I cried for a solid week, almost non-stop. I didn’t think much of it tbh - I’ve always been a crier I was 15 y/o. Crying was part and parcel of that age, no? It wasn’t until I began to feel like I wanted to take my own life that I realised that this may well not be “normal.” I wasn’t really sure of what the procedural thing to do was. I mean I was fine really; I came from a stable home, generally had no issues whilst growing up - what could possibly be wrong with me?! Then I began to freeze with my learning. My brain felt as though it was clenched tightly - not allowing for any penetrative action, nor knowledge to enter. I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do. My good friend Kat, suggested that I see the school counsellor. Counsellor? Me? Wasn’t counselling for people that had real-life “issues?” Nevertheless I gave it a go. Through this process I realised I had my own set of “issues” - ones which were being unearthed by this softly spoken, middle-aged woman. I wasn’t really ready to be confronted by my demons. I put the counselling to bed, and shook my feathers, and carried on with my life. I mean, I was mostly happy, except when I was really sad. I remember someone signing my yearbook at the end of year 11, stating: “whenever I see you, you’re either happy as Larry or Sad Steven” - but I didn’t give it much thought then. In the years to follow I covered up my mood swings with illicit substances. I felt like I was always on a come down, apart from when I was up, up, up! I was now studying at postgraduate level at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Yet I felt empty, lost and alone. I spent four whole weeks in my bedroom at my parents’ home. I only left my room to feed myself tiny morsels of food. At least, until I needed to hand in a paper at SOAS (for a module I was taking there). I felt so overwhelmed going into London (despite having lived there for three months prior to the four-week stint at my parents’). It was crazy busy, yet I’d never felt so alone. I rushed back home to my parents’. I hibernated in my room for a while before realising that this was quite reminiscent of earlier years in my life. The despair, sadness, suicidal ideations, numbness and general loneliness. I decided it was time to go to the doctor. I felt like this was very decisive of me (especially in a time whereby I was avoiding making any sort of decision). I knew I’d struggle to articulate myself to the doctor. So I wrote a list on my iPad, which I essentially ended up handing over to the doctor, whilst breaking down into tears I felt overwhelmed. The doctor agreed to see me weekly until my counselling referral had gone through. The doctor was another lovely lady, not much older than myself, again softly-spoken. I began the counselling around March 2012. Similarly to years before, the counsellor helped me to unearth things I’d hidden within myself for years. As each session progressed, I began to realise that this downward depression was a cyclical pattern, but it was often punctuated with peaks of heightened, excessive feelings. I mentioned this to the counsellor; she referred me back to the GP, but this time to someone who had a psychiatry background. To cut a long story short, there was a lot of back and forth from the doctors. But ultimately I was referred to the outpatient psychiatry department at my local hospital: Weller Wing. Never in a million years did I think I would be visiting such a place! After what felt like 30 very brief minutes with the psychiatrist, a label of “bipolar affective disorder” was pinned onto my forehead. I was certain that the whole world and its aunt could see it. In reality, nothing much had changed, except everything was different.. I felt weighed down by this diagnosis, completely burdened by this bipolar “sticker.” My parents went away mere days after I was diagnosed. I mean I was a 23 y/o woman, capable of looking after herself (and her siblings) - except that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m still not sure why I did this, but following a small altercation with my uncle, I fled from the family home, with a small amount of my belongings, and convinced myself I wasn’t going back. I didn’t belong there anymore. No one understood how I felt - except my mum who was half-way across the world at that particular moment in time. Again, I felt alone. My uncle had noticed that I’d been missing from my room not long after I had left, which naturally led to an international phone call from my mother. This filled me with guilt and dread, particularly since she had informed me that she would be catching the next available flight to London. What the f*** had I done?! I felt terrible! My mum was supposed to be enjoying a getaway with my father and his sister and her husband. I had no choice but to return back to my parents’. But that still wasn’t the point I realised my family really cared about my wellbeing. No! It was years later, after getting sectioned a few times, and almost recovering, that I truly learnt that my family wanted to be there for me all along - they just didn’t know how to be, initially. (I think it’s so easy for me to blame others for their lack of compassion etc. whilst I’m going through a tricky time. The reality is they can only be there for me to assist and guide me along the way - if they choose to be that is; most of the work is down to me - and this is the difficult part.) I’m 32 now, and have had my fair share of ups and downs, a psychotic episode, and near-death experience but honestly, I’m very grateful for all the adversity. Mostly because it has made me the woman I am today, and through these difficulties I have met some great people, including the wonderful Zoe 🏼 It’s not always easy “to see the light at the end of the tunnel” and all those other cliches society likes to feed us. But
to those horribly dark thoughts - which I’ve experienced all too many times! Yet I have made it through to the other side and am ready to tackle life’s challenges again, albeit slowly and surely. But I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to take my time each day, and learn to love myself 🏼 I’d strongly urge anyone out there who is struggling to seek the help you may well need. It may be an arduous journey, but it’ll be worth it!
LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST ON SPOTIFY:
To read more about Essma's journey please read her blog, it is wonderfully deep, honest and insightful : https://essmabechkoum.com/
If you feel that you are experiencing any of what Essma has spoken about please seek help from your nearest GP. There are also other sources which provide help and advice for example:
Mind 0300 123 3011
Rethink 0300 5000 927
Support Line 01708 765200
Also if you feel that you have an experience with regards to mental health that you believe others could relate to then please get in touch.