In setting up this blog, it has always been my intention to promote mental health. It is a cause that is incredibly close to my heart and something that I am incredibly passionate about. For this reason, I’m hoping to run a series of interviews with people with lived experience of mental illness in some capacity. I hope that I can provide some insight into what it’s like to live with a mental illness and to provide a deeper understanding about mental health as a whole.
The first person that has kindly got involved with these interviews is Laura Ann Moulding. She is someone I have admired from afar since I’ve had the honour of getting to know her through our involvement with Time to Change Wales. I’ve always been struck by her courage, her enthusiasm and her determination, especially when it comes to tackling the stigma around mental illness. I’m genuinely excited for you to meet her through the following interview.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m Laura, I’m 21 years old (which I find a scary age!) and I live in Cardiff. I’m currently a student at the University of South Wales studying music. I am also a Mind Cymru volunteer and Time to Change Wales champion.
Can you tell me about the mental illness that you have been diagnosed with?
I was diagnosed with severe depression with psychotic symptoms – a long-titled diagnosis, I know! Although this is my main diagnosis, I also suffer with severe anxiety and panic attacks.
How old were you when you were diagnosed? What was the process of being diagnosed like?
I was 15 years old when I first started seeking help, however, it probably wasn’t until a year later when I was actually diagnosed with something. It was scary at first. I kept silent for 7 or 8 years, so, when it came to having to talk to people I’ve never met before about what my diagnoses was, it was scary. It did take a while, and a lot of questions before I was properly diagnosed though.
How does your mental health impact on your day-to-day life?
It can impact me in many ways. At my worse with my depression and anxiety, I feel emotionally numb. I struggle to lift my head up because it feels like tons of weights are pulling me down. I struggle to leave my bed, leave the room. I miss university, or avoid seeing anyone because it feels better to me that they don’t have to be around someone like me.
When the psychotic side of my mental health kicks in, I find it difficult to get on, to hear the people around me. I hear voices which are louder than you and me. They tell me the most horrendous and terrifying things which include them threatening me and abusing me.
I also see hallucinations which at times make me never want to leave the flat. They make me feel alone.
You’ve been quite vocal about your hallucinations on your blog. Can you describe what it’s like to experience one?
It’s terrifying. It’s one of those things for me which can attack me at any point. If I’m walking down the street, with family or friends, or just at the flat, these hallucinations (which I call visions) can just come. To describe how I see it, I can only explain it in two ways. I often use the example of wearing virtual reality goggles: how you see everything with the goggles on is how I see these visions. Another explanation I use is like if you were wearing a blind fold where all you can see is darkness, nothing else. The difference for me is I see violent and terrifying vision of myself or others getting hurt. I visualise guns, knives, drugs, attacks… I see everything no one should ever want to see… and it’s scary. It breaks you down in more ways than I can ever describe. After having these hallucinations (which can last from 30 seconds to an hour at times), you feel exhausted, like all life has just left my body. It’s a horrible feeling, and also scary.
What do you do to manage your condition?
I’m a very creative person, and that has helped a lot with managing my condition. I play the saxophone, and I also compose and song write. I draw or I write. Anything which helps me keep distracted helps.
What also helps me is seeing friends and family. Without them, I most probably wouldn’t be here.
Just talking to them makes so much difference. They give me hugs and tell me they’ll always be there for me. My boyfriend also comes with me on walks which help me a lot when managing my condition.
What is your view about how mental health is seen and understood in society?
I’m glad that mental health is being talked about now. Only 6 years ago, I had my first conversation about my mental health. I kept silent since I was 7 or 8, because mental health wasn’t really something people talked about. When it was talked about, it was always portrayed in a negative light. I was brought up at a time where the media would constantly say, “Oh, that crime was caused because that person with ‘mentally disturbed’.” That’s all I ever heard. So, yes, a long way round in answering, I’m glad people are able to start having conversations now.
Have you ever experienced any stigma or discrimination as a result of your mental illness?
I have faced a ton of stigma and discrimination because of my mental health. I’ve faced stigma by a psychiatrist who didn’t believe me when I spoke to him about my experiences because it didn’t match the ‘medical books.’ I was also told by someone I used to know that mental health sufferers should die and would never succeed in life. I was told we should all be locked up.
The worst bit of stigma and discrimination I’ve ever faced came from someone who I once consider my best guy friend. He told me I should never have children because he felt sorry for whoever I brought into this world (because of my mental health), and he felt sorry for anyone who knew me. Because of him, I’m now afraid of him. He’ll never know how much he hurt me, not just in a stigma and discrimination sense as well.
What advice would you give someone experiencing similar symptoms to you?
I would encourage anyone to talk to a friend, a family member or GP; talk to anyone you trust! I know I originally said I kept silent for 7 to 8 years, but that wasn’t a choice I had back then. I wish I could have spoken about how I was feeling before, because life became difficult for me because I didn’t speak. Yes, stigma and discrimination is still out there, but for the majority of the people I know and see, they’ve all been so supportive. I’m not saying speaking is easy, it’s the bravest and potentially the scariest thing you will ever do, but believe me there are people out there who want to help you the best they can!
What does the future hold for you?
The future holds so much for me! After I’ve finished and hopefully pass my undergraduate course, I hope to study a Masters in either Music Therapy or Songwriting/composition – I may even try my best to study both (if I can!). I also aim to continue my work with Time to Change Wales and Mind Cymru; both which I enjoy volunteering for so much.
You can find out more about Laura Ann Moulding on her blog: A Girl named Laura.