Updated: Apr 2, 2021
This week's interview comes from my friend Aimee. We used to work together as gymnastics coaches and supported each other in our professional roles, but as we drifted apart career wise, we grew closer within our friendship and have been able to support each other through some really tough moments mentally and emotionally. I am so happy to have Aimee bravely sharing her story of depression, anxiety, self-harm and body dysmorphia with you today.
Please note: the subjects specified in this introduction act as trigger warnings for the interview, be mindful of what you do and do not need to read today.
In her own words:
Hey! My name is Aimee and I am in my first year of teaching at a primary school! I used to be a gymnastics coach with the lovely Jem, but then left to teach when I finished uni. I’m obsessed with chocolate cake and Harry Potter, and I feel my feelings too much but I dance it out and feel better! I hope I can relate to people in this interview and make even one person feel like they’re not alone :).
1) Hey Aimee, how are you?
Hey! I’m good thank you! I hope you are too!
2) How are you really?
I’m okay. I finished my first term as an NQT, so feeling pretty proud of that but also feeling very drained. My body confidence has plummeted for some reason, which is crap.
3) We’re going to be chatting about your experiences with depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia during this interview, as well as suicidal thoughts and self-harm, how do you feel about discussing those things?
Yeah, I think I’m finally ready for people to hear my story.
4) At what age would you say you became aware that you were struggling with your mental health?
Erm, pretty young to be honest. I remember being in primary school and being bullied badly because I developed physically quicker than others, and I also was a very weird child, so that got identified too. I remember, I think I was in year 5 or 6, and I tried to kill myself in the school bathroom. It seems so stupid because I tried to drown myself in the bathroom sink and a friend found me and pulled my head out. It was a pretty feeble attempt, but I knew that I just hated being so alienated and so alone that I needed it to stop.
5) Did it come as a shock to you that you were experiencing mental health issues, or did you know that’s what they were?
No, not really. I always knew I was more sensitive than other children and I just felt different than my peers, if that makes sense, so when I got diagnosed with depression in year 10, it didn’t really come as a shock. I just kind of assumed that I was going through puberty and had negative thoughts, I guess I never realised how bad they were until I got counselling.
6) If you were describing depression to someone who has never experienced it, what would you say?
I find it really hard to describe and I guess it feels different for everyone who experiences it. You know in the Christmas Carol movie, when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to see what is happening at that moment in time? It feels like that. It feels as though I’m watching someone else live my life. I don’t recognise myself some days. It is hard to do the simplest things, like brush my teeth or shower. My brain feels all fuzzy and it seems that someone is slowly sucking my personality and soul out of me.
7) If you're going through a depressive episode, how does it affect you?
I either don’t eat or I eat too much. I get really negative about myself and my life. I can’t take compliments anyway, but when I feel depressed, I feel sick by hearing them – I just struggle to see how someone could find me ‘beautiful’ when, to me, I’m the most repulsive thing alive. I shut everyone out and don’t talk about it. If it gets too bad, which it hasn’t in a while (thank the Lord), I cut myself. I don’t think I’m very good at coping with my depression sometimes, but I have a good support system around me.
8) How intrusive is anxiety in your life?
It depends on the episode to be honest. Sometimes, it just makes me feel a bit uncomfortable socially and other times it stops me from doing what I want or wearing an outfit I like.
9) Do you have any coping mechanisms you use if you feel yourself beginning to get anxious?
I haven’t really developed a specific technique but if I’m anxious I tend to twirl my rings around sub-consciously. I just wait it out and hope that it fades away after a few minutes.
10) How has body dysmorphia affected your life?
Ever since I was young I’ve always had body confidence issues, but I guess it’s only been within the past few years that I would say it has developed into body dysmorphia. I have PCOS so I naturally bloat a lot and I retain a lot of water, however, when I look in the mirror, all I see are my flaws. I see my back rolls and my muffin top, I see big legs and arms, and I see a size 20 person when in actual fact I’m a 10/12. I’m naturally quite curvy but also quite muscular, so I’ve always had a weird figure, but as I’ve grown older I seem to be criticising every flaw of my body. I follow a lot of body positive people on Instagram and try not to follow fitness accounts unless it is for workouts, so I’m not influenced by people on social media. It’s more to do with my perception of myself and how I think others see me – which puts a strain on relationships.
11) As your friend, is there anything I could do to help you to manage your body dysmorphia?
That is so lovely! In all honesty, I don’t think anyone can help. I think it is just something I will have to learn to overcome by myself, as I guess people can influence how I feel but, at the end of the day, it’s how I feel about my body. I need to learn to love the body I have.
12) Can you remember what life felt like before depression?
Honestly? No. And that makes me really sad. I think because I felt that I was different from a young age, I never really knew any different other than to doubt myself and believe the negative things people said about me. I think I’ve repressed my childhood because of being bullied and other traumas that I experienced, so I guess I don’t really remember before the mental health issues.
