It was always inevitable that Shana’s world would come crashing down at some point. It happened over Christmas 2014. Living on a 2,700 hectare olive grove in rural Australia, she recalls, “I just thought, I’m going to go out in to the middle of the olive grove, take my overdose and nobody will find me”. It wasn’t a cry for help, she really wanted to end her life.
Aged 19, Shana had ventured to the other side of the world. Within two months of meeting an Australian man, she married him on a small island, in the idyllic Whitsundays. “We were really drunk, drinking lots of cocktails and getting married sounded really good”. But that’s when it all started to go downhill. Their relationship became violent and turbulent. “It sounds awful but I would beat him up but he would beat me up as well. It would turn in to these awful fights.”
Shana has bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The aggression comes from her BPD and looking back on her life before her diagnosis, she can see the symptoms were always there. She wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar until she was in Australia. And it wasn’t until she came back to the UK that she was diagnosed with BPD. She had headed off to Australia by herself, not telling anyone apart from her mum and brother. “I didn’t even quit my job. I just never went in… Looking back now I realise I was having some sort of episode.”
“I was so lonely out there I decided to get in to taxidermy.”
When Shana first married, the couple lived in a small Australian settlement. She describes it like something out of a wild west movie. Just one main street, consisting of a gas station and a supermarket. She was expected to stay at home all day to cook and clean, whilst her husband worked. The only things she had to talk to were the kangaroos and the stray cats. “I was so lonely out there I decided to get in to taxidermy. I would go driving around and pick up the dead kangaroos and the dead animals, dead sheep, take them home, boil them up in my garden and make things out of them.”
Just before Christmas 2014, Shana and her husband moved back to the olive grove where they first met. They were there to work the harvest. Shana received news from the UK that her step-dad’s health had deteriorated. He was told he may only live for a couple more years. At the same time she heard a friend of hers from school had died. She felt so far away in Australia with no-one to talk to. Her husband wasn’t sympathetic at all. He didn’t even like her crying in the house and would send her outside when she became emotional. It was also at this time that he decided he wanted to break up with her. Shana’s life collapsed. They shared a house, the car she drove was his and all their money was in his bank account. She had nothing and no-one to turn to. “That was it for me. I didn’t have a way out.” Luckily for Shana, her husband found her after she took her overdose. Still to this day she doesn’t know how he found her on such a large property. She could have been literally anywhere on the estate. “It was just by chance. It was really weird”.
“I remember them screaming at me, ‘stay awake, stay awake, stay awake’”.
Shana was rushed to hospital. “I remember them screaming at me, ‘stay awake, stay awake, stay awake’”. She found out later that she had technically died and they had brought her back to life. After stabilising her in the intensive care unit for a week, the hospital asked if she would agree to be admitted to the psychiatric ward. Still a bit dazed, she consented, not realising the consequences of the awful situation she found herself in. “I had no way to get out”. As she had voluntary agreed, she wasn’t able to leave unless someone signed her out. She called her husband. “He didn’t want to know me”. She wasn’t allowed to call her mum, as the hospital wouldn’t allow calls to England. She was trapped, with no-one to help her and no-one in Australia to call. She didn’t even have any clothes, knickers or shoes to wear. “I was living in one of those gowns… It was the most degrading thing.” Her saviour appeared in the form of her cousin. He had flown in to Australia to work with Shana on the olive grove and they finally managed to get in touch. He discharged her from the psychiatric ward, eight weeks after she was first admitted.
“I never want anyone to go through what I’ve been through”.
In the nearly three years since Shana has returned from Australia, she has tried her hand at many things. “I’ve set up five different business… I’ve got hundreds of business cards with all these things I’ve done,” she laughs. The one thing that she has stuck to though, is Bridged Mental Health Group. It’s a mental health support group she has set up with a friend in Berkhamsted. “With Bridged, I am not going to give it up”. And I believe her sincerity. She knows what it is like to be in a situation where you have no-one to turn to. “I never want anyone to go through what I’ve been through”. The support group is not just about those who have mental health conditions, it is also for friends and family. “I think with mental illness people often forget about the people that are left behind”. For over a year it was something Shana had wanted to do, but didn’t feel she could do it by herself. One evening a friend, Fran, messaged her. Fran was at her wits end, feeling suicidal. Shana invited her around to dinner that night. There and then they decided to post a message on to the Everything Berko Facebook page, with the idea of setting up a mental health support group. They expected a handful of likes and maybe a plan to meet up with a few people for coffee. They got around 350 likes, nearly one hundred comments and many private messages. People were crying out for help. “When you have mental illness you do feel alone… and I do think that’s because there’s a stigma,” says Shana. The unique thing about the group is that it doesn’t cater to just one condition, it caters to all mental health diagnoses.
Talking to Shana now she seems very different to the person she describes, although she still dabbles in taxidermy. She is a bubbly, confident 23 year old, wise before her years. She has been discharged from Slippers Hill, the mental health facility in Hemel where she had her psychotherapy. She says her medication is “ok, but with personality disorders and mood disorders you can have a time where it’s ok, but it’s inevitable you’re going to crash”. That is when she will need the support of those around her and the help of the support group Fran and her have set up.
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