Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness week. For some, this will mean nothing at all. For others it will mean everything.
Mental Health issues are tricky little buggers. People don’t like talking about them. There is a “stigma” to them. People can be frightened by the prospect of them. Many may even avoid a person who suffers from mental ill health as they just don’t know what to say to them.
This is one of the main aims of Mental Health Awareness weeks. To get more acceptance and understanding of the illness. To become more aware of the impact and amount of people that actually suffer from the huge range of MH issues.
I personally have suffered with Mental Health issues for around 19 years. What started off for me as Post Natal depression spiralled out of control. My children were small and I was unable to cope. At a time when I should have been loving the babies that we had tried so hard for, I couldn’t even dress myself, let alone them.
Thankfully I had an amazing support system in my husband, and his Mum. She came in, took care of both them and me, and I can never repay her for that.
Sadly for me, the depression didn’t go away. I was a fabulous actress. I was the bright and bubbly one. I worked on a busy Supermarket Customer Service Desk. A job I absolutely loved. But personally I wasn’t coping.
I went to work every day. I smiled and laughed and went out of my way to help and be polite and lovely to all the customers. Everyone saw the image that I wished to portray. The happy helpful lady who always had a smile on her face.
But inside I was broken. I was suffering from anxiety and the depression was getting worse.
The tiny spiderweb cracks started to appear. I was finding it harder to get in my car to go to work. The cracks widened. I had to sit outside in the work car park for 10-15 minutes psyching myself up to go inside.
The cracks became chasms. The facade fell. I literally broke apart.
Having a nervous breakdown was a nightmare for more than just me. My family and friends were affected. My work colleagues, when informed didn’t believe it. “But she can’t be depressed?!? She is always so happy and smiley” were comments that were made.
And it was partly true. I was always happy and smiley. But that was because it was what I WANTED people to see.
Eventually, with counselling and medication I returned back to work on a reduced hours basis. This was around 8 weeks later. I had panic attacks in the car park. I didn’t want to face people. I thought everyone would be laughing at me.
Whilst no-one was laughing at me, they did treat me a little differently. They walked a little on eggshells around me. Worried about upsetting or offending me. They daren’t ask how I was, I guess in case I gave them a full run down of my condition, or burst into tears, or ran away from them.
For me, this was really hard. I wanted people to treat me as they had before. To laugh and joke, to tease and have fun with. I needed the company of people to keep me on an even keel and to be there to “prop” me up. The feeling of some colleagues avoiding me was hard and left me feeling extremely sad.
Thankfully my really good friends there rallied around me. They pulled me through the bad days (or even hours) and taught me how to reintegrate back into the job. I will forever be thankful to them and my family for being there for me during the difficult times!
Eventually I went back to work on a full time basis with the help of medication. I was always aware that the medication kept me on that even keel and helped me function through each day. Numerous occasions I reduced my medication down until I wasn’t taking it….. Well you can guess what happened every time.
Once I was off the medication, My moods and happiness spiralled downwards. I was fully aware that I couldn’t function on a day to day basis without being on anti-depressants. I felt the embarrassment of needing medical help in order to function. Whilst my family and close friends knew, I kept my issues secret from others. I was worried about the stigma.
I decided that I needed to change me. I lost around 4 stone. I was the slimmest I had been in years. I thought that this would be the turning point that made me happy. Happy with myself, my looks and my life. It was in fact the opposite. I was eating several small meals a day, and yes the weight was falling off. But I was absolutely sick and tired of putting food into my mouth.
Whilst my brain knows I need to speed my metabolism up in order to lose weight, I have spent all my life missing out on breakfast (and usually lunch) then having quite a healthy evening meal. Even now we don’t buy ready meals, or jars of sauces, and we have loads of vegetables, pulses and rice.
Eventually getting down to a size 16, I was more miserable than ever. Being much slimmer wasn’t the cure all for me. It made me worse. I move to a new store in my local town, where the job was even more stressful, with longer hours and much more responsibility. It felt like I was drowing in stress and I could feel my mental ill health worsening. I had to make changes.
