Usual trigger warning – may trigger, may also inspire and give hope
Contains mild swearing
Dear Mental Illness,
I’m writing this letter to you in mid-January 2013. It’ll soon be nearly three years since I became aware that you were a part of my life, even though I know that you were there long before I even realised it. A long time. Time was I would’ve started this letter by telling you to fuck off out of my life, that I hate you and want you gone. But I don’t. I’m not angry at you and I don’t hate you. And I know that you’re more than likely sticking around but that’s okay.
I used to hate you. A lot. Probably much more than I’ve ever hated anyone or anything. I still do sometimes. But now I think you’re okay really. I can see the bigger picture.
If anything, I used to hate you mostly because you spent so long trying to kill me. That was the most awful time of my life. But I rose above it. I kept going. I refused to let you beat me. And now I can see quite how strong and determined I am. Having that period of my life, where you made me suicidal for so long, has also given me a really good insight into suicide – an insight I don’t believe that I would have had otherwise. And that is good. Because it lets me help others in a way I wouldn’t have done otherwise. So thank you.
I have a blog where I write about mental health, to help educate others and to increase awareness. That’s another huge benefit of having you as part of my life. So, see, you’ve done something good there. You have indirectly helped so many others and that is great.
This blog I write, I often write what I myself would describe as some ‘really cheesy shite’. Even the name of the blog is really cheesy. But as someone said to me yesterday, it’s often the cheesy stuff that people most relate to.
Well, I’ll probably share this letter I’m sending you there, as it might help some others. And no doubt I’ll also think of this letter as some equally ‘cheesy shite’. But that’s okay. Because I write this from my heart, and that’s why it often ends up so cheesy.
Well, the main thing that I want to say to you is thank you for helping make my dreams come true!
Bit random? Perhaps.
Not something people usually say to their mental illness? Definitely not.
But it is true.
You have played a massive part in helping make my dreams come true. Let me tell you a little more about that.
When I was younger – I’m not quite sure how young, but certainly since I was a teenager, when people asked me what I wanted to do with my life my respone was ‘I want to set up and run my own business’. The standard response was to ask me what kind of business and my response was usually: ‘I don’t know what type of business. It’s not about running a particular type of business. It’s about knowing when the time is right, and finding an opportunity in the market, and taking advantage of that opportunity in the market, and about running with my own ideas to make it successful.’ Often people didn’t quite get what I meant by that.
And why did I want to set up and run by own business? Well, I didn’t really know what type. Nothing more strong than that I just knew. It just felt so right. Do you know the way sometime you just know?
Well, I grew up and my priorities changed. I made some poor decisions with my life, and although my business was still my dream, I didn’t really believe that it would happen. I bought a house less than a year after leaving Uni, saddled myself with so much debt, fell into a job that I loved but wasn’t quite what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And so on… Fuck, I keep forgetting that you were there, you know all this .
Well I got bogged down with the job, with life, and life flies by. You know how it is. Although, I did follow my heart almost four years ago and emigrate to Scotland for a new life here. It still shocks me sometimes that I did that. New job, new home, new friends, new country. Nothing to begin with, and needing to build it all up. It took time, but it always felt like the right thing for me, and I persisted and now this really feels like home.
About a year afterwards I became aware of your presence in my life. But, of course, you’d been there long, long before that. But you really took over my life for a long while, didn’t you? You made my life unbearable, unlivable almost. You caused so much pain for not just me but those in my life too. It’s not something I’d wish on my worst enemy. But it’s okay. I don’t hate you for it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I did hate you and still do sometimes – particularly for making me so suicidal for so long, for trying to kill me – but hey, I know it’s just what you do.
Well, as you know, I did get through that really awful period. I kept wanting so badly to go back to how I was before I knew about you, before you took over my life. And you really did take over my life, didn’t you? But one day I realised that I was never going to go back to how I was before; that life was different now, that I now lived with you as part of my life, but that that was okay! It takes time, perseverance, and a lot of pain and effort to learn how to live with a mental illness. It took all that (and more!) and I’m still learning. It’s an ongoing process. You’re going to continue to test me and I’m going to continue to learn and that is okay.
As I started to improve – and essentially what I was doing was learning to manage your presence in my life – I started seeing that I could help others. Make some good come out of it. That was a big motivator for me. I started helping others in lots of ways. You don’t need me telling you all about them. You already know. But if you hadn’t been a part of my life for so long I wouldn’t have been any good at helping others. Oh I might have been a little bit good, but it is that insight into mental illness that living with one gave me – that’s what really helps me help others, so again thank you.
You also made me much more self aware. You helped me become more empathetic. You helped me see the bigger picture. You did so much to help me. More than I’ll probably ever realise. So, once again, thank you .
You also changed my path in life. My priorities changed. After looking after myself and keeping myself well, my priority was to make something good come out of you being in my life. That was what mattered. You helped me see what was really important to me. Not work. Not the house I stupidly bought and couldn’t afford. Not possessions. Not anything trivial or materialistic. You changed me – but for the better. Thank you.
