Mental Health And Me – Part Of The NHC Big Talk Project - Ann Sweeney

I have been mentally ill my whole adult life. It has become normal to me, and up to last year I didn't even realise how bad I was. I was made redundant from my job of 10 years last July. This was the best thing that could happen because it was a toxic, stressful environment. The shock of it kicked off a chain of events that has literally changed my life.

Let me explain.

I was sexually abused, in the presence of a family member for almost 2 years from age 12-14. At the time I didn't have a clue I was being abused. I was hanging around with a group of older people, every one of them knew my age, but I was treated as one of them. Circumstances at home meant I was pretty much left to fend for myself a lot of the time. I would stay at my sisters house every weekend, the whole of the school holidays and eventually while I was meant to be at school. My mum would give me a little money for food as my sister didn't have much. This money would be taken from me and used to buy drugs, which were then given to me. It became normal. Get wasted, have a huge party, get sexually abused, wake up and do it all again each day. I wasn't being fed, no one was looking after me. They all knew, and no one protected me. I was just a little girl, desperate for someone to care about me. This abuse kicked off years of destructive behaviour. I had been taught if you wanted any kind of affection, you need to do things you don't want to do to get it. And so I did it.

Being used and abused left right and centre by grown men who knew what age I was, knew I was in the care of my elder sister who was an adult the whole time, and just did it anyway. I guess I was a peadophiles dream. I just didn't know any other way. This is what life is like. I remember going to school after taking god knows what pill and being absolutely wrecked, and no one noticed. This pattern continued into adulthood. I went into every relationship I've had ready to mould myself into the person they wanted me to be, with no thought or care for myself. I didn't know any other way. I met my first husband 3 months after my dad died in 2004. He was controlling, mentally and sexually abusive to me. Our 7 year relationship ended the day after he finally raped me. I cried and begged and he just wouldn't stop.

The next day I told him I was divorcing him. That was the final straw.

I have wandered through my life just existing. Life was just always miserable and everyone around me used me. This all changed on 13th August 2011. I was introduced to Dave through a good friend. Both of us were fairly damaged mentally. Things progressed fast and he pretty much never left after our 1st date. Without wanting to make people sick with my lovey dove guff, he completely changed my life. Suddenly I had someone who loved me for me, didn't want anything from me. He made me feel safe, and for the first time in my whole life I was being protected and loved properly. This safety gave us both the strength to ask for help in tackling the mess that was our heads. I started to see a psychologist in November 2017. A beautiful woman, who thankfully I clicked with immediately. Several attempts to get help in the past had ended when there was no connection. I know now how important this is.

Since then, I have undergone extensive, and at times brutal therapy. One on one and group work. It has quite literally changed my life. I have never known who I am. I've always just gone along with other people. Now I'm getting to know me again. I used to love music and singing, it was my life. That was taken from my by my controlling ex. Reading too, I could get completely lost in a book. Now I re-read the same lines. Over and over. I will get there though. Therapy, and the unconditional love and support of my husband and my best friend has taught me I am enough. My past mistreatment left me with massive issues with food, with caring about myself. These things are being tackled now one by one. I am a million times stronger than I've ever been. It's still hard, it's a lot of years of hell to undo. I was diagnosed with PTSD and a personality disorder. I will have these conditions for the rest of my life. I've lost practically my whole family through this in the last year. I cut the abusers and toxic ones out by choice. A few I thought I was genuinely close to have walked away by their own choice. I've always been a pushover and generous to an absolute fault. I guess they don't like the new me, and I'm ok with that.

I have a rock solid best friend of 18 years who I trust with my life and a beautiful husband who loves me just as I am. Without both of them I wouldn't have got through the last year alive. It has been the worst, and the best year of my life. I am not ashamed to say I have had to phone the mental health crisis team twice in the last year because I was suicidal. Once I disclosed and accepted what happened to me, I broke. I couldn't cope with the pain I was in.

I finish therapy officially this Friday, 27th July. I have already cried several times thinking of this and I'm doing it now as I type this. Not sad tears though. Proud tears maybe. I will miss her massively as I have formed an incredible bond with her. She helped me get better, but she always tells me she only gave me the tools. I've done all the hard work. You know what, I accept that now. I've worked my ass off to get here and for the first time in my life, I am proud of me. That's a very strange feeling. I am on a waiting list to have specific sexually abuse counselling with Rape Crisis Scotland, who are also absolute angels.

I know this has been a long one, and thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read my story. Don't suffer in silence, please please know there is help out there. I was sure nothing could fix me, but getting help has done just that.

I'm enough. I'm a good person. I love too hard and I'm kind to a fault. The answer is not to change. It's to be around the right people who accept you for you. You can always get better, no matter how bad things get. Love yourself enough to be the best version of yourself you can be.