In last week’s post, I reviewed a few of my favourite self help and lifestyle books in support of mental health awareness month. I’ve been reading books in this genre for years and years in an attempt to better understand my own mental health problems. I even spent a couple of years studying a degree in psychology as I very much believe that knowledge is power! Among other things, I suffer with bad health anxiety and when the coronavirus outbreak started in China, I made it my mission to try and learn as much as I could about the virus as this actually makes me feel calmer and more in control. It’s a bit of fear of the unknown. I know that there is a huge amount of the world that suffers with mental health issues so I most likely won’t be alone with any of this, but I thought it was a good time to open up the conversation about mental health because even now it’s still not talked about enough. There’s still stigma attached to it and I still get treated as though there’s nothing wrong with me or I’m making it up, because it’s not an illness you can see so people assume it’s not there.
I’ve suffered from bad mental health for a long time but it got really bad when I was about 18 to 22. I’ve had depression that has pushed me to some very dark places and anxiety so bad I thought it would kill me. I’m very grateful that my depression is (I would say) under control and although I still have some down days as everyone would, I can pull myself around from it now which I never could in the past. However, my anxiety is still affecting me every single day. On my Instagram and Twitter accounts, my bio states that “I’m anxious about everything, but we’ll work on that.” As much as it sounds like a light hearted joke, I genuinely am anxious about everything. Because of my anxiety, I sometimes get angry and shout for no reason, I have control issues, I have rituals that I have to follow with certain situations, among other things. It has a complete hold on my life and I’m struggling to get it to let go.
I’m very open about my mental health. If anyone asks me about it, I’ll talk. People applaud this as it’s not an easy thing to do but the reason I do it is to help. I will try to help people whenever I can and I feel that if one person feels comforted or less alone to know my story, then I am more than happy to share it. As I mentioned earlier, millions of people around the world suffer with mental health conditions but it is possibly one of the loneliest things to experience. I want to share my story with you, and then explain a little bit about why I’ve decided to write this post.
When I was younger, I was very shy. I was so shy I couldn’t give anyone eye contact if I was talking to them or them to me. Because I was so shy, I found it hard to make friends and fit in, and to be honest, I still do. I was bullied and only had two or three friends throughout my whole childhood, one of which is still my closet friend today. As I got a bit older, I found my confidence when I went to college and met a group of people that I fit in with. It was amazing! I got my first part time job which just helped to grow my confidence and I could finally look people in the eye when I was talking to them and even felt alright to speak in front of a small group of people.
However, my mental health started to noticeably deteriorate when I was around 18 and I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship that I couldn’t get out of. I was in this situation for around 4 years, and it ruined me. I lost every scrap of confidence I had built, had no interest in doing anything, I lost myself completely and I just hated the person I had become. As well as this, I lost any friends I had made from my college days so I felt completely and utterly alone. I was scared to go out or to talk to new people again and I couldn’t see how it was ever going to get better. My life had become so dark that I couldn’t see any way out. But one day, something inside me snapped and I just walked away from the relationship and vowed that I would rebuild myself and my life. I am so lucky that I was able to do this and I understand that not everyone is so lucky.
I started to devour information about mental health, lifestyle and self help and tried so many things to try and get my mind back to it’s former glory. Slowly but surely, I managed to bring myself back from rock bottom. This was with the help of my family, few friends, doctor and counselling. I spent around two years on antidepressants and had a few blocks of counselling sessions which helped me to understand my mind a lot better. The thing with taking antidepressants is that they don’t take your problems away, or make things better, they just make you feel numb to it for a while and when I decided to stop taking them (under the guidance of my doctor) it was really difficult and I felt like I was going back to square one. However, after some time, things started to feel brighter and once they were completely out of my system, I was able to use the things I learned from my counselling and my own research to build myself up again.
Typing my story like this doesn’t get across the difficulties I faced during this time in my life. I spent days in bed, didn’t eat or sleep much, cried more that I thought I ever could, cried to the point where I couldn’t cry any more and just felt numb, and so much more. Because of the relationship I had become isolated apart from a few people in my life and to this day, I still don’t have a lot of friends. But I truly value the ones I have and I try to make sure they know how much I do. I’ve become a better judge of character and I’m no longer afraid to walk away from something if it doesn’t make me feel good. Looking back on that time in my life, I wouldn’t change it because it’s made me who I am today. Something that did help me completely come to terms with it was writing a letter to my teenage self. You can read it here.
I know that my depression and anxiety will never completely go away, and I’m alright knowing that they’ll always be a part of me. Today I can manage my depression and it doesn’t affect my day to day life at all compared to how it used to. I’m still working on my anxiety. And that brings me onto the reason why I wanted to write this blog post. At the time this is published, I will have been socially isolated for 9 weeks. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have asthma so am classed as clinically vulnerable. The only times I leave the house is to collect shopping from click and collect services and to walk our dog. However, just these two activities fill me with dread and panic. As the pandemic has been growing, so has my anxiety and my control issues have increased. My cleaning has become more intense and frequent (read here how I handle my food shopping) and I have to be the one to do it so I know that it has been done and how it has been done. I know how I can keep myself calmer and I have been trying meditation which has helped a small amount. However, this is what I feel when I think about the future:
When the pandemic is over, lock down restrictions are gone and life returns to some sort of normal…I’m scared to go to a supermarket. I can’t think about being in a busy public place without panicking. Eating out in a restaurant makes my stomach turn. But worst of all, I can’t begin to think how I’m going to hug my family again without being scared that I’m going to make them ill or they are going to make me ill. Health anxiety is crippling and I constantly scared that I have caught something when in fact, I’m more than OK. It’s easy enough to say, just stop worrying, or just go outside or stop watching the news but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. I watch the news so I’m up to date and it does make me feel better. If I could just stop worrying or go outside, I would have done that. I don’t know yet how I’m going to get my anxiety under control but I’m not yet at the stage where I want to ask for help. But trust me, if I get there I will.
There is no shame in having mental health problems and needing help, we all need help sometimes. I’m hoping that by sharing my story, it will encourage others to do the same and the conversation about mental health will become more normal and less uncomfortable. Please comment or get in touch if you want to share or even open up to a friend or a loved one. Even though it might feel like it, you’re not alone.