a chat about mental health...

Last week, I made a trip back to my hometown of Aylesbury, Bucks, and went back to my old secondary school to do an assembly. It was... incredibly odd. Going back to school, suddenly feeling 14 again, seeing that nothing has changed. Still that weird pale blue carpet everywhere, still using those uncomfortable plastic chairs. Same posters on the walls. I'd been invited back to talk to Year 13 (17-18 year olds) about my experiences at the school, and how they've lead me to where I am today; A small business owner running a design studio in Brighton. I don't tend to mention it a lot, but I suffered badly with mental health issues at school, so it was nice to go back and show my teachers that I've turned out sort of alright (even prove to some of them). It also gave me a lot of closure, which I wasn't expecting. I left quite quietly and quickly, around 3 months into year 12, so it was an opportunity to close that door properly, and even prove to myself that I'm doing ok.

I thought it might be interesting to put my talk script below. 

"Hi, I’m Lola, I was a student here around 5 years ago, and I’m now a small business owner, running a design studio in Brighton, selling handlettered paper goods and creating branding packages for clients. I’m also a sufferer of severe anxiety and depression. 

A little background story- I started suffering with depression and anxiety in Year 7 at a different school in Aylesbury. I didn’t have many friends my own age, and struggled to fit in, the usual story. Every day, I would wake up with a horrible pain coursing through me, and feeling like I was underwater. My thoughts were incredibly cloudy, with no real purpose, and I was scared and paranoid of every little thing.  It eventually got so bad I stopped going to school. This went on for 6 months. With no sign of me going back to that school, I eventually came here and started again. I got back into the swing of things, and made friends with almost everyone, like you do here. Things seemed to be going well until around the middle of year 9, where I had my first real ‘breakdown’, as it where. I don’t really remember much about this time, all I know is that I had an attendance of around 11% and I spent a lot of time in and out of a children’s mental health centre which I absolutely hated. If I did eventually make it back into school, I was greeted with ‘where have you been, skiving again?!’ or ‘you’re just doing this to get time of school aren’t you?’. The one comment that I’ve always remembered was from someone saying ‘it’s all in your head though, isn’t it?’ 

This seems to be the general consensus for mental health issues. It’s all in your head. It’s not a real illness, because you can’t see it. You can’t see the physical pain which means it doesn’t exist. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth. It’s not something you can ‘switch off’. Saying ‘snap out of it’ or ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’ is hugely detrimental. As a sufferer, you need all the support you can get around you. There’s nothing worse than feeling your absolute worst, going to confide in someone after a lot of deliberation, and then being told to ‘get over it’ or ‘stop being so miserable’. We need to educate and inform people that mental health issues are a real illness. They stop you from living your life, they lower a black cloud over you, they confine you to your bed or your sofa and it’s not out of choice. Your mind gives you all the reasons as to why you shouldn’t go outside today because some dude might come and abduct you, or you might get hit by a bus, or a plane might fall from the sky. It’s not in your head. It is just a natural part of being human, and it may be just your brain chemistry. It doesn’t define you, and you can tackle it. I have, and I really didn’t think that would ever be possible. I had it in my head that I wouldn’t see past 18. Well, I’m 21 now and I’m still here, and not planning on leaving any time soon.

If you’re not feeling great at the moment, I urge you to tell someone. Tell someone you can trust, and who you know will understand. Please don’t feel disheartened by silly comments, just know that you are incredibly brave for fighting this, and be proud of yourself, even if it’s just for getting out of bed today. Although it may not seem like it now, in a few years you won’t remember how that cloud feels. 

I should clarify that I haven’t had a relapse for over 2 years. I wholeheartedly believe this is because I am doing something that I love. I love my job. I can almost control my environment, working from my studio, and my schedule can be flexible. I get to create all day, and sometimes do boring things like accounting and invoicing, but the good outweighs the boring. I know you all have some quite important exams coming up, but just know that if doesn’t work out the way you were hoping, it really isn’t the end of the world. I know everyone says it and it’s a huge cliche, but I can’t say it enough. You are so brilliant for getting this far in education (better than me, I left 2 months into year 12!), and you are already more successful than you think. University isn’t everything, having a 40k career and a nice house and a nice car isn’t everything. 

Being happy is. For yourself, not for anyone else. Don’t do things to please other people, because at the end of the day, this is your life. You can do anything in the world, really, as long as you work hard and think positively. It sounds like absolute crap, but if you go in with a positive mindset, thinking I can and I will, you’ll smash it. I’m going to finish with a mantra I have by my desk, I read it everyday and it’s what I base my career on, and it’s simply 'work hard, and be nice to people".

I'd love to hear your experiences at school. Did you enjoy your time there? Have you always known you were going to be your boss? Comment below if you fancy.