Talking About Mental Health Is Vital, But It’s Not Enough

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I often find myself saying,

“Talking about mental health is so important.” and “Just be open and honest and you’ll feel so much better!” I have done so many times on this blog.

But in my heart, I know it’s not enough. So many of us are being let down again and again. Services are spread thin and desperately underfunded. Recent reports that young people are being denied care until they’re at crisis point, and receiving little to no help unless they have attempted suicide, is disgraceful.

We do need to talk about mental health. Talking can save lives, but our friends and family are not experts. There is only so much that they can do to help and often unfortunately, it’s not enough. It puts a strain on our relationships which can further the isolation and hopelessness of our situation. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family and group of friends. I do what I’ve been told helps; to talk. I’ve been talking and reaching out for years, but it’s not always enough.

I’ve sought professional help when I’ve contemplated suicide. I was given a number for the crisis team if ever I needed them. I was told they were available 24 hours a day and would help. I’ve had very different experiences to what I was told I would have. After the phone call I wished I’d never picked up the phone. Firstly, I was given the wrong extension number, and then when I finally got through to speak to someone they simply said,

“Carry on taking your medication and you’ll start to feel better soon.” I talk more about this in the post My Experiences of Mental Health Crises Care

GP’s need more training to identify severe mental illnesses and provide the correct referrals. I like many others with bipolar were misdiagnosed countless times, and it took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. Therapy needs to be far more accessible and not just a one size fits all solution on the NHS. Talking therapies is not always provided by a trained psychologist. In my experience it was a counsellor, who had been trained in basic techniques in order to provide talking therapies. It wasn’t enough and he wasn’t prepared to deal with the symptoms I was displaying. Specialist, long term therapy is still out of reach for many. The price tag attached is as if it’s marketed as a luxury rather than a necessity for those with severe mental illness.

Mental health has had budget increases, but they’re far smaller than budgets for physical health. It’s been five years since the government pledged to create “parity of esteem” between NHS mental and physical health services. People are suffering and we demand better. We need to recognise the role of poverty and discrimination in determining access to formal mental health services. We need to address the reasons why so many people from ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ community and those with disabilities suffer from mental ill health. There are still disgustingly long waiting lists. Having an assessment due in eighteen months when you’re suicidal is not only callous, but negligent. Still we’re seeing mental health services strained to their limits. Still people are told,

“You’re not ill enough” and “Come back when you’ve attempted suicide” Change is desperately needed right now.

In the end investment, not rhetoric, is needed to save lives.

 

Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?

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For me, the answer is yes. However, it’s not the cause of my mental illness but a trigger for an episode of bipolar mania or depression. It’s usually coupled with other triggers such as; a lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, or not taking medication.

I’ve been through many occasions where stress has had an impact on my mental illness. When the pressures of work have become too much, I find myself spiralling. The most likely repercussion is an episode of mania. The stress will disappear and I will become a whirlwind of energy and activity. Misdirected this energy can lead to reckless behaviour and I’ll find myself in dangerous situations. Mania also leads to obsession. Either with my work, with colleagues I dislike, or on projects in my personal life. I talk about one example in detail in the post Unhealthy Obsession

Often I don’t realise I’m stressed until I start showing signs of mania and then at that point I don’t care that stress has caused me to feel so euphoric. Of course with bipolar, being so hyperactive and full of relentless energy, I have to come down sooner or later. I talk about this feeling in the post The Mania Hangover . Then the stress I’m under really hits me, as I fall into a depressive state. There have been many times when for whatever reason I am already manic or depressed when a stressful situation pops into my life. Depending on the type of episode I’m experiencing, my reactions and ways of coping will differ dramatically.

Although stress can make us feel ill, a mental health condition has to already be there, whether it’s known to you or not, to trigger a mental illness. We all go through times of stress where we feel run down, lacking energy and generally feel overwhelmed by life. If you’re susceptible to depression or anxiety, the stresses of life can definitely trigger these. I find with bipolar disorder, which I continually live with, stress exacerbates the condition. I’ve learnt that I have to manage the stressors in my life and face up to the causes. Whether that be my job, a relationship, or money worries I need to assess the impact they are having to my stress levels, and ultimately my mental health.