One of the biggest turning points for me was actually changing my job. I went into a new environment, with a clean sheet. And so I started again. After over TEN years of being on anti-depressants, I spoke to my doctors about coming off the medication. I was in a good place, my life was a bit more settled, my children healthy and happy and the new job was less hours, more money and less pressure.
I started to love myself and my life. I stopped taking the medication, started practicing self care and recognised when I was starting to have a slump, or a bad period and I talked about it, rather than taking something for it.
It took me a few months to wean myself off the medication which had been holding me together for a long time. But I did it.
It is only whilst looking into writing this blog that I have realised something. My medication was called Fluoxetine. Which is a pretty name for Prozac. All those years and I never knew I was numbing myself with Prozac.
The impact that those ten years had, was quite catastrophic. Being on medication does have it’s side effects. For me it has caused memory “gaps”. And when I say gaps, I have literally NO memory of some amazing experiences I have had in my life.
My family refer to it as my “Elton John” moments.
Elton John? Eh? What’s he got to do with it?
Well, a few years ago he was on the TV and I stated “Oh I would love to see him live!” My husband and his mum looked at me and said at the same time “You have!”
Well, of course I hadn’t bloody seen him. And I vehemently said so. We argued back and forward about it. Eventually he went upstairs and got out the tour t-shirt AND a picture of me wearing the t-shirt.
Not only had I seen Elton John live, but I had seen him in an open air concert in front of Woburn Abbey. In the VIP front row, and I had won the tickets in a local competition. The concert ended with an amazing fireworks display…….
And I literally have NO SINGLE MEMORY of what I am told was an amazing evening.
That is one of just a few amazing experiences that I literally have no memory of. Being shown photographs of me at events and holidays. Recognising myself as having been a part of something. But not having any idea of when/where it is. Or knowing what I was even doing there.
It is hard looking back at the photo’s and realising all that I have “missed”. Special Milestones are also foggy happenings that I have no recollection of. But I cannot change that. At least I have the photographs to look at.
So, where am I today?
Nine years down the line, I am back on anti-depressants. But for different reasons. Eight years had passed without any form of medication. I was self sufficient and coping well.
As many of you know, my Father died after a very short illness, then my Mother was rushed to hospital within days of this, had a major operation, then was readmitted with Pneumonia and Norovirus. I was organising a funeral, working, trying to care and visit Mum, and look after her handicapped Brothers all at the same time.
The cracks started to show. Obviously I was distraught over my Dad, but the pressure to be the strong organised one was huge. I was running myself ragged trying to hold a million shattered pieces together for everyone.
This time I could see the stress and terrible emotional strain the situation was having on me, and the emotional strain on my Mum and my children. It was a different type of Mental Health Issue to previously, but similar enough to know that I was starting to struggle.
The medication I am on is totally different this time. It is lighter, not so numbing and basically keeps me on an even keel. In the past 18 months I have tried two or three times to stop taking it. But I find that my emotions become very unstable.
My Doctor is amazing. He agrees that for me, staying on the light medication is a bonus. It keeps me steady. It allows me to be myself, without being numb. It helps me focus and be more positive. But I go and see him every 3 months for a review and to see how I am.
Will I be on this medication for ever? I honestly don’t know. But I don’t feel the stigma of needing it anymore. Different things work for different people. If I need to have this medication to help me, then I see it as no different as a Diabetic needing Insulin to survive.
For me, Life with a mental health illness isn’t the end of the world. I am a lot more open about it now. And that is the key thing. Talking about it is vital. Absolutely vital.
If you are suffering – TALK to someone. A friend, relative, medical professional or counsellor.
If you know someone is suffering – TALK to them! Ask them how they are doing. Don’t be frightened to initiate a conversation with them. Don’t be worried about offending them. Sometimes just someone asking how you are can make the difference to your day.
Showing that you care for someone can be just as hard as telling someone about your mental health. It is hard to put yourself on the line. But the difference you can make to someone’s life is amazing.
Mental Health Awareness week is exactly what it says – Raising that awareness and talking about a tricky topic.
Whilst I am no expert and don’t profess to know everything about Mental Health issues, Hopefully by talking about my experiences, I have brought a bit of awareness, in my own little way.
If you want to know more, or where to get help and assistance then this website is a great place to start.
If you need to talk to someone or need help urgently.
Till next time