For many of us mental health is something that we have, or will experience at some point in our lives, be it something that we suffer with ourselves, or watching someone else go through it. Obviously not everyone will have first-hand experience of mental health but it really is something that we need to talk about! Thursday February 4th is ‘time to talk day’ – a time to talk about the misconceptions surrounding mental health, and charities are trying to do so much to get people to realise that it’s not wrong to suffer and that you don’t need to suffer in silence, there are people there to help you.
Even in 2016 there is such a stigma attached to the term ‘mental health’ and that is something that needs to change, and pretty damn fast! I understand why some people have the impression that mental health is just feeling a bit sad or low, and I also understand why some people presume it’s just others doing it for attention, but the truth of it is so much worse. Social media plays a massive part of this stigma as it is far too easy for people to post negativity around the subject, and it is also too easy for people to use it as a way to gain attention. Let me just tell you, mental health is not glamourous and it’s not something worth bragging about, but it does need to be spoken about, and I’m going to share my story. If it helps even one person, then I can sit here knowing I’ve done a job well done.
For me, mental health comes in the form of depression and anxiety. I’m not gonna lie, it frickin’ sucks. It’s debilitating and mentally and physically draining which I think is what some people don’t understand.
I guess I first noticed symptoms when I was about 18. I was in my second year of college and thought I was in a really good place. I was happy and content and things were going my way and I had no reason to be depressed. It felt like I literally woke up one day and there was a black cloud over my head, following me. I questioned EVERYTHING, I was emotional but couldn’t explain why and I couldn’t cope with change. Things that hadn’t bothered me before were now heightened beyond belief, to the point where I freaked out at a dance class because the stage was in a different place than it previously had been. I guess it was at that point that I knew I needed help. It was affecting me, my family and friends and I found I was pushing people away because I had become a bit of a recluse. I went to work and college because I had to, but I was just going through the motions. The rest of the time I pretty much stayed in bed, or holed up in my flat not wanting to go out. I put up with it for a while before I had the courage to go to the doctors. I felt like I was weak, and that by going to the doctors I was a failure. You may be feeling like that too, but I promise you, you are not weak. You are strong and brave! Anyway, the doctor asked me whether I wanted counselling or pills and at the time, the last thing I wanted was to talk about things, so I opted for the pills. She gave me 100mg of Sertraline to start me off which is an SSRI primarily used to treat despressive and anxiety disorders.
The pills were fine for the most part. It took a while for me to notice the effects – about 3 or 4 weeks I’d say, but once they kicked in they were really effective! Throughout this I was monitored by the doctors to make sure I was still doing ok, and to make sure that the pills were right for me. I know most professionals would advise against taking pills especially for as long as I have, but for me they worked, and kept me on a level playing field. Despite all this, I was still being encouraged to take up counselling, and had various leaflets handed out to me by different doctors, but at that time I was still happy with the pills. I realise now that I was just burying the main issues and was just dealing with the effects rather than the cause, something which many people with mental illnesses find easiest to do.
After 4 years of being on Sertraline, I decided to take up counselling. I don’t know what made me do it, but I am so glad I did. I decided to go private and not through the NHS as I felt that would be better for me, although there are SO MANY free charities/advice services such as iTalk and Mind if that is something you want to do. If you go private then it is expensive. My god it is bloody expensive but honestly, it’s the best money I have ever spent. So about 2 and a half years ago I sat down for the first time with my counsellor and I never looked back. The first session increased my anxiety tenfold – I was actually shaking, but after a while I found that once I started talking I just couldn’t stop. 4 years worth of issues just came out and the relief that I felt afterwards was just phenomenal. I honestly believe that because of the time spent in those sessions I am where I am today. Cheesy but true.
I think for most people, the fear of the unknown is what stops people from discussing things with counsellors and doctors but trust me when I say it is nowhere near as bad as you’re anticipating it to be. Yes, the first session is awkward, but a good counsellor will make you feel at ease. They don’t judge you and they definitely won’t shout at you – not to mention it’s all 100% confidential, unless they believe you to be a threat to yourself or to others. I understand though, that you have to be ready to take that step. There is no point in others trying to force it on you if you’re not ready to talk; it has to be done in your own time. Something which I feel other people don’t necessarily understand.
Whilst my counselling was amazing, last year I had a relapse. Not with depression as it had been before, but more with anxiety, which for me was much worse. I had decided to wean myself off the tablets and I had gotten to the point where I was taking them twice a week instead of every day and I just hit a brick wall. Metaphorically of course. The withdrawal effects were definitely not worth it and they made me feel just as bad as the anxiety; I was shaking, had the sweats, was constantly hungry and felt like I was living life outside of my body. It was pretty hideous.
There were certain things which triggered my anxiety which I tried to avoid as much as I could but that wasn’t always possible. At it’s worse the anxiety would make me hyperventilate, I felt physically sick, I would feel hungry but the thought of, or actually eating made me want to vomit, I constantly needed to pee (tmi I know) and I had a pounding headache. As well as this, I was very untrusting of my boyfriend though he had given me no need to be, and I picked for arguments. As I had been in a similar situation before, I knew I needed to find another counsellor who focussed mainly on anxiety.
I think I had about 10 sessions with my new counsellor and she helped me so much – more than she knows, I’m sure. She gave me the tools I needed to move forward and to deal with the anxiety, and touch wood *touches wood!* since September I haven’t had a single panic attack!
So, where am I now? 5 years since I was first prescribed Sertraline, I am still taking it, but with the doctors help I am weaning myself off so that I can move to a drug which is a lower dose and more for anxiety and not for depression. Mainly to keep the edge off of things, as day to day, I feel like I deal with any anxiety triggers before they manifest into something else! I have a little book which has all my tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety and depression, which I haven’t had to use. Yay.
So, I know this post has been very long and well done if you made it to the end, but it is something that is really close to my heart and like I said, it’s still something that not everyone understands and we need to change that. Use the hashtag #timetotalk on twitter to show your support and to let others know you understand!
If anyone wants me to do a post on how I cope with anxiety then I can, just let me know, but in the meantime if you’re struggling to cope and need help or advice then give the mind charity or the Samaritans a call!