Workplaces in particular need to work with individuals to create an environment that eases daily pressures. Society needs to be more compassionate and provide aid to those struggling for money and living in poverty. I grew up in a household where both my parents worked, yet we struggled financially. I know firsthand as a child and then as an adult how much stress is caused every month when bills are overdue and you have no way of paying them.

If you go through stressful situations but don’t have a mental illness that’s great! But don’t judge those that do. It doesn’t make the person weak or less resilient because stress triggers their mental illness. In times of extreme stress those with mental illnesses suffer; it’s unavoidable.

 

How to Approach Your Doctor If You Think You May Have Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder takes a notoriously long time to diagnose, on average ten years in fact. Add to this that people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed three times on average, it can feel to many like a hard slog to finally receive a diagnosis. This happened to me, where it took twelve years to be diagnosed and I was misdiagnosed with depression several times. I don’t want to see anyone else go through this unnecessarily, so I’ve listed below what you can do before and during meeting with a GP.

Keep a Mood Diary

This is the number one thing I wish I’d done before seeing my GP. Keeping a mood diary for a few months, will give them a picture of how much you are struggling and the stark contrast in your moods. It can be difficult to explain how much your moods are impacting your life and keeping a diary of them is a definitive way to show them this. You may be thinking three months is a long time to wait before seeing a doctor, but believe me three months is better than waiting another three years or longer for a diagnosis. Entires don’t have to be long, you can make bullet points explaining you mood that day. Bullet points will make it easier for the doctor to read through.

Ask For a Double Appointment

Most doctor’s surgeries will have the option of making a double appointment. These are reserved for people with more than one ailment to discuss, or those with more complex needs. An average appointment is only ten minutes and can go by in a flash if you’re feeling mentally unwell and struggling to explain yourself. You may feel rushed and forget what you wanted to say and giving a clear picture of your moods is a vital step in receiving a diagnosis.

Write Down What You want to Say

As I’ve already said, feeling mentally unwell can make us forgetful and/or anxious, stopping us from explaining ourselves fully. You can’t show a doctor a mental illness; unfortunately we can only rely on what we say. Write down what you’re going to tell your doctor before the appointment. It will make it clearer in your mind what you need to explain and highlight important points. Take it with you and refer to it if you can’t remember what exactly you were going to say. If you’re feeling extremely anxious or upset and feel you can’t speak clearly enough, give your notes for the doctor to read themselves.

Take Someone With You

Taking a partner, family member or close friend will take the pressure off you during the appointment. Someone that knows you well and what you’re struggling with, not only provides you with much needed support, but can corroborate your symptoms. A doctor will be more likely to take your concerns seriously if someone with you is agreeing that they have witnessed your extreme moods and unusual behaviours. Their insights may provide information that you can’t, such as how your moods and behaviours are affecting those around you.

Be Assertive

This is a difficult one, but something I feel is important. You know how you’re feeling and how your symptoms are affecting you and you need to make this clear. Often those with bipolar disorder before they are diagnosed are misdiagnosed by doctors with depression and anxiety. In a short appointment a doctor may assess you as having depression as it’s the most obvious answer and much more common. If you feel something else is happening, and you’re struggling with manic, psychotic or other symptoms, you need to tell the doctor. Being assertive doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive or confrontational, only making your points confidently and articulately.

A good doctor will take the time to speak to you, and check your medical history. Your medical history may highlight patterns of earlier mental illness that link to signs of bipolar disorder. If your GP agrees with you this will lead to a referral for a psychiatric assessment. The assessment will be much more in depth with a psychiatrist and will give you a clear answer as to whether you have bipolar disorder or not.

When Speaking About Mental Health, Language Matters

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Why does language matter? What is the difference between describing someone as ‘Is Bipolar’ or ‘Has Bipolar’?

