The Horror of Mental Illness

Today the news of missing Charlotte Bevan and baby daughter Zaani has served as another sad reminder of the horror of mental illness.

I cannot claim to know the details of this situation. What I do know is that mental illness claimed another victim today, and I wish it had been so, so different for all concerned.

People who have never suffered with any form of mental illness do not realise that decisions made during the very depths of despair are not something that can be controlled. Who knows what was going through this poor girl’s mind when she made the decision that she did. Perhaps she felt she was doing everyone else a favour – relieving them of the burden she may have felt she was. Maybe she just wanted to get away from the voice inside her head that told her she couldn’t do it, that she would never be good enough.

I am pleased to say that even in my darkest hours I never seriously considered taking my own life, or that of my child. Or did I? I had lots of moments when I felt that my family, my child, would be better off without me; that if I just took myself off somewhere they could never find me they’d forget about me soon enough and be happy in my absence. I felt that I was no use to anyone, particularly my baby girl, and that all I did was bring those around me misery. I fantasised about living in a hut in a remote part of the country where I could write and think and cry until the end of my days.

Sometimes, if I was driving on the motorway, I would find my hand hovering over the handbrake and a fleeting thought would cross my mind “what would happen if…” If I was driving across a motorway bridge, I’d think about what would happen if I veered off the edge. I never felt like I was seriously considering ending my life, it was as if I were subconsciously thinking about an escape, and my daydreams were at risk of becoming a reality.

I remember (and this is something I have told very few people) watching my daughter in the bath and wondering, just for a split second, what would happen if I just held her under for a bit…

I’m shocked that I’ve shared that, but I think it is appropriate to do so in illustrating my point. My aim has always been to be as candid as possible about mental illness and how it has affected me personally. I lost 3 years of my life to post-natal depression. I will never get back the moments of my daughter’s development that I missed when the darkness had me in its grimy clasp. 3 years that I needn’t have suffered if I had felt that I could talk to someone and tell them the thoughts I was having in the murkiest parts of my mind. But I was afraid. I was afraid they would take my daughter away from me and that I would be placed in some kind of institution. I was afraid that if I told the people closest to me how I felt and what I thought, that they would think me a monster and I would lose everyone.

In those dark years the only person I really lost was myself, and then only a bit of me was taken. I am thankful for that. I’m thankful that somewhere deep inside of me there was a voice, however quiet, that pulled me from those moments before it was too late. It is deeply regretful that Charlotte’s voice wasn’t loud enough. Not loud enough to ask for help, not loud enough to bring her back from a decision that can never be reversed.

So please do not judge. Though I have felt and thought some very bad things at the worst times in my life, I know I am a good person. I love my family and I would never want to see them come to any harm. I was mentally ill and I had no control over the thoughts that overwhelmed me, or the strength at first to address them. It is time we started to give mental illness the respect that it deserves before more lives are taken by it.

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