What had happened to that dream of setting up and running my own business? Deep down, it was still there somewhere. But it had been sidelined for so long. Firstly before I knew about you, my pipe dream was sidelined because I got bogged down in debt, because I thought I would always have to maintain the high salary I was on, which was all reallly just going towards paying off debt. And then of course all that happened when you became a part of life, and my priorities changed. My priority was to make a difference to people’s lives. This was way more important than setting up my business could ever be.
Well, as you know, I then trained as an instructor for the Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid course. I had done the course as a participant and was so inspired by how brilliant it was – how interactive it was, how much I learned from it. And I wanted to become an instructor and train others. Oh, it was a joy. I realised how much I enjoyed training others. How much I loved interacting with the participants. How much I loved making a difference.
And then it clicked. This was my opportunity. This was my time. This was my gap in the market. I decided to set up a business running Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid training courses around Scotland. Why? Because it seemed clear to me that there was not enough courses offered throughout Scotland. Oh there were often lots of courses. But they were not marketed enough to the public. And they were not usually available on the days and times when members of the public would be most likely able to attend – at evenings and weekends.
Why the public? Well, I was shocked by how few people in my life, (the general public, not the mental health professionals), knew that there was such a thing as a mental health first aid course. Oh, they knew about standard first aid courses, but ‘Mental health first aid, what is that?’ was the standard response I got when I told people about it. Which is not good. It is the public who most need this course. It is them that are going to be most lost, confused and unsure of themselves when someone close to them gets mentally unwell. And when someone gets mentally unwell, the professionals are only about a tiny fraction of the time – our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues they are the ones around the rest of the time – they are the ones who most need educating on what to do.
I want to fix that. I want to market the course to the public. I want to offer the course to the public when and where they want it. Oh I don’t just ‘want’ this. I am doing this! I set up Amanda MhScot, running Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid courses around Scotland. I know that I am going to make a big difference with this and it feels amazing!
The courses likely wouldn’t fill up all of my time, or provide a full income, so I applied for some positions with mental health charities. And I now have two casual Support Worker positions with a mental health charity. It’s not something I ever thought I would do. But I’m really going to be able to help people, and I’m so, so pleased. Would I have done that without you? I doubt it very much. Again, thank you.
And then it hit me. I set up Amanda MhScot, and I run Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid courses around Scotland in order to help people – in order to help ensure that as many people from the public as possible are trained in mental health first aid. And they will all be able to help others, and that is something wonderful.
That was the reason I did it, and will be continuing to do it, but I realised: I have my business! I have set up and running my own business. That pipe dream from when I was a teenager (or even possibly earlier)? It’s come true! And the fact that I can combine it with mental health and helping people, and the fact that it’s something that I truly enjoy, it feels so much better than I ever imagined!
Well, I have no doubt in my mind – I could not have done this if you hadn’t been part of my life. If I hadn’t had a mental illness, I would not have done any of this – this would not have become my path – so dear mental illness, I am so incredibly bloody grateful to you. You really have helped me make my dreams come true. Thank you!!
I say you ‘helped’ me make my dreams come true. ‘Helped’ because you can’t take all the credit for it. Not by far. You tried to tear me down, but I was the one that hung in there, I was the one who got myself through it, who came out the other side. If it hadn’t been for my own strength and determination, and of course the support and care of those around me, I never would have gotten through it – so I just can’t let you take all the credit.
But it couldn’t have happened without you and I am grateful and I wanted you to know this.
So, where to from here?
I am scared. I have taken a massive risk with that I am doing.
But I am also very excited. My biggest fear is that it won’t work – that I can’t make it work. But I really believe that I have the drive to make it work. And either way, I tried. Trying is what matter. If I didn’t dry, I won’t know if I could have succeeded or not. And ultimately it is in trying that I succeed.
You’re still a big part of my life. You still affect me much more than most people realise. I have to continually work hard at keeping you at bay – at not letting you take over my life again. It’s hard. I get so tired of it, so fed up. But I can see how much good you’ve given me, and focusing on that helps a lot.
If I could ask you one thing it would be this: the biggest problem that you cause me right now is a lack of motivation for personal stuff. I have lots of motivation for my business stuff, for everything I do in mental health, anything that helps others. But I have very little motivation for anything that involves looking after me. Please give me back some motivation. I need to be able to look after me in order to continue what I am doing. The next while is going to be risky and difficult. I am going to be finished my full time job in three weeks, and after that it will really be scary. I need to be able to look after me too. So please help me if you can. Please go a little easier on me.
Oh and just one other quick aside – I’m not naive. I know that you will probably make me suicidal again. I know that it’s what you do. I hope I won’t ever get as unwell as I was unsure. I believe I won’t – after all, I have so much focus in my life now. But I can’t ever really know for sure. But either way, just so you know, you may try to kill me again. But it won’t happen! I choose life. I choose not to die by suicide. It’s not happening. Ever. So if you could save yourself the effort and save me that pain and misery that would be a big help to us both.
I’ve been nice to you in this letter, please be nice back to me
Thank you once again, I really mean this. Together let’s continue making a difference. Together we can do this!
May also be of interest:
- Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA) website
- My upcoming SMHFA courses throughout Scotland
- A similar blog post: A mental illness – the best gift I’ve ever received