Molehills and Mountains

I carry around a huge amount of guilt with my illness. I hate that the people I’m close to have had to suffer with me. Why is it fair that they have had to listen to me for all of this time and keep me afloat when they have their own lives and issues to worry about?

In all my years of feeling this way, I have always felt belittled by those who say that anxiety and depression are just for attention seekers. An awful lot of people seem to be under the illusion that panic attacks are just for the melodramatics and the pathetic.

Let me tell you something, I wish they were.

What may seem like molehills to you quite possibly are someone else’s mountains. I’ll tell you about one of my mountains; post.

Whilst you may think that opening post is just another something in your daily routine, to me, it is so much more. You may get home from your day in the office and pick up that pile of envelopes off of the mat thinking nothing of it. You might open them straight away or you might have a cup of tea and open them later. Either way… molehill, right? No problem.

This is my mountain. When I am driving home from work, I often get struck by panic. I feel my stomach drop. I get so worried that I’m going to come home and find a mysterious letter waiting for me. I worry that it could be people chasing me for money, I worry it could be a letter with some bad news… I worry about anything that comes through that letter box for me.

When I’m not panicking, I am able to see just how irrational and dramatic that may seem, but at the time I have no other choice but to feel that way. That is anxiety.

Anxiety is not a choice. Anxiety has an awful way of manifesting into your everyday activities and it forces your world smaller and smaller. Your fears snowball and begin to limit what you feel you can do.

One of the biggest things I am guilty of is avoidance. I try not to get home before anyone else, because I know that it means being at home alone and I might panic if there is any post for me. I went through phases where I didn’t open my post at all, because I was genuinely petrified about what these letters would say (this did not end well!).

It makes sense; if you do something and have a panic attack, you’re going to think twice before doing it again! That’s only natural.

I know that probably does seem pretty melodramatic, but that is anxiety in one. It is an intense and irrational reaction to a circumstance. It could be a new situation you find yourself in or it could be something you have done every day of your life.

Once you start to avoid a situation, it is very hard to start doing it again. It is all about baby steps and little victories. It takes real courage to expose yourself to that situation again. Imagine going against all of your instincts and throwing yourself in. That takes guts.

Be brave, don’t let your world shrink.

I’ve learnt that to feel guilty about these panics only adds to my mountain. The aim is to gradually grind this mountain down, not add to it. I have overcome lots of mountains now, but still have plenty more to go.

*pulls funky socks up and continues mountain climbing*

Stay with me here.

 

(Image credit to Gemma Correll https://ohhdeer.com/collections/gemma-correll)

Put on your big girl panties

Getting through every day with a mental health disorder is tough. Some days, you need to put on your big girl panties and just do it.

Throughout the years I have learnt various techniques for coping with anxiety and panic attacks, some of which work for me and some not so much. Everyone is different. It is important that you can find what works for you.

My personal favorite is something I try to do every night. It takes minimal effort; all you have to do is think. I call it ‘Two goods and a grumble’. This really gets you thinking about the positives at the end of each day whilst still allowing you to get out your grumble.

Example:

Good 1) I got a nice compliment from a customer today.

Good 2) I had particularly awesome funky socks on today.

Grumble) I had a moment of anxiety in the car today whilst stuck in traffic.

This is something I try to do every night, just in my head. I used to write it down, but very quickly started forgetting! It doesn’t mean that you can’t though.

Another technique I use, particularly for periods of anxiety when I am at work or in public, is the 7,5,8 breathing pattern. Try it…

  • Breathe in for 7 seconds
  • Hold for 5 seconds
  • Breathe out for 8 seconds

Try this a few times and you will feel yourself anchor back to the moment and your shoulders will drop as you relax.

As I said, don’t expect everything to work for you, because most likely it won’t. You will however, through trial and error be able to find something that does help that you can stick with.

I realise I have been focusing on those who suffer with anxiety and panic in this post and not so much those who would like to know more and how to help.

The best advice I can give you to help someone who is suffering with panic is to get them to breathe deeply and smoothly.

When you experience a panic attack, you begin to take short and shallow breaths. This does not allow the inhalation of oxygen that your brain and body needs. This increases your heart rate and blood flow in preparation for the flight response.

It’s important to acknowledge these symptoms and make sure the panic sufferer is taking long deep breaths into their abdomen and then exhaling gently and taking their time.

This will take time; panic is a real height to come down from. Be persistent, they will get there. Reassurance is important. Just being there in that moment for them is more help than you may realise.

It can b pretty scary seeing someone having a panic attack, but it’s okay. you being there in that moment to help them breathe and to reassure them that it will end will really help. Panic attacks don’t last forever, though it may feel like it. Eventually, they have to ease and finish. I have in the past lost friends through my panic attacks, purely and simply because they did not understand or know how to help. There’s no magic cure unfortunately, but give some time and space and gradually, it’ll subside.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate my friends and family who do stick around and help me to get through these attacks. That is all the support I need.

There is so much I want to share with you and so much left to cover.

Stay with me here.

The Big Scary S Word

I am not sure what more I am supposed to do or who to turn to.

