Hi everyone, Jo here.
I’ve never been great with introductions, so I guess I’d better start with the basics – I’m a 17 year old aspiring psychology student in my first year of A levels. I love all things musical, especially singing, and I can’t get enough of Grey’s Anatomy (seriously – I dread to think how many hours I’ve given that show).
I guess I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful.. write a book; maybe start a blog – something to make my mark. It’s hard to put my finger on why. Maybe because I need a reason to be here, to know I have a purpose. Or maybe because I want to help others who’re feeling similar – I think it’s a mixture of the two. But who am I to talk about mental health? What do I know?
I first started my Facebook page ‘A Penny for your Thoughts’ about a year back, in the midst of what I would call a fairly crappy time (I know, shameless self promo – but go like and share if you’re feeling lovely). Somewhat boringly, there’s no special meaning behind the name – I saw the quote online, I liked it.
In the beginning, I simply needed a distraction. Something I could pour myself into where I could forget about the shit storm brewing around me. I’d been an admin on a similar page for about a year, where several other admins and I would provide 1-to-1 support for young people with mental health problems, particularly suicidal teens. The idea was to provide that peer support from people of a similar age that so many were lacking – it’s a different sort of comfort that I never really got from seeing a professional, having someone of your own age who, instead of blindly nodding in sympathy, knows almost exactly how you’re feeling. I wanted my page to have the same sense of community, where anyone from anywhere could speak their mind without fear of judgment. I wanted to create a place where the misunderstood would feel understood again, for all the people who felt as trapped and as lonely as I did.
So I started putting everything into helping the people who’d message in. Yes, I was giving up my time to support them – but I started to notice a change in me too. Not only was it brilliant to be solving someone else’s problems instead of dwelling on my own, I quickly realised that this was something I loved. I started reading around the subject, and immediately became hooked on documentaries that toured psych wards and books about mental illness. I had become fascinated by the function of the human mind and how our experiences shape the people we become, and to my surprise this newfound interest had given me back a drive and a passion that chronic depression had robbed from me… I hadn’t felt like this in years.
Not only did I enjoy psychology, I was good at it too. I was now the admin of choice on both pages, people would actually ask to talk to me – for the first time in my life I felt wanted and needed. People would send messages months after we’d initially talked, thanking me for stopping them making a decision they wouldn’t have been able to undo. Having heard what I do, I also started talking with people from my school (who’d barely acknowledged me before), but who were now reaching out for help with their own mental health. Some would even express the opinion that chatting to me was more helpful than a counsellor/therapist, which of course was the ultimate compliment (although in all honesty with the time I’ve spent in therapy I’ve come across some pretty questionable counsellors!)
By now I’d realised that I didn’t just want this to be a hobby – it was more than a distraction tool, I could see myself doing this forever. I want to come home from a long day’s work and feel like my tiredness is worth something. People still laugh at me when I tell them: “I want to be a psychologist”, probably because it’s hard to believe that someone with a mental illness (or several) would ever heal enough to help someone else through theirs.
But I don’t see my illness as a curse anymore, why should it hold me back? Some of the best therapists I’ve known have been through the toughest of times, and my experience with mental illness and trauma gives me a unique qualification in life that not everyone has access to – it may have stolen a part of me, but its also given me a very real understanding of what its like to feel pain, what its like to fight the same battles every day, and how on bad days, simple tasks can turn into mountains that seem impossible to climb. I might not be completely healed yet, but I’m a work in progress – and that’s totally okay.
So take whatever crappy hand you’ve been dealt, and make it into something brilliant. Use it as a reason to fight, and to prove people wrong – use it to better yourself or better the world. My illness might be the reason I’m broken but it’s also the reason I found my purpose. Through my page, I have made some lifelong friends, and have also recently started a support group under the same name, which now has over 250 members and counting.
So, to put it bluntly – fuck you mental illness.
But also, thank you.
One day, it will make me a brilliant therapist – and for that, I’m grateful.