Natalie always felt different from a young age, but never knew what made her different. Being diagnosed with Asperger’s, she struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. Now, 21, Natalie volunteers with the Chatterboxes, a YMCA youth action project run by disabled young people in Bournemouth, to help raise awareness of disabilities. She shares her experiences with mental health difficulties in support of the #IAMWHOLE campaign, to help tackle stereotypes of mental health.
“I was different, but I didn’t know why I was different and I was bullied about it at primary school. Children have an immense capacity for spotting anyone that’s remotely different and picking up on it. At school they would sort of engage me in conversation, and because I would give funny responses, they’d all laugh. I had a couple of times where I would have a panic in class, I’d sort of have to go out of the room for a bit.
“It was difficult because I felt like I wasn’t happy at home and I wasn’t happy at school. You know, I didn’t have anyone to go and stay with or anything. I just had to put up with it.
“My Asperger’s, I think it acts as a magnifying glass. Because it magnifies everything, all of my emotions and things like that.
“When I have a panic attack, my whole body goes in to a rolling boil. I call it rolling boil, because of the tingling. You know when you’re boiling water and it starts off as a simmer, then it becomes a rolling boil. That’s what it feels like, it feels like your blood is boiling in your fingers.
“My panic attacks sometimes got less frequent, then they got more frequent again, then they got less frequent. They were all over the place. It was really good for ages and then it just suddenly started off again.
“The anxiety sort of peaked again last year. In April I had a hemiplegic migraine and ever since then, I’ve been really anxious, like it was going to happen again. I sort of felt the symptoms even though it wasn’t happening. I’d misinterpret things, like if I got a tingle, I’d think it was that. I had a panic attack when I was driving. My whole body went into a spasm, I couldn’t move my hands, which when you’re driving isn’t helpful.
“When grandma was alive, her attitude to mental health was in the dark ages. Because she went through the war, she thought that anything, any little problem, you just got on with it. Because she was just say ‘get on with it’, ‘stiff upper lip’.
“You don’t tell anyone about anything, you don’t cry and you don’t show any emotion, you’re not allowed to do anything like that. But that’s ridiculous, you can’t help these things, you can’t bottle them up, it’s bad for you. In her day you were put in an institution and a padded cell and a straight-jacket if you showed any sort of emotion.
“The attitudes to getting help or getting counselling was completely taboo, something you didn’t talk about. Well it goes back to the times when people thought you were possessed or whatever or you were just crackers.
“It’s got a lot better, but it’s still the stigma attached to it. I don’t know why there is stigma attached to it, why can’t they just consider it like a physical illness, because it is an illness.
“Maybe it’s because they don’t understand, I think ignorance plays a big part in it. People see things on the television in films and things like that and they think ‘oh that’s what they’re like, that’s what a person with mental illness is like.’ But that’s not true at all, you know we’re all different, everyone is. So you can’t say, that’s a person with mental health issues, like a textbook case or whatever, for example stereotypical person with mental health issues.
“I ran a workshop actually a couple of weeks back with YMCA, about coping with stress. We talked about the negative ways that you could cope with stress and the positive ways. Like, the negative ways are the drugs and the alcohol and self-harming and then we looked at positive ways of coping, like meditation, yoga and so on. Negativity is not helping anyone.
* The Chatterboxes is a youth action project run by disabled young people from Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset aged 11-25 years old, whose aim is to enable young disabled people to have their voice heard, feel safe and engaged in their community and raise awareness of disabilities with the aspiration of having a community which is equal to all.