Time to Talk Day - Finding the Authentic Me
I have experienced mental health issues since childhood. From a young age I became a total pro at putting on the mask and morphing into whatever I felt people needed me to be. I didn’t feel that being myself was enough. I was fearful that to the outside world I had nothing to feel low about so I carried on pretending all was well.
Then in late 2018 things started to unravel, I was struggling to maintain my happy exterior and it was becoming harder to get through each day. I started experiencing now what I know as anxiety attacks. My loved ones were noticing my moods and behaviours and felt it was time to speak to a GP. I remember coming out of the GP appointment knowing I had not been completely honest with them about the full extent of my issues – I was still in denial.
Then nearly a year later I hit a very low point, I was unable to control my emotions and thoughts and felt I was losing grip. My anxiety was through the roof, I was crying every day and in my mind I just felt hopeless. I had thoughts of ending my life and had reached my lowest point. All the years of ‘faking it’ had finally caught up with me. I felt totally lost in a black hole with no idea who Janene was.
The first step in my recovery was acknowledging and accepting my mental health. I had to stop comparing myself to others and accept that my mental health was my own personal experience.
Therapy helped me see that my behaviours were not ‘normal’. I’d lived with a constant voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t liked, I was useless, I would fail etc. It was like a devil on my shoulder that would tell me every minute of every day how awful I was. I had no self-worth and I wholeheartedly hated myself.
These thoughts and beliefs then manifested in behaviours such as binge eating, self-harming and racking up a lot of debt in a bid to ‘keep up with the joneses’ and validate my worth. I constantly compared myself to others and used to make up stories to make myself sound more interesting, I didn’t have the courage to stand up for myself or speak up and therefore allowed people to mistreat me.
For decades I had behaved in this way and I had become numb to the danger I was putting myself in. To me it was all normal. Waking up to these behaviours and knowing I had to change was scary, I didn’t know who I was without them. They had been my security blanket for so long.
The journey since last year has been a tough one and has taken strength I didn’t know I had. I would not have been able to do it without my support network; they have been amazing. I reflect back and look at it all with gratitude, as without it happening, I would have carried on in my world of all-consuming hatred.
I am a year into my journey of self-discovery and healing and I can feel I am slowly growing in confidence and starting to see that being authentically me is enough. It is baby steps but I feel I am on the right path now. I still experience those negative thoughts and behaviours but I am aware of them now which is a big step forward.
I personally find tools such as practising daily gratitude, walks in nature and taking time to stop and pay attention really help me. My biggest piece of advice for anyone struggling with their mental health is to find out what works for you, it can be confusing when you are in crisis. Every person’s mind works differently as is unique to them so you may not find the same tools and techniques work for you. For me CBT didn’t work but it may work for many others. I would say just don’t give up, there is something out there to help you.
I appreciate and acknowledge that I will always have to manage my mental health. It is a condition I live with but it doesn’t define me.
I wanted to share my story as it is me part of my journey in being authentically me with the world. I know from my own journey to have someone being so open and honest would have helped me, so I hope my story helps someone else.
Janene Goddard, Community Engagement Facilitator, Solent NHS Trust