It is exactly 20 years since I was carted off by the men in white coats and with so much in the news about mental health lately, I felt it would be rude not to write a blog about it.
It was Easter 1997, a young bulimic me had been starving herself so I could indulge in a £30 chocolate Easter Bunny I had had my eye on. On Easter Saturday, I went to the supermarket to purchase this delicious rabbit only to find they had sold out. The result of my starvation and living with a psychopath left me only one option…. I lost the fucking plot! Many an Easter egg got smashed up in the supermarket by me that day and violence to such innocent chocolate eggs I am not proud of.
I woke from my chocolate craze haze in a hospital for the mentally ill. My life and the way people saw me, changed forever.
I was given a lifelong sentence of taking 60mg of Prozac and was told I probably didn’t make serotonin with no other explanations and then released back in to the world.
At first I danced in the shadows of society, trying to hide the fact that I was hanging off the edge of it. People are still VERY scared of anti-depressants but back then it was acceptable to openly show whoever was taking the pills, you feared them. There were also people who generally considered that if you were on ‘legal highs’ that you were being controlled by the government and I was told this often which confused and disabled my crazy head even more. There was still a hangover from when people were just dosed up on tranquillisers in the 80’s too (which are highly addictive) and Prozac was new in the 90's, untested and suspiciously seen as ‘the happy drug’ and we all know about the law of cause and effect.
Alone in my illness and now locked in a drug induced cage, I lost all my confidence. I wasn’t bulimic anymore though and that gave me a chance to get well – except there was no-one around to help me…. No counsellor, no clinic, just a green and yellow pill. So off I wandered alone along the yellow (and green) brick road but there was no Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion to help me. Everyone else had stayed in Kansas, only I had been whirled up in the chocolate egg smashing hurricane. The mentally ill, will always walk alone.
Desperately wanting to be accepted for who I was craziness, drugs and all, I started to talk openly about what had happened to me, stupidly believing that people would unerstand. I remember regaling, in a comical way, to Justin at Cbeebies about my egg smashing and Prozac taking ways. I’ll never forget the concerned but horrified look on his face as he told me, he thought it would be ‘best’ if no one else found out about my past or the fact that I was taking Prozac. So I shut my big mouth, I smiled my Prozac smile and I kept quiet.
Alone in the land of Oz again.
I’m a fighter by genetics though. A punk. Progression is what I live for and I started to realise that, even though the stigma attached to my mental illness meant I should, for my own safety, keep it my dirty secret, that didn’t really help society.
Me, hiding in the shadows didn’t help the other 12-year-olds who were bulimic, as I used to be at that age. It didn’t help people who found themselves on Prozac or other drugs because life had got too hard and it didn’t help move people’s perceptions of mental illness positively forward. So while still one of the main faces on Cbeebies, I spoke out and came clean about who I really was.
Naively, I thought I would be celebrated for my honesty. I was being brave to help others. Ruby Wax had spoken about her battles with mental illness and she was admired by TV Land for it. I stupidly believed I might be admired because I was speaking out too. I thought by being honest I would help the children who had once watched me on Cbeebies realise, it’s OK to dance to the beat of a slightly different drum and admit that. It’s OK to fail and it’s OK to not be OK.
I thought I would help mothers who were on Prozac for postnatal depression. I thought by admitting that I struggled, I would be help everyone and maybe even encourage people to talk about it around children, instead of pretending life is perfect.
Let the children know that life is wonderful because it’s not perfect.
I did an article about being on Prozac for The Sunday Times and came clean about being on it and why… but I was not admired.
The truth is they may as well have painted a red cross on my forehead (as they used to paint on doors in the days of the black death).
I was alone again and it was like being locked up all over again, just as I had been in 1997.
Instead of using my story as a talking point for children and parents, Cbeebies ignored me and pretended I was never part of that world. The most important thing we can teach our children is, empathy for others and yet sadly this was in short supply there.
Online people were sympathetic but now I felt exposed and that was OK if I had made a difference but I hadn’t. In fact, the only thing the whole experience had showed me is that, it’s OK to talk about mental illness - but only if you are uber famous. If you are a normal person or in my case, if you are dealing with children, you will be silently judged and pushed even further out of society.
When I say ‘silently judged’ what I mean is, you will be avoided. It’s no longer PC to openly judge the mentally ill, because the uber famous and the Royals tell us not to, so instead we are ignored and feared but not to our faces. I think I'd rather be put in the stocks and have tomatoes thrown at me, than the pretend acceptance.
I am now many months clean of Prozac after 18 years on that drug. I do not crave it; I do not miss it. When I first came off it while I was having Phoenix, it was a bit like being let out of prison after 18 years of being institutionalised. I didn’t know if my reactions to things were normal. I didn’t know who I was off the drug. I felt very afraid of everyone and everything, almost like an alien on Earth. I was confused and I didn’t trust myself.
I was determined to stay off it though. I wanted to know once and for all if I am mentally ill and this is what I have found.
I am crazy but all of us are. Every single person and child is mentally ill. Though the spectrum is broad each and every one of us has some form of mental illness.
These days I would say I am one of the sanest people I know because of my mental illness. Having truly looked at my soul in my fight to break free of the mental illness chains, I know more about who I am now than most people will do in a lifetime.
I’ve found that many people who consider themselves sane are not and they don’t even know who they are.
Whereas many people who have suffered with mental health issues are very grounded and self aware.
Mental illness has a huge spectrum and yet society hears the word ‘mental’ and it stops there. The spectrum is so large it’s like linking a common cold to cancer. We don’t look at the word ‘ill’ and automatically think someone is dying and yet we hear the words ‘mentally ill’ and we think someone is completely out of control. There are many reasons someone can be termed as mentally ill and there are many different life circumstances that can affect our mental health as well as physiological reasons.
Most of us have issues with food. Many people I have met have cognitive dissonance and can’t accept or refuse to even see who they are. Most of us have some sort of OCD. Many people have depression. The list goes on and on and on.
In the 20 years, I have had to face being treated ‘differently’ all because of one episode in a supermarket, I have come to this conclusion.
To be mentally ill – is to be human, so welcome to the nut house everyone!