I was referred more than 2 years ago for psychotherapy by my GP and to this day had no luck. Hundreds of patients are on this waiting list. Why is it that mental health is treated so differently to other conditions?

If I had been diagnosed with a physical medical condition that meant I was at risk of death, I would not have to wait 2+years for a mere assessment.

It is this kind of situation that leaves sufferers feeling hopeless and isolated. Around 4,400 people end their own lives in England each year. That’s one death every two hours – and at least 10 times that number attempt suicide.

We need to really work on this system and make sure that anyone who is suffering from mental health problems has someone to talk to and access to treatment.

I myself have been in hospital for planning to take my own life. I had it all planned and genuinely believed it was my only option to not feel this way anymore. I won’t go into details… but I am very very fortunate that my wonderful partner, Nick, and his family are so understanding and supportive.

I read a fantastic line recently in Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to stay alive’ – ‘I didn’t want to be dead, I just didn’t want to be alive’ I know I have a lot to stick around for, but it makes it very difficult to enjoy these things when all you can think about is how much you’re hurting.

I have thought about it a lot over the years, which I know will come as a surprise to the people who know me. I generally come across as pretty jolly and do genuinely enjoy lots of things in life… when I’m well.

Now that I am in a good head space and feeling a better version of myself, it shocks and upsets me that I ever felt like that and terrifies me that I could feel that way again. Unless you have experienced that feeling and that overwhelming need, I really don’t think I could put it into words.

It is like the whole world doesn’t want to know you exist. You’re invisible. You genuinely feel like the world would be better without you and that you’d actually be doing those around you a favour.

A lot of people say and/or think that suicide is selfish. My point of view in the moment as a sufferer, is that it seems more selfish to keep myself alive and be a burden on the people I love and to taint their lives with my issues.

Suicide is not selfish, it is a symptom of depression. It does not mean you are weak, it does not mean you’ve given up… it means that you have been strong for far too long.

I want to take this time to send my thoughts to anyone who has ever felt this way and to anyone who has lost someone to suicide. There ARE people ready to listen – give them a go:

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Email jo@samaritans.org

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page

 

Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

 

Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill

 

The Silver Line – for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

 

This is something we need to be talking about.

Stay with me here.

Sticks and Stones

Question: What words come to mind when you think of someone suffering with mental health problems?

“Nutter, crazy, insane, psycho, fruit loop, suicidal, dramatic, touched, unhinged, lazy, weird, odd, sad, aggressive, weak…”

I will never forget that.

Picture me sat in this class, having already battled with anxiety and depression for 7 years and still developing my self confidence.

I studied Media at school in sixth form and one of our projects was to produce material for our local Mind service. We aimed to reduce stigma for mental health problems and raise awareness within the school and local community.

We were 16/17 years old at the time and were yet to learn. We could not have been more wrong.

Because of this, I know just how easy it is to reel off these terms and contribute to the stigma.

Whilst I know that these words were not used with intention to offend, and they do not necessarily offend me, we need to change this attitude.

As previously spoken about in my last post, one of the biggest reasons that people do not speak out about their mental illness is that they are afraid of being given one of those labels. They are worried that if they tell someone, they might be deemed ‘crazy’.

THIS IS NOT TRUE.

Just because I suffer from depression, does that mean I’m ‘crazy’? Does that mean I am a ‘psycho’? no.

Just because I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks, does that make me a ‘nut job’? Does that make me ‘weak’? no.

Just because I have an obsession with funky socks and sausage dogs, does that make me a ‘Fruit loop’? okay, well maybe a little…

But, I am a person. We are people. We are the same.

I actually think that having suffered with anxiety and depression has helped to shape me as a person. It has made me more mindful of other people and their situations. It has been the reason I have met some of my best friends and It’s the reason I’m so passionate about mental health and the reason I am here now.

Writing this blog has bought together so many people already. I have received heaps of messages from people and I have heard some truly inspirational stories.

What I don’t think people realise about mental health, is that it affects everyone. It doesn’t target a certain type of person. It can affect any occupation, any gender, any race, any age, any background… Anyone.

It is not acceptable for these terms to be thrown about making people too afraid to talk about what they are going through.

People should not have to cower away in fear of being judged or treated differently.

Having a mental health condition is like fighting a war in your own mind, every moment of every day. It can’t be switched off. It’s a medical condition and needs the care and attention that every other medical condition gets unconditionally.

Why should I and my mental health be treated any differently?

I am not ashamed.

I will do what it takes to make that difference and to beat this stigma.

Stay with me here.

Anxiety + Depression + Me = Still me!

In just 2 days, my blogs have been read over 1,100  times.. and counting! The numbers go up every time I look.  I never expected this to even reach the hundreds, let alone the thousands!

To me, this just proves that people do want to know about mental health… people want to learn about it, read about it and talk about it and that’s great!!!

In less than 24 hours, I received messages from lots of people; people in appreciation that my story had been shared, people who have shared some of their stories with me, people who could relate to my experiences and people who wanted to know more.  That is exactly what I wanted to achieve.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all the support and kind comments from all of you. It really has boosted my mood.

