‘No one knew I was ill. I ended up in hospital after jumping off a balcony’
Aged 19, Rachel Edwards jumped 50ft from a fourth floor balcony in London believing that she could fly.
Five years on and aged 24, she has only now been able to talk about the incident in the form of a blog that she hopes will help break the stigma surrounding mental health problems.
When she had the fall Rachel, of Stradbroke, had undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
Five months in hospital followed. She was told she was paralysed, and would never walk again.
But fast forward to 2015, and things are more positive; she is hoping to move into an adapted home in the local area, and, having lived in chronic neuropathic pain since her accident, she hopes to soon have a spinal cord stimulation operation on her back which will make life more comfortable. She says she will always use a wheelchair, but is “very happy”.
Having first written at the start of this month, her blog has so far attracted nearly 4,000 views from all around the world. She hopes it will also raise awareness of spinal injury.
Rachel admits it was difficult to put the words of her story onto the internet, but says it has helped her.
“I was watching This Morning and they were having a mental health awareness day and it just got me thinking,” she said.
“No one around here knew the real reason behind my accident and there were so many rumours going around that I thought I’ll just write a blog, and everyone can read it.
“But I was really scared because of the stigma that surrounds mental health and the main reason I wanted to do it was to raise awareness of mental health. So far, it has done that amazingly.
“I have had people messaging me from all around the world.
“I have had comments from people who have spinal injuries saying they felt so much comfort in reading it and they hope one day they will get to where I am physically and mentally.
“It really helped me (writing the blog). It was kind of like therapy. I’ve had counselling before, but nothing was as good as me writing it down and going over it in my head.
“That’s why I wanted to spread awareness about mental health because it can literally lead to devastation.”
Born in London, Rachel moved to her home in Stradbroke in 1997, studying at Stradbroke High School and then Thomas Mills Sixth Form in Framlingham.
She had completed a foundation art course at Suffolk New College, and had subsequently started a course in illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, but was forced to drop out because of the pain shortly before starting her third year.
Rachel’s life-changing incident happened on November 17, 2009, following a week-long trip away with college.
“The week leading up to it, I just wasn’t myself,” said Rachel, who worked as a lifeguard and at a care home before her accident.
“No one knew what was wrong and it just ended in me jumping, because I was so delusional. No one knew I had bipolar.
“I spent all the money in my bank account, which is a trait of bipolar when you are manic, I would do very embarrassing things, think I was invincible and think I was someone special in the world.
“I couldn’t stop crying because I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
“I remember jumping. But I can’t remember falling or landing. I can just remember one moment in the ambulance where I was screaming ‘I don’t want to die’.”
She had crushed her L3 vertebra in her lower back.
“I was still ill while I was in hospital because it does not fade quickly, it can last months.
“I would say it lasted two months for me.
“Once I had come out of that stage it hit me what I had done to myself. Before, I wasn’t in reality at all, so I didn’t know what was going on.”
Rachel was also dealing with religious-mania as a result of her bipolar. She thought she was the next coming of Jesus Christ. She would sing in the hospital loudly to the music from her headphones, believing it would heal others being treated there.
In February 2010 came “the worst moment” of her life – being told she would never walk again.
“Originally, I thought I was going to rehab to learn how to walk again.
“But when I got there, it was just to learn to how to adapt to life in a wheelchair.
“That was just devastating when they told me that.”
Rachel went to Fit Club in Diss three times a week as she fought back after leaving hospital in April 2010 – praising the staff there as “incredible”.
At around Christmas time of that year, Rachel, who was walking with crutches, was told she would never be able to walk without them again.
Shortly after Christmas 2010, she took two unaided steps for the first time: “I couldn’t believe it. When it was happening I was just like: ‘Oh my god!’.
Another huge milestone in her recovery came in May 2011, at the three-mile Race for Life held in Norwich. She had taken part in the previous year’s event in her wheelchair.
“I was just thinking I would walk a bit (on crutches), sit down, walk a bit,” she said.
“But I just thought once I got to the halfway point ‘I can finish this.’ It was the best thing ever.
“There is so much to write about. I think the next one I will write is about the support I have had from family and friends, because that has been amazing.”
Rachel hopes she can use her experience to help others in the future, by becoming a peer support worker.
“I am going to Recovery College which is basically for people with mental health problems and you learn about your own mental health, and then you learn how to help other people,” she explained.
“I will go around and help others basically. That’s want I really want to do.”
n To read Rachel’s blog, visit www.rachelholly90.wordpress.com