One Step at a Time. That's All That Matters

Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of trauma, self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation.

‘One step at a time.’ Something that I've always struggled to learn.

It all started when I was in fourth grade in 2012. I was a 9-year-old who was diagnosed with two mental illnesses. I've had a very complex and traumatic childhood that began to affect my general health and wellbeing. I had struggled a lot with emotional difficulties, developed strange thought patterns around how I viewed myself and others and, as years passed, I eventually developed suicidal thoughts and ideation.

For years, I had spent quite some time seeing the family GP and then eventually being referred to a child and adolescent psychologist. After having been assessed by the child psychologist, I went back to the family GP only to then be told that I have been diagnosed with a handful of mental illnesses. As a young child, I didn’t know how I developed the symptoms of the illness. I only really thought that my symptoms caused by the mental illnesses were physical illnesses and that I’d be better within a week or two.

In 2016, I was in eighth grade and I was at an emotional breaking point. My suicidal thoughts became intense, I hated life and wished that I was not alive. I simply just wasn’t in the right headspace and needed urgent help. So, I called up a helpline on a weekend and spoke to the helpline counsellor. We talked about how I was feeling emotionally, my current safety and wellbeing at the time and because I was in that really tough headspace and the counsellor who was becoming concerned contacted police to do a welfare check. Hours later, the police came and as I was 14 years old at the time, I was scared, frightened, and feeling a lot of anger and distress.

I remember being asked several questions about my mental health, my trauma from the past, urges to self-harm and so on. I couldn’t speak and my sentences did not make any sense at all! The fact that I was feeling extremely distressed, emotional, feeling flat and a lot of panicking and anger, it was me who took a few steps away from the officer, looking like I was ready to take off but to be honest, there was something very different about the police officer, a constable, I was speaking to. I was in a really difficult headspace, wishing that I wasn’t alive but the officer began convincing me to live. He believed in me and showed that he cared. It was me who was feeling as though I was wasting his time, so I began taking small steps away from him, but this is when I noticed something. The constable put out his hand only to remind me that he didn’t want anything other than wanting to help me out in the difficult situation that I was in.

This constable believed that I could do so much, using my past trauma to help others who have been through and have been experiencing difficult circumstances. I didn’t believe this. If I couldn’t help myself, how could I help others who have been through difficult hardships like me?

Because of my mental health deteriorating, I was taken to the hospital in the police car and continued to chat with the officers on the way to the local hospital emergency department.

When we arrived, I had the officers walking both on my left and right. I was emotional, distressed, panicking, had a lot of anger inside of me and didn’t have the words to express how I was feeling when speaking to the nursing staff. All I wanted to do was end life once and for all.

Eventually, when I was seen by the paediatric nurses in the emergency department, I remembered the police constable and his colleague were both waiting until I was ready to be admitted to the hospital.

Eleventh grade, 2019. I contacted now-former police constable. The officer who went above and beyond to help me in 2016. He chose to see me as an individual above an illness. He didn’t give up on me and took me straight to hospital while letting me know that I still have a positive future ahead of me.

Police officers are often slammed in the media for all sorts of things, but people don’t often see the side of police officers who choose to go over and beyond their job requirements whilst on duty.

A year later, I chose to come forward and speak about my own mental health difficulties. I chose to come forward and speak in the hope that my story will one day help someone in the community who is continuing to go through hardship.

I started my education at university. I personally did not think that after everything that’s happened to me, I would eventually decide to take the step and study at the university.

You know, I was a young child when I remember telling a family friend that I wanted to go to university and become a doctor or work in a field where I could help others in their time of need. But I just wasn’t sure if there was something else other than medicine that I could study when I hoped to one day make it to university.

Sharing my story has given me plenty of opportunities to be able to speak on different platforms, to share and raise awareness for better mental health in the community by giving a presentation and speaking at events. It’s important that we keep the conversation going about mental health and suicide. Nothing will change if we don’t start by talking about mental health and suicide prevention.

I do what I do for others because I was once the individual who was admitted to the psychiatry department at the local hospital who had no friends and family visiting me during my admissions, and so I am aware and know how lonely it can be whilst being an inpatient for mental health treatment. Regarding the individuals who I've been visiting in their hospital admission, I did not want them to feel the way that I was feeling during my own admissions. I want these individuals, these survivors to know that no matter how hard and difficult recovery may seem, they shouldn’t need to give up but instead, they should persist because as the saying goes, ‘God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.’

I encourage everyone to reach out when support is needed. There is no shame in telling your story. Telling your story could be part of someone else’s survival guide. For me, I had to climb and jump over obstacles to seek help for my mental health before I took the step and decided that I was ready to speak out and share my story.

Trauma does not discriminate. Your trauma and mental health should not be the reason to stop you from speaking out but rather, your trauma and lived experience of mental illnesses could be used as a way of speaking out and spreading hope in the community.

One way I've been able to cope is by seeking out therapeutic help and support from trustworthy professionals and doing my own self–care that involves speaking to a friend, going for a walk/run/jog, reading, watching a movie, writing/journalling… the list goes on!

To all my fellow survivors who have lived experience, including those in recovery, I see you, hear you, believe you, and I want to tell you that you are more than your illness. You are human. A survivor. 

As a survivor (and advocate), I stand with all survivors of suicide, men, women, those in the culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTQIA+ communities as well as other marginalised communities. Your mental health matters and choosing to speak out about your mental health is very brave.

For me, I do not and will not ever regret speaking out. As I said, it’s always one step at a time. That’s all that matters. Do not forget that.

-Esra G

Voices of Hope wants you to know that you do not have to do this alone. Click here to 'find help' - it's not weak to speak!

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