It’s something I’ve never hidden, I’ve always talked openly about my battles with mental health and always will. Mental Health seems to be a taboo subject, people either don’t know enough or just don’t want to hear about it. And for me, that’s where the problem becomes a huge problem. If we don’t talk about it and feel we can freely discuss it, then we will forever bottle things up and not talk about it, people will continue to suffer in silence and with those around them remaining completely oblivious.
Recently, after opening up on Instagram about my current battles with anxiety and depression, I have found so many people have opened up to me and told me their stories, it makes me sad to think there are so many of us out there struggling on a daily basis to keep themselves going, so many of us struggling to do simple tasks like washing up or popping to the shops, there are too many people that feel alone, feel caught in a spider web effect and don’t know where to turn. Just be reaching out and talking to someone, means you have taken the first steps to recovery, just because you talk to a stranger about it, doesn’t mean you haven’t addressed the fact you need help, because believe me, opening up and accepting there is a problem, is the start.
I get asked about the coping strategies I use and although I’m no expert, I feel like this maybe a good place to write them down and hopefully, they may help you.
Please bear in mind, we are all different, what works for me, may not work for everyone else.
I first knew the problem was becoming uncontrollable a few months ago.
I was in Sainsbury’s doing my shopping when I thought I saw my Mum, I dropped my basket in the aisle, legged it as fast as I could back home and locked the door. It was a massive over reaction to do that but, as soon as I got in the door, I started sweating and shaking, my chest went tight and I couldn’t breathe. My head began to whirl and I felt like the walls were closing in. I was having a panic attack and I was alone, petrified, I went to dial for an ambulance as at the time, I didn’t realise what was happening (although I have suffered with social anxiety before and had little attacks, this was something completely different) but I couldn’t hold my phone for shaking so I just lay on the floor and rocked myself out of it until I woke up an hour later.
From that point on, I became scared to go out of the house alone in case it happened again. I’d cancel plans to see friends on my days off and I’d sit at home on the sofa from the minute Paul left until he returned in the evening.
When I was at work I began to lose focus, the type of job I was in at the time was selling car insurance to convicted drivers/criminals so as you can imagine, it needed someone with a thick skin. I no longer had that. I didn’t want to call anyone, I didn’t want to talk to people on the phone and I got to the point where I didn’t want to talk to my colleagues. I’d get irritated by colleagues being too loud, I found myself not wanting to converse with them and I’d get annoyed with some of them just for the sound of their voice. I couldn’t cope but yet I couldn’t admit it so I just came across as bitchy and stuck up my own arse. I was constantly popping to the toilets just to lock myself in a cubicle for a cry or just to stand against the door and pull myself together yet I didn’t tell anyone. That was until I had a panic attack when I thought I’d made a simple error (turned out I hadn’t) luckily for me, my manager guessed something wasn’t right, took me off the floor and pulled me through the panic attack, he held my hand, told me to breath and talked calmly to me until I came out of it. It happened a few more times at random and I thanked my lucky stars that he was always on shift when it happened. Eventually, he convinced me that I needed to go the GP and get help, but, most importantly, I needed to talk to Paul.
I went to the GP and was put on antidepressants and beta blockers for the panic attacks, she diagnosed me with Mixed Anxiety, Depression & Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (something I only thought happened to people who’d been to war). I opened up to Paul and he was shocked I’d never said anything, he held me while I cried and was so supportive, it made me feel stupid for not telling him in the first place. I’ve always been able to tell Paul anything without judgment and had nothing but support so this shouldn’t be any different. And it wasn’t.
Now don’t get me wrong, medication works for some and not for others. For me personally, it made me worse at the start, I’d have more panic attacks because I felt like I wasn’t in control, I felt trippy and was even hallucinating. I went back to the GP and she halved the antidepressant, it didn’t work. I still felt the same. The crucial point came when I was at work. I was typing figures into my computer and the number 9 just kept popping out of the screen. All I could see was hundreds of 9s in my face and swirling around my head. That feeling of panic happened again so I looked around for my manager once more, he took me outside the office and advised me I couldn’t go on like this, told me to get back to the GP asap. I left work early and went straight to the surgery. She advised me to continue with the tablets and signed me off, she also referred me to her mental health team and to see a counsellor.
After a few weeks of being signed off, I decided to come off the tablets, they weren’t helping and I knew I didn’t want to rely on pills. I wanted to help myself. I started to write a diary, I used my Instagram blog to document how I felt each day and was overwhelmed by how others around me felt and just knowing I wasn’t alone helped. I started to blog again and on days I couldn’t face going outside, I wrote, I wrote everything down and at the end of the day, I’d rip the page up and burn it.
I wrote down a list of things that made me feel sad, things that made me feel angry and then things that made me happy. It was amazing to know I had so many reasons to be happy yet I couldn’t seem to focus on them, I continuously seemed to live in the past, struggling to deal with the things that had happened so many years ago. I knew I had to face it head on.
I wrote a list of the people around me that I trusted, then I wrote a list of the people around me that I felt made me feel negative. The negative ones I just cut off immediately. I’ve been accused in the past of being able to just cut people off without thought and then later on coming back again, this time, I needed to stay away permanently. The problem with me is, I do find it easy to cut people off, maybe that’s not normal at all but to me, if they don’t add anything to my life but sadness, whoever it is, I need to walk away, letting them back in again only brings back more sadness so I have to learn that my life is better without certain individuals in it. That doesn’t mean I have found it easy, it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It means I have chosen to live my life the way I want to and I have chosen to take control of my own happiness, even if that means hurting myself in the process.
