How I’ve Been Struggling with My Mental Health

With next week being Mental Health Awareness Week, this month’s focus at YPI is Mental Health.

Over the years, I have come to see how vital it is to take care of my mental health, after putting both my mental and emotional health last to focus on my education and career goals in particular.  Dropping out of university was one of the best things I did to look after my mental and emotional health, having acknowledged the toll it was taking on my me – I was drained completely.

I also realised the importance of mental and emotional self-care when I discovered that self-harm was a mental health issue.  I had been self-harming for a number of years before I decided to share my story on this blog, which was when I first grasped that it was a mental health issue.  I had no idea that I was so emotionally distressed, but as I got help, I knew that I never wanted to cut myself again.

However, the impulse to self-harm has been rearing its ugly head a lot recently, and it has taken every fibre of my being to stop myself.  My mental and emotional health have been on shaky ground over the past year, particularly during recent months.  My mind is battling against itself, trying to tear me down while I try to boost myself up – it is exhausting.

Sometimes I have been able to interact with others wearing a smile that had been carried with me, particularly when hosting YPI events, as I want to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and loved.  On the other hand, there have been occasions when I’ve struggled to muster up a smile or positive interaction, with me only attending an event because I do not want to let others down.

Most of the time, people have had no clue that there was something wrong, because I don’t like anyone to know I’m struggling.  I’ve got a terrible habit of suffering in silence, because I don’t want to be a burden or to feel pity or I don’t believe they’ll understand, but mainly because I cannot bring myself to talk to people about what I’m feeling.

The truth is that internally, I am distressed often, fighting to find strength and do what needs to be done.  There are nights when I do not sleep well, making me more tired than usual – I am genuinely tired almost all the time.  Getting out of bed has become increasingly difficult for me, with it feeling like torture on some days.  I’ve lost count of the times I have cried myself to sleep, or cried on my bed, or had to stop tears from flowing in a public place.

And no matter how hard I try to stop it, my mind finds itself comparing me to others or comparing the turnout for their events to mine, making me feel a hundred times worse about myself and lessening the value of the work I’m doing.  I then begin to berate myself, believe that I’m not good enough, turn into a crying mess and want to give up on my purpose.

I get into a tortuous cycle, annoyed with myself for comparing myself to others and frustrated by the pain I’m feeling, because my problems are tiny when you consider what others are going through.  The internal battle starts again, which takes it out of me, leading to me breaking down more times than I care to admit.

Suicidal thoughts have crossed my mind often over the past year, especially as desperation increases for my mind to shut down so that it will stop trying to bring me down.  I try my hardest to think positively, tell myself good things and pray, but it does not stop negative thoughts from worming their way in.

So much has happened not just over the past year, but over the past two years, and I have rarely given myself time to process, recuperate and recover.  My heart has taken poundings from a number of occurrences, and my mind has been whirring with the many things I am trying to make happen.

My third, and probably most successful round of counselling, also came to an end when my grandad died two years ago, which I think had a significant effect.  I was making real breakthroughs with her and finally allowing myself to let certain barriers down – I could not deal with building up that sort of trust with another counselor, as it took months to reach that point with her.

I also have enough self-awareness enough to know that I have quite bad PMS, which seems to be worsening and occurring throughout the majority of the month, giving me just over a week of feeling uplifted and motivated.  I know I probably should speak to the doctor about it, because I want to take care of my mental health.

There are days or evenings when I will take time out for myself, simply because I cannot face what I need to get done.  I try to get myself speaking to my sister, so I don’t suffer in silence, and I’ll tell people when I’m struggling if I feel I can.  I also pray, because it is only God’s strength and support that have prevented me from cutting myself.

Good mental health makes me the best version of me that I want to give to the world, but I am struggling with that right now.  However, I do want to get better and I will, because I am a fighter.  If any of you reading this are struggling mentally or emotionally, remember that you are not alone.  Feel free to reach out if you want to talk or vent.  You can email shaniquab29@yahoo.co.uk or follow @ShanqMarie on Twitter and DM me.

Join the conversation as we talk Mental Health at The Kickback next Tuesday from 6.30-8.30pm in Project B.

Cutting Love

He waited until she was vulnerable.
Delicate as gossamer, she lounged alone, droplets decorating her face.
Perching next to her, he stroked the trickling dew from her eyes, carving out his introduction.

She’d heard his name, vaguely glimpsed him
Occasionally he cut into her thoughts.
Never did she consider he’d ever incise his way into reality.

Tentative to respond, she knew he was trouble.
Pain he caused, control he exerted not secret – public knowledge.
He’d make you feel good though, experience piercing feelings unaware you could reach.

