For my first blog post, I figured it would make sense to tell you my story and give you some insight into who I am and what I’ve experienced.
I was born in Massachusetts, USA in 1990. I was adopted when I was 9 days old by a lovely English couple. I have never met my birth-parents and don’t know a lot about them. I have spoken with my birth-mother once via telephone, but have heard nothing since. I plan on attempting to establish contact with her again at some point. As far as health goes, my birth-parents just said that they were healthy, they didn’t give any details. However, I believe one, or both, of them suffered from some sort of mental health disorder, as what I have is quite severe, and it’s most commonly passed on genetically.
When I was about 2-years-old, my mum and dad started noticing me doing some odd behaviours. For example, I would have to bend down and touch the curb before crossing the street, or when walking through a car park, I would have to touch the bumper of every car. Living in Massachusetts, it gets very cold in the winter, and another thing my parents noticed about my behaviour was my refusal to dress accordingly. I hated layering up clothes and hated wearing socks with my shoes. I would curl my toes up, then put my sock on, and then my shoe, and I would walk around the nursery/pre-school all day with my toes curled up. By the time I got home, my feet were aching and I couldn’t straighten my toes out. To this day, my toes are still a little bent. My parents suspected something was wrong, and took me to various doctors, however, this was the very early 90’s, so getting a diagnosis wasn’t as easy as it is now. When I was five-years-old, I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). About two years later, I was also diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome.
When I was about four-years-old, we moved from Massachusetts to Northern California. We lived there for a year, and then moved down to Southern California, and that is where I resided for the next 15 years. Growing up was extremely difficult at times, due to my OCD and Tourette’s. Also, because of my struggles with OCD and Tourette’s, I suffered from Depression too. From a very young age, about 7 or so, I remember having suicidal thoughts. Most 7-year-olds are out playing and having fun and are carefree, and there I was, getting knives out of the kitchen trying to end it all because I thought it was the only way to escape the daily torture my mental health issues put me through. I should mention that throughout my life, no matter how hard things have gotten, the one positive has been my parents. They have always supported me and gone above and beyond to try to help me any way they could.
I started therapy when I was about 5 or 6, and I started taking medication when I was 7. I was quite a slim kid, but when I started taking Risperdal (which is well-known for its weight-gain side-effects) I piled the weight on quick. I remember being only 10-years-old and putting myself on diets. Being proud of myself for only eating 5 chicken nuggets instead of 10. When I was on Risperdal, it was like the full-switch in my brain had been flicked off. I was never ever satisfied. I was constantly hungry. I would sneak food from the kitchen when my mum wasn’t looking, I was always eating, and when I wasn’t eating, I was daydreaming about eating. Eventually, I stopped the Risperdal and went onto something else. I have been on a few other meds with weight-gain side-effects over the years, but this is what started my body issues and constant struggle with weight.
In school, I was very misunderstood. Whenever I made friends, I would always end up the third wheel, even if there was an even number of people in the group. There are a couple of occasions where I made friends with a couple people, only to find out weeks later that they weren’t really my friends and that they had been playing a joke on me. I never understood why this stuff happened. Did I have a sign on my head that said: “Weirdo. Avoid at all costs!” ? I was a very shy child, so that didn’t help things either. My biggest, deepest, darkest secret growing up was that I had OCD, Tourette’s, and Depression. Only my parents, my best friend, and maybe my teacher knew my secret. I always thought I did a really good job of hiding my secret and supressing my mental health issues when in public, but maybe it still left a mark. Maybe I still seemed odd or different to others and maybe that’s why I got picked on and treated differently. I guess I’ll never know for sure.
