Every day is a struggle. Forcing myself to eat, not sleeping without strong sleeping tablets to take the edge off, and even at that not sleeping the whole night, constantly shaking, heart racing, a tightness in my chest, hyperventilating, sweating, eye twitching, zero concentration, jumpiness, a heightened sense of awareness, sounds seem louder, sensations more intense, smells seem stronger, worrying about every little thing, sometimes unable to even leave the house, leave my bed, did I mention constantly shaking? In a constant state of panic. But at the same time I feel numb. Like an outsider watching my life unfold. If you had told me this time last year that this was how my life would turn out I probably would have laughed at you. I used to laugh a lot.
I am not ashamed to be going through this. The more people that I open up to about my anxiety, the more I realise I am not the only one. Studies say 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems at some point in their lifetime, in my experience already that number is higher, however maybe it is not a coincidence that all my confidants are young women in their mid-late 20’s. Or perhaps it is as simple as the fact that men are less likely to open up about these issues.
Four months now, four months that I’ve been ‘out’ about my anxiety to my friends and to family. But an awful lot longer since I realised that I couldn’t handle this ‘thing’ inside me on my own. Nine months since I first caved in and went to my GP to ask for help, I was confused leaving the surgery that day, she wasn’t my usual GP and I didn’t really feel like she understood what I was going through. I perceived her advice to be ‘just take it easy’ when I was in fact worried I was going crazy. I wasn’t even at my worst back then, but anxiety was slowly creeping into every aspect of my life, I needed more, and I knew it. So shortly after my disappointing appointment I started attending counselling, self-referred. It was talk therapy, but that honestly it didn’t help much either. In hindsight I think it was too much talking and not much of a practical solution. And so on I went, hiding my anxiety from others, trying to push it down in myself. It didn’t work.
It has been four months now since my world fell apart, since I fell apart. Over Christmas I let the anxiety take control.
I went back to my GP, my regular family doctor this time, she took one look at me and knew I needed help. How I wish it had been her all those months before. I was referred to a psychiatrist, and prescribed medication, how scary is that? I signed up to new counsellor, more of an anxiety specialist. We work on breathing, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) such as tapping, and random exercises that I would never have agreed to had I not been so desperate. Jumping up and down the room together like eejits, I would never have expected such a thing to even remotely help, but it did, a little at least. I also booked myself a place on AWARE’s free 6 week Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course. I wasn’t going down without a fight.
After a few weeks off work initially I managed to get back on the horse so to speak. Even now, months later, most of my colleagues don’t know apart from a few friends around the organisation and a close co-worker. Still putting on a brave face to the outside world, maybe they won’t notice the shaking if I keep my hands moving. Confidently chatting to a colleague about something work related, whilst still crumbling inside, keep moving my hands, keep breathing, they might not notice me shaking, struggling to breathe at a normal pace, maybe they will, maybe they do. Would that be such a bad thing? Fake it until you make it they say! At least now I can still find the courage to go to work every morning, well almost every morning. Keep trying to concentrate even though it is virtually impossible! Write down everything! Don’t forget anything! The GP had mentioned it might hurt my chances at promotion, to be ‘found out’, so is this it? Is this my life? Keep it under wraps so I can stand a chance of making something of myself? I’m not ready to settle yet, I’m 27, with 40 odd working years left in me surely my career has just begun.
On a more positive note I know how lucky I am to have the full support of my family and close friends, I can lean on quite a large number of people if and when I’m having a particularly bad day, and I do, and I’m glad to say that they can lean on me too. This ‘thing’ has brought me so much closer to my friends, in a sense I was afraid we were drifting apart a little, as lives, and loves, and work, and responsibilities took over. Gone were the days that we saw each other every weekend without question, schedules became more and more chock a block. In the last four months my friends have rallied around me, and around each other like I never expected. We speak almost every day, see random assortments of each other weekly, and nobody is afraid to say when they are having a bad day. In the same way mental health has brought some of us closer, it has also torn apart some close friendships. I hold no ill will on those who don’t/can’t understand how deeply mental health issues can effect somebody, I just hope that in their own future they don’t ever have to face such issues. It hurts to lose friends, but it’s better to let go, for now at least, then to have to deal with negativity and fighting.
Without the support of my family I might still be hiding away in bed all these months later. It is my parents who are providing me with the financial support required to see my GP regularly and counsellor every week. I have no idea how anyone battling such issues could do so without cold hard cash, I certainly couldn’t have done it alone, and it pains me to think about what would have happened if I didn’t have them.
Thankfully, with the access I have to services and the strong relationships I have I now have hope, hope that I’ll make it through whatever this bump in the road is, and hopefully it is just a bump. Some days my hands don’t shake as much, I have started to feel hungry again, some days my chest feels just that tiny bit looser. I had a nap for the first time in months, natural sleep! I felt elated when I woke up, maybe my body is still working underneath it all. I will keep fighting, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking of.
Looking to the future, I have started working on my physical health as well as my mental health, as it is shown that the two are closely intertwined. I have signed up to the A Lust for Life Ironmind Beginners Sprint Distance Triathlon, taking place 9th of July 2016. I am excited to have set myself such a monster challenge, however as someone who is almost allergic to exercise it is a big ask! I take comfort in the fact that it is a beginners triathlon, I will be competing with one of my best friends and also that it is run by an organisation that offer great support to people struggling with mental health issues like me. Plus if worst comes to worst maybe Bressie will rescue us from drowning! 😀
Before the anxiety took hold I was a happy, confident person. I had ups and downs, maybe feeling the downs a bit more so then most, but nothing that would have led me to worry about “mental health issues”, or for anyone to expect I had them. But then again what is so wrong with that? Reflecting on exactly what I have just said no wonder there is such a stigma around mental health in Ireland. ‘Us’ and ‘them’, well I am one of ‘them’. Maybe you are too and you just don’t know it yet?