This week's interview is with my wonderful friend, Samatee. She's opening up about her struggles with depression, living with Multiple Sclerosis, and the sudden diagnosis of an unspecified personality disorder.
In her own words:
Hi. I’m Samatee, but please don’t ever call me Sam! I’m dual nationality Mauritian/British, as my parents were Mauritian and I was born there. I was adopted into a white British family and have lived in England since I was three. I have written some poetry, I enjoy trying to draw and paint, and I love baking cakes and flapjacks! I live with Multiple Sclerosis and an unspecified personality disorder. I have a supportive husband and a lovely dog!
1) Hi Samatee, how are you?
I’m fine, thanks.
2) How are you really?
Honestly? I’m struggling with my thoughts about missing seeing and hearing from people and how changes in circumstance has distanced a dear friend. My logical brain knows that friends have their reasons not to contact me, but my insecurities and fears make me feel that I’m invisible and no-one really cares about me.
3) Why did you reach out to share your experiences through this interview today?
So many people are struggling with unseen emotional and physical challenges that others are not aware of, and if others could consider the possibility there could be more going on for that person than they see, it would make them more compassionate and make the other person feel accepted for who they are. I hope that hearing my experiences may help people be more thoughtful towards others.
4) Do you believe that more education around mental health issues will lead to more understanding of each other in the world?
Definitely! If people could get rid of the ‘them and us’ attitude to mental health issues, and realise we can all be affected by them, then hopefully they’d be kinder and more understanding.
5) Tell me about yourself…
My name is Samatee, never Sam! My full name is an important part of my identity. I’m a very kind and honest person, I am very loyal and trustworthy, but I don’t really know who I am. I define my self-worth and value mostly by what others think of me. I’ve had quite a few challenging things happen in my life but I have survived, so I must be strong even though I often feel weak. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1998 and that is another ‘hidden’ condition that people who meet me are not necessarily aware of. That affects me more physically than mentally.
6) What are your mental health diagnoses?
I was diagnosed with depression in about 1982, aged 16, after taking the first of several overdoses, I've had bouts of depression many times since. I was diagnosed with an unspecified personality disorder three or four years ago, after many years of self-blame, guilt and inadequacy.
7) With regards to the unspecified personality disorder, what symptoms lead to this diagnosis?
Primarily, it was my desperate need to be accepted and liked, and my self-blame and suicidal thoughts if someone I really care for falls out with me or shuts me out of their life. People tell me I’m popular but I can never truly know or hold on to the belief that I matter to people or that I'm noticed and appreciated. I mostly feel invisible and alone.
8) Did the diagnosis come as a shock or were you expecting it?
At a scheduled meeting, an NHS psychologist said out of the blue “I see you have an unspecified personality disorder.” That had never been discussed with me, so it was quite a shock at the time. Through private counselling, it has become apparent that my personality disorder stems from my mother dying when I was born. I never met her, and then I was adopted into a white family where my heritage was ignored and I was expected to be someone I’m not. I have difficulty with managing my feelings - I either can’t let myself get close to people or get too invested in other people.
9) Do you think there is a stigma around mental health issues?
I definitely think there is often a stigma around mental health difficulties. Even now, I put on a smile and act like I’m fine, rather than admit I’m struggling and ask for help. The worse I’m feeling, the more I avoid people as I feel embarrassed about people seeing me when I’m feeling so down and weak.
10) For someone who sees you at your most vulnerable, what would you want them to know?
When I am feeling very low I become very quiet and withdrawn, and I feel that people can see that I am useless and stupid. I probably look miserable but it would help if people knew that I was just desperate to feel liked and accepted, and be friendly.
11) Do you ever worry about the reaction others will have when you tell them your mental health diagnoses?
I feel like I have to be careful who I reveal my mental health diagnosis to. If someone has volunteered information about their own diagnosis and difficulties, I feel relaxed about sharing mine. If I don’t have reason to think they’d have some empathy, I keep it to myself.
12) What is the best way someone can react?
It helps me if, when I tell someone, they react like it’s no different to if I’d said I had a physical condition like diabetes or migraines. With no sense of judgement or blame. I never mind people asking questions, as long as they’re doing it out of genuine interest and not out if some kind of morbid curiosity.
13) Would you say your struggles with Multiple Sclerosis have affected your mental health over the years?
Yes definitely, my difficulties with my MS continue to affect my mental health. I don’t always have the strength or mind set to be able to fight my feelings of inadequacy and self-blame caused by my personality disorder on top of my MS symptoms. It feels like I’m being attacked on two fronts - physical and mental.
14) For anyone who doesn't know what MS is, how would you explain it?
MS is a chronic neurological condition which affects the brain and central nervous system. Symptoms vary between individuals, but I have many of the common symptoms - severe and sudden weakness and exhaustion, balance difficulties, dizziness, tingling/numbness or pain and spasms in my arms, hands, legs and feet, and bladder issues. I also have memory and concentration limitations. All symptoms are unpredictable, so I can appear fine to an on-looker, whilst really struggling.
15) How intrusive is anxiety in your everyday life?
I can have periods of up to a few months where I can cope okay day to day if I am doing well. When I am not coping, my disorder affects every aspect of my life and can badly affect me for weeks. I feel desperate to meet and chat with people, but I avoid going out as I am embarrassed that people may see my inadequacies. I long to speak to friends, but I resist phoning them as I don’t want to bring them down or sound pathetic.
16) What is the biggest challenge you've faced through the years due to having depression?
I think the biggest problem I’ve faced is to keep getting up, and trying to be happy and optimistic, when I’ve been knocked down by so many life events. I know some lovely, kind people who I would like to call friends, but because I feel depressed and not good enough. I always feel upset that I value them more than they do me. Maybe people really do like me but on the whole, I struggle to believe it.
17) Do you have any coping mechanisms to help to get you through a difficult day whether that be mentally or physically?
My main coping mechanism is to meet friends for a coffee and a chat. Being with people who like my company as much as I like theirs always lifts me up. If no one is free to meet, I get almost as much comfort from going to a coffee shop with my lovely calm dog who is a great emotional support. It is even better if I can go to a coffee shop where I’m recognised and can speak to people. I am finding things particularly difficult at the moment because of Covid restrictions and not being able to see friends or go to my local cafe where I know the owners. If my physical health makes it difficult to go out, I speak to friends on the phone.
18) Without referring to any of your mental health diagnoses, how would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as a kind, honest and loyal person who has a lot of care and compassion for other people. I care deeply about people I know and wish they could feel as much for me.
19) If you are feeling depressed, what can someone else do to be of the most help to you?
When I am struggling mentally, it really helps if someone treats me with kindness. It can be as simple as smiling at me or saying a kind word - that can literally be the difference from feeling suicidal or feeling there’s some hope for me.
20) How do you feel after answering these questions today?
I honestly feel a bit drained. It’s not the answering of questions about my condition that’s tired me, it’s my desire for my answers to be of interest and help to other people, and my anxiety is that they may not be.
Thank you so much my friend for being so honest and open with us today. Your answers absolutely are helpful to other people. I'd like to let you know that I see you, you aren't in any way invisible. I hear you and I feel you and it's a pleasure to call you a friend. You're important, never forget that.
If you’d like to speak to Samatee further about mental health and the experiences covered in her interview, she’s happy for you to message her via her Facebook page under Samatee Price.
If you're struggling with your mental health in any way, please REACH OUT. Speak to someone you trust, see your GP, or you can go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find a list of useful contacts.