On the academic side of school, I also struggled. I was in the GATE Program (Gifted And Talented Education) and was an intelligent child. However, due to my OCD, I also needed certain adjustments made, such as more time to complete assignments and tests, reduced homework load, a note-taker, etc. To have these adjustments, you were counted as being in Resource. At my school, you had all the standard students, you had the very intelligent, above-average students (GATE), and then you had the students with learning difficulties, Down-Syndrome, etc. (Resource). Keep in mind, this was the 90’s and there wasn’t as much mental health awareness back then. Teachers never understood how I could be both a GATE student and a Resource student. To them, that wasn’t possible, it was one or the other. Because of that, they often refused to accommodate me. My parents even had to hire a Child Advocacy Lawyer to fight the school so that I could receive reasonable adjustments. My fourth grade teacher (I was about 8 or 9 then) was one of the worst. We had a massive class of 40 students, and I kid you not, she was nice to all 39, but picked on me. She was aware of my mental health difficulties, but didn’t understand, and was convinced that I was just a strange and naughty child. She sent me to the Principle’s office all the time when I hadn’t actually done anything, she would just make something up. The Principle was awful as well and would stand a couple inches away from my face and scream at me. I should note, I’ve never been to the Principle’s office before 4th Grade, and never since. I was actually a very well-behaved student, probably, in-part, due to my shyness. I remember the 4th Grade was putting on a school play, and somehow, I got the nerve to say I’d like to audition for the lead role. This was a huge deal considering how shy I was. However, all 80 4th Graders were sat in the cafeteria and I put my hand up for the lead role position. My teacher, in front of all my peers, told me I had to verbally say out loud “yes” to wanting the part. She knew full-well my OCD prevented me from saying certain words, one of the worst being the word “yes”. I couldn’t say any version of it, “yes, yeah, uh-huh”, nothing. She demanded I say “yes” in front of everyone and I quietly said I couldn’t. I somehow managed to mumble “yeah”, which was extremely difficult for me, but she said that didn’t count. It had to be “yes”. I remember my friends sitting next to me saying, “Just say it!” because, of course, they didn’t know my secret. I couldn’t say it, and in the end, the teacher said I couldn’t audition for the lead role, and I was stuck in the back as part of the choir section. What a blow to my already barely existing self-esteem. I’ve hated the 4th Grade and anything to do with it ever since.
There were variations of this all through my schooling. Always having to fight a never-ending battle just to have my needs met and appropriate accommodations made. In high school, I really struggled again. In Freshman year (so I was about 14), I got sent to Vista Del-Mar, which was a mental health facility for suicidal individuals. The people in there all had various issues, and we were locked in the ward, our meals brought to us, mandatory group therapy (I hate group therapy), and you had to stay a minimum of one week. I was allowed the occasional telephone call, and my parents were sometimes allowed to visit during visiting hours. They took all of your jewellery, shoelaces, anything you could use to harm yourself. Luckily, being shy, I was on very good behaviour and was released after a week. I managed to get through Freshman and Sophomore year, but my Junior year, everything was just too much, and my attendance was really slipping. I think adolescence is difficult for anyone, but when you have mental health difficulties on top, it just makes everything THAT much harder. They were trying a new program for people with attendance issues, and they asked me to be a part of it. I finished my last 2 years of high school through that program, away from my peers and normal high school. I then started at Community College when I was 17, almost 18, and I graduated with my Associate’s Degree when I was 20. I have always loved England, as my parents are English and I grew up visiting family who lived there. So, when it came time to apply for University, I applied for Newcastle University (as my dad is a native Geordie and I had family members there). I got accepted and was ecstatic! At the time, it was May, 2010, and I was in a really good place mentally. I felt on top of the world, better than I had in ages. And now I was moving to England! My favourite place in the world! Things seemed like they couldn’t get any better. But before long, everything came rapidly crashing down.
It was June, 2010, and I was chatting with an acquaintance on Facebook. I’d met him once or twice before through a mutual friend. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, as I was moving to the UK soon, but agreed to go to the cinema with him one night. Unfortunately, that night, after the film, he raped me in the back of his car. After that, my whole world spiralled out of control. It took me two weeks to tell my mum, although she suspected something was wrong and had spotted the bruises on my chest. I reported it to the police, but they said it was a he-said/she-said, as I never went to the hospital for a kit and there was no evidence. I was so messed-up mentally, I didn’t pursue it any further. My OCD, Tourette’s, and Depression were massively exacerbated, and I had another diagnosis added to the list: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This assault was in June, and I moved to the UK in September. I started University, but deferred by December as I couldn’t manage. I would have to leave class due to panic attacks, I couldn’t manage the work because of my various OCD rituals, which had completely taken over, and I was so unwell and depressed, my attendance started slipping. I deferred for one year while I tried to sort myself out. I visited my mum and dad in the States and started seeing a therapist. I also worked with my Psychiatrist to adjust my meds. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my whole life. I mean, my OCD, Tourette’s, and Depression were really hard, but I was used to dealing with them, I’d been doing it all my life. This PTSD and everything was a-whole-other ball park though. It got to the point where I never left my bed. I lost loads of weight (my mum visited one Christmas, and when she hugged me she could feel my ribs through my padded body-warmer), I got a massive sty on my eye, a Staph infection on my face, Peri-oral Dermatitis on my face (underneath the Staph infection), and a fungal ringworm infection on my body. I looked DREADFUL. I looked so ill. I look back at pictures and can’t believe how sick I looked. My OCD was out of control, my Tourette’s was out of control, my Depression was deep and intense, and due to the PTSD, I was very hypervigilant (couldn’t keep still, constantly looking over my shoulder), I was having nightmares, I had loads of panic attacks, I was angry, I was sad, I was scared.
