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Mental Health Awareness Month: A Personal Account of Mental Health Struggles in the North East and Trans Youth

I’m Phoenix Atkinson, I’m a musician, a writer, an acting student, a football fan, and - I’m not well.

And this isn’t just a me problem. 

During the pandemic, I know we’re bored of hearing about it but give me a second, people in the North under 35 were more likely than any other age group to have developed a psychiatric disorder over the course of the pandemic - with an increase of 2.5 percentage points, according to a report from the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA).

For some reason, I have this thing in my head that makes me genuinely believe that I am secretly undeserving of any kind of love. Fun! 

Logically, that’s wrong. 

I’ve made mistakes, like everyone on earth. I’ve learned from them and gone forward with my life, but for some reason my brain likes to just stick them on like reruns of Friends on Comedy Central. 

This has been happening for as long as I can remember, but about 2 years ago it got incredibly bad and led to me being unable to even log into my online classes for about 2 weeks. 

I think it all started with my body image. 

I’m transmasculine, which, for me, means that, at best, I have a complicated relationship with my body. 

And this isn’t just a me problem. 

LGBTQIA+ people are 1½ times more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorder compared to the rest of the population.

I’ve never liked how I look. I get acne, which is annoying (and uncomfortable more than anything) and I’m self conscious of my weight. 

I yell from the rooftops about body positivity, but I can’t seem to do it for myself. I am a bit of a hypocrite in that regard.

I get panic attacks, which are awful. 

Once, in class, I suddenly started getting one whilst dancing to We Will Rock You, the dulcet tones of my class trying to stay on time and in tune while being yelled at to have energy soundtracking my brain beginning to short-circuit. I got taken out, took a few minutes, and came back in. I did absolutely kill the dance, by the way! I don’t quite know why I get these, it can happen with or without triggers.

I actually think the worst ones happen without a noticeable trigger, because then you don’t know what might set you off. 

But, in positive news, I am finding ways of coping. I have a YouTube playlist filled with videos that I’ve watched a million times, which might not be as good as therapy, but I can sure try!

I am terrified of telling people how I feel. 

I am loud and dramatic as they come, but it takes something incredibly serious to get me to say how I actually feel. 

This may seem like the ramblings of someone who really should get help, but it’s actually letting me say what I’m thinking in more articulate terms than I could if I was talking to someone in person about this. 

Talking to people is something I am awful at. This? This is something I can do. At least, when I write this all down, it gives me time to find the words and explain myself.

Now, that’s all a bit miserable. I am getting better, I promise. I’m just not quite there yet. 

And this isn’t just a me problem. 

The North East has a higher percentage of people reporting low life satisfaction (from 3.6% in England to 4.2% in the North East and then, more specifically, 5.2% in Newcastle). This has been theorised to be a result of the chronic deprivation that has marked the North East’s history, coming from years of conservative politics that all seemed built to make the North completely unstable. Cheers, Thatcher!

Mental health issues are silent and it can be almost impossible for someone on the outside to see that someone is suffering. 

Speaking out is stigmatised as being ‘soft’. Certain illnesses are massively stigmatised and inadequately represented in media, leading to myths being codified in societal structures. This makes it so hard to open up and creates a uniquely frustrating cycle of issues for people wanting to get better.

Apart from my inherited (and completely justified) hatred of the Tories, my main message is that recovery is possible. You can get better. It’s hard, and takes ages, and relapses can happen, but you might as well try. 

You wanna know what I did while writing this? I finally referred myself to therapy and made an appointment for a mental health assessment. 

I’m terrified, but it’s all baby steps. As long as I keep waking up, I will keep getting better. It will take a long time, and I am terrified of it, but why not try? 

Edited by Emily Duff

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