The first “Hello” remedying and warm, unexpectedly so.
She smiled nervously; his striking grin had her soon entrapped
A hypnotising presence anaesthetising all thoughts of the world.

Coaxing his arms around her, softly grazing nails along skin
Until her troubled body reclined in his grips, unable to twist free
Whispering sweet lies all the while, make believing her best interests were whittled in his heart.

Sweetness of tongue turned sharp, steely words infiltrated her brain.
Convinced they were true, for the benefit of her good, even as they cut through her veins.
She took his instruments in hers, dug them into her skin, gripped him tighter. Bodies intertwined.

Thinking she’s taken the lead, handling how he handles her
Oblivious to his mastery and vampire smile.
Out of her depth, drowning in blood, the upper hand was always his.

Before she knew it, she was dragged in deep, lacking vigour to wade fee from his clutches.
Burrowing into flesh, he convinced her it would ease heartache and sorrow
Opening wounds for vigilant eyes to see, silently shouting he is in control.

Friends approached, attempting to prise her away, allure her to help
Except she believed she was in charge, had a grasp on him, able to free herself at any moment.
Outside help unnecessary, scars heal. She would be the one to end it.

He grins. She stays. Comfort found in sharpness of arms and coldness of face.
The glint of his eyes enticing, slicing to her soul.
No matter how much she wants to end scars inflicted, she’s drawn to pain, in love with the blade.

– Shaniqua Benjamin

Atop Olympus

Coiled in shadows, concealing agendas of fibs and fables –
Venomous tongues, sibilating vowels and consonants forming non-existent meaning,
Stinging media mouths; coughing up pretensions of protection,
Vomited into open lips of the hungry, who consume but will never be full.

Starving stomachs craving sustenance, yet rarely receiving;
Writhing in pain, falling by the wayside, wondering when relief will come.
Waiting for snakes up high to drop food into their gnashing jaws,
Unlikely to ever come, fending for themselves.

Hearing declarations that fields of gold are drying up, signifying colossal cuts.
Yet wars and power plays continue to be fed,
Outside nations receive exports of gold galore
As the plight of the starving is ignored.

Perched comfortably atop Olympus, ignorant to hazards facing those below.
Never been on the receiving end of a knife or empty account;
At no time have they thought distributing herbs or rocks was the only way up,
That this will be the day they’ll finally look past my record and offer me a chance.

Watching in apparent disbelief as emotional turmoil rises and violence boils over,
Hiding behind public displays of sympathy and recipes for action
To conceal a lack of care and obliviousness to suffering never experienced.
How many of them were forced to miss a meal or witness the butchering of a friend?

Out of touch, keeping those they view as less significant out of mind.
Hissing when the moment calls for it, otherwise silently prepping for personal gain.
Happy to devour them alive or allow them to consume one another,
It’s time we wised up, fought for ourselves, fed into each other.

What are your thoughts on mental health?

Taking inspiration from Mental Health Awareness Week, mental health was the theme of this month’s forum.  On May 16th, we were joined by Geoff and Joan from Off The Record, a charity “founded in 1994 to provide free, independent and professional counselling for 14 – 25 year olds in the Croydon area,” who provided another level to our conversation.

To start the conversation, I thought it was important to ask what everyone’s understanding of mental health was.  Responses included:

  • “I think it may be along the lines of mental capabilities… It is knowing the mental capacity of an individual – something may trigger someone more than others.” – Sharna
  • “Up until recently, I didn’t realise anxiety and depression was a symptom of mental health.  I only thought mental health was schizophrenia or a mental breakdown.” – Alana
  • “I understand mental health as the health of our minds… All of us have a mental health.  There is no such thing as people with or without it.” – Geoff
  • “It’s not taken as seriously as physical illnesses… It’s not recognised unless people go through it.” – Shannette

Sharna then brought up the well-being factor in the workplace and getting mental health issues out there, particularly in schools.  Geoff responded by saying that if we had less shame, then we would be more willing to talk about it.  He also made the very interesting point of: “The strategies work for a while, but in the end they become a problem themselves.”

The next question I asked was, why does there seem to be a stigma around mental health, especially in the BME community?  Alana thinks that it’s a lot to do with pride and social status, while Sharna thinks that there’s a big lack of understanding.  Sharna also said, “With people of colour, there is a harsh reality that it can be fixed.”

Shannette thinks that sometimes it’s a parent coming to terms with what their child has, while Nyisha believes that black families sometimes have difficulty in taking responsibility for playing a part in their children’s mental health problems.  “I think what your parents has gone through effects you, and effects their children,” said Nyisha.