Firstly, language is a powerful tool of expression. We tell stories with language and these stories conjure up images and ideas in the listener. We can impact the way people think or perceive the world around them with the language we use. Language can change people’s opinions of others and more importantly when it comes to mental health, themselves.

When we say someone ‘is’ their mental health diagnosis people immediately jump to their preconceived notion of the illness. They see what their experience of it is; what they have heard and seen in the media. It causes us to stereotype without really realising that’s what we’re doing. When someone says to me I ‘am’ bipolar it makes me feel that this diagnosis defines me. That my personality and the essence of what makes me who I am has been dwindled down to a mental illness. All that I am is bipolar, and this is all anyone ever sees. It impacts my self esteem in a significant way. It is limiting and dehumanising. It takes away our individuality to be spoken about in this way. Although I believe labels are important and a tool to receive treatment and provides answers to behaviours, being seen as just a label can be damaging.

When you say that someone ‘has’ a mental illness it has a completely different impact. I feel like I can be seen as a person and individual. It shows to me that the person understands mental illness and how it affects me. They understand that I might be struggling and need support.

There is still a huge discrepency between how we use language for physical and mental illness. Whereas physical illness sufferers are seen as fighters, those with mental illnesses are seen as weak. If you have a physical illness you’re often seen as blameless, it’s ‘just one of those things.’ With mental illness you’re seen as a failure and ‘you could be doing more to help yourself.’ Mental illnesses are biological, we have a genetic susceptibility and they are often coupled with environmental factors. It isn’t a weakness or failure on our part, but the misuse of language continues to contribute to the stigma.

It’s important that we use language delicately and with care when discussing mental illness. Think about how much impact your words have and how they can shape a person’s self worth.

 

I Gave Up Alcohol For My Mental Health

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My last psychiatry appointment was a tough one – I was told with certainty that I should, no, needed to give up alcohol. My response was a hopeful one, surely half a bottle of wine on a Saturday night was alright? The answer was a definitive no, even that amount of alcohol was far too much. We agreed that I should go sober, and I agreed reticently. I left feeling dejected, grumpy and silently cursing my psychiatrist. Although I felt fed up, I had known before my appointment that this change needed to happen.

Why go sober? 

My psychiatrist explained that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of many medications. Alcohol is a depressant, and pretty much cancels out the work my mental health medication does. In other words, I might as well not bother taking my medication every time I drink. If I have three days in a row of drinking, then that’s three days without medication. For me that can cause the beginning of withdrawal symptoms, that feel like having the flu. Or, more seriously, it can cause a bipolar episode of severe depression or mania.

The mental and physical effects

After a heavy weekend, or a number of days in a row of a ‘few’ drinks in the evening to help me unwind and relax I start feeling the negative effects of alcohol. I’ve noticed a correlation between heavy drinking and heart palpitations, that often leads to a full blown panic attack. Panic attacks are a debilitating and exhausting experience, and I’ll feel drained for days afterwards. Another experience I’ve had after drinking is psychosis. Earlier this year I drank heavily over my birthday weekend and at the end of it began to hear voices. I wrote about the experience in this post, My Hearing Voices Journal Alcohol free, I wouldn’t have gone through these experiences, and would have stayed mentally well and stable.

How I did it

I literally just stopped! Seriously though, it’s been tough, especially on nights out and at family celebrations. I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen, so to just suddenly go completely sober was a massive challenge. I was open about it with everyone, and my partner, family and friends have all been extremely supportive. I reached out to the twitter community and was given heaps of advice and tips on non alcoholic drinks so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on nights out. Soda and lime cordial has been my saviour when I’m out at a bar, along with flavoured sparkling water when I’m having a night in. It’s taken a terrific amount of self determination and will power, but I knew it was something I had to do for my mental health.

How I’m feeling now

Two months later and I feel fantastic! I’m clear headed, have more energy and haven’t had any palpitations or panic attacks. I’ve been stable and haven’t experienced psychosis or any depressive or manic episodes. I feel physically healthier and I’ve lost weight. I know my medications are working as they should be now, and that’s given me the impetus to stay sober.

I may have left my psychiatric appointment with a feeling of dread and wondering how the hell I was going to go sober, but I’m so glad I stuck with my decision.

