"The shame was overwhelming" - TJ's story


Having had to suppress her emotions as a child, TJ was detained under the Mental Health Act by her parents. After being diagnosed with severe mental illnesses in her 30s, she suffered discrimination from employers. Now 50, she works for Rethink Mental Illness and can talk openly about her mental health.

My name is TJ and I’m 50 years young. From a very young age I always felt something wasn’t quite right and noticed people behaving differently to myself. They could express their emotions appropriately such as speaking calmly about their feelings and crying when necessary. I was so angry most of the time growing up and would cry continuously as I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

From around the age of seven years old I was shouted at not to cry so therefore I learnt to hide my feelings. It took me years to be able to cry in front of anyone so I would hide and cry on my own with no comfort. I had nowhere to turn to seek reassurance or the help that was needed. Mental health was not discussed as much then as it is today, and my family were ashamed of me because of this, so it was very much a taboo subject. I was sectioned by my parents, and it was absolutely terrifying – things were so different then. It was never explained what was wrong with me and I just thought I was a freak!

I was diagnosed finally with bipolar and anxiety/depression at 21 years old, and in my 30s emotional unstable personality disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and an eating disorder. I was absolutely paranoid, thinking I would have my three boys taken away from me, so yet again I had to hide my feelings and make out everything was “fine”.

  • The shame was overwhelming, and I felt so unworthy as both a mother and a daughter.

The shame was overwhelming, and I felt so unworthy as both a mother and a daughter.
I experienced stigma and discrimination from my family being called anything from a ‘nutter’, ‘mental’, etc and how could I possibly work in the care sector…? I was judged at job searching as soon as I mentioned my mental health illnesses. I didn’t even make it to an interview! As soon as I hid it on the application forms, I managed to secure interviews. Funny that!

Throughout my working life I haven’t had support from employers until I applied for a job with Rethink Mental lllness six years ago. I couldn’t believe I actually secured the job due to having mental health illnesses as it showed I have experience personally and professionally.
I’ve trained as a Mental Health First Aider with Rethink and have had a lot of opportunities with regards to different training which I am also so thankful for.

I never want people to feel the way I have felt; feeling like no one cares and there is no way out. I encourage people to speak out and am proud to say I spoke at the Release the Pressure Conference with regards to prevention of suicide.

  • I never want people to feel the way I have felt; feeling like no one cares and there is no way out.

I have been interviewed on the radio and recently appeared on BBC One News sharing the struggles people have with mental health and the changes that need to be made. The world still has a long way to go to reduce the stigma surrounding the struggles, however, things are moving along by talking more about mental health.

The support I have from my manager as well as my colleagues is amazing – I am so lucky.
A Wellbeing Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) has been put in place, and a “safe space” incorporated into our monthly team meetings which enables any of us to discuss how we feel about anything. My manager has an open-door policy so is always reachable and regularly checks on my wellbeing. We also have in place the option to call in sick with a text as my manager understands that when I become unwell I can’t talk on the phone as it scares me.

Due to a recent bipolar episode, my finances took a downward spiral. Luckily, I managed to use Rethink’s Money Advice Line which was so helpful, and I wasn’t judged!

Taking regular breaks on your own or with a colleague where possible helps a lot as it is a way to take stock and ground ourselves without being overwhelmed. I like to start my day by having a cup of tea outside which I have found useful. I have even done this in the rain under an umbrella.

I truly believe that being able to talk about how you feel is so empowering. It helps to take control over the situation without bottling things up, which I’ve found is very unhealthy. Please speak out – you will be heard, like I was.