Componence Asset List

Selena, 37

No matter which step you’re on, keep climbing them, regardless of the difficulty.

Selena, 37.

Writing about my experience as a mental health patient is far from an easy task. You would think it is since I’ve spent most of my life struggling in my own head. But putting it down in words, for people to read and find something to hold on to, to keep going as well, is quite a challenge.

It all started ages ago, in one of those far away lives that don’t seem real anymore. I was 11 or 12. This is when it all started to go wrong in my head. I was sad inside, even if people saw a funny sarcastic clown on the outside. I could cry for hours at home or at school. At home, no one was there to see. My parents were too busy working before being too busy divorcing. At school, no one paid much attention. I would sometimes end up at the school’s nurse to calm me down. After hours of not getting any better, they would call my mum to take me home. I would stay home a few days. No one would say much about it. Just let me be and calm down. And if anyone tried to talk about it, I would snap and cry some more. They didn’t understand. How could they when I, myself, had no freaking idea.

As the years passed by and death surrounded me (too often voluntarily), I started to believe there was no other way to life, that all this sadness was cumulated from the past, mine but also my family’s. At each difficult step, I would have an emotional break down. For months, I would close up and cry my heart out until the tears had soothed the open scars. It would happen every 18 months or so. I was a young adult and words as “you should maybe talk to someone” started spreading. But mental health is so stigmatized still, I would always reply “I am not crazy, just sad, I don’t need this”.

2009. 30 years old. No boyfriend, no children, a life-sucking job which was killing me, no perspective of a better future as it seemed I had reached all there was. And then sadness came round again. It hit harder. It stayed longer, much longer. After one death too many, I got very suicidal. I wasn’t afraid to die. Still aren’t. But I was afraid to hurt my loved ones, as much as I was hurt from those who had gone through with it. I may have become crazy in the end. Sadness has tons of tricks for you to believe you’re worthless and don’t deserve anything good. In one last desperate action, I signed myself into an institution and there started my journey.

I never thought this galley would take me anywhere but hell. I mean, what else could I expect from life or from “just talking to a stranger”?
Diagnosis was not surprising: circumstantial/severe depression and burn-out.
Medical treatment was heavy and numbing.
People in the institution were not the kind of “friends” you would want to make. Depressives, addicts, drunks, etc. you just had to pick your problem, they had them all.

As much as I wondered about how I would make it, I knew my survival depended on this step. It was the first one of a hell of a number of baby steps that led me here. Five years later, I landed in the Netherlands, for work. It triggered severe depression again. Finding myself in yet another country was quite destabilizing. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t have friends as the ones I had left behind in France. Starting therapy again, elsewhere, in another language was quite a challenge, but the International Mental Health Services made it possible with English speaking staff. Regardless of the extra effort for me to do the therapy in English, I felt understood and cared for from the very first day. And most importantly, for the first time in years, I was properly diagnosed with atypical depression, something I know I might have to keep fighting for the rest of my life. I have been given more appropriate medication and have gained a better knowledge of the sickness, of my limits and triggers, and of the means I can use to calm the overwhelming feelings: light therapy when I feel broken inside, crafts (mostly cross-stitching!) to keep my head busy with counting crosses more than tears I shed, photography to take a different perspective on things and make me look up...
No matter which step you’re on, keep climbing them, regardless of the difficulty. You will stumble the way I still do, but after many countless efforts, we get to feel what it is to be real and not just sad, to live and not just survive.

I am forever grateful to the staff there who helped me through this long and difficult journey, away from home, as today is the day I close the chapter of an 8-year-long therapy.