The next list I wrote was of situations that I needed to change. Could I change them myself or did I need help? Could they be changed at all and, what were the most important changes I needed to make? I put them into categories and slowly started working my way down the list.
For example, one of the things that made me sad was my weight. Having people constantly comment on how I’d gained weight made me feel crap. I’m aware of my flaws but I didn’t need them pointing out. I joined Slimming World, started putting my gym membership into action and finally started making changes to my body. I’m the process, I’ve made some amazing friends and that’s also helped with another one of my issues, feeling lonely. I’d still not made many friends since moving here as it seems the older you get, the harder it gets. I no longer do the school run so it’s not like I meet people at the gates and I’m not the Emma I used to be. Pissed up nights out are no longer a thing for me each weekend, I prefer spending my Sundays using my national trust membership or going to garden centres. I’m not the social butterfly I once was. Joining Slimming World has opened up doors and friendships for me that I would never even have considered before and for that, I’m always grateful.
Another thing on my list was to try and find the trigger points that caused the attacks, the main one I noticed seem to be the job I was doing. It was just a permanent reminder of things I wanted to forget as a child and I couldn’t move past that if I was in the job I was doing.
Prior to that job I was a carer and I don’t mind admitting, I was a bloody good one. I get my kicks from helping others and looking after other people. Paul will tell you, I’m a magnet for the elderly. Only recently I went to watch Paul play cricket, rather than talk to people my own age, I plonked myself down next to an 80 year old gentlemen and talked for over an hour about his life, I was so happy. It was at that point that I realised I needed to go back into healthcare, to be around the elderly. To me, it never felt like a job, it was something I wanted to do and couldn’t get enough of. Helping others makes me forget about things I dwell on and just generally makes me feel like I’m living my best life.
I was due to go back to the office on Monday with the intention of working a months notice because I didn’t feel physically able to do the job anymore, but again, the anxiety began creeping up at the thought, that same day, a care job landed in my lap and I knew I had to make a decision, choose happiness or potentially risk everything I had done so far to get myself at this point. I called the office and explained I couldn’t go back. I was supported and understood. Today I emptied my locker and handed my things over, I didn’t feel sad at all but I did notice that just setting foot in the door made me shake and made me chest tighten. I’d done the right thing.
If I could give you any advice, it would be to talk. Mostly importantly above all, please just talk. Whether you pour your heart out to a loved one, pour your heart out on social media and hope for someone to see it, it doesn’t matter, do whatever you need to do to be heard. Talk and be honest with how you feel. You’re not an attention seeker, you’re seeking help and that’s a huge difference. Don’t be silenced by those who don’t want to hear, and if they don’t want to hear it, don’t be afraid to not associate yourself with them anymore.
Write lists just as I have explained. Work out ways you can control situations and maybe situations you can avoid. Find out which situations you can deal with alone and which ones you need to ask for help with.
Seek medical advice, you may not want to take the medication route but counselling may be the right way for you to go instead. Ask for help and demand you get it. If you don’t get it from one GP, see another.
Make changes, whether it’s your job, where you live or even the colours you paint your house, make changes that will have a positive effect on your life. Ask for help if you can’t do those alone.
It sounds very childish but have a social media cull or even a break from it. Recently, I discovered someone I would have considered a friend was acting as a go between with me and my estranged family. I don’t want people in my life that I don’t trust so I deleted over 100 people off my Facebook. I was shocked at the amount of people I had on there that I never interact with. So I made a rule, if they don’t speak to me or vice versa, hit delete. They’ll have your number if they’re a real friend. It felt amazingly good and I didn’t feel the need to write the circa 2011 status “Having a Facebook cull, if you’re here after, you’re lucky” I’ve been guilty of that status in the past and cringe when I see people do it now.
Find a hobby, something you can enjoy and get something out of. For me, I find writing is my hobby. It helps me release my emotions and makes me feel like I’m dealing with things. I’ve also started to use the gym again, when I’m upset or angry, I pick up the boxing gloves and punch away my tension, if there’s something in my mind I hit the treadmill and run it out, the more I run, the further from it I feel.
Now this one may sounds stupid but, I was always at my happiest when I was on stage performing. So, when I feel anxious or low, I put on the happiest of songs at full volume, I sing loud and I dance like a complete and utter dickhead. Alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re vocally challenged or dance like your Uncle Reg at your cousins wedding. Do it. It works.
Lean on your friends and family. Lean on whoever you need to buy always tell them how you feel. Take off your happy mask and stop pretending you’re ok when really, you’re everything but. You’ll be shocked at how many of them actually want to help.
Control your own happiness. We have more power than we think. We can control who we allow into our lives, we can control the people we surround ourselves with because we know who makes us happy. Don’t be a yes man, say no if you need to. Take the reins and do things your way.
Understand that’s it’s ok to have bad days, nobody has 365 good days a year and that’s ok. Allow yourself a bad day but try and find at least one positive thing about that day, even if it’s just the fact you got dressed. Little things are the big things in this situation.
One thing I will never forget that has probably turned into some of the best I was given is this. Every day, wake up and look in the mirror. Tell yourself repeatedly “I AM WORTH IT” even when you don’t feel it, tell yourself. Eventually, you will feel worth it. I was given this advice by a lovely lady who also encouraged me to write again. A lovely lady who let me cry on the phone and pour my heart out even though she barely knows me. A lady who made me realise it is ok to not be ok sometimes, but it’s also ok to ask for help and take back control.
I hope this blog post helps just one person today. And, if you are suffering in silence, please, contact me and talk, you never have to do this alone.