Hear It From Me
My story isn't something that may interest you, however I just wanted to put it out there because I feel it is so important to talk about mental health and to let others know you are not alone and you are not crazy. I never thought of anxiety/depression as a 'mental health' problem, as it has such a stigma attached to it. People use it so freely about being 'anxious', when I think the word they are looking for is nervous. Anxiety/depression comes with a whole concoction of physical and mental pain.
My anxiety started with severe migraines, sickness and panic attacks when I was at my first year of university. I didn't know what was wrong but I didn't think I would have been diagnosed with anxiety when I was presenting physical symptoms. I went back to the doctor and asked for a blood test as I felt that I had not been diagnosed properly. Of course my bloods came back fine and that really didn't sit well with me as I was given no information, no resources on how to help, I was just left to my own device.
I had a few counselling sessions at university, and they put my anxiety down to the fact I lost my Aunty, I moved 4 hours away from home and that I was struggling with the university pressure. My Aunty was the most incredible woman in the world and she is forever my inspiration, so losing her was extremely painful. I have never had a problem with public speaking or ‘work pressure’ as I always felt very confident, but I ended up dropping out of university after my first year because I couldn't get out of bed, I had no concentration, I couldn't find anything to be happy about and I was experiencing horrific panic attacks. I became very insecure and angry towards everything because I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so weak. I found it very hard to hold down a job as I would have panic attacks and get stressed over the tiniest ordeal. I didn’t think people understood that I was in a bad place and I just didn’t feel myself, I felt like I didn’t belong.
I started to compare myself and question why I was struggling, why do I feel so ill all the time, it was never ending trips to the doctors, I stopped going out because of my attacks, I cried everyday, I hated the way I looked, I didn't see a future for myself and I couldn't see the point in me being here if I had to put up with this crippling 'anxiety', I wanted to disconnect myself from everything. I worried that I had an incurable disease that no one had picked up on. I was getting upset and stressed over silly things and started to obsess over time and feeling like it was running out. My mind couldn't cope with everyday life.
My doctors finally decided to put me on medication. I was on my first set of antidepressants Citalopram for 2 months. Everyday I was being violently sick on them which led me to not leaving the house, and then my symptoms of depression came out. They changed my medication to Sertraline. I attended a 1 to 1 session through Positive Step. I had waited 6 months for this appointment and I nervously went in wanting the world to swallow me up. As soon as the ‘therapist’ asked if I was ok, I just burst into tears and was inconsolable. I wasn’t offered a tissue or anything, the therapist just looked at me, not saying anything. I couldn’t get any words out I just felt so low and cried for the entire session. After half an hour she said to me to that I needed to go home and do some homework, which was writing a mood diary. Then I signed a piece of paper to say I attended and was told my session was over. So this was just an absolute waste of time, I didn’t get anything from it, just that I needed to go home and write my emotions down everyday, and this for me was hard to do as I didn’t want to write down how awful I felt, I didn’t want to see the words written out that I felt low, and sad everyday. I was on Sertraline for 10 months, I never felt any different so the doctor kept increasing my dose little by little, until I noticed I had the shakes, I had to wrap my legs together at night just so I could sleep, my whole body would just vibrate, in the state I was in I didn’t think it would be a side effect of my meds. Speaking to my doctor again they advised I upped my dose??
A friend recommended a CBT therapist for me to go and see, she was lovely, she had suffered with mental health herself, she went through years of training to help other people who suffered. She explained to me how anxiety and depression affects your brain and that when you are in a low place, nothing makes sense and your head looks like a shaken snow globe. She stressed that mental health is a chemical imbalance. She taught me breathing techniques and recommended some books and apps for me to read. She was also like a friend that I could sit and talk to and I didn’t feel rushed. I came to terms with knowing that when you are depressed you take everything as a threat and this then plays with your emotions making you feel constantly stressed and paranoid.
I was then involved in a car crash. Someone swerved into the side of my car and wrote it off, I ended up in A&E with back pain and whiplash. This is when I really felt a change. I was jumpy, paranoid and I couldn't concentrate on little things, I felt like everything was my fault, even if it wasn't, I stopped driving for a while as I could not get back on the road. I was a shell of a person. I lost connection with myself.
I visited a neurologist after my crash and he suggested I needed to change medication AGAIN to Mirtazepine which my doctor prescribed it to me. This is where I fell into a dark place. I felt different and I wasn't myself, I would try see friends but I wasn't really listening, I wasn't really there. I felt bad if I had to cancel but I just never wanted to leave my house, and put so much blame on myself. I'd constantly feel guilty, sad and suicidal. It was my parents who noticed my dip and took me to see a psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital. I wasn't in a great place and just wanted to come off all medication as I had been let down so many times and nothing was working. My faith in prescription drugs had gone out the window. I was diagnosed with sever bipolar depression, but advised to come off the anti-depressants as they weren't having any positive effect. For years I wanted to go without any drugs to see if I could cope on my own. I felt ok for the first few months but then I turned to marijuana to help 'normalise' myself. I really abused smoking as it helped me to sleep and eat. However, I became so dependant on it that I wouldn’t leave the house without having a smoke. I then got involved with harder drugs and would use them as a coping mechanism. At first they helped me to go out and socialise, but then I started to use even if I wasn't going out. As you can imagine this made me more and more anxious and paranoid and it was not who I am, I just got caught up in finding help for myself and thought drugs were the answer.
