Me, Mental Health, Autism and how AMHA came to be. Part One.
I can’t believe it’s been almost three months since I launched AMHA, and two years since I started developing it, time has slipped away so fast, then again, perception of time disappears when you have a sleeping disorder, I’ve spent so much time unconscious, not knowing what month im in. With what limited time I have in the day taken over by my Trustee duties running Clearly Speaking and AMHA while desperately trying to continue my long haul to recovery, I haven’t done the one thing i've asked our growing community of bloggers, to write and tell my own story! Which was the point of me starting AMHA! I thought I would get the ball rolling today by writing about why I started AMHA and the mental health battle that spurred me on to build what you now read. I have wanted to write this post for a while, but as my literacy skills are a struggle at the best of times thanks to my daily battle with Dyslexia, I wanted to take my time to write this post. So this may end up becoming a two part piece. So why did I decide to create AMHA and share my story? Well one word, Claire. As you do at 3:30am in the morning, (which is when I’m at my most productive) I was scrolling through Google looking for online mental health support after a dire day with Whiteleaf mental health services in Aylesbury (and yes I will name and shame in my blog), I came across a random website which happened to be fixers.org.uk with a blog post about eating disorders and being sectioned, as I read, I was shocked to discover it was written by someone I knew and had sat opposite a classroom for almost two years during my time at Buckingham Secondary (which feels like a lifetime ago now). That person was Claire Greaves, someone you may recognise for her work in mental health and appearances on radio and TV.
As I did some further research, I read Claire's article about life with an eating and personality disorder, as well as the trials she had and still is enduring. I must admit I was quite stunned at first to be reading about someone I went to school with and finding all the images of Claire in hospital. I was very inspired to see all the amazing things she had done for the mental health community! Even when she was posting photos of her day on Instagram stuck in a bed on a hospital ward, although at times I could see it wasn’t helping her in recovery, In contrast to how I was with my Mental Health, Claire was very open and honest about her life with Anorexia, she was still (although I think unknown to Claire at the time), raising awareness just by sharing her unfiltered pictures for everyone to see. “Unglamorizing an eating disorder” as one comment said. I found at times Claire had the equivalent of an Ellen DeGeneres audience in Instagram followers, all waiting tentatively for every post with hundreds of supportive comments from strangers wanting to know how she was, although I know there were a few trolls amongst the comments, I though it was a testament to Claire’s openness and honesty about her recovery to get such a positive reaction.
It struck me just how little I knew Claire despite being in the same classes, although we were only acquaintances and in different social circles (well to be fair I wasn’t in any circles). I always thought I was a good judge of character even from a distance, it surprised me to have missed someone with a mental illness right in front of me given that I grew up with it myself, before reading Claire’s story, I had always thought she was a normal, very quiet, polite new addition to our form group chatting away with her friends, I never thought for a second she was battling for her life, and yet there she was sat on the ITV news talking about being sectioned and having an eating disorder.
Im the first to admit communicating and reading people has always been a struggle due to my Autism, but its also the reason why I am very sensitive to people around me as it takes so much effort to read and understand others just to fit into this neurotypical world, but to realise I completely misread Claire, I presumed at the time and years afterwards I was one of very few individuals in my year group to suffer with mental health, but because of the long list and severity off my conditions, I had always felt alone, misunderstood and isolated. It wasn’t until a few years after leaving school that I realised just how many suffer with a form of mental illness, and were hiding it from those around them.
Reading Claire’s story reinforced that fact, I think it also shocked me to see someone I knew growing up go through such a terrible experience. For weeks after reading Claire’s story, I spent quite some time re-evaluating many things in my own life, realising that I had spent most of my life trying to hide who I was and my long list of conditions and difficult family background, I felt like I had forced myself to become two separate entities, it’s always felt like Sonny V Mental illness, with the real me on the losing side always being suppressed and only let out of its box for family and close friends, while the other me which everyone sees is the result of hiding and suppressing my mental health which was tiring and difficult to maintain for long periods of time, I was perceived as this strange, spaced, awkwardly shy, deathly quiet, uninterested person always in the background out the way where I spend a lot of time on my own. Combined with my autism traits (which were unknown to me until my diagnosis as an adult), I created a very difficult life for myself because of the stigma I feared from mental illness. I’ve always known part of the reason why I covered the mental health side was watching how my parents struggled with others around them and the judgement/stigma that it brought from family, friends and professionals.
To see how brave Claire was sharing her story, and how effective her efforts have been raising awareness. It has inspired me to make some big changes of my own, mental illness has taken so much from me and my family, and I have allowed it to control who I am, although it’s still a slow work in progress, I decided to stop hiding the real me, autism, mental health and all. I also wanted to use my past to not only raise awareness and tackle the very long list of stigmas, but to educate and most importantly offer support, especially after experiencing the severe lack of help in Buckinghamshire for over 15 years, when you add autism into the the mix, help and treatment is virtually non existent. How and what I would do to raise awareness was another matter altogether.
Which I will discuss in part two here END OF PART ONE
Sadly not long after posting this piece, Claire passed away a few days ago during her battle with an Eating and Personality Disorder. Although I will not speculate to the cause of her death as no details have been released, I do know Claire was experiencing a terrible time on the Private Ward at Cygnet Hospital. You can find her last piece describing the horrific conditions of her stay through this link.