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Nat shares their experience of trauma and living with mental illness.
I am safe.
That’s what I tell myself most days. I can be hit by fear at any given moment, out of the blue most of the time. You would not know this by looking at me, or if you talked to me but didn’t know me well.
I’m 20 years old with a job that I love, close family and friends, a happy relationship and hobbies that I’m passionate about. My day-to-day life, from the outside, seems to be a nice one to be living. Things have not always been this way.
You see, I live with four mental illnesses – depression, anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and emotionally unstable personality disorder – as well as having autism.
I also have trauma that impacts my daily life and way of thinking.
A lot of this trauma stems from various parts
of my life. Aged 10 a lot was difficult for me. Then at 15 I had my first of
several psychiatric admissions. The thing that’s currently impacting me the
most happened when I was 16. However, at the time I felt too unsafe to fully
process what was happening. I’ve only accepted and understood what went on in
the last couple of months.
At that age, I was in my first proper
relationship. I was happy in this relationship most of the time. I thought this
was a funny and caring boy. I trusted him.
Not all of it was as I thought, though. He was
manipulative in some ways, telling me that he loved me very early on and
leading me to believe that everything he did was because of that.
When my anorexia developed during our
relationship, he would help me hide food, or eat it for me. Some days the food
he got rid of was all I would’ve faced having that day. He also sexually
assaulted me, and later raped me.
Yes, I was in a relationship with someone I loved. No, I did not see the abuse for what it was, so no, I did not leave him. I think even if I had understood the situation, I would have stayed out of fear.* Whilst I won’t go into details about the abuse, I feel the constant need to explain that much.
I still feel like people don’t believe me, or understand the facts for what they are. After all, I didn’t believe it for years.
Now things are different. I’m in a
relationship that really is happy and loving. As mentioned, I have an
established and fulfilling life. But of course these things still impact me.
When it first all rushed back to me in full clarity, I was incredibly depressed
and genuinely terrified that it would happen again. I trust my boyfriend, and
know he is nothing like my ex, but the fear was still there.
It didn’t take me long to tell some trusted
people. This may sound positive, but I think it mostly came from internal
pressure. It had been so long since it actually happened, that I felt I wasn’t
where I should be in the process of healing those wounds.
Telling people was the best thing for me. I was able to talk to my mum, my partner, my friends and my key mental health worker, surrounding myself with a new understanding. When I couldn’t comprehend what had happened, I was able to ask them for support.
My relationship with my boyfriend, if anything,
has improved. He is incredibly patient and understanding with me on my bad
days, and on my good days, he shows me that he’s nothing like this ex through
I still repeat to myself that I am safe every
day. I still fight against my four illnesses and my trauma. But I am starting
to see just how much better my life is now than ever before.
I’m proud of myself. After I left the abuse, I
didn’t think I would ever have a romantic or intimate relationship with a man
again, and dated women exclusively for two years. I identify as queer, so I was
attracted to them, but I still felt I was denying part of myself by not even
acknowledging that I also liked men.
Now, I know I am being true to myself and doing my best to heal from illness and past pain. I also know that I don’t have to forgive or feel like I’m over it in order to move on from it.
Living despite everything, continuing whilst carrying it with me, is best for me. And it is getting lighter to carry.
And even after there have been times where I was not, I can cope with that. I can carry on.
I am carrying on.
It’s OK not to be OK
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (NHS England, 2020).If you are worried about your mental health, or about someone else’s, there are lots of places that can offer you help and support. You don’t have to be diagnosed, you don’t even have to know exactly what’s wrong. Whenever you are ready to talk to someone, you can.
* Abuse in a relationship can take many forms and people of any gender, and any age, can be abusive partners or victims of abuse. Whatever the situation, abuse is always wrong, and never the fault of the person who is being abused. More information about abuse (including in relationships), violence and where to get help.
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