As an adult I have always been aware of my own mental health. I think it's really important (if you feel comfortable) to talk about it. It reduces your own shame and the shaming we still contend with in our society. It educates others and i'm damn certain it will strike a chord with someone else struggling with their own mental health troubles.
I fully appreciate that sharing is not for everyone - just like we probably don't all go around gobbing off about our IBS Symptoms (well some of us do 😉 ) .... but if it feels good to share we should. And if it feels good just to read about other people's experiences then that's great too. Any conversation is one step closer to reducing the stigmas, ignorance and dismissive attitudes.
So here's my Mental Health History for anyone that's interested.
At Uni I got into a toxic relationship with someone that (in hindsight - oh that beautiful thing) had many of hisown mental health issues as a result of his childhood / upbringing and I also believe, straight up narcissism. We fell out the first night we got together, it seems that quite extreme alarm
bell wasn't enough to make me think about dodging the bullet or better still ghosting this chap. Oh no. There I stayed (on and off but mostly on) for a further 5 years. It actually hurts my heart to think about my emotional wellbeing over those 5 years. I was bullied, I was gaslit. It slowly but surely eroded my mental health. I lost my confidence and I was pretty depressed. I eventually found the strength to end the relationship but a very messy breakup sent me into a horrible and painful depression / trauma recovery. I was broken. I still have nightmares about this relationship. 12 years on.
I was having terrible physical symptoms as well as mental. I was suffering with awful migraines - and I was grinding my teeth to shreds. I was referred by a Chiropractor to a psychotherapist. I had always been open minded about therapy, or so I thought. Until I was in it and found myself not really sharing the fact with many people.
The psychotherapist was quite cold and at first I didn't like her. But I soon realised she was going for the firm but fair tactic - which worked for me. She also prescribed me a whole load of homeopathic tinctures (like Rescue Remedy but a bespoke blend just for me.) I'm from Glastonbury so I was all over that shit. I found myself scrambling around my flat at the time shouting at my new boyfriend.. 'where's my remedies, I need my remedies'.
I felt like a bit of a zombie most days. Numb and a bit disconnected from the world. I started a new job and I felt like they met about a quarter of the old / real me. The transactional part with no personality or sense of humour.
Seeing the psychotherapist really helped with seeing the relationship for what it was, which in turn helped me recover.
BUT THE DAMAGE WAS DONE.
I feel like at that point a weakness formed (like a broken ankle or wrist that is never truly as strong as it was before the break). I felt like scar tissue grew in my brain and I was constantly walking a tight rope of falling and spiraling back to 'that place in my head'. Things that previously I had resilience to were now triggering and all encompassing. I felt angry. I had moved on from the relationship, I had done therapy, I had put in hard work but I was left with scars that wouldn't heal properly. It felt so unfair. I wanted to go back to 17 year old me.. that happy go lucky girl that didn't feel like a grey cloud followed her around.
Life moved on and days got brighter. My next episode of poor mental health was when I got burn out and stress in a job that I was completely devoted to. The stress came from people issues in the company and as part of the management team, I see now that I just wasn't equipped to deal with them. I started seeing a counsellor. It helped, in a ... i'm not sure how but it just did kind of way.. which seems to be a how a lot of people describe talking therapies. You just have to kind of trust the process if it feels right.
She wanted to explore my whole life, and while to start with that annoyed me a bit.. I was a happy kid but i'm unhappy right now so can we just focus on the problem at hand please Doc! However, it was truly eye opening to understand patterns of thoughts and behaviours from childhood. One of the things I used to do A LOT when I wasn't feeling okay was to constantly think about people closest to me dying. I would fantasize about the whole scenario, what I would do and say, the funerals, the funeral songs everything. It was totally exhausting. And I would have similar dreams too.
Things got better for a short time, but sadly not for long enough and I found myself one morning having pulled into my car parking space at work totally paralysed. I couldn't go into the office, my body and my brain just started shutting down. I think a friend came and got me and walked me into the building where I had a panic attack. Soon after I handed in my notice.
Next up - pre and post natal fun and games.
