Talking about mental illness: this is going to hurt

I want to begin with a disclaimer: I will discuss my experience with mental illness and mental health struggles, and this is very personal and subjective. It was how I felt along this difficult pathway, but I am entitled to express my voice as you are to express yours. Yes, this is going to hurt, as it may sound that nowadays we live in an open-minded society, but we still face stigma and prejudice around mental illness: We still can’t discuss it openly, as people tend to dissociate themselves from those who are hurting psychologically. Also, just because I am writing about my experience does not mean I have my life in order. I can’t pretend to know everything about mental illness and neurodevelopmental conditions, but I am trying to understand more and hopefully I will become more literate in the process.

Since I can remember I always felt slightly anxious and was considered very shy for my age, as I lack social communication and interpersonal skills. I managed to do reasonably well in school, except for my abilities with numerical thinking, and making friends, however I had a special interest for science and scientific facts. Now I know how I passed under the radar: I was able to imitate other girls and what was “socially accepted behaviours” for my age, only raising my voice when I saw the poor and unfair ways that boys treated girls during my pre-adolescence years.

Up until my adolescence, I was able to cope with life and to make the most of it despite my difficulties. However, after adolescence I started to struggle visibly as my dad passed away suddenly, leaving me with a broken heart and in deep psychological pain. I want to take the time to say that my parents are my heroes, as they did the best they could with the limited resources and knowledge they had, and with a dream that I would become an honest, humble but hard-working and successful person.  After that, my life went downhill, all the plans and dreams gave space to crippling anxiety and severe depression that resided despite my ability to overcome and understand grief, pain and loss. As I went to university slightly later than expected, I embrace the moto: “it’s not too late to pursue your dreams, it’s never too late or impossible”. That self-limiting belief that we all go to university by 18 years old and that life is straightforward and we must have things figured it out in adulthood is just false. Being human means to embrace diversity and difference, but sharing humanity through our experiences, emotions and feelings.

I decided to get professional help when I started to feel overwhelmed by university, as I wanted to break free from depression and anxiety. After having initiated psychotherapy and medication, which in the beginning I felt were not helpful as I was crying and having panic attacks every day. But they were helpful, and the panic attacks eventually subsided with time. It is simply not easy to do therapy as most of our deepest and sad memories and traumas emerge like mountains out of the seas that you now must climb by talking through them. At one point, I could only express my pain through learning and making origami boxes that represented my experiences and felt a safe space and representation for therapy. Eventually I decided to stop therapy when I started to feel better, but I always left with the feeling that therapy was emotionally draining, tiring and I defined it as like the magic trick of pulling rabbits out of hats.

After I did my first master’s degree I was feeling burned out and so tired and anxious about getting the first job of my dreams. This pushed me into the deepest depression (again), feeling confused and lost and without knowing how to handle it. It felt too much at the same time. It took me courage to seek help again, another round of medication and therapy for me. Which this time felt I was receiving proper care, leaving me to feel understood, heard and empowered. I was not tired at all and not pulling tricks! Today I am thankful for that therapist and for this difficult period because it was in the middle of chaos that I was able to follow my curiosity and discover what I truly wanted to do: to become an embryologist. After trying and knocking on many doors and hearing many people saying no, I decided to leave everything behind and move to Scotland to do my second master’s degree in embryology. It was a hard but easy decision, that would mean I could learn more about this subject and start anew.

Back to the present moment, I am doing the STP in embryology (yes, I know how privileged I am), which took me years to get into and after everyone turned me down. I still have difficult moments as I am navigating a recent neurodivergent diagnosis (and yes, people along the way kept telling me I was neurodivergent, but I refused to believe in that because I felt “how can a person like me can be different but  look seemingly ‘normal’?”), and dealing with my own prejudice and limiting beliefs around neurodevelopmental conditions. On top of that I moved countries to be part of the STP programme, and now I don’t have family or friends where I live. Yes, I am privileged, but doing the STP is very hard and demanding, because we have to manage work and part-time studies, juggling stress and wellbeing. Everything is new and hard, and I am struggling yet again (and I refuse to give in!). However, you can turn to your Training Officer, to your GP, to occupational health, and social prescribing for help. There are plenty of resources out there. It is just a matter of taking the first step to recovery, of being vulnerable and honest with yourself, acknowledging your limitations and how much you can handle on your own (but you shouldn’t feel ashamed of it, there is nothing to be ashamed of! You are brave!). After this, you may be encouraged to disclose your true feelings and how things really are (and this is an act of bravery!). The ultimate goal of the team is for you to embark on the journey of feeling yourself again, by taking care and providing all that you need, being nutrition, exercise, etc (for me the hardest thing was to find motivation to exercise).

I must say that in the beginning some things were difficult to hear, such as “everyone is on the spectrum”, “I don’t see you as different, you are in the same category as everyone”, “having a conversation with my supervisor is similar to therapy”, having people commenting how weird you are or how you should behave. Those limited beliefs, that it is not my job to change (and it’s exhausting to try and change people and the world by yourself), but I always can try to point them in the right direction to being more understanding (hopefully this post does that!). When I came out as neurodivergent I decided to send everyone a message and was surprised not to hear anything back, with one person saying they were proud of this reaction as it felt people were mature. By mature they meant ignoring me, by not showing compassion and care, by making me feel isolated and vulnerable. Is that maturity or dissociating and shutting others down? I feel there is still stigma as talking about mental illness makes us feel uncomfortable, and this hurts, not only society in general but the individual that is struggling, and silencing them is not the solution to make things go away. I feel this is going to hurt because we are facing limited belief systems (individual’s beliefs, family beliefs, cultural beliefs, society’s expectations). Most of the time our actions can be driven by childhood trauma, from conscious/unconscious beliefs and unresolved situations (basically, our own bias), and to be able to change this stigma we have to go inwards individually and collectively. At the same time showing openness, acceptance and vulnerability.

I would say that to resolve mental illness prejudice  we must put our bias aside and accept others as they are, but it’s more than that: it’s about accepting and looking through our bias, accepting our limitations and flaws and differences, and giving others a chance to just be who they are (as long as we respect each other). However, as beautiful as it seems, some people may not be ready or willing to go on this journey, and that is fine (to be honest I am in the process of accepting this).

I will choose and fight my fights, to learn how to be more assertive and to place boundaries, to learn how to live with depression and anxiety and neurodivergence (and, no, we don’t overcome those things, they are part of us). Seeking professional help is so important, and I consider it one of the bravest actions you can take for your mental health because it is as important as your physical health. We all know, in theory, that having a balanced life with exercise and nutritious foods can impact our health and wellbeing. But the hardest thing is to take action, to take the first step towards health, towards hope and living wholeheartedly. But it’s possible, and most importantly we all deserve it: to live a meaningful life, improving our lives and other people’s lives.

Please take care of your mental health and mental illnesses by seeking help. This will help you be more aware of your own self. Being more aware you will place boundaries for instance, and this will help your overall wellbeing (but, yet again, it’s not easy, instantaneously or straighforward, and yes, it comes with time!).

If you see others struggling, just be there for them, accepting the situation and practising active listening (be in the moment with them).

Take care of your mental wellbeing (it’s an everyday choice and a long-term commitment). But, please, do not suffer in silence, take mental illness seriously, always. 

Be safe.


The editors would like to stress that you can and should contact the NSHCS (via if you are struggling. All emails are triaged to the appropriate people who are able to help, all contact is treated fully confidentially and a properly trained member of staff will respond to you.


Useful links:



CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): 


Anxiety UK: 

Nightline Association:

Bipolar UK: 

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