Mental Health Awareness
This is a tough one, Although I really want to post this, I’ve put off writing it for days simply because I just don’t know where to begin! It’s a long post but it would mean a lot to me for you to stick with it to the end!
I’ve always felt the need to hide my troubles with anxiety and panic attacks, partly because I just didn’t know how to explain it, partly because I felt people wouldn’t understand, mostly because I was scared of what people would think!
Research shows that 1 in 4 people will need professional help for mental health troubles at some point in their life, it affects thousands of people and therefore, even if you haven’t personally experienced it, chances are someone you know, whether it’s a family member, friend, work colleague etc. would have gone through and possibly still be facing mental health challenges. So why is there still such a stigma attached to mental health problems?
I’ve been so inspired by the Heads together campaign headed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Heads Together along with other inspirational charities are tackling the stigma attached to mental health, raising much needed awareness and helping people to feel more comfortable opening up about their mental health and helping them to get the help they need.
Anxiety hit me in my early teens, I’d been through a tough time and often thought that maybe that was a trigger but to be honest I think it had been there for a while before.
I remember my first panic attack. I had no idea that’s what it was at the time and It seemed to happen so very suddenly, however as I mentioned above, looking back now I can see how the anxiety was building up to that point for months. It was night time, I was in bed, every time I moved my head the room span, I just couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs, my heart was pounding, I couldn’t control my breathing and I was terrified! I had no idea what was happening to me, I thought I was dying!
Before it started, although I’ve never been an overly outgoing person, I was sociable, had a good group of friends and loved to be out! After that first panic attack things worsened, anxiety consumed me, I was having multiple panic attacks daily and I didn’t tell anyone.
I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me and I couldn’t bare to worry my parents. However back then by that point, it was harder for me to hide it! It was all too much, I stopped going to school, I avoided my friends and locked myself away as much as I could. I lost my confidence, I lost my friends, I lost myself and of course that’s when it was obvious to my Mum and Dad that something was wrong.
I couldn’t hide it from them anymore and I completely broke down, it all came pouring out and I cannot put into words the relief that came when my mother held me and told me that I was going to be okay, that she understood, and she did because she’d gone through it too.
What followed seemed like endless doctors appointments, counselling sessions and meetings with my school head of year, when the school was informed of my struggles I ended up in isolation! The same place you’re put to be punished! I know they did it with the best intentions but to be honest I just don’t think they really knew how to deal with it! I was told to go back to classes when I felt ready, I never felt ready… but I didn’t see how it was going to help being isolated even more so I reluctantly returned eventually, those last months at school were a huge struggle.
I had ups and downs, good days, bad days, very bad days and I couldn’t see a way out. Panic attacks was still occurring daily, I was fixated on my health and every little niggle, every little symptom I immediately assumed and convinced myself was down to the worst illness/condition it could possibly be. I dropped out of 2 college courses, never telling them why or how I was struggling because I was so bloody scared of what they’d think of me!
I lost contact with many of my friends and family but during that time something happened! Something that I never thought would happen to me, something more amazing than I ever imagined and something finally so so very good … I met the love of my life. Luke has always been extremely supportive and understanding and has been through a lot with me, he’s my absolute rock and along with my family pushed me to get to where I am today!
I think I was 19 when I was finally diagnosed with G. A. D (Generalised Anxiety Disorder).
So what’s G.A.D?
GAD is a long-term condition which causes the sufferer to experience anxiety most days, rather than it being caused by a specific event, they feel anxious about a wide range of issues and situations and often find it nearly imposible to relax.
Anxiety can range from mild to severe, it is a feeling of unease, such as a fear or worry. People with GAD find it extremely difficult to control these fears and worries, the anxieties feel constant and will often affect their daily lives.
It’s not just psychological, GAD can also cause physical symptoms which can include dizziness, shortness of breath, insomnia, feeling sick and heart palpitations. Psychological symptoms include feeling constantly on edge, irritable, restlessness and a feeling of dread.
It often leads to withdrawing from social contact, affects work and lowers self esteem.
It was a relief to finally start to understand what was going on with me however the list of symptoms just felt endless, when you think you’ve experienced them all a new symptom appears to knock you down again! Still It seemed I just couldn’t do anything without my anxiety attacks ruining it, one of my triggers was being in a car, even a 15 minute journey would result in a full blown panic attack and that’s why I just found it so difficult to even consider driving, however I have now been taking lessons and I’m working towards getting to my driving test.
Social situations just seemed impossible, I found it extremely difficult to interact with people and lost so many friends, I hurt and fell out with those closest to me simply because i couldn’t tell them what was wrong. I never meant to upset anyone and I just wish I’d had the confidence to explain.
That time is just a massive blur of severe anxiety, fear, tears and loneliness. Even though I had so much support from Luke and my family there was many times when I just felt completely alone and I went to a very dark place.
That was my turning point! I scared my family, I scared Luke and I terrified myself and I swore that I would never let myself get to that point again! With the help from my loved ones I managed to push myself through that horrid point in my life.
I did find a great deal of of comfort and support from online communities, to know that I was it the only one, that people did understand and having that outlet was a crucial part of overcoming those hard times.
Slowly but surely things did improve, I went back to college and trained to become a beauty therapist, I started to go out more and gradually gained confidence, I came off my medication and travelled abroad and even managed a few days away in London on my own for a training course.
To this day I still have ups and downs, those off days, but with the help from various wonderful health care professionals and with the unconditional love and support from my loved ones I’ve learnt ways to control my condition, I’m no longer controlled by it!
I think it will always be a part of me, but I’ve learnt to except that and I’m now in a much better place.
In May 2015 we became parents to our beautiful little girl, I’ve wanted nothing more than to start my own family for so long and they are my absolute world. My pregnancy went well until the last few weeks when my anxiety resurfaced, I was really scared of how I would be after Freya’s birth and it wasn’t easy, but she was my motivation. There was an incredibly beautiful little human being that needed me to be ok and she got me through. Luke as always was absolutely amazing and I was very lucky to have so much support around me, particularly my Mum and Dad, Luke’s parents and Aunt and Uncle, despite me , again, being very closed about my anxiety.
It’s only recently that I’ve started to become more open about my mental health problems, I still find it very difficult but I know it’ll become easier in time.
The Heads Together campaign works alongside partner charities and aims to end the stigma surrounding mental health and well being, get people talking about mental health and ultimately raise awareness. It’s something I feel very strongly about.
Many people are afraid to open up about their mental health problems for fear of being judged, I was one of them, this often leads to the problem becoming worse. It can destroy families and destroy lives.
Those struggling need to know that they are not alone in this, that there is no need to be afraid, there is help out there and if you are experiencing mental health challenges then please don’t be afraid to reach out, whether it’s a friend, family or work colleague, talk to someone.
How can people understand if it’s not spoken about? That’s why this needs to change, the stigma needs to end and that’s why I’m sharing my story
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, it means a great deal to me.
Lots of love