Today is Time to Talk day here in the UK. It’s part of the Time to Change campaign which aims to end the stigma around talking about and dealing with mental health issues. As such I’ve taken a pretty big decision to share my own mental health struggle here. I’ve nearly written this post many times though I realise this isn’t very crafty so feel free to move on 🙂
I want to share my story not for attention or sympathy but to let others know that they’re not alone. I’d like to think that sharing my story won’t affect how people see me though I’m prepared for that consequence (hint: I don’t care). My main motivation is that I hope someone, somewhere will read this and know that things can get better, that seeking help for a mental health problem does not make you weak or mean you have failed in some way, and though it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do I see it as courageous.
Having the strength to tell a total stranger that you’re not ok and you don’t know what to do to make yourself better is clearly not a sign of weakness. For me, it helped that my GP is literally the nicest person on earth. Despite that, I still sat in the waiting room with palpitations and sweaty palms convinced that she’d laugh me out of the room. That she’d tell me that everyone feels like that sometimes and I should just pull myself together.
I’d prepared myself by making a list of the things I was feeling in case my mind went blank once I was presented with the opportunity to ask for help.
That list included but was not limited to the following things:
- Trouble falling asleep (never before 2 am no matter what time I went to bed)
- No motivation to do anything
- A heavy weight on my chest at all times
- Panic attacks
- Days where everything and everyone was so irritating to me that I wanted to lock myself in a room alone and cry
- Mood swings between laughing and crying, happy and angry
I felt most of these things to a degree on a daily basis for over 12 months before the stress of everyday life made me reach the point where getting out of bed each day was not just a struggle but was essentially impossible. I felt like I was underwater and watching my life through a TV screen (you know those underwater TVs…)
I simultaneously didn’t care about anything whilst being incredibly upset by pretty much everything. At this stage panic attacks were not only a possibility but happened several times a day. The tightness in my chest was a permanent feature. When I did eventually get some sleep each night it was dreamless; my body stayed rigidly in one position with my hands and teeth clenched so hard I’d wake up with tension headaches most mornings. I woke up more exhausted than when I’d gone to sleep every morning for 3 months and then I made a Dr’s appointment.
My GP listened to me while I described my symptoms and agreed that I shouldn’t be feeling the way I did. She referred me to Talking Space here in Oxfordshire. This involved an initial telephone assessment which I dreaded and put off because I was so controlled by my anxiety that I couldn’t imagine that they would consider my problems important enough to require their time and effort. I found the courage to do it and was told that based on the online questionnaire I had completed and my scores for the same questions they asked over the phone on the day, that I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I was given an appointment to speak to my local counsellor for a face to face appointment so that I could meet her and told that we’d then have fortnightly counselling sessions by phone. The relief I felt to be told that I wasn’t imagining how I felt and that someone could help me is difficult to describe. It was like suddenly being able to see the shore close by when you thought you’d been swept out to sea.
Over the course of the last 4 months I’ve been able to implement techniques and tools to control my anxiety and depression. With support from Natasha at Talking Space I’ve now reached the stage where I am in recovery for both anxiety and depression (my score for anxiety has gone from an 18 to a 2 & my score for depression has gone from an 18 to a 7).
That’s not to say that I don’t still have days where I feel stressed or irritable but I now know how to deal with constant worrying and negative thinking. I’ve learnt to recognise those patterns of thought or behaviours that act as warning signs to me that I need to take some time for myself and work through whatever is bothering me. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt to do is to recognise when something I’m worrying about is beyond my control and shut those thoughts down before I get worked up about it. Once I got my worrying under control I found that sleep came more easily, even though I wouldn’t have said that the reason I wasn’t able to sleep was caused by worrying on a conscious level. It was more that I couldn’t relax enough to let myself sleep. Once I was finally getting some sleep I found that I wasn’t so tearful and my energy and motivation began to creep back up.
The thing I’ve struggled the most with is talking about it, even with people I’m close with. I found it particularly hard to tell my mum as I know she’s quite skeptical about mental health issues. She listened to me and asked me to describe what a panic attack felt like. She admitted that she hadn’t ever experienced what I was going through but tried her best to be understanding. And I noticed something, for every person I told, no matter their reaction, the less I felt like I was burdened by this great big secret. Sharing really did help and actually prompted a lot of people that I considered to be the pinnacle of strength and mental wellness to share their own struggles. My friendships are definitely stronger for having shared what I was dealing with and receiving kindness and support in return.
So that’s my story, I’m still working on improving my mental health every day, like lots of things it takes practice and I will have good days and bad days but I know I can handle those bad days now. If you are struggling with feeling stressed, angry or any of the other symptoms of depression or anxiety I would urge you to speak to your GP. It can get better with help and support; you can feel better.
A note on anti-depressants: I have reached recovery for both of my conditions without the use of anti-depressants, though that is no reflection on those people who find them a useful tool in their own battle with mental health issues. Treatment is very personal to each person and I personally didn’t want to take drugs until I’d tried other options. Had I continued to struggle I would have been more than happy to give them a chance.
For help and more information please see the links below:
Time to Change
Samaritans (did you know you can email Samaritans if you hate talking on the phone?)