Alanna Higginson: Mental health issues can happen to anyone

Until recently I have been ashamed of my illness.

There has always been a stigma attached to mental health issues. Picture: PA
There has always been a stigma attached to mental health issues. Picture: PA

There has always been a stigma attached to mental health issues and I would only ever share my fears with friends and family.

My anxiety and depression are a direct result of horrific ­bullying. Something so traumatic that it almost killed me.

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Throughout my high school years, name calling – it hurt. Head forced into and flushed down the toilet – humiliating. Teeth knocked out – shocking. Skull fractured – I wanted to curl up and die.

Relentless. Every. Single. Day.

My poor parents were at their wits’ end… and I was lost, in a negative spiral.

I can’t specifically recall the first time I cut myself, but I do remember that I used a fresh razor from the bathroom. I didn’t notice the pain, just a great sense of relief. I used cutting to ­punish myself for being the terrible ­deviant that everyone thought I was.

The first panic attack at 14 left me feeling sick. With my heart pounding, I couldn’t breathe and I felt an overwhelming sense of fear. The most hurtful part was going through three years of school without friends or ­support. I can tell you – it was lonely.

Then one day, it was all over.

I leave school. The bullying stops. Depression lifts.

In my 20s, a different set of ­bullies reared their ugly heads. My trigger. The scars on my arms a reminder of the past, present and future.

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I couldn’t see a way out.

Hospitalised for eight months I nearly lost everything that ­mattered to me. Diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, medication didn’t work and ECT was the only option.

So why now? Why open up to the world and make myself a sitting target again?

Maybe naively, I hope that the bullies will see the ­consequences of their actions and just maybe it will stop it happening to one other ­person. Maybe I want to take back some control and face my demons.

This illness isn’t visible. I still have a cloud which shadows me, threatening to drown me in a sea of self-doubt. ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones’, so the old rhyme goes, ‘but names can never hurt me’.

That may have been true in more innocent times before the trolls crawled out of the internet sewers where they lurk and from where they spew their filth. We know that words do wound us deeply, sometimes even fatally.

I managed to survive those brutal years of abuse and pain with the love of my ­family and somehow knew that there was more to life. It was this realisation that made me determined to fight the stigma surrounding ­mental health.

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Bullying and mental health issues can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness or anything to be ashamed of and neither is asking for help.

Mental illness does not make me weak or define who I am, but empowers me to live my life to the full.

Alanna Higginson is an event producer and writer based in Glasgow.