Awareness of mental health in the current day is more prevalent than ever. We have so much discussion around it now with World Mental Health Day, Mental Health Awareness Week, Self Care Sunday and people in the public eye speaking openly about their struggles.
My mental health story starts way back in 1995 when I was 19 years old (totally given my age away now!). This was long before the days when everyone had a mobile phone (unless you were a ‘yuppy’ from the city), let alone all the social media apps and the stress they bring, but at 19 years old, I suffered with anxiety and depression.
I remember at the time, people made comments on why I could possibly have anxiety and depression. At 19, what on earth would I have to be depressed about? No mortgage, no money worries, happy family life, but here I was.
There was one specific night where it all came crashing down. I remember it so vividly. It was August and I was at a house party with my school friends – the ‘Butch Girls’ (if you’ve read an earlier blog you’ll know who they are). You remember those parties… parents are away, house full of friends, bowl of disgusting concoction of alcohol and playing daft games and talking shit!
As I sat there within a circle with a post-it note on my head I felt a strange sensation… like I wasn’t really there. I felt like I was actually above, looking down over us all. As my heart started to quicken, I felt more and more panicked. I got myself outside for some air… I just had to get myself out of that room.
The next thing I remember is that I was driving home crying my eyes out. When I got home I sat with mum and dad for a couple of hours and just balled. I couldn’t say why I was feeling like this, but I just couldn’t stop the crying.
Unbelievably, the next day I managed to get in to see my own doctor (it was 1995 don’t forget!). I wrote down how I was feeling… the tightness in my chest, unable to catch my breath, this dark cloud that quickly descended over me. I was so glad I’d written it down as when I got in there I just couldn’t get the words out.
Rightly or wrongly, my GP prescribed me Prozac. Now, I’m not about to start a whole medication vs natural remedies/talking therapies debate – but in my case, that’s what happened. I do believe, however, that if you need a little help down the medication route then why not? If my leg was broken I’d be given crutches and in this case my mental health was broken and I need some help to fix it.
I was immediately signed off work for two weeks. I remember my head being a complete blur, the ability to think clearly was so difficult. Just counting money was a struggle and I remember taking my brother to the local shop if I fancied bar of chocolate as I just couldn’t do it. That was, of course, when I felt like eating! I found the whole process of eating meals too much bother… which for me was unheard of! I used to constantly think about food in my teens!
Two weeks off work turned into four weeks and during that time, I was happiest driving around town in my little car on my own. Nobody to make conversation with – just to drive and listen to my music. I also remember sitting in my room watching old videos of myself, trying to recall how I used to be.
Friends used to call up (on the landline!) to speak to me and I would tell Mum to say I wasn’t home or couldn’t talk right now. It felt too difficult.
After the four weeks, I went back to work… very unsuccessfully. I remember walking into the office which I shared with three other girls. My line manager walked in with me and nobody said a word… nothing. As I sat at my desk I could see that my audio machine was unplugged. It sent my heart panicking, racing, thumping in my chest. My brain couldn’t work out how to plug the bloody thing in. Still nobody in the office said anything. I was suddenly engulfed with feelings of not being able to cope – all because my equipment to do my job wasn’t plugged in!
I ran into another office and called my line manager. I needed to go home. I couldn’t do it.
Another three weeks off and I was given a gradual return back to work, first doing a couple of half days increasing slowly to full time. This was much better this time as I was able to ease myself back. My colleagues however couldn’t understand why I was depressed with one quoting “you’re 19, what have you got to be depressed about?”.
By the Christmas I was starting to feel much more like myself. I’d lost some weight (every cloud eh!) and was feeling a lot better about myself. Over the festive season I forgot many times to take my tablets and by the January I’d stopped. What I wasn’t expecting was to be feeling the same again by June. I had to go back on the tablets as the anxiety was returning.
I hadn’t addressed the issues that had got me feeling like this in the first place.
The previous eighteen months had been quite a traumatic one when I looked back. My mum had been in hospital in Bristol for five weeks following three lots of surgery and the complications of a blood clot. All of this was going on as I was completing my exams at college and subsequently starting as a trainee medical secretary at the local hospital covering summer annual leave!
Then six months into my employment I got a permanent job with a consultant… who I didn’t gel with. That affected me more than I realised. During these months I thought I was ok and carried on. However, lots of little anxieties had piled up and up until one day, one tiny thing sent my world crashing down. That was the night at the house party.
I did get better though. I had some counselling through work and gave myself longer on the tablets and came off them slower than I had before. I did get back to my old self and felt the stronger for it.
Over the years, as with everyone, life throws you some curve balls… and I’ve had a couple of massive ones. But this experience of having depression at at a young age has helped me to look for the signs that things are right and make sure I take on board some self care and not bottle things up.
I’m thankful for the doctor for giving me those tablets. The crutch I needed to help get me back on track. There are lots of therapies out there, and if you’re feeling like you need some help, you need to pick the one that is best for you… with no judgements.
It’s ok to talk about mental health. The stigma each year diminishes a little more. Don’t bottle feelings up, talk to someone, because small feelings can soon turn into big black feelings, until they pile up and topple you over.
Until next time,
Love and hugs from TOMD xxx