During this time, there’s two things I should note which didn’t help my situation. First, the guy who assaulted me kept messaging me on Facebook, taunting me. He would sort of suggest something happened, but never officially confessed. In 2012, he messaged me saying he was coming to England for the Olympics. I was terrified. I thought, “Oh my God, he’s going to get me!” Obviously, even if he did come to England, he would’ve been 6 hours away, down south, in London, where I was up North in Newcastle. He’d never find me. But when you’re in a state like that, you don’t think logically about things. He finally stopped messaging, but I couldn’t believe the nerve!
The second thing, was regarding my support system. Specifically, my best friend (since we were 7) and my other very close friend (friends since middle/high school). I told them, before I moved, what had happened, and they essentially dropped me. I know it must be a shock when your friend tells you something like that, and it must be hard knowing what to say or do, but you make an effort, you don’t disappear and do nothing. They never called, they never came over, they never checked on me, nothing. They didn’t even contact my mum to ask how I was or if there was anything they could do. I felt so unbelievably hurt and betrayed and angry. Eventually, about a year later, I visited the States and had a talk with my close friend. I really let rip about how angry and hurt I was. How could she betray me like that? How could she just leave me? Why didn’t she care? I expected her to walk out the door after I finished my rant, but instead, she surprised me. She sat there for a few moments, tears in her eyes, deep in thought, and then, she apologised. And it was better than any apology I could have ever expected. She acknowledged and accepted what she had done and I could tell her apology was sincere. She was really disappointed in herself for her behaviour and for not being a very good friend. After this, we worked on our relationship, and now, she is my best friend and our relationship has never been better.
However, my other friend, my former best friend, well, that’s another story. Arranging with her a time to come over so I could talk to her the way I did with my other friend was like pulling teeth. She always had an excuse and was always too busy. Not too busy to post on Facebook that she was hanging out with other friends though. I really tried to give her a chance. In about 2012, we had a chat, but it left me with no closure. I wasn’t able to express to her how I really felt, as I’m too nice sometimes, and I was too busy considering her feelings, rather than my own. In about 2015, I tried again with another chat. I was crying and expressing my feelings, and then she started crying. However, she wasn’t crying at seeing her best friend of over 14 years being so devastatingly hurt. No, she started crying and going on about herself and how hard her life was right now. I couldn’t believe someone could be so selfish and insensitive. I had loved this girl like my sister. Safe to say, I cut her off after that, and we no longer speak. The ironic thing is, I don’t think she thinks she’s really done anything wrong. I have tried to forgive her, but I just can’t get over how she treated me during the worst time in my whole life.
Well, all these things considered, I was dealing with a lot, and ended up deferring from Uni. for a second time. However, with a good support system, and lots of time, I started to heal, and although it was a 3-year course, after 6 years, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. This was in 2016. By this time, I had met my current partner (we met in 2013 and started dating in 2014) and it was the first time I’d ever been in a healthy, loving relationship. I’d been in an abusive relationship, an emotionally unavailable relationship, used by lots of guys in between, and of course, assaulted, but now I had someone who loved me and treated me the way I deserved. And guess what? He has his own mental health difficulties, and he doesn’t care that I have OCD, Tourette’s, and the rest! He still thinks I’m great, despite all of my annoying, frustrating OCD rituals and everything else!
This brings me to the present. It’s 2020, I’ve just turned 30, I still have my OCD, Tourette’s, Depression, and PTSD (they’re for life), and I have my good days and bad days. But I also have a full-time job as a Support Worker (trying to gain experience to become a therapist to help others like myself), a loving partner of 6 years, supportive, loving parents, lovely, true friends, and the rest of my life ahead of me, waiting to be lived. I’ve been through so much more than what is mentioned in this post, this is just an overview, and I might go into detail of some of my experiences in future posts, but despite everything I’ve been through, I’m happy, I’m positive, and I’m proud of who I am. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am, and to surround myself with others who feel the same. I will always struggle with my mental health, that’s the nature of it, there is no cure. But I also know that I can, and will, get through any bad time I’m having. If I’ve made it this far, surely it’s for a reason, and I can’t stop now!
I hope this helps give a bit of an insight and introduction into me and my background. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’ve possibly connected with some part of it, or it’s helped you to realise you’re not alone in your struggling. More of us need to share our stories to raise awareness and understanding, and this was mine.
My story isn’t over… to be continued!