We also touched on the topic of males and mental health, which I think could be a topic for discussion all in itself.  Sharna began by saying, “It’s like boys aren’t able to have emotions.”  Shannette followed up by expressing that she thinks things are changing now, especially with social media, and that boys are a little more open and able to share their emotions.

Hakeem said that guys tend to bottle things up more often, and Geoff revealed to us that with a break up, there is an incredible difference in the way that is handled by each gender.  He told us that girls find various ways to deal with it, while boys tend to go to the extreme and at times consider suicide.

Alana and Rhianna were both brave enough to share their experiences with mental health problems with us.  Alana revealed that it was triggered by something that happened in her past, while Rhianna went into depth on what triggers her depression and anxiety disorder, and how she has coped with them.

I then handed it over to Geoff, who expressed the importance of getting interested in our critical voice.  He believes that these voices often come from our experiences and it’s about understanding that voice, and not taking it at face value.

Rhianna followed this up by saying that a lot of our thoughts are fears that come from nowhere – “Sometimes you need to question it and not just listen to it.  Sometimes you just need encouragement.”

Nyisha thinks that a lot of things to do with mental health is meeting someone in their reality, which was slightly echoed by Rhianna who thinks that people need to take more time to understand people and who they are – “I think that a lot of people can only understand to their level of understanding.”

Shannette also believes that in a lot of instances, people are in competition with how serious their problems are, which can sometimes be the block in people getting help.

Rhianna expressed the importance of having a way to deal with things and express yourself – “You have to face something in order to overcome it.”  She also added that “with depression, a good thing is to just let it out.”

Geoff also believes that with some people, a diagnosis is really useful and medication could be really helpful, but sometimes a diagnosis is not helpful, as people can be misdiagnosed.  He added that a medical models is not always the best solution, and sometimes the humanist model can be a better way to look at it.

My final question was, how can we break the stigma around mental health?  Responses included:

  • “By doing things like this.” – Geoff
  • “Getting more understanding.” – Valerie
  • “If there is something you’re going through, own what you have and educate people on what you have.” – Shannette
  • Spreading awareness – Alana
  • Encouraging people and sharing your story.  “Also finding the right groups of people – we all need someone.” – Rhianna
  • I think society needs to question the senior members in the medical profession.  It would help to have more people in the same community, as they have that cultural understanding. – Nyisha

There were so many more amazing gems and points raised in the conversation, but unfortunately I cannot include them all, so I want to leave you with a few to reflect on:

  • “No one can be your hype man as much as you.” – Shannette
  • “Establish that what you’re going through is your own and you can’t make comparisons.” – Rhianna
  • “I think everyone has a hint of madness in them and it’s about embracing that.” – Shannette
  • “You can be saving someone by just sharing your experience.” – Alana
  • “When we’re struggling, that is often when the light comes in.” – Geoff

Life Goals will be the theme of our forum on June 20th and it is going to be a special one, as we’ll be joined by some inspiring young people who will be sharing their stories.  Hopefully it will inspire you to think about your life goals and what steps you want to take moving forward.

Stay updated with Young People Insight by following @YPInsight on Twitter, following @youngpeopleinsight on Instagram, liking Young People Insight on Facebook and subscribing to the Young People Insight YouTube channel.

Info for May’s YP Insight Forum & Poetic Insight

We’re only eight days away from the end of our crowdfunding campaign and also into the second day of Mental Health Awareness Week, which I think we can all agree is incredibly important.  Mental health needs to be acknowledged and conversations definitely need to be had to create a better understanding in the midst of a mental health crisis.

This is why we are focusing on mental health this month at YPI, starting with our forum on May 16th.  Mental health was actually the topic of choice for Rhianna, so I’m hoping that she will help me in leading out next week.

We’ll be asking about the understanding of mental health, why there seems to be a stigma around it and how we can break the stigma.  There will also be some representatives who work in the young health and mental health sector present, which will add an element of expertise to the conversation.

So this is a call to all young people to come along next Tuesday and join the conversation on an important topic, while munching on some snacks in a relaxed environment.  We’ll be at Project B from 6.30-8.30pm, so just let us know you’re coming by registering here: http://bit.ly/2pT3hqh

Mental health will also be the theme for this month’s Poetic Insight, which will be taking place on May 30th.  There are slots open to perform, so if you are a young poet or spoken word artist wanting to speak your mind on mental health, email shaniquab29@yahoo.co.uk or message me on 07910092565.

