Tuesday, 9 February 2016

My Mental Health

UPDATE: In the light of the #LondonMarathon2017 today and the #HeadsMatter mental health campaign I was compelled to add an update to this post. I have suffered four breakdowns and cPTSD, Depression and symptomatic alcoholism in the past which have all been traumatic in their own way, for different reasons and on a variety of levels but the scars these challenges have left ensure I am alive, strong and have made miraculous steps in recovery. The stigma around all mental health challenges is still huge but by talking about our own journeys and raising awareness we all can help begin to break the stigma. Even though I have suffered various forms of mental health issues, I am still a human being and it doesn't define me or change who I am, I am still Elaine. You are still you. Having suffered in this way has deepened my compassion and made me who I am today. Without these experiences I would not be able to do the counseling, mentoring and advocacy work I do as well as I do.

It's mental health awareness day today (among other awareness days today) and it brought to mind the past present and future of my own life with mental health and how I have managed it and what support I have received over the years and, I realise, it's not much.

A second thought that came to my mind on this important MH awareness day is that is has happened to fall on Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday and that made me think of my past mental health and what others might be feeling and suffering today.

You see thirty years ago any family holiday would have been very traumatising for me as I would have to pretend, could not be myself, must behave, must play happy families, must cook a huge family meal and keep my mouth shut. I am sure there are many out there, male and female, who can relate to what I am saying. Domestic abuse and violence happens to all ages, races, genders, upbringings and backgrounds and it happens "behind closed doors." 

When my mental health was at its lowest "holidays" and "family events" were extremely stressful and triggering. There was an expectation that I would be a certain person and behave a certain way so I trained myself to keep quiet, to never react. I trained myself to have no opinion. I trained myself to show no feelings and I trained myself to not feel anything. I would talk to myself in my head saying, "do not speak", "do not react", "do not show you are scared". I became good at it, no actually I was excellent at it for many years. Eventually, it became second nature and I didn't have to "speak to myself" in my head, somehow it just happened and I lost confidence, my self esteem was zilch and I looked like a "zombie". I just functioned enough to get by and take care of my daughter. The world was a fog and I was so depressed I hoped I would pass away in my sleep.

Thirty years ago there was no help for someone like me, as someone suffering domestic abuse. It was literally classed "as a domestic dispute" by the police and they didn't even attend the house. I was lucky if I even got a reference number for the reports I made. No one discussed abuse or mental health so I had no idea where to go for help and I was ashamed of my husband and my life and I was ashamed to tell family and friends. "This sort of thing didn't happen in my family". I actually didn't want to tell My Story. But twenty or so years later, My Story is written and published to assist others to speak out about abuse and mental health and to ask for help. It's here on this blog, and published by domesticviolenceuk.org and My Story of Recovery is published by hestia.org

So this morning as I sat and thought about mental health awareness day falling on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) I was struck by how there are no more triggers for me on special occasions but many others will be suffering out there today. I was struck by how it's exciting and a pleasure to make pancakes for daughter today and I can really enjoy and savour the flavours and textures of a huge plate of yummy pancakes but many others will not be able to. I was struck with how lucky I am right now to have peace and contentment in my life with no stress but many other will not. The future (after thirty years) is brighter for me but for others it is not.

We must talk about mental health; we must talk about domestic abuse and violence. We must talk about any form of abuse to anyone - boy, girl; woman, man; mum, dad, brother, sister; husband, wife; cousins, friends - anyone, cause right now many are scared and hurting as I write this post. Too scared to tell anyone in case they are judged or stereotyped. Too scared to talk in case they are not believed. Too scared to flee cause they have nowhere safe to go.

We must also care and support child and young people who may be witnessing domestic abuse and/or violence. This is neglect and abuse of a child or young person. Trauma lasts a lifetime; it takes years to undo, if ever. Abuse and trauma leads to other addictions and illnesses, e.g. PTSD and cPTSD. I have a tiny golden nugget of trauma tucked away at the base of my brain that can never be healed but these days it doesn't surface as often and it's not triggered as often. But yes, still after thirty plus years, I get triggered and I still feel trauma. I am not ashamed any more and I am able to admit it and talk about it (sometimes). I don't think it will ever go away, but it will reduce gradually over time to the size of a pea and then a pin head, and that's OK.

So for the sake of our children let's talk about mental health and abuse, let's shout about it, let's rage about it. Let's ensure children get the help, support and guidance they need for a better future for our children. My daughter did not receive the support she should have and she deserved better. She was not to blame; she was an innocent victim of my domestic abuse and today all children deserve mental health support and appropriate counselling and therapy.

So today and all days, let's spare a thought or two (at least) for those who are suffering at the hands of an abuser somewhere on the globe (not just the UK). Whose lives are wretched and scary and for those who cant ask for help for whatever the reason. Let's spare a trillion thoughts for those who can't be true to themselves on holidays or, in fact, any day. Let's pray that one day sooner rather than later, we have a society not ashamed by mental health and abuse and we put strategies in place to help those who suffer at the hands, mouths and minds of abusers. AMEN.





  1. Mental Health provision has been tragically missing for so many, many years. In fact, I don't think any improvements have been made since the Leviathans (the huge Mental Health Institutions such as Storthes Hall in Huddersfield)) were closed down. And why do we accept telephonic CBT being offered to traumatised patients? 'Mindfulness' also (which is a valuable but not applicable meditation process)? This is the state of Psychiatry in this country it seems. And then the recent reports of children being kept on adult psychiatric wards in hospitals? Truly shocking.

  2. Thank you for your comment, insight and care, Michael.