Describing her life as being locked in a prison in her own head, Katy* didn’t understand why she felt so bad. She spent most of her life unaware of her true mental state until two years ago when a diagnosis put everything into perspective. Katy speaks about living with dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder) and a personality disorder.
When Katy was in her early teens she would cry herself to sleep, but didn’t know why.
She couldn’t sit still and concentrate at school and soon became known as a problem child.
Feeling unable to communicate well with her parents, she moved out of her family home in Devon and after she met a new friend on holiday, she followed him to Preston, hoping for a fresh start.
But unable to get away from her own feelings, her problems returned.
It was only two years ago, at the age of 32, did Katy, who now lives in Leyland, realise what was happening to her.
She recalls: “I wanted to get help when I was 14. I just felt distraught and scared all the time. I was traumatised and haunted. I would cry all night.
“Then I would have a burst of energy that would bring me out of it. I was the opposite - bubbly, confident, sociable. I was making plans and loving life. I felt on top of the world.
“I could never sit still. I was disruptive at school and college. I couldn’t listen and concentrate. I didn’t know what was going on inside my head.
“When I tried to get help when I was younger, I was offered anti depressants but I said no. I tried them and had a bad experience. They made me feel awful.
“People didn’t see it as an illness - they saw me as a drama queen.
“I felt so alone. It was like a prison in my own head.
“As a teenager I was drinking and I hung around with bad people. I didn’t know what to do. If I stopped, I was haunted.
“I left school and moved to a bedsit. I was very naive and desperate and I got into a couple of violent relationships.
“I moved away from Devon when I was 18. I was on holiday in Ibiza and a guy said he would help set me up in his home city - Preston.
“I was very suicidal and thought I could get away from it all.”
But moving away didn’t change the way Katy felt.
She still struggled and was unable to sit still in a social setting and could not hold a job down.
She recalls: “I was wondering to myself why I couldn’t sit down at a table and have tea with someone.
“I couldn’t hold a job down because I couldn’t concentrate. I was very unreliable and I couldn’t remember things. When I was down, I couldn’t remember everything. I used to confuse people.
“At the drop of a hat I would become distraught and not cope with normal stuff. I was depressed 80 per cent of the time.
“I couldn’t understand why I was feeling like this. I couldn’t drive without crying. I felt like cars would crash into me.
“I had to concentrate on just walking in case I tripped up.
“My brain would go blank. I would have to stop and give myself a minute to think.
“People didn’t understand me - I was called Jekyll and Hyde, a freak, thick. People don’t understand how tired I get, as they say ‘we are all tired.’
But two years ago, life began to take a better turn.
She ended her marriage of 10 years and after getting the correct help, the 34-year-old is now taking medication.
She says: “It was such a long process. I kept going to the doctors, but they would not take me seriously. They should have sent me forward to the mental health team sooner.
“But still I would not give up.
“By this time I had started taking a smaller dose of anti depressants and it changed my mood completely.
“Then two years ago a therapist said to me that I had dysthymia and I started taking medication.
“The way to describe it is when you think of bipolar disorder where person is on a high for a few days and then low, dysthymia is a quicker process.
“Earlier this year I took myself to hospital and was diagnosed with a personality disorder, which I now have to deal with. It is scary finding out which is just me and which is the personality disorder.
“That new diagnosis hit me hard and made me feel crazy. But it has given me a foundation now - I have always known something was not right. Now I know I can work on it.”
Katy says she is in a much better place now as she has been in continual employment as a care worker for three years and she has a very close bond with her 11-year-old son, who she says is her world.
She also volunteers, helping other families who are struggling with mental health or financial issues.
Katy adds: “I am in such a better place now but the best is yet to come for me.
“My parents are working with me and helping me. People are talking to me and taking me seriously. I recognise my highs and lows are an illness and not me.
“My son is my rock. We have always been close. I have always been very open about my illness. We look after each other.
“I have had to rely on him and his brain because I have been unsure about things. I feel very bad about this but it is important my son knows what is going on and that he can trust me.
“I just wish I could help others - that is why I volunteer, looking after families who are struggling like I did with mental health problems.
“I can only work part time due to my extreme tiredness. I work until noon and then have a nap, before going for a run to keep my mood up. I need stability to cope.
“Work understand that I have an illness and my rotas are regular.”
Katy urges anyone who is feeling low and scared to talk to their doctor.
She advises: “Don’t feel like you’re crazy and can’t talk about it. Write things down.
“If doctors offer you medication, take it. Don’t see it as a weakness. It is about a chemical imbalance. Your brain can’t function properly, but chemicals will help. If it helps you lead a normal life, why not take the help.
“Make sure you press to see the mental health team and be persistent - I had been bugging doctors ever since I was 14. They didn’t see me on my crazy days. It was hidden inside, but finally they have accepted there is something wrong.”
* Katy wishes to remain anonymous and has used a pseudonym
• Dysthymia, now known as persistent depressive disorder, is a mood disorder consisting of the same cognitive and physical problems as depression, with less severe but longer-lasting symptoms
• Dysthymia is a serious state of chronic depression, which persists for at least two years (one year for children and adolescents)
• As it is a chronic disorder, sufferers may experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, if diagnosis occurs at all. As a result, they may believe that depression is a part of their character, so they may not even discuss their symptoms with doctors, family members or friends.
• People with the disorder may lose interest in normal daily activities, feel hopeless, lack productivity, and have low self-esteem and an overall feeling of inadequacy. These feelings last for years and may significantly interfere with relationships, school, work and daily activities.
• Personality disorders are conditions in which an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others.
Common features include:
• Being overwhelmed by negative feelings such as distress, anxiety, worthlessness or anger
• Avoiding other people and feeling empty and emotionally disconnected
• Difficulty managing negative feelings without self-harming (for example, abusing drugs and alcohol, or taking overdoses) or, in rare cases, threatening other people
• Difficulty maintaining stable and close relationships, especially with partners, children and professional carers
• Sometimes, periods of losing contact with reality
• Symptoms typically get worse with stress.
• People with personality disorders often experience other mental health problems, especially depression and substance misuse.
• If you wish to talk to someone, call Mindsmatter on 01772 773437 (Preston); 01772 643168 (Chorley and South Ribble); 01200 420499 (Ribble Valley); 01253 955943 (Fylde and Wyre) or visit http://www.lancashirecare.nhs.uk/Mindsmatter.
Samaritans is available on 116 123.