I think one of the biggest reasons that people avoid a conversation about mental health is that they don’t know what to say. People worry about offending you or saying the wrong thing.

In my experience… it is the acknowledgement that I am a person that really matters. There is nothing worse than seeing someone you know and for them to avoid conversation with you. It’s is more offensive to me for you to avoid me because I’ve been ill, nothing you could say would upset me as much as that. I have experienced this, and it made me feel isolated, weak and unwanted. It made me feel like that was how the whole world saw me and that I might actually be crazy.

No one should have to feel like that.

I don’t believe that it’s deliberate attempt from anyone to upset someone. I’d like to think that my friends, family and people who know me wouldn’t do something like that to be rude or nasty. I think it is a case of people being unsure on what to say.

You don’t need to worry. Yes, I have depression, Yes, I have anxiety, but I’m still me.

Just like anyone else, some days are better than others. Some days (just like everyone else) I won’t be up for a big conversation, but that’s okay. The fact that you smiled at me or the fact that you said hello and asked how I was, or asked how my day was… that means the world.  It makes such a big difference when you feel like the rest of the world is against you.

I’m not saying that everyone I see needs to smile and give me jazz hands or I’ll be an offended quivering wreck – not at all. What I am trying to say is that avoiding that conversation with someone because you are aware of their diagnosis, their label of ill mental health, is far more detrimental to them than you know.

Having a mental illness does not mean that you are incapable of everyday conversation or that you don’t want to talk to anyone. It doesn’t mean that anyone we talk to will have to sit and listen to the whole 9 yards and be expected to console us. There are professionals for that, so you’re off the hook!

Mental illness is invisible. If I hadn’t have mentioned it, I very much doubt people would know about my diagnosis. This further proves my point… I AM STILL ME 😀

Talk to me about funky socks. Talk to me about the weather. Talk to me about how bad the coffee is. Talk to me about mental health!

Stay with me here.

#littlevictories

Would you believe me if I told you that just this morning, I was struggling to get out of bed? That just this morning my life had no meaning and there was no point? Knowing that I needed to get up and have a shower because I needed to pop down to the Post Office filled me with dread and panic?

Welcome to mine and many others’ world.

It isn’t always like this; Some days, I’ll get up and it’ll just be another day on planet earth. I’ll get up, put on my funky socks, go to work, spend my day smiling and laughing, come home and carry on as little old me. I can go months feeling ‘normal’, and these times are great!

Other days, however, I wake up, my brain is overanalysing everything. Irrational thoughts will race through my head. Take this morning for example..‘If I get up and I get in the shower, someone could break into the house and I wouldn’t hear’ orrrrrrrrrr ‘The postman just came, what has he delivered today? unexpected bills?! oh no, I’ll have to pay them, and then I won’t be able to buy food or pay rent…?!’ orrrrrrrr ‘I’m going to go out with wet hair today, if I put the hair dryer on, it’s too loud and there might be someone in the house that I won’t hear’. And that was just an hour of my morning!

Just from that, you can imagine how exhausting it is to be so on edge for so long. That’s before we have even looked at the physical symptoms.

Your body becomes a dead weight, like all the life and personality just leaks out of you. Everything you stand for and all that you’ve worked towards feels like it’s all for nothing. Your stomach cramps and you start to wonder if you have actually swallowed a golf ball and it’s gotten stuck in your throat. You shake and shiver uncontrollably, but you’re sweating, flushed and feel blood rushing to your face. You can feel the adrenaline consume you and all you want to do is get out of where you are. The only way I can even come close to explaining the physical sensation is by asking you this… have you ever walked down the stairs and missed the last step? Leaving you to fall to your doom? Right, imagine that exact feeling for 5-15 minutes. Panic squeezes your heart and chest so you can’t breathe and leaves you feeling like you’re falling to your doom, even though you could be safely sat on the sofa minding your own business.

For all of this to happen before you have even eaten breakfast is exhausting. You’re ready to go back to bed! This goes in circles and circles.

Depression and anxiety often come hand in hand. Like an evil Mental health Villain and a sidekick. They seem to feed off of each other, and I can see how. Feeling like you’re on the edge of dying several times a day is bound to make you hate your brain and start to question why it keeps happening to you and whether or not it will ever stop.

With this duo, it can feel like you’re going in circles; You panic, you get depressed because you keep panicking THEN you panic more because you’re depressed THEN you’re more depressed because you’re still panicking THEN you are more depressed..

Starting to get the picture?

Having gone through all of this, getting up and having my shower today AND getting to the Post Office and back, that was a pretty big win for me. These are what I like to call little victories.

Thankfully it is not always like that, but, it is damn hard to get out of that spiral once you’re in it. For that, I’d love to congratulate and really shout out to all of those people who have done it and continue to kick butt every day. You are so strong. you are never alone, let’s do this together.

It is not easy, but it can be done.

I hope that if you have not suffered from anxiety or depression, I have given you some insight at least as to what it feels like.

As always, if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to help.

There is so much more to talk about and to learn.

Stay with me here.

 

(image credit to The Funky Fork – http://thefunkyfork.com/anxiety-girl/)