The Journey To A Bipolar Diagnosis

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Today is world bipolar day, a day to raise awareness of this complex and long term mental health condition. Here’s a few facts about bipolar disorder;

  • More than 1 million people in the UK have bipolar.
  • It can take on average 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis.
  • People with bipolar are misdiagnosed on average 3.5 times.

Just think about that. Think about 10 years of your life or more not understanding your own behaviours. Believing there is something intrinsically flawed with you. Living constantly trapped in a cycle of extreme moods. Months of euphoria and elation, where you rarely sleep and hardly eat. But during those months that euphoric feeling is replaced with something ugly and vicious, an intense anger you can’t satiate. You begin to experience delusions that puts yourself and others in danger.

Think about experiencing a crash where you’re left physically and emotionally drained, that ultimately leads to a severe depression. The depression won’t lift no matter what you try. You can’t do anything but sleep and lie on the sofa staring blankly at the wall. You have changed so utterly and completely  it bewilders friends and family. Some of them distance themselves from you, unable to deal with the duality of your moods. Suicide begins to feel like the only option left and you start to make plans.

Suddenly, you feel stable but, living in fear that the cycle will begin again at any moment. Living in fear that you’ll be alone forever as relationships break down. Living in denial over the psychosis you’ve experienced, though of course you don’t label it as that out of fear.

I first became ill at 14, and wasn’t diagnosed until I was 26. I spent 12 years living with a condition I didn’t know I had. I felt I’d missed out on so much from being constantly unwell. I was incredibly angry when I was diagnosed. Not because of the actual diagnosis, but because it had taken so long to get the help I had desperately needed.

I had been misdiagnosed so many times I’ve lost count. GP appointments always went the same way; you’re depressed, here’s a prescription, here’s a sick note for work and come back in 2 weeks if you’re not feeling any better. There was no dialogue between us about why I was depressed. Why did I keep coming back? Why was it always every 2 -3 months that I found myself depressed again? If just one doctor over those years had taken the time to ask one simple question,

“Do you ever feel elated and full of energy for long periods of time?”

I would have answered yes! That’s all it would’ve taken to start a new conversation. That’s what eventually happened when I was 26, and I will always be grateful to that GP who took the time to look at my (extensive) notes and question why I kept being mentally unwell. That maybe there was something else hidden beneath the surface of depression I was displaying.

Those of us with a diagnosis of bipolar have been through a long, difficult journey, much of it spent feeling alone and confused. Take some time to listen to our stories and learn more about this mental illness.

Guest Post: How I Became an Alcoholic at 14 – by Charlotte Underwood

In this guest blog, Charlotte describes her experiences of alcoholism as a young person and how there is hope and a way to overcome.

When you think about an alcoholic, many may think of an adult who is either out partying every night or drinking home alone after work and passing out on the sofa.
This is just not the case, this is just a stigmatised version the media portrays, I know this because I was an alcoholic for a year, except I was only 14 years old, barely out of childhood.

I am not sure of the exact cause of why I started, it was a long time ago but I believe I had a lot of pent up anger that I did not know how to let out, I was not informed of mental health so I did not understand why I was so different to everyone I met. Unfortunately, I also found that people preferred me when I was this confident, reckless teen and at that time, as I was bullied and unpopular, I would do anything to keep that attention.
It started off with just one sip of a cheap alco-pop that my older friend had given us when we went around his house, it tasted like pop but it gave me this little buzz and I couldn’t forget that, I remember that day because I walked home red faced and bumped into my crush, who found it hilarious!

I started to sneak into the fridge to steal my mother’s white wine, which was of very high percent! I would also steal her disaronao and then water it down, thinking she wouldn’t notice, though she actually did months later! Cheap larger was also a poison of choice, as my father would often buy a bunch for my brother who at this point was 17 and into the party scene. If all failed and there was nothing in the house, I would manipulate and persuade my older friends to steal from their parents or buy me, just so I wouldn’t go a day without that buzz, I would do anything.

