As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we're helping share the stories of people with mental health conditions and also people who have invisible disabilities who have seen an impact on their mental health. Today, we speak to Tesni, 33, from Wales about her story:
"It all started when I was nine years' old; when I developed Fibromyalgia.
I wasn't able to keep up with the other children at school, I struggled walking home and I would fall asleep on my lunch box during my lunch break. Understandably, my mum was worried; I had gone from being a hyperactive child who spent all her time running around with animals on our smallholding to constantly being tired and in pain. She took me to our primary care doctor (GP) who would spend the next four years putting me through a barrage of tests trying to find out what was wrong with me.
It was at 13, I was sent to see a specialist for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (also known as M.E). I was in the hospital for a week, on a 500-calorie-a-day diet. At the end of the week, he told me there was nothing wrong with me; I was fat and lazy. From then on, I was on a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet and pushed myself harder.
In my mind, everything was my fault - the tiredness and the pain - and I needed to pull myself together. Everyone else could do it, so why couldn't I? To this day, I still struggle with this mindset.
My GP, still convinced that I did have M.E, put me on anti-depressants. By this time, I was also struggling with anxiety and depression, but neither of those things had been discussed with me and I didn't know how to talk about them. After five months, my mum got a panicked phone call from our GP telling her to take me off the anti-depressants right away as they had been linked to suicide.
At 16, I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, but by this point, I wasn't listening to my GP. I didn't hear him carefully explaining to me what I had was not M.E, it would never go away and that I had to learn to manage it or it would slowly take more and more away from me. I was convinced that I could live my life like everyone else; I just needed to push harder. I still thought one day it would go away if I could just sort my head out. Around this time, I started to self-harm. At first, I did it for the release. Then I did it because I was angry and frustrated, and it was the only way I knew how to express myself.
At 18, I left home and got my first job, working in a mental health care home. I was so out of my depth and got horribly bullied there because I wasn't able to cope with the physical demands. A senior member of staff even took my then boyfriend, now husband, to one side and told him I was making it all up.
He said he had worked with people with M.E before and there was no way I had it and I was just saying it so I could get away with being lazy.
At 20, I became pregnant with my son and I couldn't cope. I didn't manage to quit smoking until I was four months pregnant. I got awful pre- and post-natal depression (PND) and couldn't bond with my son when he was born. I struggled on for two years like that until I had a conversation with a friend about her PND, which got me to finally go to my GP and I reluctantly tried anti-depressants again. Luckily this time they worked for me.
Slowly over the years, I've addressed the fact that I don't have M.E and that I have Fibromyalgia (despite being told by my GP that I should "just pick whichever title I want" as they were just "terms we use when we don't know whats wrong". I've finally accepted that it will never go away, and I've learned about my condition and how to cope with the pain.
Of course, I still struggle. There have been moments that have broken my heart. Like not being able to hold my son's hand because the pain in my hands was too much to bear. Having to accept that I couldn't have another child - my health had become so bad that I felt I couldn't give my son the attention he needed so it'd be unfair to have another. There have been times I've felt stripped of all dignity; having to apply for Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment; having to lay bare all the things I struggle to do and how dependent I am on others, so that someone can come and judge me to see if I score enough 'sick person points' to be given the benefit need to have any quality of life.
Being called lazy will always rip me apart inside. I'll always hide how much I hurt and how tired I am. But slowly I'm getting my head around the fact that it's not my fault and it's not because I'm weak."
If you've been affected by Tesni's story, please drop us a line using the contact us page.