I think this is going to be a night of incredible, moving, powerful poetry, which none of you will want to miss.  Save the date and come down to Project B, where doors will open at 7pm with performances starting at about 7.20pm and the event concluding at about 9pm.  Register to get your free tickets now: http://bit.ly/2pT3hqh

Don’t forget to support our crowdfunding campaign in the final eight days so that YPI can continue to put on events like this and create necessary dialogue.  You can share our campaign page and make a pledge here: http://bit.ly/empower-youth-voice

Stay updated with Young People Insight by following @YPInsight on Twitter, following @youngpeopleinsight on Instagram, liking Young People Insight on Facebook and subscribing to the Young People Insight YouTube channel.

Telling My Truth

Truth is one of the main elements at the centre of Young People Insight, with young people being encouraged to tell their truths in their own words.  That is tell their truth without distortion from the media or pressure to say the right thing from others; just raw, unadulterated truth.

Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.

As the founder of Young People Insight, I thought it was important to share a little more of my truth with all of you.  I’ve previously shared my experience with self harm and explained why leaving university was one of the best decisions I ever made, but I haven’t shared any recent part of my story with you.

Trying to get Young People Insight off the ground has been a struggle, which I am still battling now.  I didn’t know where to start with the forums, I wondered how I was going to reach people, I found myself worrying about funds and the list goes on.  Countless questions, doubts and worries have been plaguing my mind.

All the while, I’ve had people congratulate me on what I’m doing and encourage me to keep pushing forward, but I found myself feeling like a failure.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the brave step I’ve taken to even start something like this, but I feel like I’ve failed in the number of people I’ve reached and the time that it’s taken for me to actually start my forums.

You may be saying don’t be so hard on yourself, but that is a difficult feat for me.  I may come across as confident to a lot of individuals and seem like I have it all together, but that is so far from being the truth.

DSC_0738

As I strive on in my quest to build Young People Insight, I continue to battle the voices inside that tell me that I’m not good enough, not capable enough and not liked enough.  I fight against the fear of taking the next steps, but most of all, I fight against the desire to simply give up.

Over the past month, I found myself in a depressive state, dealing with grief and doubting who I was, what I was doing and what my purpose was in life.  I couldn’t write, I didn’t want to be around people and I even considered giving up on Young People Insight.  What made it harder was that during this time, my sessions with my counsellor came to an end, when I most needed to speak to her and have that safe presence in my life.

It was the second time in the last year that wanted to isolate myself from everyone, give up entirely and just be taken from this world — the first time was actually the reason why I found myself in counselling.  Nevertheless, I made the decision to battle on, because what I intend to do through Young People Insight is simply too important to simply give up on.

There are young people who need to be heard and feel like they matter.  There are networks that need to be formed and creativity that needs to be tapped into.  There is also a borough that needs to do all it can to reach as many young people as possible, and I intend to be a part of that.

I know that this journey will continue to get tougher, but I just need to take time to remember why I’m doing this.  It’s not about me, but it’s about all of the amazing young people who need to be seen and feel empowered to use their voices.

I want them to know that I genuinely care and that I’m not above them, or any better than them, because I haven’t got it all together myself.  I’m still figuring everything out, just like them, which is why I want us to go on this journey together.

Image by Blanka and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by Blanka and used under Creative Commons License.

To all my young people, just know that you can take the step to drop out of university and overcome struggles with mental health to pave your own way towards greatness.  I believe we all have special potential within us.

Improving support for young people dealing with self-harm

An increasing number of young people are engaging in self-harm, which is worrying, as it shows that it has become more common.  It’s sad when any young person resorts to self-harm, but sometimes it seems like the only option — I know, because I’ve been there.

However, there seems to be so little that young people know about self-harm — I was unaware that it was mental health problem until I actually started researching into it — and so many of them hide their self-harm that the official numbers are unclear.

There is also the question of why some young individuals feel afraid to tell someone that they’ve been self-harming or if they know where to get the help the need.  Although there is an increase in information and services available, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the information and services, so that young people know where to go for support and/or a helping hand.

Photo from mirror.co.uk.
Photo from mirror.co.uk.

In order to do this though, it is important to hear from the young people themselves, to learn what they understand about self-harm and how they think support available for them can be improved.

Young People Insight has developed a survey on self-harm with the young mental health charity, Off The Record Youth Counselling Agency, for 13-19 year olds who are living, working or studying in the borough of Croydon.  We want to gather knowledge on their experiences with self-harm, so that more detailed information will be available to help young people in Croydon dealing with it.

Self-harm affects a lot of young people and there should be as much support as possible, in order for them to work through it and learn to deal with their emotions in a safe, effective way.  This survey will allow us to help young people dealing with self-harm, so please click the link and share it for us to reach as many young people as possible: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/59LDVYB