No one really knew what was going on, I kept it pretty quiet, my friends just thought I drank a few times a month and my parents had no idea to start, yet there was not a day that went by that year where I did not drink, even if I was at school, I was hooked, I loved that floating feeling.

At one point, I invited all my friends over, I wanted to get wasted because I was trying to get an ex back and I needed the confidence, so we manage to sneak past my parents and get a £100 worth of booze into my room, as we had a gig to go to later, in a rush we hid it in my cupboard before we went, I was too drunk at this point to think straight. This mistake lead to my parents finding it, I do not know to this day why my mother was going through my room but she did find my stash and my parents were mad, not at my drinking but at my lying and lack of care for myself, that I was not safe; from this day I was forced to go cold turkey.

I still drank occasionally after this, I was just a teenager, not binge drinking but I was known to over drink when I was stressed or if a partner wanted to be intimate, as I was a victim of abuse, assault and rape, which I felt was my problem because ‘it was my duty’ to please my partner, which I could only do drunk. It is sad that I was no taught about mental health and the right to my own body at this age because I let my own self endure painful experiences due to feeling like I just needed to be quiet and take it, to avoid drama, it’s so important to remember you owe nothing to anyone.

But there is an upside, a fairy tale ending to this bitter story! I am now married and I live in my house with my dog and a cat (who loves my husband more than me), I do not work due to mental health but I do write often and spend a lot of time working on myself, so I am in a much better place, I am due to start therapy very soon.

I have not binge drank in a very long time, not since I met my husband, that is nearly 3 years. If I drink now I will barely finish a glass because frankly I just don’t like the taste of alcohol anymore. What helped me out of this was firstly removing myself from toxic people and situations but also due to being respected by my husband, he does not force me into anything and loves me for me, so I am nothing other than my true self nowadays. It is also worth mentioning how much talking about my mental health and writing about is has helped as I have learnt more about myself and how to manage my pain, as well as making peace with my past, it no longer defines me.

Alcoholism is a serious issue and it is very damaging to our body’s, sometimes causing long term damage both mentally and physically but I have found, most of the time, there is always a route cause and a reason for a person to drink heavily. There is such a bad stigma attached to people who drink, like teens and the homeless but we need to ask ourselves why they do it and find ways to help them, understanding saved me and maybe It can save others.

How I Learnt to Deal With Nighttime Panic Attacks

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I wake up with an intense nausea that floods my system. Running to the bathroom I’m convinced I’m going to be sick, but I’m not. Then comes the pain. It stabs at my chest and upper back to the point I can hardly breathe. I went to bed feeling relaxed and contented, but now I’m pacing the house, my heart pounding terrified I’m having a heart attack. The reality of panic attacks is the physical pain that cuts through you in great swathes. Having a panic attack at nighttime is very different to having one during the day. At night everything feels more intense, the atmosphere changes to one that is ethereal and other worldly. People that you count on to talk you through the experience are asleep and unavailable. You feel alone and desperate and not sure if you can get through the night. I’ve learnt some techniques to help me cope over the years, that have quelled the panic attack before it becomes too difficult to manage.

Thinking Logically

I know this is a panic attack. I know it’s painful but it won’t kill me. Twice I have been taken to hospital by ambulance because of the unrelenting pain I was in. Twice I’ve spent hours having multiple tests to find what was wrong, for everything to come back clear. What I know now is that although I have found myself in a great deal of pain, it won’t turn into anything sinister. I will talk myself through the situation by repeatedly telling myself this. I have to say it with conviction, to convince myself it will be okay.

Getting Out of Bed

Lying in the dark in bed during a panic attack is the worst possible thing I could do. The pain is all the more intense as I lie there, with nothing else to distract my mind. All the worst scenarios run through my head and all I achieve is making myself more and more anxious. I force myself to get up, go into another room and turn the light on. I force myself to have a drink of water and to do something, anything, rather than staying in bed worrying.

