Hellooooo everyone and welcome to our super shiny and brand spanking new Lost&Found blog! My name is Ruby Cook; I’m 22 years of age, a proud Lost&Found clubhouse member and currently in my final year at Bath Spa University studying Sociology. This project has a very special place in my heart because I consider myself to be both lost and found at this very moment in time. After an arduous battle with mental health issues and general despair over the last few years, I have recently begun to feel much better and have started to figure out what on earth I wish to do with my little ol’ life at long last. I’m very honoured indeed to be writing the first article on this blog and it’s a real pleasure to talk with you all today, however I won’t lie, I am kinda feeling the pressure right now!
Before I start I just want to mention that we decided to set this blog up as a space to explore the many prevalent issues young people are facing today through the medium of in- depth personal accounts and experiences. Alongside the weekly interviews posted to our Facebook page each Friday, we will also be posting a very interesting article to this blog page every Monday; each article will focus on a particular issue relating to young people, so this could be anything from advice for career success and creative skills to unemployment and coping with feeling lost. We really hope you enjoy the many tasty treats we have to offer throughout the week!
Before I begin, it’s important that I make a brief health & safety announcement! Any opinions and views I express throughout this piece stem from my own personal experiences of depression and anxiety, therefore my actions and choices in relation to my course of recovery were exactly that…my own personal choices . Although I’m a great believer that sharing experiences of depression with others can be highly comforting and truly does play an essential part in breaking down societal stigma of mental illness, I cannot stress enough that if you are currently experiencing any of these problems it is really important to speak to medical/psychological professionals about how you’re feeling as well. As with any illness, it is critical that you have care and treatment that is tailor-made for you, no one else.
Right, here goes… brace yo’ fine selves people! So in hindsight, it’s pretty clear to me now that I’ve always exhibited anxious behaviours from a young age; I was lucky to have a very happy childhood and fantastic family, but in conjunction with being a kooky, easily excitable, imaginative little child I distinctly remember a sense of feeling nervous and awkward in my own skin much of the time. Around the age of 9, just to add to my lifelong habit of persistent nail-biting, I developed a compulsive hair pulling problem called ‘Trichotillomania’ which I believe to be a form of self-harm; this made my poor mother despair and left me with a hair style that greatly resembled that of Friar Tuck. I still have this hair-pulling problem at the age of 22, it worsens in times of stress or anxiety because it helps me to ease inner tension, although thankfully, I seem to be able to manage my urges more effectively these days and have managed to grow a long mane of hair!
Most of my teenage years passed with relative ease, I experienced the usual angst, social awkwardness and hormonal outbursts that most poor, suffering teenagers do; I also made a few rubbish decisions along the way but nothing I deemed to be too out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t until I took a year out at the age of 18 after completing sixth form, that I really noticed any worrying changes in myself. In terms of a career path, I had never really had a solid idea about what I wanted to do in life, throughout school I’d always enjoyed English so was encouraged to apply for a creative writing course and was accepted into Kingston University. I decided to defer my application for a year as I’d really had enough of set curriculums, coursework and exams, all I wanted to do was work and explore the world for a while; I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to travel and wouldn’t change it for the world but during my last month of travelling in April 2010 I noticed an extreme change in my mood, I had gone from experiencing mainly contentment, excitement and joy in life to feeling only a deep sense of foreboding and indifference to the world around me. I’m not entirely sure what caused these feelings, who truly knows what causes these things? It could have been a form of homesickness or just a ticking time-bomb of my mind that had exploded at that particular point in time, all I know is that I’ve grappled with those same ominous demons for years now, lately however; I seem to be stronger than them.
So, on arrival back from travelling I neatly unpacked my rucksack but made sure the dark feelings I had been experiencing stayed tightly locked away inside my own head, albeit in a very disorderly fashion! I didn’t want anyone to know how I’d been feeling, everyone knew me as a care-free, happy character and I liked myself that way, I didn’t want anything to change and I certainly didn’t want to ‘burden’ anyone with my woes. Even though leaving my familiar, comforting nest of home to fly away towards the unknown streets of Kingston in London was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do at that point in time, I decided the best course of action was to just go into denial about my mental state and try to embrace life as a student of creative writing.
Well, unsurprisingly it didn’t go well…
Despite meeting some wonderful people and actually enjoying myself some of the time, my mind demons just absolutely refused to play ball. The mixture of general anxiety I’d been feeling combined with the fresher’s week pressure to conform with drinking copious amounts of alcohol, lead to me having my first panic attack on the bridge in the middle of town, which felt like the world was imploding on me. Somehow, I managed to scramble back to my halls of residence and pretended to be sick in order to avoid having to endure another dodgy night of social awkwardness in a cruddy club; I then proceeded to lock myself away in my room for several days and watched 6 series’ of Peep Show; personally, I think this was time well spent.
I only managed to make it to two lectures during my month long stay in Kingston and it was absolutely typical that at one of these, the lecturer chose me as the unlucky sod that would have to memorise a poem and read it out to the class during the next lecture. In that moment, my social anxiety issues reached a tipping point and I convinced myself that creative writing was no longer the career for me; there was no way I was going to read anything out to the class, I wanted to just sit quietly, unnoticed. All I wanted was to be left alone to cocoon myself in my lovely duvet where it was safe; the thought of standing up to read poetry in front of a packed room in which everyone would be looking at me as though I was Pam Ayres was the most terrifying prospect in the world. Despite never having been overly bothered about public speaking in the past, there was no way that I was reading that damn poem out. I felt like a shell of my former self.
