It’s difficult to put my mental health story into words, as like most people it’s simply too complex to translate into paragraphs on a page like this. I feel like I have to drop funny anecdotes between each paragraph for light relief but I won’t. It’s not hard for me to talk about it, I’m used to that now, but there’s still no beginning, middle or end with anxiety; it’s something that I’m still navigating and experiencing as my life changes from year to year. And I must admit that I still feel a little awkward about it. Having said that, I feel like I’m in a much better place than 12 years ago, so I thought, on World Mental Health Day, I’d share some of my story in case it resonates.
I first noticed something wasn’t right in my mid to late twenties. I’d be all smiles and chat with friends and family, then crying into my pillow at night. I felt a massive sense of guilt all the time for feeling sad when on paper, all was well. I had a job, loving family, good friends and an active social life. I didn’t understand why I felt sad when others had it far worse than me. So I pushed on, without ever asking for help, telling myself to be grateful for having a great job, family and a bright future ahead of me. But I didn’t feel right. So I focused on temporary pleasures; shopping, going on holiday, going to gigs, watching movies and then waking up Monday morning, to feel uneasy all over again.
Then the physical symptoms came; brain fog, shortness of breath, fatigue, heart palpitations, jelly legs, headaches, sweaty palms and IBS. It was these symptoms, and having almost daily panic attacks at this stage, that finally made me go to the doctors; about 2 years after first experiencing problems (this seems ridiculous to me now).
My GP signed me off work for six weeks with a diagnosis of generalised anxiety and panic disorder. I was given anti-depressant medication and sent to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. But still, even after the diagnosis, I felt I was a phoney. I had family members going through cancer and I felt guilty to even mention what I was going through because it didn’t feel worthy in comparison. So in truth, even after the diagnosis and ongoing treatment I still didn’t take my mental wellbeing seriously.
It wasn’t until my parents witnessed a panic attack in Leeds train station, that things began to change. It was all very dramatic looking back as they carried me through the busy train station foyer, but after this, they started to view my condition as an illness, which then made me think of it as an illness too.
Along with the CBT, medication and support from family, I felt I could begin to understand what was going on, and then make necessary changes in my lifestyle that might help. Personally, I recognised that my work and work/life balance was my biggest problem and which caused me the most obvious stress and anxiety. With luck, the company was having a restructure and although I felt guilty for others who didn’t want to, I took voluntary redundancy when it was offered.
During this time I had met my boyfriend and soon after we moved to Hebden Bridge, where I live to this day. My lifestyle had changed; home, work and relationships and therefore my mental health with it. Slowly, my physical symptoms lessened, and I decided to come off my medication. This was a little scary but it felt like a natural thing for me to do. I just made sure I was in contact with my GP and I was mindful of the changes this would mean to my body and mind. Thankfully, all was well.
Today, I can say I have much better mental health due to the treatment I received, the support from close family/friends and the lifestyle changes I made. I still have panic attacks and in social situations even a simply coffee with friends, can completely wipe me out for the rest of the day. These attacks (I never know what to call them), although still scary, now act as a reminder to slow down, and to be mindful of my general wellbeing; I’m only human and forget to look after myself sometimes.
There are definitely things in my life that help to prevent my anxiety escalating; walking Polly, Roller Derby, having a better work/life balance. But most of all it’s the understanding from others and myself that it’s OK when I don’t feel myself.
I’d like to write a post on the positive changes I made over the years, most of which happened organically but potentially could help you too. Would that be of interest?
Thank you for reading and feel free to share your story in the comments below.