13) How does it feel when someone simply understands and acknowledges how you feel?
I feel like less of a failure. Everyone with mental health issues experiences something completely different, but we all seem to have certain things in common, whether it be a trigger, a symptom or a coping mechanism. When someone just acknowledges it, I feel less like an alien that has been plagued with something horrific.
14) For you, what has been the most challenging part of having depression?
I would say that it is either the way that I treat my loved ones when I feel down or how much I think I’ve changed personality wise since developing it. I used to be very confident and flirty, very outgoing and very sociable. Now I overthink everything, I get shy with new people, I feel very anxious in public and I’m not confident in myself anymore. I think that is what hurts the most.
15) Would you say that your experiences with suicidal thoughts and self-harm link with any of the other mental health issues you’ve experienced?
I think in my case, they definitely do. When I get angry, I cry, rather than punching something. But sometimes, crying is just not enough and cutting would be the release for me. The depressive voice inside my head would tell me that I’m not worthy of being alive and would re-tell all the nasty comments from my childhood, and the only way I could get rid of it would be to cut.
16) Can you tell me more about the suicidal thoughts and self-harm? How have they impacted your life?
It started in year 9/10. I was sexually assaulted at school and I felt so dirty. It was a grope and a flash, and I didn’t think much of it then but, looking back now, it was definitely assault. The school didn’t do anything about it so I thought that it was okay to be treated like that. Then I started talking to the ‘bad boys’ who would treat me like crap and make me feel shit. They made me feel better because they ‘liked me’ so my self-confidence shot up. But then they would stop talking to me and I would feel shit. Plus I had the pressure of exams and just growing up which made things worse. My cutting was a release and made me feel something. I just felt so numb from everything that cutting made me realise that I was still alive and that I could feel something, so I wasn’t completely broken. The suicidal thoughts came after, when the bullying picked up again. It just became unbearable and I felt like there was no way out but to end it all. Seeing my mom’s reaction when she came to the CAMHS counselling session and hearing me say I wanted to end my life kind of gave me the reality check I needed. I knew I was hurting, but I never realised that it was hurting the people I loved even more.
17) Have you found any ways in particular to keep the suicidal thoughts and/or self-harm under your control?
I think I’m very fortunate because I’ve done suicide prevention training and completed several rounds of counselling, so I know my triggers and I think about the people I would destroy it I did kill myself. That kind of acts like a barrier for the suicidal thoughts, although sometimes I do feel like everything would be easier if I wasn’t alive, but I realise what I would miss out on and the people I would leave behind and I kind of wake up a bit.
In terms of the self-harm thoughts, I don’t think I ever really leave. I haven’t had them for a while but they do pop up sometimes, and it takes all the strength I have not to do it. I try to find another way to release my emotions, either physically or mentally. Sometimes it will be just to scream into a pillow and other times something more physical will help, but I’m going to say no more on that.
18) If someone is reading this today and they can relate to your experience with body dysmorphia, what would you like to say to them?
To take the time to love their body the way it is. If they aren’t happy with it, then by all means change it. But change it because you aren’t happy with it, as opposed to trying to impress someone else. Figure out what style makes you feel good, whether it looks good on you or not. Trust that it is a long, hard process of hating yourself and comparing yourself to others, but that when the day finally comes, it will be the best feeling ever. I am still waiting for that day to come but I know that it will. Try and think rationally too. I am a sucker for making excuses: I will think that I am extremely obese even though I am a size 10, but rather than thinking that I am not obese because I can fit into a size 10, I make excuses, and say things like ‘they’ve stretched a lot over time’ or ‘they aren’t a true size 10 because of the material/make/brand’.
19) What could someone else do to be of help to you if you are experiencing anxiety?
Just be patient. It often passes so don’t look at me like I’m crazy, and for the love of all things chocolate, DO NOT TELL ME TO ‘just breathe’!!!!! If it doesn’t pass in a few minutes, give me a squeeze on the arm or leg or in a hug – I find that having the pressure from someone else helps to relax me sometimes.
20) How do you feel after answering all of these personal questions today?
Much better. I’ve really opened up today which I haven’t done in a long time, in the hope that it will help at least one person. Thank you for letting me be part of your wonderful project, and thank you for always being my friend. Love you lots Jem.
Thank you to everyone who has read this. I hope that your struggles are coming to an end, and if not, they will. Everything passes at some point. It may take time, strength and everything you have, but you are stronger than anything that is put in your way!
Love you lots too, Aimee! Thank you for sharing with us today, it will no doubt help others to hear your story. You're absolutely right, people are stronger than the obstacles in their way. I can't wait to see you again after lockdown, until then, keep being you because you are already enough.
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health in any way, please reach out! There is help out there for you and you are worth helping. See a doctor, speak to someone you trust, or you can go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find a list of useful contacts. Look after you, you are important.