The breakthrough after my breakdown: Flo's story

By Flo Sharman,
updated on Sep 6, 2020

The breakthrough after my breakdown: Flo's story

Lifesaving surgery at four months old led Flo to a mental breakdown when she was just eight, and resulted in a childhood defined by mental health. As a teenager, Flo had the lightbulb moment to stop letting her mental illnesses define her

While my birth was pretty straightforward, when I was four months old everything changed. I stopped breathing on many occasions, and my incredible mother had to resuscitate me several times – including on the day of my christening.

I needed a life-saving operation to remove parts of my stomach to treat serious acid reflux, which was affecting my ability to breathe, and I had to stay in hospital for months.

I had slow development, and remember needing a special chair and shoes, but apart from that things were looking up – we all thought that once life had dealt me that big, old card, surely I wouldn’t have to deal with another one.

I really wish that was the case, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I remember the night that my life changed forever as if it was yesterday. This is my reminder to you all to cherish everything you have, and live in the moment, because you really don’t know what’s around the corner.

My mental breakdown didn’t come gradually, it happened pretty much overnight, when I was just eight years old – and for me it came out as physical illness symptoms, not those of a classic mental breakdown. I woke up in the middle of the night in May 2008 blind, paralysed, hallucinating, my lip had dropped, I couldn’t talk, I was retching, and had a headache. I was rushed to hospital and they thought that I had a bleed on the brain or a brain infection, but how wrong they were. I stayed in overnight and was discharged the next morning with doctors saying it was a fluke, and would never happen again.

Flo cuddling her dog

But in 2017 I found out that the reason I had my mental breakdown, and the reason it showed itself in this way, is due to my traumatic experience in hospital during the early parts of my life, and this is the main root cause of my mental illnesses – PTSD, OCD, depression, and panic attacks. I truly believe that if, at the time of my mental breakdown in 2008, more research had been done to find the links between mental health breakdowns due to trauma as a baby, my journey would have been very different. That is why I’m so proud to be an ambassador for MQ, who are the UK’s leading mental health research charity. I know how valuable research is, and how beneficial it would have been for me.

I went from being an eight-year-old girl who had everything to look forward to in life, to an eight-year-old terrified of absolutely everything, not wanting to live, thinking society was better off without me, nearly sectioned but my mother fought for this not to happen, and I’m forever grateful she did. My childhood was taken away from me in a matter of moments, as I was excluded from my primary school due to my mental health, as they had no training or understanding of how to deal with someone in a mental health crisis.

To this day, I still get the symptoms that happened on the night that my life changed forever. The blindness, pins and needles, and headaches; these attacks happen around four or five times a year, and I don’t know when they are coming, but I get on with my life. I don’t let it define me, just like I don’t let my mental illnesses define me. I now know I’m on a lifelong mental health journey, and I’m now not ashamed or embarrassed about that – in fact I’m incredibly proud, as it’s made me. I just wish I had found this out so much sooner than 2017! But I bet you can all guess why it took me 10 years to not feel ashamed of experiencing mental illness – the stigma, of course. I hope in my lifetime this stigma ends.

There have been so many things that I have had to get through, but what I can say is that I am beyond proud of the person I’ve become

Now you’re probably all wondering how I overcame this mighty hurdle the world decided to throw me. It has not been easy, and there have been so many things that I have had to get through and continue to battle to this day, but what I can say is that I am beyond proud of the person I’ve become. I truly believe that everything I’ve been through has shaped the person I am today. Life is a rollercoaster, and it’s one we have to ride – the good and the bad. In the early days of my mental health crisis, it was all lows and no highs. Now it’s an even balance, and I know the bad times make the great times even greater.

The key things that have got me to where I am today, and continue to help me on my lifelong mental health journey, are my amazing support network that loves me for who I am and never gives up on me; fitness, which has been a huge part of my recovery and is my happy place, my me-time, and the time I learn how strong I am, mentally and physically. The great outdoors has always been a huge passion of mine, and I’m so grateful that I grew up in the countryside. It’s so good for your mental wellbeing, and having my dogs and horses in my bleakest moments were the only things that kept me fighting, because I knew they needed me, and they never judged me. They loved me for who I was – labels and all!

There is no magic cure for mental illness, but maybe one day, with MQ’s incredible work, there will be. I did have therapy and CBT on countless occasions, but for me it didn’t work, while for others it does wonders. This just shows we’re all individuals, and we need to be treated as such. I’ve been on antidepressants for 12 years, and I don’t know what I would be like without them, but this is just one very small part of the journey. I want to point out that taking medication for your mental health is no different from taking it for your physical health; the taboo has to go.

Flo smiling

I’m proud to say that I’m a mental health sufferer, and will never be ashamed of who it’s made me. I now know the importance of being your true self, and that you should never change for anybody. Those that you need in your life love you for you, your flaws and all – never forget that.

If you’re having a rough time at this moment, and can’t see light through the darkness, let me tell you the light will start to shine. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but what I can tell you is it really is worth it, and you really do have the strength to get through this. Never forget that seeking help and speaking out isn’t a failure or weakness, it’s the complete opposite – it’s true bravery.

“Sunsets are proof that no matter what happens, everything can end beautifully.” – Kristen Butler.

Rav Sekhon | BA MA MBACP (Accred), says:

Flo’s inspirational story highlights the strong connection between our physical and mental health, and how they are inextricably linked. Thankfully, Flo was able to get the support she needed to understand this and it’s had a profound impact on her wellbeing. The strength that Flo has developed resonates through her words, and it’s wonderful to see how she is leading the way with challenging the stigma, cultivating self-love, and sharing her positive energy.

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