In that year I became very bipolar where some days I would bounce off the walls, had an obsession with cleaning, everything had to be spotless, my eating habits changed drastically and I tried to be the happiest person in the world. Other days I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, I felt scared about going to the bathroom or leaving my room, I couldn’t go downstairs if we had family or friends over I just couldn’t cope with anyone asking how I was. I really hid myself away and didn’t want to see anyone, I wanted to give up. I can remember visiting the Mall (shopping centre) for the first time in months, I wanted to feel as if I could do normal things again, but as I got out of my car I felt like I was being watched, I got through the doors and walked through the centre and thought there were 100 assassins all after me all hidden around the shopping centre, I felt like everyone was watching me and there were guns pointing at me, I couldn’t even make it to one shop and I just left as I felt in danger. Other times when I was driving I would check my doors were locked nearly every second, I kept looking at the on-coming drivers and trying to register their face and number plates. It wasn’t until I nearly crashed into the car in-front of me that I realised I wasn’t paying attention to the road, but this didn’t stop me. I thought someone was after me, as well as feeling that the world was going to end or huge catastrophe would happen. I genuinely didn’t think I’d survive the year I just thought that something was going to happen to me. My mind constantly played tricks.
I began to think of routes to take my own life, I thought of crashing my car, overdosing and other horrible things. I planned my funeral and what I would want it to be like. I went back to the doctors because I didn’t know what else to do. They referred me to a mental health specialist team and I had my appointment in the next few weeks. When I was seen I could not have had a worse experience. I was asked a series of questions from the ‘mental health specialist’, how did I feel day to day, what is my eating like, what are my hobbies, blah blah blah, then she asked if I ever made plans to take my life, I replied yes in an absolute state I sat there crying into my hands, hyperventilating and couldn’t talk. She looked at me and said ‘I’m sorry that you feel like this’ I replied I just want to run across the motorway, no one understands how I feel, I don’t feel normal. Her reply was ‘I think you should go home, paint your nails and have a relaxing bath.’ I was fuming. I couldn’t believe the response I got, I was screaming at her saying I didn’t want to be alive and she just sat there saying ‘there’s not much more the North Somerset can offer you if you don’t want to take medication’. I eventually had enough and walked out. I was traumatised over this. Could not get my head around the fact that medication was the only answer. But no one was getting my medication right, I felt like I was the only person going through this as it seemed like they’d never come across anyone like me before.
After finally talking to my parents about what went on in my session and explaining how low I generally felt, they got back on the phone to my psychiatrist from the Priory. I went in to see her with my mum and dad, saying I’d happily take a pill if it would kill me, I can’t go through this anymore I just can’t do it. I was going crazy inside my head and I couldn’t handle it. I was then admitted to the mental health unit the following day and I stayed there for just under a month. After 3 days of being in there one of the nurses asked why I hadn’t eaten anything since I had been in there, advising me to eat otherwise the doctors would have to move me to the eating disorder ward. I was diagnosed with sever depression, anxiety and PTSD. It took time to adjust to being inside hospital but it really was a blessing in disguise. I was given the right medication, counselling and medical attention. This for me was the perfect environment to be in, at first I wanted to run away, it scared the living daylights out of me that I had to go into ‘hospital’ however it was nothing like I thought it would be. I made friends on my ward who were going through similar things, made connections with people in group therapies and met some amazing people. This is where I realised that I’m not alone, there are so many people suffering with the same problem but just don’t know how to talk about it or can’t find anyone who understands. Most of the people I met said that the Priory was their last resort, the NHS had unfortunately let them down, and this certainly applied to me. I can't express how much this saved my life, how everyone at the Priory was so amazing and how supportive my family and friends were.
Of course when I left the hospital I thought I didn't need my medication anymore so I stopped taking them. Well that was a huge mistake as I noticed myself dip really low again, I was having tremors and feeling really weird. From that day I realised that I would never stop taking my meds until I was advised from my psychiatrist. I was signed off work for a further month when I was discharged. You can not rush back into work after having a mental break down, ‘take it slow and steady until you’re ready’ is what one of the nurses said to me.
I carried on having 1 to 1 counselling and a few day sessions a week at the hospital, this continued for 4 months. I never believed counselling and medication would help, however once you find the right medication, I couldn't recommend anything more. It took a long time for the meds to finally make a difference and for my therapy groups to start registering, but after 5/6 months I saw and felt a complete change in myself. Things started to look better. I had to grasp onto the fact that mental health is a crippling illness that can be treated, just like you would take insulin if you had diabetes. The hardest thing is coming to terms that it's not visible and no one one can fully understand how you feel unless they have been through it themselves. Since being in the Priory I am 100% clean of drugs and will never go back there as I can clearly see they do not help me at all. I am eating 3 meals a day and making sure I go out for some fresh air. I just like to go on walks, ground myself and feel no pressure.
If I can feel myself slipping at any point or I am having a bad day, I really try to embrace it, I tell the people around me that I'm not ok today, if I need to cry I will take time to cry it out but say tomorrow is going to be better so have today as a ‘healing’ day. I don’t cover it up, I just say it how it is. I like to say to myself 'is it the end of the world?' How can I nurture myself and slow myself down? Don’t over do it! I’ve found creating this website and having something to focus on has really helped me, I can distract myself if I’m at a loose end and don’t know what to do. I want to share the tips and things that have helped me and hopefully create a good resource for anyone who doesn’t understand what they or someone they know is going through.
I want people to recognise mental health for what it is, an evil, crippling and terrifying illness. It can change a whole person and can be daunting when you don't know anything about it or how to deal with it. Looking back, I don’t even recognise myself, it makes me sad to think about what my mental health did to me for 4 years, and the effect it had on my loved ones. All I can say is make sure you talk about it and don't be ashamed to say you have a problem. Everyone has their different struggles and yours is no different to anyone else. You are just as important and you deserve happiness.