By the age of 18, I had been suffering from an (at the time) undiagnosed mental health condition for six or seven years. The early 1980s were a world apart from the present day as regards general awareness, understanding and acceptance of mental illness; but I can say for certain that even if I had known the name and nature of my condition back then, I did not have the maturity, objective clarity or courage to talk about my feelings and experiences, let alone commit them to paper.
I have just read The Unseen Battle by Ruth Fox, a teenager who has the above qualities (in abundance), as well as an obvious flair for the written word.
The book is not very long, but the content is incredibly powerful and emotive. There isn’t much background or padding; simply a true account of how a young life can be suddenly and dramatically affected by an illness that is (or can be made to be) invisible to the outside world.
It’s raw … and it’s real.
Many of Ruth’s experiences resonated with me (with the obvious exception that she is a really good footballer and I was rubbish), but the speed that her story … her life descended to the darkest of places took me totally by surprise.
I’m not going to go into much detail – you can read the book for yourself – but there were genuinely shocking moments after which I had to stop and try to digest the words I had just read. To try and understand what Ruth was facing; to try and understand her feelings; to try and understand the effect on those closest to her.
To remember that Ruth was (and still is) a teenager.
There were times when I felt uplifted (help and support doesn’t always come from the most expected sources), frustrated (help and support doesn’t always come … etc.), upset, moved, inspired. I almost felt a sense of pride in everything Ruth has achieved (on as well as away from the football pitch) – although that might be a father of two daughters simply imagining “what if?”…
At one point, Ruth declined a long-overdue offer of CBT because her condition had improved during the lengthy wait for the system’s cogs to start turning, and she felt someone else would benefit more from the opportunity. Such self-awareness and selflessness (in the most difficult circumstances) is incredibly impressive.
The pivotal part of the book is (for me at least) encapsulated in just three words, which I am deliberately lifting out of context: “Sorry for everything”. What is it like to believe that you are weak, to feel guilty because you are convinced you’ve failed and let everybody down, to feel trapped in an endless tunnel of blackness…?
And then there is a knock at the door…
Ruth Fox is an amazingly brave and articulate young woman. There are many chapters in her story that are yet to be written, but if you want a brutally honest account about teenage mental health, this is a book that deserves to be read, with a message that needs to be shared.