Instead of discussing my problems with the lecturer at the end of the session, in my panic-stricken mind frame I decided the only logical course of action was to just sign myself out of university entirely; I then rang my lovely parents to inform them of the news, I was on quite a high at this point due to the relief of no longer having to read any poetry in public and pretended I had just re-evaluated my whole life in terms of career choices (which was somewhat true) however, I omitted the details regarding my rapidly declining mental health. My awesome Dad picked me up in the wee small hours a few mornings later; after sliding scrawled farewell notes under the bedroom doors of friends I had made, thankfully I was able to do the university drop out walk of shame relatively unnoticed as much of the student population slept.
Although I would’ve undoubtedly got worse if I stayed at university due to the fact that I wasn’t in a stable frame of mind to deal with being a student and all the pressures it brings, I came to realise that returning home to my safe haven couldn’t protect me from my illness either. I felt like a failure for dropping out of university, I felt angry and frustrated that I wasn’t ‘strong’ like everyone else, I was still in denial about the full extent of my mental fragility and my self-esteem quickly started to ebb away. Over the coming months the depression gained a stronger grip over my life, from hour to hour I could experience a whole range of negative emotions that had once been so alien to me….fear, sadness, tearfulness and despair had become commonplace in my life but most of the time I just felt numb. It felt impossible for me to stop ruminating on certain negative thoughts about myself such as how I was inadequate, not good at anything, a failure; the depression manifested itself physically too through extreme anxiety, headaches, sleeping problems and panic attacks. I truly felt I had become a prisoner of my illness and could see the colour draining out of my world. Most of that time is a blur to me now, the help of friends and family helped a lot but it was essentially a very lonely time because I felt so guilty about feeling the way I did and not having a ‘real reason’ to feel bad about my life… I now know self- blame and guilt are classic symptoms of depression.
During this time I somehow managed to apply for and begin a degree in Sociology at Bath Spa University; again, it became a prime trigger for my social anxiety and I wanted to leave so badly several times …seriously, all I’m saying is thank goodness for online resources! I was able to pretty much home-school myself on the many days that I didn’t feel able to face the outside world and somehow, I’ve made it through to third year. For over half a year now I’ve felt that I’ve really started to recover from my depression, although it will probably always be a part of my life, I feel that it will only be a small part as I have built the defences to manage it now. A beautiful spectrum of colour has gradually seeped back into my life over these past few months and I only experience that numb, indifferent feeling occasionally now; it still scares me when it does creep in though, but now I just let it be instead of resisting it and eventually it subsides. I’ve even started to figure out what the hell I want to do with my life…who would’ve thought it ay?! Over the last few years I’ve done a lot of voluntary work with local charities and developed a strong interest in social justice so I’m sure I want to work in the charity/not for profit sector and help any poor souls who have been marginalised by society, who knows exactly what I will be doing in a few years, but I’m not bothered by that now, I’m just so excited.
Anyway, I’m sorry for this rambling account of my existence, I didn’t write this as some sort of miserable autobiography but I did wish to demonstrate to you how there is always hope even when you feel like you’ve hit the bedrock of your despair. My feelings of being lost did stem largely from my mental health issues but I think it was all exacerbated by the immense social pressure that is felt at this young, vulnerable time of life; we are expected to know who we are, know what we want, know what to do…some people may seem to have it more figured out than others, and I have a lot of respect for those people, but really, we’re all just figuring it out and doing our best to get by. I think it should be shouted from the rooftops that… YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR DEGREE COURSE/DEGREE CLASSIFICATION, JOB TITLE OR LACK OF JOB TITLE!!! Seriously, there is so much more to life than all that codswallop…yes, I said codswallop. Another handy phrase I learnt in the depths of my sorrow is ‘the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everybody else’s highlight reel’; I just think that’s such a beautifully relevant pearl of wisdom, especially in this age of social media mayhem and fakery.
One of the main things I have learned through experiencing mental health problems is that although there are many wonderful people who do understand, there is also still much prejudice and stigma regarding mental health in society; this only serves to worsen these very REAL illnesses. Since feeling better I have decided to make a big ol’ stand against this ridiculous stigma, show that there is no shame, try my best to help others with such issues and above all, spread the word to anyone who may be suffering from mental health problems that they are an awesome, worthy human being who is capable of so much. You shouldn’t have to suffer in silence anymore; take baby steps to recovery every day and start by informing your doctor and confiding in those you can trust.
I am so happy and honoured to be part of the lovely Lost&Found community, I feel that it has made all my suffering seem much more worthwhile and I hope I may be able to help others through difficult times; it feels like a healing process which has made a huge positive out of a massive negative so I want to say a big thank you to Octavia Farnham-Long who has made all this possible. Also, I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me through these past few years including my wonderful family, friends, and especially my amazing boyfriend Alex (thanks for putting up with me!!) I couldn’t have done it without all of your support.
Finally, thank you so much and congratulations if you’ve managed to make it to the end of my long, rambling article. Now, please go listen to Baz Lurhmann- Sunscreen, a great song with some crackin’ life advice which everybody should hear.
All my love, from Ruby Cook.
Peace Out x