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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

"I can't live with the past": reconciling with the trauma that accompanies a severe mental illness

Updated: Jan 29, 2022

This week has brought with it more opportunities for socialising and catching up with friends.

It’s been quite an eye-opener for me because now that I am finally back to the authentic version of myself, I am noticing that I am able to enjoy the process of socialising rather than feeling as though I’m forcing myself to do it.

Recently, I've found it interesting to hear that a lot of people with mental illnesses have NOT struggled with the pandemic’s restrictions. For some it’s even been a welcome break from the pressures they feel to socialise and engage with life during more normal times.

I didn’t struggle with the last year at all because I was just relieved to be feeling better. The honest truth is that being free of the compulsion to end my life has been enough for me on its own, I haven’t needed anything else.

Although I’m sure that many of the people who have struggled with the pandemic have developed legitimate mental illnesses as a result, I’m also sure that a lot of them are just experiencing regular feelings of low mood or loneliness.

This is where mental health ‘awareness’ isn’t always helping us because people are now having their feelings medicated and that alone can create new symptoms, side effects and even mental illness! (medications can create mental illness).

What we need now is mental health education. This is such an obvious area to focus on because people don't even recognise the difference between mental health (well-being) and mental illness (a serious problem) and it's vital that this is all cleared up.

Anyway, It’s been interesting to hear a few of my ‘mental illness troop’ saying that the pandemic has in fact been good for their mental health which I can relate to too.

There were a couple of other things to come out of conversations that I’ve had with friends this week which I thought I would mention today.

Reconciling with the past

On Thursday I went into Oxford to meet up with a friend (let’s call him Denis), who I met in my last psychiatric hospital admission.

The very first thing he said to me was:

“I can’t live with the past.”

This statement has stayed with me ever since and I can completely relate to what he’s alluding to here.

Unfortunately, Denis has been hospitalised on numerous occasions and I immediately knew that he was referring to the trauma of the psychiatric hospital admissions.

I completely relate to how he’s feeling because it’s taken me five years to get over the trauma of my last psych ward experience and I’ve had to do so much work on rebuilding my self-confidence.

Being bulldozed in a corridor and forcibly restrained and injected would make a sane person go insane. The wards are pandemonium, and the system doesn’t get people better. Everyone I’ve spoken to that’s survived an NHS psych ward admission agrees that you come out way more damaged than you went in. It’s a truly terrifying situation.

This all means that people like Denis and I, end up fighting so much more than just the illness itself because there are so many other aspects to consider when it comes to surviving a mental illness - it’s way more complicated than people appreciate.

For the last twenty years (up until I met Dr Zamar and reached remission), I have had to contend with a myriad of problems and concerns including:

  • The brutality of the illness itself

  • The side effects of the medications

  • The horrific NHS waitlists to see a professional

  • The disappointments of the failures of medications

  • The withdrawal problems of the medications

  • The new symptoms caused by the medications

  • The trauma of the psychiatric hospital admissions

  • The complete lack of support and care from the current NHS system

  • The misunderstanding and unhelpful comments from friends

  • The lost opportunities and obliteration of career, relationships and interests

  • Having to accept a lower functioning version of myself

  • Having to give up my independence

How can we expect people to be able to survive this?! It’s unbelievably hard to reconcile with and I’m not at all surprised to hear that my friend is struggling.

The only good thing is that those of us who have been through the system completely understand the trauma and damage that it creates so we support and help each other through it all. But we get no help from the system at all.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to reconcile with the past through the profound change that the illness has set about in me. Being able to get out of bed without a monumental mental battle is now enough for me in itself and I don’t need to talk about what happened either, I’m just grateful to have a second chance at life.

I do worry about other people though because none of this has been easy to cope with and I’ve had to sacrifice so much to simply survive and live through it.

Funnily enough, I saw a nice post this week which relates to all of this which I have added below:



I think it’s a wonderful message and something to remember in the future. It also reminds me of something I read during my recovery in a book called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. She says:

“There are no good or bad decisions in life, only learning experiences.”

Reminding oneself of these things can be useful when the mind starts ruminating over past experiences.

As for my friend, we need to keep him out of the psych ward because each admission becomes more and more damaging and I’m not sure that there’s anything to be gained from the current shambles of the NHS psychiatric system anyway!

Nevertheless, I will always look out for him and my other mental illness troop and make it my life’s mission to improve things in these places for the sake of other people. Let’s hope I can do this! Please keep sharing these posts!

* * * * * * *

“It’s ok not to be ok”…. Is it really though?!

Another thought-provoking comment that is worth mentioning this week, came from a conversation I had with a friend yesterday.

We were discussing the useless messages that we’re receiving in the media, none of which are applicable to mental illness, and she said, “I hate the phrase ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ because I’ve witnessed it first-hand and it’s completely the wrong message.’

She’s completely right when she highlights this because the reality is that it is NOT ok to NOT be ok!

Whoever starts these sayings and captions has obviously never had a severe mental illness because they would know that it really is NOT ok to feel like you want to die in every waking moment!

I found a more sensible version of this saying in an image on a mental health page which reads as follows:


I will be taking tomorrow off from writing about mental health for my own mental health but will be back on Monday with more important #mentalhealtheducation, and informative insights from #dyingtostayalive!

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


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