Ashleigh talks about life in Scotland, coping with physical and mental health conditions, being a victim of voyeurism and the help she got from her connections with local LGBT groups. Ashleigh says "Talking to people and joining groups have provided me with a lot of reassurance and encouragement. It’s helped me to feel less lonely and part of a community, and that’s made all the difference."
I’m Ashleigh, I live in the Scottish Highlands and I’m studying at university as a distance learner. I have a number of physical and mental health conditions, which were exacerbated by loneliness at particularly difficult points in my life.
I have been alone with lots of things. In 2018 within the space of a few months I found myself homeless, without work and without support. I’d escaped an abusive relationship and then discovered that I’d been filmed covertly and without my knowledge in the bathroom at work - I was a victim of voyeurism.
My response was to withdraw from everything. I stayed in bed for a very long time. I had to stop working because I had a mental breakdown. My family moved to Scotland and I was all alone.
At that point, I received my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and things changed. I felt like I was viewing the world through a totally different lens. I’d known I was different from a very young age so my diagnosis was a relief in a sense.
But I also felt completely isolated. When I was diagnosed people withdrew because they didn’t understand. I was a bit of an emotional mess and no one wanted to be around me, so I withdrew even further.
That period of transition was tough. I was very angry and very sad, and I felt suicidal all the time.
Alone and silenced
I felt particularly lonely after I discovered I was the victim of voyeurism. I was the victim of a crime but told not to talk about it. I was living in a homeless hostel and felt totally overwhelmed. The legal process took four years. I felt silenced - that was almost as damaging as the crime itself.
My situation felt totally stagnant. It felt like there was nothing I could do and as though things would never get better.
When I moved to Scotland in 2020 I was very purposeful in putting down roots. I jumped headfirst into joining a number of different organisations and charities.
After my relationship break up I really took time to understand myself and to enjoy my own company and it made it much easier for me to make connections.
I joined an advocacy group on a bit of a whim. They were so kind and welcoming and really made me feel at ease. I’m part of a befriending project too and have a phone call once a fortnight from another university student. She’s there to listen and it helps to get things off my chest.
I’m part of some LGBT groups in Scotland for young people too. There are some other people in the group with mental health conditions and I’ve had some really helpful conversations and debates.
I still feel lonely, though in a different way. Now I’m in Scotland, I'm very far from my best friends in Essex. There are times when I want and need to be there for them, and can’t.
Honest and open
I joined lots of online communities too. I’ve made lots of friends on Twitter and that’s been fantastic. People tell me I’m quite blunt and honest, but that’s just who I am. I feel like people understand me - I feel connected and informed and there’s a sense of belonging.
I used Bumble to find friends as well. It’s not just for dating, you can join to find friendship too! My profile says it like it is - that some of my limbs don’t behave because of my physical conditions and that I’ve got mental health problems. I think people with mental health issues often gravitate to each other because there’s a level of understanding. I’ve made some good friends but sometimes it’s a bit touch and go - people are going on their own journeys and we all need to prioritise ourselves sometimes.
I am the most well I have been in over a decade. I still have lots going on but I do look back and think ‘gosh!’ I can’t believe I was that person or that I endured everything I did.
Taking steps to be social and to have contact is important. So often we don’t know how to deal with things. We don’t know how to talk about things or confront things that are scary or troubling.
Loneliness and mental health is something that isn’t discussed enough.
Talking to people and joining groups have provided me with a lot of reassurance and encouragement. It’s helped me to feel less lonely and part of a community, and that’s made all the difference.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022
Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 took place from 9 to 15 May with the theme being Loneliness. Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, know that you're not alone. There are a number of organisations you can get help and support from. Visit our 'Get Help' page for more information on where to go to get mental health advice and support.