I’ve been a volunteer with BAND for about three years now and I have to say World Mental Health Day is one of the highlights of my year. This is the 3rd year I’ve been given time on this stage and every year Rita come’s up with a challenge for me to find a new way of telling my story.

This year’s challenge is a little different to what I usually do. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self knowing what I know about my life right now. 

In order for this to work I will require audience participation…. Look at your faces, so that’s what fear looks like. No I’m kidding, I’m not picking on anyone but what I need you ALL to do is to pretend to be me. I know, I know, who would want to be me??? But just humour me, just pretend for the next 18 or so minutes that you’re all called Katerini.

Okay? Let’s get cracking then…

Dear Katerini, people tell you that you should always be a team player, that we should always work together towards the same goal, whatever that might be. They’ll tell you there is no “I” in team, this is true, and this phrase will be thrown about like a volley ball all the way through school. Especially when it comes to sports day…

Sports day, you are going to hate it. Not only will you hate it but you’ll be rubbish at it. For your first sports day in high school you’ll volunteer to run the 100 metre hurdles because its the right thing to do for the benefit of the school, but you’re not a runner and you can’t jump either. You will knock every single hurdle over and you’ll come last and everyone, and I mean everyone, will laugh at you. But just listen; you don’t have to take part in something you don’t like because others say you should, you don’t like sports and there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s also nothing wrong with not always being a team player, you’re different and you cant change that.

Kat, in life you’ll have to fight for everything. You’ll fight to be seen and heard, you’ll fight to get people to believe in you and I’m sorry but you’ve also got a fight on your hands when it comes to believing in yourself.

Along the way there will be things that are going to annoy you. For a start your name is ALWAYS going to be a problem. No one will ever pronounce it correctly, you’ll get Katrina, Katerina and Katherine and be prepared for Kate instead of Kat. And as for your last name, you’ve got no chance!

Roy Walker used to say:

Just say what you see!”

Because it really is that simple. But don’t worry, just because people can’t pronounce your name doesn’t mean you’re forgettable, you can still make an impact. 

For example, you will be the best Brownie the girl guides could ask for. You have this need to help others and make a difference in a massive way and at the age of 10 being a Brownie will heighten that need by showing you that across the world some people don’t have food and water like you do. Some people are starving and cold and you will make a silent vow to find some way of helping them. You will start with writing to the Queen.

When you’re not trying to save the world you’ll make people laugh doing impressions of characters from Coronation Street, you’ll aspire to be a comedienne but you’re never sure if you’re funny enough.

People will trust you and you will be their go to girl for love and friendship advice even though you’re only 12 and know nothing about either subject except, you have a crush on Sylvester Stallone and you really really want to be best friends with the entire cast of Saved by the Bell. But please, don’t try and be a grown up. 

In the last year of primary school you will feel as if you know everything about everything, but when you get to high school you’ll realise you know absolutely nothing. When you leave home for university you’ll think you know it all, but remember you’re still only 18, you’re still a teenager. 

There’s no rush to add years on to your life and you need to remember this because at the age of 30 you’re gonna freak out big time because you’re a spinster living with your mum and nothing is about to change any time soon. In fact the greatest gift you could possibly receive would be the ability to turn back the clock, be a teenager again and do everything differently. But if you don’t try and grow up too fast and savour being 11, cherish being 18 and just enjoy being young, you won’t need to go back in time and change things. There are some things you just can’t change.

I hate to break it to you Kat but, you’ll never be popular. You’re a geek and a swot, you have no sense of fashion whatsoever and you’ll be bullied because of it. I’d like to tell you to just wear what everyone else is wearing because it would make life easier, but why should you? Later in life you’re exactly the same; you’re still a geek and you’re still dancing to a tune only you know the moves to so why change the way you dress just to satisfy other people? My advice, you don’t need to, so don’t.

Katerini the greatest gift the universe has for you is the alphabet. As soon as you learn how to use it you will become a writer. You’ll write your thoughts and dreams and feelings and you will create new worlds for new people to live in and your imagination will get lost in the stories that consume your mind because pretending to be in a different world is better than being in the real one.

When you’re 13 a grape is going to ruin you. I know you have this ritual of biting the top off and picking out the pips and then eating the rest, don’t worry, I get it, no one likes pips. But this time it’s different. You’re being watched as you do it. You don’t even want the damn grapes but you have to eat them because they’ve been paid for….

Who would have ever thought that eating a grape in this way would make you a waste of a person….

Those are the words that come from Dad’s mouth. What a waste of a person. And don’t for a second think that he doesn’t mean it because he does. You will never get over this and every time you eat a grape it will hurt. Sure, sometimes he’ll show affection and he might even say he loves you but he doesn’t mean it because you’ll never be what he wants you to be, you will never be good enough. But if there’s one thing you should do about this I’d say don’t go through life believing you are a waste of a person. Instead, remember there is only one of him and no matter what anyone says you can have a happier life without him in it. You can do this because you have your mum, you have your brother and you have the best grandparents going.

