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‘My biggest achievement so far’

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This week’s post comes from the UK. Rhiannon Stuart is 28 and describes herself as follows: “Oldest child of four girls, happily engaged to the girl of my dreams. We have two cats & cannot wait until we have a family of our own.” Her past no longer defines her, she says. She’s come too far to go back:

I remember waking up, not knowing where I was. I saw a clock on the wall. It was about 12:30. That’s all I remember before I fell asleep once again. The next time I awoke, the clock said 2:45. I have no idea if only two hours had passed, or 14. I couldn’t move my hands, and something was irritating my nose. I still had no idea where I was. The next time I woke up, I couldn’t see the clock.

As I regained consciousness, I took in my surroundings. I couldn’t move my hands because they were restrained, tied to the sides of the bed. The thing irritating my nose was a nasogastric tube. I also had a respirator down my throat, and various other drips and machines connected to my body. Everything suddenly came flooding back, and I realised where I was and why I was there. But I wouldn’t find out for a few more hours just how lucky I was to be alive.

This wasn’t my first suicide attempt. Shockingly (or maybe not) it also wasn’t my last. But it was this one that I wasn’t meant to survive. By the time I woke up, I had been on life support for 48 hours. The police had been to my mother’s house, over 1,000 kilometers away, to tell her they didn’t expect me to make it. But by some miracle I did, and I am still here today, five years later.

The reason why I did it is one I can no longer recall. I do remember talking to my mum once I was awake and all the tubes had been removed. She just kept crying and asking me why and blaming herself. That was a common theme throughout my entire battle with mental illness, my mother blaming herself. And seemingly taking pleasure in making herself the victim: “Look what my daughter has done to me now. Why am I such a bad mum, what have I done to deserve this.” It was never her fault.

As well as my multiple suicide attempts, I also engaged in self-harm. Some not-so-serious scrapes and bruises, to the burning that was so severe it needed several skin graft operations. My arms are so scarred that I cannot walk down the street in a short-sleeved shirt without being stared at, pointed at, laughed at, talked about or abused. I have been told by professionals that my scars are the worst they have ever seen. That is not something I am proud of. Some people have told me not to come and see them unless my arms are covered. That hurts.

I have had many different diagnoses throughout the years, the two main ones being depression and borderline personality disorder. I went through three cycles of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, but funnily enough, it wasn’t until the public health system refused to help me any longer that I was finally able to get my life on track. I found a private psychologist, received specialised counseling for some specific issues and left behind the life that had been holding me back for so many years.

I went from five-plus hospitalisations a year, eventually, down to none. I went from self-harming multiple times a day to now being 18 months “clean.” I went from needing stitches and wound care and antibiotics on a weekly basis to now only needing to see a doctor if I am physically unwell. I went from cocktails of prescribed medication to now living a medication-free life.

I am not the person I used to be. She is still there, and some days she rears her head and wants attention, but I’ve learnt how to deal with her, and I can usually get her to back off pretty quickly. I have a fiancé. We are planning a family. She is the love of my life, and she is the reason I no longer need to do all those things that were holding me back from the amazing life I now have. It hasn’t been easy, but I am so glad I made it.

My mum passed away just under a year after the attempt I’ve described. My last attempt was about two and a half years after she died. She never got to see the person I have become today, and that will always sadden me. One of my sisters will barely talk to me these days. She cannot let go of the person that I used to be. She cannot forgive me for all the wrongs that I’ve done and the hell I put my family through for so many years. I’m now an aunty. My beautiful niece is 15 months old and the light of my life.

I lost so much because of my mental illness. I lost opportunities, I lost family and I very nearly lost my life. I don’t talk about what I’ve been through because most people simply don’t want to hear it. It’s too confronting, it’s in the past, it no longer matters. But as long as I live, it will always be a part of me. Yes, I no longer need to dwell on it, and it certainly doesn’t rule my life. But I am who I am today because of what I have been through. It no longer defines me like I once thought it did, but just like a puzzle, a piece of me would be missing if people tried to minimise and ignore that part of my life.

I want to be seen as a survivor. One of the lucky ones. I came face to face with my maker, and I lived to tell my story. That needs to be celebrated, not dismissed as though it meant nothing. Because to me, overcoming that part of my life is my biggest achievement so far. And I’m so damn proud that I did.

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