TALKING POINT: '˜People don't see mental health but it can be just as disabling - if not worse - than a physical disability'
At just 16 I developed an anxiety disorder which developed in my final year at school.
I went from being an outgoing teenager scared of nothing to a girl afraid of everything.
Things got so bad I found myself unable to attend my final exam before leaving school.
This came as a big shock.
I then went to college and during my first year struggled to stay in lessons due to anxiety attacks before having to drop out in the second year.
From then I found myself avoiding social situations and public transport.
I missed out on a lot of my younger years through avoiding situations which sometimes would see me go no further than 10 minutes from home before I had to return.
I spent three years of hardly doing anything.
There were days when I couldn’t even find the strength to leave my own home because I was extremely depressed.
I would lie in bed for days and just cry - having thoughts of suicide.
Thankfully, I had the support of my mother and father who helped me through each dark day and my rock.
I had to do something about my life and could not live this way, so I volunteered after some in-depth therapy at a charity shop a short walk away from home.
This was a great struggle and at times I wanted to leave, but I managed three years.
However, I was still struggling to go further from home unless absolutely necessary.
Eventually, I decided to buy a car - even though I hadn’t passed my driving test - to help me get out a little more with the supervision of an appropriate passenger.
I managed to go a little further from home and being behind the wheel helped me to take my mind off the anxiety.
I also got job at a new restaurant in Chesterfield, but to progress I had to get out of my comfort zone and pass my driving test.
With all this in mind, I knew I had to do something so I had sessions with a therapy practice called Trent PTS (Psychological Therapies Services).
I found this extremely difficult at first as I had to discuss how I felt and go into detail my therapist.
After the first few sessions, it became more comfortable and the therapist set me challenges to do every day.
This really worked and I pushed myself to the limit by running towards my anxiety instead of away from it.
After several months, I found my anxiety had reduced significantly and I was doing a lot more things.
My end goal was to pass my driving test, which still seemed impossible and suffered a setback when my grandmother Eva died.
We were very close and she knew my struggles - her one wish was for me to pass my test and always said ‘do that Natalie and you will be free’.
After a few weeks of struggling to come to terms with her death, from somewhere I started really pushing myself and could hear my grandma’s voice in the back of my mind as I challenged myself to make this test happen and do it for her.
Eventually after going through an emotional and physically draining experience of failing my first test, I passed my second one.
The relief was amazing. I realised I could at least try and live my life a little.
If I’d have failed again, my life really wouldn’t have been worth living. It meant I could explore a lot more places, although I still wouldn’t have been able to do many things the average person could do. My anxiety has not disappeared and I still do not live an average person’s life for my age but I am happy and I try to push myself.
Some days are great and some are very dark, but I always know tomorrow’s a different day and things will get better.
The more you stare anxiety in the face and run towards it, the less it will creep up on you. Some days I fear it is returning, but I do my utmost to not let this happen.
There are many people living with a mental illness - so please seek help and do not to be afraid of what might happen.
I can highly recommend Trent PTS in Chesterfield, they are a fantastic guide to helping you get better.
I was afraid of what people might think of me but I have come so far and I can finally speak out in the hope my story will give others inspiration to face their fears.
People don’t see mental health but it can be just as disabling - if not worse - than a physical disability.
Tomorrow is a different day - don’t be afraid of what might go wrong and think of what might go right.
Please remember, you are not alone.