Struggling at school: my mental health journey
Kerry, 15, shares her experience of self-harm and what her journey to recovery looks like.
My struggle with mental health started in year 7. The move to secondary school came as quite a shock for me, and often left me feeling without a place. I had fallen out with a lot of my close friends, and some not-so-nice comments made me absolutely hate going to school. I started having these panic attacks: my heart would race, I’d feel like a metal bar was locked in my chest, stopping me from breathing, and my hands would shake or feel tingly. I didn’t feel as if I could rely on anyone.
In year 8, I moved to a more local school with a lot of my friends from primary and I LOVED IT. I finally felt like I had a place with people. The panic attacks went away, I was getting good grades and I was making friends all the time. Every now and then I’d have a panic attack - quite frustrating without ‘a reason’. But other than that, I was doing pretty well.
Slowly, however, things became more difficult. I’ve always loved helping people, but I started taking a lot of other people’s problems on to myself, and I began to struggle. Panic attacks were more frequent, I would eat very little and I began to self-harm. As I didn’t tell anyone, this all gradually got worse. In the November of year 10, I started having suicidal thoughts. I wrote a whole book of goodbye notes to my loved ones and thankfully left it at that for a while, still not talking about how I was feeling, but also not endangering myself any further.
Opening up about self-harm
I continued to self-harm frequently, until a holiday booked with my aunt forced me to worry about people seeing my cuts. I spoke to a teacher I trusted at school about it and the school were obliged to ring home. I’ve always been very close with my parents but my mental health is something I’ve always found it hard to talk to them about. It was stressful letting my parents in, but telling them what was going on, even just the basics, helped them understand. Once things calmed down, I was able to relax a bit, although I still hid the extent of my struggles.
While I was away one weekend, my parents found the book of goodbye notes and were very worried. Once I got home, they showed me that they had found it. The next morning, I went to my GP with my mum. The doctor sent an emergency referral to CAMHS. I was put on the waiting list, and eventually I had my assessment - they told me that I had anxiety and low mood, and agreed to support me.
Waiting for help
I waited for my first CAMHS appointment for quite a while, but as I wasn’t talking to anyone about how I was feeling, the stress of exams and general life became too much. This is when I overdosed one morning at school. This was a very difficult day. Thankfully, I managed to tell someone what I had done, and was sent to A&E. My parents left work to be with me. I was seen by the doctors and the crisis team and they allowed me to go home late that night. I returned back to school the next day, and had my first CAMHS talking therapy appointment soon after. I realised that I needed to stop pushing myself too far and agreed with my parents to do my school work at home for a week. It started to get easier.
Soon enough, September came, and I had mock exams, which were a very big trigger for me, causing a massive downward spiral. I relapsed with self-harming quite badly, but still refused to talk to my parents, so when the school called home once again, it terrified me! With the support of a close friend of mine and my school’s safeguarding officer, I managed to go home and be honest with my mum that I just wasn’t ready for her to know everything. But the fact that I was talking to several other people, in school and at CAMHS, was able to reassure my parents that I was safe.
Starting to feel like myself again
About two months ago, I decided with my psychiatrist that medication (sertraline) would be a good next step. The first week or so after I started taking it, I really struggled. I was in the middle of more mock exams, I wasn’t sleeping very well and my mood just declined. Self-harm increased again and I felt like I couldn’t cope. Slowly though, everything is improving. Within a week, so many things can change and I can see myself taking steps towards where I want to be. I used to get so irritated by people telling me this, but a positive mindset is always going to be key to getting better.
I still have bad days. Instability and change still frighten me, but for the first time in years, I’m starting to feel like me again. So please, if you’re reading this: give yourself credit for all the little things. Big accomplishments can’t happen without the small steps leading up to them. If you manage to get out of bed, even when the whole world feels like too much, you are amazing, and you can do this!
Author: Kerry, 15
Where to get help
If you are struggling with self-harm, have a look at our self-harm page for tips and advice on what you can do to help, as well as suggestions on where you can get support.