World Mental Health Day | Guest Post
Today is World Mental Health Day. A good friend reached out to me today and asked if I would share her story. She wants to do it anonymously. She doesn’t want to make a fuss, but she hopes her story might resonate with some of you. The message from her, and me – you’re not alone.
Thanks so much for sharing.
World Mental Health Day
I have been told to toughen up. I have been accused of attention-seeking behaviour. It has been suggested that I should have grown out of this by now. I have been treated like an inconvenience. By family. By friends. By colleagues. Exactly none of this is helpful. I don’t need anyone else to make me feel bad. I feel quite bad enough about myself as it is.
And here we are. 2016. We are as enlightened and educated as we have ever been. Our advances in technology, in medicine, in the frontiers of progress are astounding. Yet, in Dundee, today… I am feeling very uncomfortable about sharing my story. I am worried about judgement, gossip, tutting, eye-rolling, speculation from people I would define as close. That I would dare to share my experiences about my mental health. No one wants to hear it. It’s self-pity. It’s depressing. Stop sharing this crap and while you’re at it – no one cares about politics, equality, social justice and your petty work accomplishments you bloody diva. So why do it? Because it might just help one person see that they are not isolated in feeling low when on paper it looks like they have everything going for them.
I will start my mental health story in the final year of university. A decade ago now. The first time I had felt so low that I decided to find a professional to talk to. I was irrational, irritable, tearful, fearful and prone to a panic attack. That was the first time I was prescribed Citalopram and spoke to a counsellor. Counselling was such a helpful experience for me. Talking therapy. Not that I didn’t have anyone to talk to. My mum was always at the end of a phone. My flatmate and best friend was the most kind and caring person I have ever met. But an impartial person who knows what to listen for and what to tease out is so valuable and counsellors have an uncanny ability to calm you down. What caused this deterioration in mood? Well the triggers were the study stresses of final year, the realisation that I had no plan for after graduation and the changing landscape of relationships amongst my friends. Of course, that wasn’t what it was about… that’s never what it’s really about… it’s always something deeper. Probably something that you can’t even identify or remember easily.
Over the next decade there would be ups and downs… time on anxiety medication and time off. Diagnoses of generalised anxiety, depression, low mood and low self-esteem. Work, more often than not, triggered these episodes. I have dealt with some difficult behaviours and toxic environments. They are all just stories in that big book of experience called life now but at the time they were debilitating. At the same time, I was happy. I have a wide circle of friends. I have travelled well and often. I have worked hard and done interesting things. I saw my family grow and develop. I met my husband and meandered our path of affection, friendship, love and marriage. I have good physical health and everything to live for. Still, at low moments. When I can’t get the coping mechanisms to click. I simply don’t want to be here anymore. I have counted pills. I have driven off to forests. I have stood looking at steep drops. It’s blind panic. At each time I have been lucky enough to have found help. Often my husband or Mum. But I can assure you at no time did I want attention. I wanted the panic to end.
Do I know what causes this? Well thanks to counsellors, cognitive behaviour therapists, a cognitive hypnotherapist and mental health nurses, I have a much better idea. It’s all standard textbook when you look at a potted history of events in my family history. That’s not to say anyone is to blame, I never experienced anything but love from my parents. I did not experience anything traumatic. But certain events have taught me to fear abandonment and I experience perfectionism. That’s not to say I think I’m perfect. Just that I have an unhealthy desire to strive for perfect and react very badly when I don’t achieve what is pretty ridiculous standards. The head in my story is this, if I am not perfect, I will not be loved, I will be alone. That’s nonsense in the light of day. But it’s the black dog lurking and ready to pounce when I am low.
So what do I do about all this? The good news is that the panic attacks happen less often now. I can spot them approaching. I have techniques to deal with them when they do occur. I recover more quickly. Panic attacks for me are spiralling emotions, out-of-control thoughts and tearfulness. I tend not to get out of breath and I don’t often shake. I let someone know when they are happening too. I had one this weekend. Even though I was enjoying myself and doing fun things for a large part of it.
How does this help anyone? It might not. I might just feel a bit embarrassed in a few days. Some people might look at me differently. They might see weakness. But maybe, someone has read this and identified with some of it. They might reach out and talk to a loved one. What they have put down to stress or tiredness they will see could be the start of a more serious problem. If one person feels less alone. If one person makes a call and asks for help. If one person sees things in a friend, relative or colleague and offers to take them for a coffee. Then it has been worth it to feel a bit uncomfortable.
When it has been too much for either my husband or I to cope with we have called NHS 24 who were very helpful at calming the situation until I could talk to my GP or mental health professional. Their number is 111.
A list of other organisations can be found here: NHS Mental Health Helplines.