While I was pregnant with my first daughter I was on a total rollercoaster of feeling both unbelievably content yet deeply sad. When I had my daughter I had a traumatic time in labour and after. I was really poorly and it was a horrible introduction to motherhood. What should have been one of the best days of my life was actually the worst. I felt like I had been in a car crash, I felt like I was dying and nobody really cared. I struggled with every feeling and emotion under the sun. I had PTSD and probably PND. I felt like I was living someone else's life - that feeling of total disconnect surrounded me once again. Those were really dark days. But when you have a baby you have to power on through (or so you think you do as a brand new Mum). I had so much anger and bitterness towards my husband for breezing into parenthood and seemingly enjoying every single second of it - while still maintaining some resemblance of his former life. I had nightmares, night sweats, phantom pain and flashbacks for a really long time. If anything to do with labour / hospitals came on TV I got clammy and my chest went tight.
After 18 months ..18 MONTHS I finally went to CBT. It was brilliant. It was a practical solution to trauma and behaviour patterns (you get homework, you have to put the effort in for it to work). I didn't want to talk about the time I felt lonely at school in Reception class - I wanted to be able to move on from this recent traumatic event and change to my life.. and start feeling lighter and happier again. It helped with the trauma and with dealing with my big feelings on the daily but really I felt like I was just now a semi negative and miserable person and that was my lot. I still dreamed of that 17 year old. Giving no shits and laughing till she couldn't breathe.
That scar tissue was very much still there. Life stuff happened to our family. Job losses, awful new bosses, my husband having a breakdown (he had previously NEVER had an iota of mental health troubles - let that be a lesson - that's a story for a whole other day, don't mess with Crypto Currency kids).
I felt like I was just surviving not living all the time. I felt like I just wanted to take a pill to make me feel better, like ibuprofen does for your body. But I had an underlying fear of antidepressants. I never thought things were 'bad enough' to need to take medication. I felt like I wanted a semi serious accident to happen like being hit by a car that injures me enough to put me in hospital for a while so I could totally switch off from life. Things always passed eventually.
I was now experiencing more anxiety than depression. Every so often when work got tough, or life got really busy I would get 'the overwhelm'. My brain would spin out of control, pressure rising, 50 tabs open all at once and it would crash, leaving me unable to think clearly. My head and thoughts a complete blurry mess. I would be rendered speechless at work. I couldn't string my words together, my sentences would come out jumbled. Physically my head would get boiling hot and feel like an electric current was passing through it. I really thought I may have a brain tumour. I convinced myself that my boss hated me for no reason. That I was annoying everyone around me.
It took 4.5 years to be ready to have another baby. At my 8 week booking in appointment I had felt something brewing all day. I sat down. The midwife said, is this your second baby? And I proceeded to sob for 45 minutes. All those feelings I had managed to put in a box for 4 years were cascading out. I got put under the care of the maternal mental health team who kept an eye on me throughout the pregnancy. I had a meltdown at every appointment. I chose to have an elective C section, I needed to take the control. The mental health team had fixed everything up for me, a specific team, a specific day, first on the list so no waiting, a private room, my husband allowed to stay with me as long as I needed. I was feeling prepared and reassured. AND THEN COVID ARRIVED!
Everything went out the window. I had planned this pregnancy so my daughter was at school, I felt no shame in saying I was not okay with being at home all day with two small young kids. AND THEN THE SCHOOLS CLOSED. And I just lost it. I only had memories of a sad maternity leave and so I was kind of assuming i'd feel the same this time round. The reason why I started a business, was to have something to keep me going and focused during the long days with a baby.
My second birthing experience was brilliant. It re-wrote the terrible memories, it was healing, I was on a high. I just couldn't believe how different I felt. But returning home, doubled over after major abdominal surgery, trying to home school and get my head around a new world in a global pandemic I could feel the wobbles creeping in. I was on the edge of tears constantly 3 weeks in and this time I was like y'know what...
I AM NOT LIVING LIKE THIS ANY LONGER.
It's been 12 years.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
I called the doctor. She was amazing. She said, would you like to discuss medication? and I said DAMN RIGHT DOC I want to discuss medication. Give me allllll the happy pills.
She did. A really low dose. They say it takes weeks for them to kick in and you feel worse before you feel better. I felt better after two days. Was it in my head because I had finally stopped battling and asked for help? Who knows, and who cares. Life was better. For my family and for me, something had to change and it had.
6 months on, I haven't felt so positive, balanced and resilient in over 12 years. 12 f*cking years!
Don't suffer friends. Please don't.