Therapy

I had CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) to manage my panic attacks, and to understand why I was having them so frequently. Therapy helped me to realise that I wasn’t dealing with stressors in my life, and that my worries and anxieties were manifesting as panic attacks. I learnt to face what was causing me stress in a situation and to deal with it there and then. Panic attacks for me often occurred after a stressful event. Once my body and mind were relaxed again, like going to bed on a Friday night after a difficult week, I would wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. It became vital to realise when I was going through a stressful time, so when that stress had disappeared I wouldn’t end up having yet another nighttime panic attack. I was taught breathing techniques to calm myself, which I still use today

Distraction

If thinking logically doesn’t work on its own and I’m up and out of bed, I’ll try and distract my mind. It might be watching a favourite tv show, something light and entertaining that I’ve seen before. I might sketch or get out a colouring book, that keeps my hands busy and forces me to focus. I love to play video games so I might turn on the console and try and figure out that Zelda puzzle that’s been bugging me. If I occupy my mind effectively and for long enough, I won’t even realise the pain and panic has gone.

Using these techniques has cut down the amount of nighttime panic attacks I have drastically; I haven’t had a serious one in a year and a half. What I’ve leant in therapy often preempts an attack completely. Changing the way I manage stressful situations and work through them has had a significant positive impact on my life.

The Mania Hangover

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The Best Feeling Ever!

When I’m in the grips of mania, I love Bipolar. The euphoria I feel is like no other drug. The feeling is addictive and I never want it to end. The mania is unbelievably epic, like I’m living in a blockbuster movie and I’m the star. The whole universe revolves around me. Continually going through my head are thoughts that instil an enormous, gratifying confidence: ‘I’m the best at everything!’ ‘I can do anything, be anyone!’ ‘Nothing can touch me. I’m invincible!’ It’s a feeling like no other and yes, when it ends I do miss it. Because of course, like any good thing, it has to end. I talk more about mania in this post Mania is…

Here Comes The Hangover

What I hate about Bipolar, above anything else, is what I call my mania hangover. First of all, I realise I’ve spent far too much. Imagine having a big weekend when you’re suddenly buying everyone shots, but that weekend stretches on for months. Or that clothes and shoes binge you’re on when you spend an evening sat in your pyjamas on the internet, but imagine it lasting weeks. I’ve found myself in crippling debt more than once, the first time meaning I had to move back home with my parents. I felt terribly embarrassed and an absolute failure for having to go back to live with mum and dad. Luckily I had that option.

Next, the realisation of my actions set in. I start to see with clarity and I realise I’ve done things that I’ll regret for years to come. I cheated on my ex, whilst I was away traveling in Japan. When I was feeling stable again the memory rushed toward me and I felt dizzy and sick over what I had done. It was completely out of character, and I was remembering it through a haze, as if I had been drunk. I see how much stress I put family and friends through with my unpredictable, sometimes rageful emotions. I’ve made family and friends cry with vicious words that cut them to pieces. I’ve done so many embarrassing, ugly things I regret over the years I can’t fit them into one blog post.

From constantly being full of energy and unable to sleep, now I’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted. I’ve been running on empty for weeks and not even noticed. All I want to do is to become a hermit, hide from the world in bed and eat junk food.

Hello Depression

Then, inevitably depression sets in. I hate the depression, and it’s usually part of the whole mania hangover. The juxtaposition between the mania and depression is ridiculous. I’ve heard the description of ‘it’s like living on a rollercoaster’ but it’s too simplistic a description. Rollercoasters for me are fun, and the lows of acute depression are far from fairground ride fun and games. Depression, just like mania, takes complete hold of you, and won’t let go. I can no longer function like the average person. I stop going outside, I have to force myself to shower and brush my teeth. Everything is an unbelievable effort.

My Hangover Cures

Ultimately, I would not want to be manic in the first place! To do this I check The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode that I have identified over the years. Even though at times it can be a tempting prospect to go back to that feeling of constant elation, it’s not worth the adverse effects. Taking my medication is the surest way to stop this from happening. If I do find myself with a mania hangover, I take the time to look after myself. I’ll take some time away from work and socialising. I’ll keep an eye on my mood and check for the warning signs of depression.