Grandad will share his love of film and he’ll make sure you never miss a single episode of Coronation Street and Emmerdale by sitting with a notebook on his knee and writing down everything that happens so he can read it to you over the phone the next day. And Grandma will share with you her passion for literature and when you’re in your 20’s you will hoard a collection of vintage Mills&Boon novels that she would be proud of.

These are the things that matter, these are the things that count.

Katerini throughout life you’re going to have to deal with a million difficult things but the biggest thing you will have to tackle is your brain, your mental health and your individually tailored version of your very own mental illness and no matter what it does to your perception or what anyone else says its not fashionable and its not the in thing to have and its definitely not a super power! The reality is it will try to kill you, on more than one occasion. 

When you’re 22 people will wonder if you will reach 23 because you’ll be admitted to a psychiatric ward and its touch and go if you will make it out. Here’s how it works on a Bolton K ward. The hospital bosses may have changed the names but to a patient a K ward is still a K ward. No one tells you what to do, no one tells you how it all works, where can you get a cuppa? What happens at meal times? No one explains anything. You’re locked on the ward like you’ve committed a crime and you can’t leave unless a psychiatrist grants permission and be warned, the majority of the staff don’t care and they won’t be afraid to show it, but at least try not to take it too personally, to them its just a job.

In hospital every patients condition is worse than the next and 90% of people will argue that they shouldn’t be there; and that goes for you too. You will feel confused, scared, misplaced, but the same thing will happen 6 times and in 2011 when you ask the best psychiatrist you’ve ever had if you really need to be in hospital you need to believe him because he’ll say:

Right now Katerini, this is the only safe place for you.”

Sounds harsh, but its true. And when he tells you to start learning about your illness and take some control, listen to him! Because if you do that the sooner you’ll realise that mental illness can happen to anyone and its not because you’re a waste of a person. 

Mental illness or no mental illness, you’re still gonna be different. You just can’t help it, its just you, but you know what? You will come to realise that different doesn’t have to be bad.

For example, your taste in music will always be the opposite of your friends. While they hang posters of Peter Andre and his 6 pack on their bedroom wall, you will go to bed wearing a diamond ring from a Christmas cracker and dream of marrying Crispian Mills and Simon Fowler because you will love indie music and loathe pop (although secretly you will have a soft spot for the Backstreet Boys but you’ll tell no one until you’re in your 30’s). 

You’ll hate famous labels and you will shop at C&A to prove a point that no one understands, not even you. However, at the age of 35 as you’re leaving the house for work you’ll notice you’re wearing a coat from GAP, a pair of Converse on your feet and a Cath Kidston Bag! You are literally covered in labels, only now, you don’t care.

In year 11 you’ll have to put together a record of achievement and you’ll feel as if you’ve achieved nothing in the 16 years you’ve been alive because people like Leanne Rimes had a number 1 album at 13, Natalie Portman won Best Actress for the film Leon when she was 14 and all three boys from Hanson were under the age of 18 when their first single “Mmm Bop” became one of the most annoyingly addictive anthems of the 90’s.

The truth is Kat, you’ll never win an award for best actress, because you can’t act and you’ll never have a number 1 album because you can’t sing. Your name isn’t Leanne Rimes or Natalie Portman and the sooner you accept that you’re Katerini it will make things a lot easier.

I won’t lie to you, life will always be hard. You’ll have to prove yourself to everyone, all the time and you’ll wonder if you’ll ever achieve anything worth talking about. But guess what…. you will, because you’ll become a speaker and you’ll win first prize in a competition for talking about drag queens for 8 whole minutes! Then you’ll tell hundreds of people all about yourself and even though you’ll never believe it’s a story worth telling, one day you will because you survived it! You survived the school bullies, the dictator parent, the judgemental friends and the constant day to day dealings with mental illness… you survived it all.

Katerini believe me when I say that one day you will be a strong and somewhat confident person, not because of the things you’ve been through but because of how you dealt with them. Only you can live your life Kat, we may not be able to stop any of the negative things from happening but mark my words, by the time you’re 36 you won’t believe the things you’ve achieved.

You’ll fall in love…. with Drag Queens, Josh Groban and Swans…

You’ll buy a house…

You’ll even get married…but not to Josh Groban…

Most important thing of all, you’ll be happy.

At the end of the day, the key to your happiness Kat, is self-acceptance. The day you stop hating yourself is the day the darkness lifts and the weight on your shoulders becomes that little bit lighter. 

Remember that you are not defined by the things you go through, you make your own definition and only you can do that. 

We may go through life being led to believe that we should work together as a team, but when it comes to ourselves only we can make the most of our lives. Sometimes doing things to please others just doesn’t work. 

There is no “I” in team… but there is definitely a “me”.