'I thought I'd have taken my own life by the time I was 30, but now I wake up every day and want to be here... I'm so excited to be alive'
Belfast author Abby Williams tells Stephanie Bell how her mum's love and writing helped her overcome her mental health problems and drug addiction which was spiralling out of control
After 10 years of living through the torment of psychological problems, drug addiction and constant suicidal urges, Abby Williams is still amazed every day when she wakes up and feels happy to be alive.
In the past two years the 26-year-old has completely turned her life around in such a positive way that it still surprises and delights her in equal measure.
"To wake up now and to want to be here, I just can't get over that novelty and I think it'll always be a novelty," she says.
"I'm excited to be alive. I never expected to make it to this stage - I thought that I would have committed suicide before I was 30, without a doubt."
Resourceful, hard-working, talented and, above all, happy, Abby's life now as a busy writer could not be more different to the life she had known since her mid-teens.
She discovered writing while ill and is now a published author - her first novel was called Tripping - a regular writer and contributors' editor for Excalibur Press and part-owner of online publication BAM.
She also writes a hugely popular blog about her favourite TV programme, Game of Thrones, called #ThroneWatch.
Abby's story is all too common today. Her teenage years were overshadowed by a serious anxiety disorder that led her to seek an escape in drugs, which inevitably made life even more intolerable.
At 16 she suddenly developed a severe form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
She talks candidly about her illness and is currently writing a book about OCD, which she hopes will be a guide to understanding the condition.
Abby was born in England. She lost her father when she was eight, then her mum moved here to study at Queen's University, living at first in Donegal and then moving to Belfast 11 years ago.
She is one of six children and enjoys a close relationship with her mother, whose support played a big part in her recovery from illness and drug addiction.
Abby is keen to point out that OCD is more common among young people than most realise. She struggled with the condition for two years before it was eventually diagnosed. "People think of OCD as having to organise things, but mine was pure obsessional OCD," she explains.
"It is something that happens inside the mind, rather than having outward compulsions. These huge obsessions took over my life.
"My fears were mainly about someone close to me being hurt, or being hurt myself, or getting into trouble and hurting someone I love.
"They were completely irrational, untrue and the worst kind of fears that your brain tells you are true even though, on a rational level, you know that they aren't.
"At one stage I was convinced that I had committed a terrible crime, but I couldn't remember it and I did know rationally that it wasn't true."
Abbey was studying for her A-levels when the condition came on very suddenly and severely.
"I had to leave school," she says. "I wanted to go to university, but I couldn't because I was such a mess and couldn't leave the house.
"It was 24 hours a day and the fear just goes over and over and over in your head. I would even do it in my sleep and I had constant suicidal thoughts."
The first of a number of admissions to a psychiatric ward happened when she was 18.
Living with her obsessive thoughts left Abby unable to cope with being on her own, so she decided to seek out the company of friends.
She started to party and dabble in drugs, often using ecstasy and cocaine.
"I was doing it pretty much every day," Abby says. "I got to the stage where I would have taken anything.
"In my early 20s I didn't see it as being anything unusual that I was sitting by myself taking cocaine."
During this time, Abby had numerous hospital admissions. The turning point came during her last admission around two years ago, when she reached an all-time low.
She recalls: "I was 24 and I remember thinking I never wanted to go that low again.
"It was the worst I had ever been and I spent two months in hospital.
"Then I realised I couldn't take it physically or emotionally anymore.
"I went to London to stay with a family friend for nine months and saw doctors there and got a bit of perspective.
"My OCD was getting better and I got to the point when I realised I was happy without drugs and didn't need them as much. Rather than go into rehab, it just tapered off.
"When I was ill I really hated myself and thought I was a bad person. I wanted to hurt myself and I attempted to take my own life many times. It was a horrible nightmare."
Despite the despair, Abby found a growing realisation that she was happy and no longer wanted to hurt herself.
It was around this time she started to write her novel.
While she never intended it to become a published book, Abby worked on it as a way to express some of the experiences she had been through.
The novel tells the story of three disillusioned teenage friends who during their summer break decide to experiment with drugs. Then they face up to the consequences.
Abby also penned a number of articles on OCD and suicide for a magazine, which is when interest was shown in publishing her novel.
As well as seeing her book in print, she became joint owner of BAM as well as its contributors' editor.
"It just snowballed and now I manage everything to do with the online magazine," Abby says.
"I love it and there are not many people who get to say they do what they love every day.
"The feedback I've had from the book has been really positive.
"It sounds strange, but you don't think of people actually reading it, and it's very hard putting yourself out there where you are open to criticism.
"It is my first book and it's not perfect. There are a lot of things in it I would edit, but it has been great to get so many messages from people saying they really relate to it."
Abby hopes to write a sequel, but is currently working on a non-fiction book on OCD that she plans to complete by the end of the year.
She intends it to be a practical book looking at how to manage and understand the condition.
Her own experience has taught her a lot and she has a positive message for anyone struggling with drug addiction or mental health issues.
"In my teens I had a bit of anxiety - like all teenagers do - but I thought mental health problems happened to other people," Abby says.
"It still chokes me. At school I was the goody-two-shoes and if anyone had told me I would end up taking cocaine and being in and out of a mental hospital I would never have believed them. So many people suffer from anxiety disorders - it is so common these days. The reason I got through it is that I talked a lot about it.
"I was a talker and I wouldn't have lasted if I hadn't spoken to my mum and the doctor and told them everything that was going on in my mind, even though I was mortified.
"I remember the doctor saying he had someone in the week before with the same obsessions and I was shocked because I thought I was the only one.
"It is so important to talk about it and read up on how your brain works.
"Learning how my mind works and why I was having these habits really helped me."
Apart from her own determination, Abby is clear about what helped her overcome the illness that had her in its grip.
"To to be loved unconditionally, that's what got me through," she says. "It was knowing there was someone there who was not going to abandon me.
"Meditation and Buddhism has been life-changing, and I also had cognitive behavioural therapy when I came back from London.
"It's helped me not take life so seriously and has given me a buffer between myself and all the everyday rubbish."
Her advice to others in her place is: "There is hope. You can be in a very dark place and come back. People do it a lot."
Tripping by Abby Williams is in ebook and print from amazon.co.uk and excaliburpress.co.uk/store/products