I have always been the girl who makes people laugh and I absolutely love it. From my one-liners to my silly impressions, there is no better feeling than making someone else smile. But underneath it all is a woman who continually feels like the world is caving in on them, a woman who struggles to get out of bed most mornings and a woman who has come so very close to ending her own life.
People have used my good humour as an excuse for not wanting to speak about my mental health issues. Apparently, you cannot be depressed and suicidal at the same time as being witty and funny. I first started experiencing mental health problems when I was about 13 years old. Rather than speak about it, I bottled up my feelings because I was afraid people would laugh at me. Being a teenager was hard for me as I was bullied relentlessly for being a lesbian.
The feelings of hopelessness and despair grew stronger as I learned to accept the fact that I might actually be gay. Struggling with my sexuality, accompanied with years of child abuse made me afraid to seek help. So I got myself expelled from school and I nearly allowed the world to swallow me up.
I haven’t always experienced episodes of depression. I have experienced years of extreme mood swings, going from feeling like I am on top of the world one week, to feeling like I wanted to die the next.
I was so embarrassed by what was happening to me. I wasn’t brought up to be weak but I really needed help. I didn’t reach out for that help until I was 19 years old and I had reached breaking point. When Deirdre Barlow from Coronation Street died I couldn’t stop greeting and realised that this was not normal behaviour for a 19-year-old.
I was fortunate enough to get a quick diagnosis and being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder is one of the best things that could ever happen to me. But whilst being diagnosed with a mental health condition after years of personal turmoil brings you a sense of relief it did not last long. I had finally accepted the fact I needed help and that I had Bipolar Disorder, but I soon realised I was once again too afraid to tell people for fear of the stigma.
When I got elected Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament in July 2016 we were in the midst of running our mental health campaign ‘Speak Your Mind’. As leader of the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s young people, I realised I had to be brave and stand up to the stigma. I want Scotland to be a place where all young people feel safe and secure and that no matter what goes on their lives they have someone they can talk to without fear of being judged. But I couldn’t help with that vision if I was myself too scared to talk about my mental health.
So hello, my name is Terri Smith, I have Bipolar Disorder and I struggle to cope nearly every day. I wake up each morning panicking and wondering what mood I’m going to be in.
If I am having a depressive episode, I cannot bear to the face the world. But when you are scheduled to meet the First Minister of Scotland that morning, you must force yourself to get up and ready. By the time I’ve made it to mid-morning I will have had numerous panic attacks and probably burst in to tears countless times. By the evening, I will be emotionally and physically exhausted. I probably will not have eaten in days. I will get angry with myself, seek attention and wish the world could consume me. This can go on for months. Then out of nowhere comes the opposite. Again, I wake up panicking but this time I am hypomanic.
Today, I am giving a speech in front of hundreds of people, oh no. My mind races, I cannot keep up with my thoughts. Everything I do is at fast pace, my speech, my movements and my emotions. I can’t do the speech, people can’t comprehend what I am saying. Money! Let’s spend money. By mid-evening, I will have blown hundreds of pounds on holidays, clothes and shoes I do not need and simply cannot afford. By night time, I am exhausted and frustrated no one can keep up with me but I won’t sleep. Again, this can go on for weeks.
This is only a small insight in to living with Bipolar Disorder. My condition is not the way it is often portrayed on the TV or in other forms of the media. I am not dangerous or out of control. In fact, I am a very high functioning member of society; I am a full-time student, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament and Youth Worker. I am certainly not ashamed of something I cannot change and I hope that by being open others will be see that you do not have to struggle alone.
For those of you who are not quite sure how to support someone with a mental health problem, all you should do is listen with intent.
It only takes one person to listen to save someone’s life. I was once that woman sitting on the edge of the pier with tears rolling down my face wanting to die. But thankfully, I spoke out and people have listened and supported me and because of this I live my life knowing I am not just a label and things do get better. The most comforting thing I have realised on this journey, is that I am not alone and it is okay to struggle and it is okay to ask for help.
If I hadn’t realised this I would not be here today. I would be a liar to tell you that finding the courage to speak out solves everything, it doesn’t. But it will be the beginning of a journey, a journey full of ups and downs. But always remember you will never be alone.
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