Mental Health & Me

My life has been peppered with mental health struggles for as long as I can remember. 

As a young child, I would spend evenings worrying about my day at school, and whether I had upset someone. I didn’t know how to handle that fear, and I would be consumed with panic overnight until I discovered that my panic was, invariably, unfounded. 

I would avoid anything that looked at all “risky” which is a pretty low bar for a toddler! I didn’t want to play in the park (I did not trust the climbing frame, and I simply would not risk life and limb on the aptly named “death slide”). Instead I would sit and chat to my parents, whilst watching my sisters play. I’m sure mum really valued my 4-year old take on the world’s big issues – Barbie or Cindy? Which spice girl would I be? Which panda pop should I choose? *

As I grew up, my anxiety transformed into OCD, which left me in tears most nights as I battled my way to bed. My obsessions went from the sublime to the ridiculous – on one side I would obsessively check that the lids were on all of my pens.. in case they leaked? But, on the other side, I would spend minutes at a time checking all the doors were locked for fear that intruders would wipe out my entire family overnight. My brain was like Art Attack vs. Taken – it was pretty intense for an 11 year old’s nervous system!

Mental health support wasn’t as readily available in the early 2000s as it is now, and I don’t think mum knew how to handle it. I mean what do you do with a kid who is crying over a crayola marker pen, or insisting they have to check the door is closed for the 30th time? She wanted to send me to see someone, but I point blank refused because I was convinced this would make me a “freak”. 

Annoyingly (but predictably), mum was right. I should have sought help then and maybe that could have curbed my obsessive behaviours. Instead I found ways to cope with my anxiety, and it was pretty manageable until my late 20s, when I finally started taking Sertaline – an anti-depressant often prescribed for anxiety.

The first month of Sertraline left me feeling worse than I had felt beforehand! It gave me nausea and heart palpitations and I was more anxious than ever. But then after a month, as if by magic, it all stopped.. and the panic had dulled. I felt like my anxiety had a lid on it for the first time in my entire life. I marvelled at finally feeling confident in my own work, and being able to send an email without triple checking the email addresses for every recipient.. This feeling was such a relief. Is this how I should have felt for the last 29 years?! 

When we lost mum a couple of years later, I experienced bad depression for the first time. It was as if a huge cloud had descended on my head, and nothing could shake it. I could carry on with my days, but they were hollow and they were in black and white. I would watch other people celebrating their achievements and I would wonder if I would ever feel that joy again. It was exhausting.

It’s such an odd thing, grief. It is the most peculiar, life-changing experience, and the only way anyone knows how to deal with it, sadly, is it go through it. I had spent many hours pondering what grief would look like, feel like. But there is nothing that can prepare you for that screaming emptiness, the utter isolation and the crushing devastation of losing someone so dear to you. 

I’m not going to lie to you – there were moments when I didn’t know if I would make it. I think that sounds pretty selfish now, but I’ve got to be honest about how I felt. I wished on more than one occasion that I could just disappear, evaporate into nothing. I just needed to not feel the pain anymore, and that was honestly the only way I could even fathom it happening. 

I wouldn’t say I was “suicidal”, because that would require some positive action (positive only in the sense of doing something about it). But I would say, I spent months hoping and wishing that I just wasn’t here anymore. This wish wasn’t a reflection on what was actually going on around me, quite the contrary to be honest. I have a wonderful husband, a close family, and beautiful friends. But, I just didn’t want to be here. I wanted, in the words of my mum, to slip and slide away. 

Having these kinds of thoughts are quite scary. For me, it wasn’t because I was scared that I would do something about it. But how do you tell someone honestly how you’re feeling without being marched off for immediate consultation with the doctor? So, you sit with those feelings and hope they go away without having to talk to someone about it for fear they’ll think you have finally lost it. 

I only really started to come out of my depression after a year of losing mum, thanks to weekly therapy, Buddy, and the continued support from my family and friends. I have hard days which are tough, but they pass. And the next day will be better. Now, I just have to focus on each day – a day at a time. 

And, you know what? The world looks good right now, and I’m happy I’m still here. 

 

* Barbie, Baby Spice, Green Panda Pop.

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