Childhood Grief

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I met Vicky when we were in Reception class, at just four years old. I remember walking up to her and saying innocently,

“Do you want to be my friend?” We became inseparable. We did everything together in and out of school. I was the tomboy who hated wearing dresses and pulled ugly faces in photos. Vicky was bubbly, full of fun and the one always in pretty dresses. We lived a five minute walk away from each other so we were always at one another’s house, playing after school or having sleepovers at the weekends. People say that we have the same laugh, we spent so much time together growing up.

Our Mum’s became close friends. Vicky’s Mum, Tracy, I instantly liked. She was lively and loud, and had a thick Geordie accent. It became our little tradition that I would have dinner with them every Tuesday. The ice cream van always came down their road, and Tracy would always treat us to a fab lolly. I was mischievous as a child, and was always pushing Vicky to do things we weren’t allowed to do. We would jump on the bed together singing along to our favourite music. Tracy would charge into the room and shout,

“Stop bloody jumping on the bed you two!” Every time she told me off I could see a twinkle in her eye that she didn’t really mind, and secretly loved seeing her daughter and best friend having fun. I felt I could talk to Tracy and would tell her about what was worrying me and I trusted her advice. I began to see her as my second Mum, someone who loved and cared about me. She was ambitious, and began a University course, which showed me it was never too late to better yourself.

When Vicky and I were Ten years old, Tracy suddenly collapsed one evening at home. They couldn’t wake her up and she was rushed to hospital. There, Vicky, her Dad and younger brother were told that she had had a brain aneurysm. She had been put on a ventilator, but they were told she would never wake up. She was only thirty eight. My Mum didn’t want me to see her in the hospital, but to think of her how she was. I remember my Mum coming home from the hospital in tears and telling me it was like she was just sleeping. Neither Vicky or I had lost anyone before. It felt impossible to get my head around that I would never see Tracy again and that Vicky didn’t have a Mum anymore. As I get older, I’m now in my early thirties, I realise just how young thirty eight is. She still had so much life to live and it’s so cruel that is was cut short in that way.

The funeral was gut wrenching. The room was full and we were all fighting back tears or sobbing. Everyone was in a state of shock and disbelief. It took place a week after Tracy had died, and I hadn’t seen Vicky until before it happened. I sat in tears, watching her cry, wanting to run up to her and hug her tightly and never let go. At the wake I went up to her and asked her if she was ok, not knowing what else to say. Her response was simply,

“I’m fine.” She ran off to play with her cousins. I was so confused. She was running around the garden and laughing. I went to my parents and told them what had happened. They told me Vicky was dealing with it in her own way and wasn’t ready to let go of her Mum and grieve yet.

In the following months we dealt with our grief in very different ways. Vicky wouldn’t talk about it to me for months, whereas all I wanted to do was talk. She became quiet and withdrawn. I felt like I was losing my best friend, but knew I had to stand by her. We walked home from school together everyday and on one afternoon, out of the blue, she started talking to me about her Mum. She told me how angry she was and how it was the doctors fault. Tracy had had heart palpitations in the weeks before and Vicky was convinced the doctor should have seen something else was wrong. I knew, as my Mum had told me, there would have been nothing for a doctor to find until it happened, but I couldn’t tell Vicky that. All I could do was listen and let her vent.

Grief made us grow up. We weren’t innocent ten year olds any longer. But it made our bond grow stronger. We realised that grief wasn’t a short term emotion, but that it lingered and caught you out when you weren’t expecting it. Vicky became quieter, but her bubbly side would surface every now and again. She tended to bottle up how she was feeling and only express herself to me when she was deeply upset. I became fiercely protective of Vicky, and when she was bullied in secondary school for ‘not being sad enough about her Mum’ I would lash out.

Vicky and I are still best friends, so that’s twenty seven years of friendship. As much as I have been there for her, she has supported me just as much through my mental health problems. I still think about Tracy all the time. To lose someone so close to you at such a young age you never really get over. In my own way I still celebrate her life by telling people about her. About her big, bold personality and caring nature. I’ll never forget.