief I got from it was partying at the weekend. And partying of course involved sticking a ton of chemicals up my nose into my already fragile brain. I was young and naïve and it felt fun. Drugs would continue to feel fun for years, but the come downs got worse and worse, and my depression deepened and deepened.

Depression is the loneliest place in the world, its watching everyone you love and like move on with their lives and you’re left outside in the cold, frozen to the spot. My anxiety continued to get worse, to the point where I was signed of sick (I didn’t have a job at the time I was on Job seeker’s allowance) because I couldn’t even get to an interview. In 2015 I got into Goldsmith’s to study English literature and I thought I had stopped the rot. I was regularly going to the gym, I was excited about starting uni, I had plenty to look forward too. In the Summer before uni started I got into a very non-committal but very intense relationship with a housemate. Everyone told me this was a bad idea, but I think I’m a pleasure seeker through and through. I don’t think of the consequences to my actions and if something feels good I do it, no matter what. I started uni, the anxiety returned with a vengeance. I would walk into class and be unable to speak to anyone, I hated walking through uni most of all. Everyone was always in groups and I was always on my own. The relationship I was in became toxic very fast, it wasn’t really his fault, he was struggling with his own stuff too, but I did deserve better. I had to move out of my house and back into my mums. Moving back home was hard, but I think it was harder for my family. I was so horrible. People always tell you about the desperate sadness with depression but do they tell you about the anger? I was so so angry, with myself, with my family, with my mum most of all. She couldn’t help me, and I really needed help and I resented her so much for that. I would scream at my family, I’ve said and done awful things to them. Why does no one talk about the anger? I can’t be the only one. I remember wanting to be sectioned just so someone would help. During all this I was on very strong antidepressants, they seemed to be of little help and they constantly made me feel nauseous. I lost over a stone. (Sad but true; everyone kept telling me how skinny I was and I loved it!) I spent the Christmas break back in my student house (my old housemates had gone home and I still had a key) getting off my face. I would take a whole group of people back, someone (usually me) would suggest getting coke and so it would begin. I spent days without seeing sunlight drinking and snorting, and not one of the people I called friends ever once asked if I was ok. I let a guy stay in my house who sexually assaulted me in my sleep. When I told my friends no one really cared, I mean they said comforting things at the time but insisted I confront the guy at a house party and when I couldn’t well suddenly the blame for the assault was on me. Once Christmas was over the party house was over and so was the distraction. Misery set in really badly. I know the pattern of the textured wallpaper next to my bed better than the skin on my own hand, I would spend hours, days staring at it.

One night I arranged to see my old housemates, it was the first time I would see them since moving out and so of course I was really anxious. I desperately still wanted them to like me despite how I had had to move out. My mum offered me a lift, I agreed. I got in her car and we started arguing. I don’t remember over what. I was screaming at her as she drove round Lewisham roundabout and she had to drive round it twice because the first time she missed the turning. We got to the house and were sat outside in her parked car. I was still screaming. And then I did something I will never forgive myself for I hit her. I hit her so hard, she was crying and she looked scared. I told you the anger was the worst. I got out her car ran to the house, banged on the door. My housemates let me in and I curled up in the hall crying. They were completely confused. I ran out the house and I just ran. I ran so far. I wonder what I looked like running through the night, tears pouring down my face, wild, incensed. Utterly bonkers probably. The first newsagents I passed once I had stopped running I brought a pack of paracetamol, and two bottles of wine. I brought more paracetamol at the next shop, and the next and the next. I don’t remember how many I went to. And then I sat in a park drank the wine and swallowed all the pills, and promised myself I would die in that park.

I didn’t (obviously) I ended up walking myself to A’n’E, hounding myself the whole way with thoughts like “you’re so pathetic, you can’t even kill yourself”. I stood outside Lewisham hospital for ages, unable to go in. Just crying on a wall. What happened next I have only fully explained to one person and for now I want it to stay that way. But a guy found me, vulnerable and at rock bottom, and he took advantage. I was sexually assaulted, I got away before it went too far, I ran back to the hospital and broke down at the reception. I wish I could say the A’n’E staff were great, they weren’t. They were stressed, and busy, and tired (it was 3am). I wasn’t a priority. I just wanted someone to tell me it was alright, they didn’t. A nurse shouted at me because I violently threw up in the sink rather than all over myself. I finally let them call my mum the next afternoon. I will never forget the look on her face when she saw me, I felt so guilty. I still feel guilty.

The shame was overwhelming, for days I didn’t go outside or answer messages. My mum had contacted two of my friends to see if they knew where I was, my inbox was full of concerned messages. Honestly I wanted them all to shut up, except one person. I had over the last and worst few months of my life been chatting with a male friend who I had known for a long time. For some reason, he seemed to genuinely care, and not only that understand. For some reason whenever I spoke to him I felt better, and not just like distracted better but actually better better. I didn’t get that with anyone else. I spoke to him first, and he’s still the only person I have ever spoken to about it all.

And that was it, that was my way out of the darkness. The light I needed was love. I fell madly, head over heels, in love. And he loved me back. Soppy I know and I wish I had something more concrete to offer, like do this and you will feel better but that’s just not how these things work.

My closest girlfriends confronted me a week or so after being in hospital. They wanted me to talk to them, they felt they deserved an explanation. They said it had been hard for them. I wanted to scream at them, what about me? It’s been harder for me! I did scream it at them. But in fairness to them it had been hard. Another thing they don’t tell you about depression; it has a huge impact on the people around you. I have made my mum, sister and dad cry multiple times, even though all they have ever given me is love and support. I have made the people who love and care for me worry and stress and become depressed themselves. Depression is like that, it’s an engulfing cloud, it swallows you whole, and it’ll try to suck in those closest to you. My friends had been impacted. But I wasn’t ready to talk and I deserved friends who understood that. I deserved friends who stuck by me despite the toll I had taken on them. Not all of my friends were those friends, but to the ones that stayed. And the new ones I have made since, Thank you.

I’m still struggling, I believe I will struggle with my mental health the rest of my life. But the good days out way the bad now, there is far more light than dark. I started a vegan food blog, something I am passionate about and had been wanting to do for forever. I still can’t work, it’s something I’m working towards, and that’s pretty depressing, I’m 24 and can’t support myself. But a year and a half ago I had no passions, no interests, and no confidence to pursue anything anyway. I stared at a textured wallpaper wall. I was a pro at staring at that wall. Depression strips you of a future, you can only ever imagine the never ending, all consuming, sadness and anger. Now I can imagine and dream of a future again. So, I’m incredibly proud of how far I have come. I wouldn’t change it now.

If I could give one piece of advice it would be don’t listen to people when they tell you no one will love you until you love yourself. It’s bullshit. I didn’t love myself. Maybe you don’t love yourself, you and I still deserve love. We are still capable of loving someone and being loved, whether that be the love of family, friends, or a significant other. And through the other person’s eyes you will learn to love yourself, as I love myself now. Wow that is something I have never said… I love myself.