So this is spontaneous. A last minute post? Two in one day? Call me crazy but I knew I had to write something kinda big and scary today. Plus, I’m ill and in my comfy office (bed) so I just decided to write something.
I knew World Mental Heath Day was coming but for a couple of weeks I’ve been hopelessly searching for the perfect post to talk about this hugely important day. You see, I have been so open about my mental health in the past in the form of blog posts and a little on social media that I wasn’t really sure what to write.
I kept staring at the empty space where the perfectly honest and towards the end uplifting post would be and I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t find words to sum up the place I’m at right now. I’m not 100% how I’m doing or where I’m at right now. For the most part I’m amazing. I think I’m getting back to being the amazing, confident Elana I love and then it all comes crashing down again, worse than before. It’s draining, it’s humiliating and it angers me like nothing else. But every time, I get back up. I want to talk about where I am now both mentally and physically, compared to where I was.
I’ve known that my underactive thyroid has been a problem for almost 6 years now. I take medication. I have regular tests on it. It is usually stable and I’m so good with my medication because it’s so dangerous not to be. Recently, as in the past few months, I’ve felt more drained. Combine a badly underactive thyroid with the change of season, the contraceptive pill and sudden university stress – I could sleep for hours on end and not feel at all rested. I hate feeling lazy on any day other than a sunday but when I can barely keep my eyes open after driving more than half an hour or I sleep through my alarms (which I’ve never done in my life) it’s tough not to just want to crawl into bed and sleep until you can function with at least half a brain. It’s draining when your body just doesn’t work like it should and you have so much to do.
I found out about it at the end of 2011/the beginning of 2012 when I realised I had alopecia areata – a major symptom of having a crappy thyroid that doesn’t want to work. But it could have been raging inside me for a lot longer before I saw the first warning signs that Christmas Eve. I covered my first realisation of that in my Nothing But Honesty. post a couple of years ago when I was so much worse than I am now.
On Christmas Eve 2011, I was sitting on the living room floor surrounded by my family. My Mother was plaiting my hair as I had just come out of the shower. My brother points to my head and says, ‘what’s that bald patch on your head?’. Me, being a 14-year-old girl who was incredibly insecure anyway, freaked out and asked someone to take a picture for me. There, on the left of my head was a small bald patch, no larger than a 2p coin. I went to bed with a heavy heart even though I was told not to panic. This was probably the worst Christmas gift I have ever received.
I cannot explain how awful it is to feel hideous because of your hair. My hair was falling out all over the place and I was confused by it. I’d always looked after it. I’d never used damaging products and I very rarely used heated tools to style my hair. And it got worse. My doctor gave me an ointment to prompt hair growth but it didn’t work for me – alopecia is pretty much unfixable. At one point during 2012 I had a total of five patches on my head that would be visible when the wind blew or when my hair moved as I walked. It was terrifying, especially being in school with hundreds of people who would laugh or point it out or try to tell me as if I didn’t know. I felt disgusting. Out of everything in my life, I have the least control over my hair loss.
But it got better, miles better. For a couple of years I had nothing. Until a few months ago when I found a new patch. It broke my heart. I thought the embarrassment was finally over but there it was, right at the back of my head and very visible. A 20p coin size but still, it was obvious. I have to warn and apologise to my friends who touch my hair or my hairdresser when it’s particularly bad. I don’t want them to tell me like I don’t know it’s there. It hasn’t cleared up yet and I have to be so careful not to show it. Parting my hair is dangerous, I can’t double plait it or do much else than wear it in a messy ponytail and hope for the best. I hate it. So much hair falls out every single day but my hair looks as greasy as a deep fat fryer if I don’t wash it everyday. I have to be so gentle but it still seems like I’m getting nowhere. There’s nothing I can do to fix it but I’ll keep trying.
I’ve covered my acne a lot on here too, which is definitely linked to my happiness/mental health because it’s so bad when I’m bad. At the moment my skin is pretty good. Nothing will ever be as bad as it was back then. Check out my original acne post for a shock and a bit of early Halloween disgust. Changing my pill has given me a few more breakouts, but nothing that doesn’t clear up quickly. Hormonal spots are still bad but again they’re just big and angry and disappear easily. I’m getting a lot of redness at the moment but my scars are still fading and I’m constantly happy to be makeup-free. It’s sad but I’m falling more and more out of love with makeup as my skin gets better. I can’t find a foundation that lets my skin breathe and still lets me look like me. I can’t find good colour matches. I barely buy new makeup anymore because it doesn’t excite me the way it used to. I’m trying to fall back in love with it, but I only learned how to do it because I needed to cover my face. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I do have the skin confidence to go out bare faced but at the same time, I wish I loved makeup like I used to.
Now, mentally, I’m a bit foggy. Whilst my depression is far less soul destroying and is a lot easier to both identify and handle, it’s still there. I still get reminded of how awful I am and how bad everything is and how much there is to be sad about when I really want to be happy. Some days it tests me. Others I barely hear it. It can be bad at night when I’m alone at night – I get a lot of nightmares now. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of lunch with the friends I value above everything, or I’ll be trying on clothes or I’ll be watching GBBO or I’ll be driving home from work and it catches me off guard. I know it’ll be there forever and I can accept it so most days it doesn’t bother me. My anxiety is under control for the most part. I’m getting more severe chest pain and tightness when I do feel anxious, my head feels constantly heavy and full and I just want to think clearly.
But despite it all, I’m fighting. I’m doing more, buying more, going out more. I’m making time for people who care about me and being more spontaneous. I’m trying new things and meeting new people and really tying to take every day as it comes.
It’s so important for me to look back at where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, so as much as this post was to prove that things do get better and you can beat whatever you’re going through, it was also for me as a reminder of how strong I am.
I put myself before everyone else because I needed to, I started taking care of myself and I truly believe I’m a completely different person to the girl on Christmas Eve 2011. I like myself now.
I’m so thankful for the few good people I have around me and I could not be prouder of the person I’ve become. Don’t be afraid to share your story this #WorldMentalHealthDay and speak out. Remember that you’re always going forward, never back.