From a young age, Hollie had always suffered with anxiety yet to the outside world she was happy, confident and talkative.
But things changed in 2013 after she suffered a panic attack.
Within a matter of months, her mental health had deteriorated so much she had dropped out of school, isolated herself from her friends and been admitted to hospital.
Following a suicide attempt, Hollie contacted Childline and spoke to a counsellor about her feelings. It was that chat which stopped her from trying to take her life again when she got off the phone.
Over the next couple of years, Hollie stopped talking, walking, eating and taking care of herself. There were also more stays in hospital.
Yet despite not talking to anyone Hollie, would often call Childline and chat to a counsellor when she was feeling low. She describes the service as her lifeline during her darkest hours.
Here, Hollie shares her story.
I was anxious but confident
As a child, I was always very anxious and worried about everything but at the same time, I was also very confident.
Then at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with epilepsy which made my anxiety worse.
I had a good circle of friends and in Year 9 a few of them were having some difficulties in their personal lives. I was trying to support them, but inside I was feeling really low. I didn’t tell anyone. Instead, I would go into school smiling, laughing and joking then go home, collapse and cry.
Things changed in April 2013, when I was in Year 10. I went on a school skiing trip to France but on the first day, everybody was being sick. I started worrying about getting ill because I knew if I was sick I would have to go to hospital to have my epilepsy medication put in via an intravenous line. I refused to eat then I had a panic attack.
A few months later I quit Girl Guides and stopped seeing my friends. In August my doctor diagnosed me with depression and anxiety and referred me to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
I went back to school in September but I was going in late every day. The teachers knew what was going on and they were wonderful. As for my friends, I just told them I didn’t feel well.
Shutting myself away
Come the November I had dropped out of school and shut myself off from the world. My mum quit work to look after me.
I started having meltdowns where I would scream really loudly and bang my head against the wall or my knees. If my mum tried to stop me I would push her away, punch and kick her. I started pulling my hair out and I couldn’t deal with loud noises. Two school friends came to see me but when they left I had a massive meltdown. I didn’t see anyone else after that.
February 2014, at the age of 16, I was admitted to the Maudsley Hospital in London. I was there for six months. It was during the last month when I started going home to visit my parents that I stopped talking to them. Yet I was still talking to the staff when I was back at the hospital.
The night before I was discharged I tried to take my own life. I’d had suicidal thoughts before but I’d never tried to do anything. They put me in a secure room and I asked if I could have my phone. That was the first time I called Childline.
I was hyperventilating and crying. The counsellor started asking me about the things I like to do. I told her about my dog, my friends and what I was going to do when I was better. Afterwards, I was able to talk calmly about what had happened. That chat stopped me from going back to my room and trying again.
Getting a diagnosis
Once I was home I still wasn’t talking or walking or doing anything for myself. Within a week I was sat with my head down, I wouldn’t look at anyone and I started making this moaning noise. I was screaming more often and getting more violent with my mum.
It was a CAMHS nurse who said she thought I had a rare condition called Pervasive Arousal Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). She only knew about it because she been on a course about it three years previously. My mum contacted the Professor who discovered PAWS and we got a private appointment with him. He arranged for me to be admitted to the Ellern Mede Clinic on 10 November 2014 but on Halloween night I had a massive meltdown and was admitted to Woodland House.
A week later I was transferred to Ellern Mede. Within two weeks of being there I stopped banging my head, by Christmas I was walking and come February I was feeding myself. Whilst there I was also diagnosed with a sensory disorder.
Childline helped me through
By September 2015 I was back at home. I still wasn’t talking to people but whenever I was feeling low I would go to the shed and call Childline on my mobile – they were the only people I would speak to. One night I told the counsellor I wanted to go back to hospital. She asked me why I wanted to go back. It was then I realised I didn’t. I just wanted to be normal.
Childline gave me the confidence to write a note to my mum asking if I could see a counsellor. It was that counsellor who, after two and half years of silence, finally got me talking again in September 2016.
A month a later I told my mum I wanted to sit my GCSEs. After sitting my exams in 2017, I got As in English and Science and Bs in additional science, maths and Spanish.
Getting back on track
Today, I still take medication to manage my epilepsy and anxiety but things are going really well. I work as a volunteer for the counselling service that helped me. In September 2018 I also started a Level 3 Diploma in Applied Arts at North Kent College.
When I started talking again my sister said there was a point she thought she would never be able to hug me or hear my voice again.
In the film ‘We Bought a Zoo’ there is a line which says ‘All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, and I promise you, something great will come of it.’ I always feel that is the case with mental illness.
If I hadn’t called Childline there is a chance I wouldn’t be here today. In fact, all the progress I have made is thanks to other people’s support, including Childline. Talking to someone saved me and it could save you.
If you are a young person who needs support, visit: www.childline.org.uk