Mental Health is something that is widely accepted and supported in most parts of the world today. However, a lot of people still feel like they have to hide it. I am one of those people. Anyone of us can become susceptible to a mental health issue, at any point of our lives, so I think it is important for people out there to know that it is ok to talk about it. There is nothing to be ashamed of and things will get better. In this, the first part of my story, I describe my time coming to terms with the fact that I suffer with a mental illness. I would be lying if I said this is an easy thing to share, it is very personal and some of you might wonder why I would even consider telling you about it. The answer is that it is something I have felt ashamed about for a long time and that has to stop. When it comes to mental illness everyone should be encouraged to talk about it because it happens to so many of us. It shouldn’t be a skeleton in the closet but it doesn’t need to be a flamboyant pink feather boa either. It is just a part of us whether it just be for a month or two or for your whole life. It doesn’t define you but things won’t get better until you accept it. By sharing my own story about mental illness I am hoping those who read this and are suffering from anxiety, depression, anger issues, whatever it might be, will realise that ignoring it won’t make it go away and there is no shame in admitting something isn’t right. There are so many people out there just waiting to support you and help you get through this. Take the first step and I promise you things will get better. Don’t suffer in silence.
In the blog Stuck In A Rut https://vifathevalkyrie.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/stuck-in-a-rut/ you were told how I felt sad about my lack of achievement in life, how my life plans were going no where and how it was getting me down. Reading back over it I got fixated on a line I had used in the start of the second paragraph ‘I don’t think I would go as far as to say I was suffering from depression‘. The minute I had admitted that I had felt sad, I felt I had to quickly get rid of anyone potentially labeling it with something that could mean something as serious as depression. That ladies and gentleman, has been my life for the last 24 years.
From a young age I have been hiding or minimizing any negative feeling I have felt. I remember a friend of mine in secondary school telling me that if I kept worrying about everyone else’s problems and bottling up my own, one day I would just explode. Oh how right he was. As the years went on, more and more feelings and problems were stuffed into my bottle. My troubled childhood, my break ups, my fears of failure, disappointing people and being unwanted and alone slowly made the bottle reach capacity. Some days it would try to spill out in the form of a panic attack which I would make sure no one would see, and quickly try and make the bottle close again. That bottle was a ticking time bomb and just as my friend had warned me, it exploded.
At the beginning of last Summer an event that I won’t go into was my mind’s last straw. My bottle completely shattered and there was nowhere for me to hide. All the things that I hadn’t dealt with throughout the years were staring me in the face and all I could see was a deep, black hole trying to swallow me up. Before this I would have a panic attack once a year at most. I didn’t even say I had anxiety because I had grown up with family who suffered from it so much worse than me, how could my little panic attacks compare to theirs? Now my panic attacks were happening one or two times a day, sometimes lasting for hours. I would sit on my bed and stare at the floor just in front of my wardrobe shaking and sobbing, telling myself it would be ok. Things weren’t ok though, and as the weeks went on I did something I never do – I asked for help. It started with a phone call. I was having a particularly bad attack and I couldn’t get it to shift so I dialed the number and my mother’s cheery voice answered, always happy to get a call from me. I told her everything and she cried like she knew that this day had been coming. She convinced me that I needed help and I booked an appointment with my GP.
It was the toughest appointment I have ever gone to. At the time I felt like going to the doctor about this was me admitting defeat. I had fought for so long that it felt like admitting something was wrong was admitting I was weak. I was the strong, reliant, responsible one, how could people still think that if they saw me like this? I promised myself that I would stay strong in the appointment, maybe the doctor would say I’m just going through a tough time and I will get over it, maybe she would be right. I walked in and the tears came as the second sentence came out. A girl who hates showing any sort of weakness in front of anybody (especially in the form of crying) was balling her eyes out in front of a semi-stranger. I had seen this doctor maybe six times over the last couple of years due to various different illnesses, but what I hadn’t counted on was the fact she had actually been paying attention to me. She had noticed my stubbornness in admitting anything was wrong, minimizing everything I came into her with and how much I valued other people’s opinion of me. She handed me some tissues and reminded me I had already taken the first step to getting better because I was sitting in the chair next to her, telling her something was wrong. She then took a deep breath and looked at me knowing I had been dreading hearing the next words that came out of her mouth for a long time:
‘You have anxiety and depression’
I couldn’t say anything, I just nodded in acceptance. I had lost the battle, the official diagnosis was the sword in the heart.
She listened to a brief outline of my life and said she suspected I had been suffering with anxiety for about 8-10 years and that bouts of depression would come along when my anxiety was at its worst. She asked why I had never come forward with it before. I told her about my family and how bad their anxiety was. To me, mine were just small attacks that didn’t matter. She grabbed my hand and made me look her in the eye. She said in an almost frustrated voice ‘There is no just about any of this. You need to get that idea out of your head. You are as important as everyone else, your problems aren’t smaller or less important and you are worth helping‘
I still cry every time I think of that moment and how much I needed to hear those words.
I was adamant I wasn’t going on medication. She respected my wishes despite her feeling it was the best option and we agreed I would go to counselling. She put me on the waiting list for the free HSE counselling but said she would prefer it if I attended something sooner as the waiting lists were quite long. She mentioned Jigsaw which I outright refused. My brother was heavily involved with the organisation and I didn’t want him knowing how bad I was. She explained that he wouldn’t have access to any information but I still felt too uncomfortable about him being involved. She again respected my wishes and said to come back if anything got too much while I waited.
About a week past, I was having regular attacks but handling them as best I could. Then one Saturday morning I was in the my room and the crashing wave of a huge attack hit me. Ten minutes past, twenty minutes past, an hour past and I couldn’t get it under control. I had never felt so worthless and pathetic in all my life. I was shaking so violently that I could barely pick up my phone to call my mother. She didn’t answer at first, no one I called would answer and the feeling of being alone and no one caring made the attack worse. Two hours past and it hadn’t let up. I tried folding some clothes to distract my mind but my hands were just too shaky. A few minutes later and my Mum answer the phone. I told her about the attack, I think the shakiness in my voice frightened her (Sorry Mum) and she called my brother to come and check on me. He picked me up with his friend and took me to the beach, water had always had a way of calming me. It was a surprisingly warm and sunny day and I started to feel better being outside in the fresh air. We went to the local arcade and got crappy prizes with the tickets we won. The prize I got was a silver angel with the word ‘loyalty’ written on its banner. It still hangs on my bedroom wall to this day.
I was still a little shaky for the rest of the day but eventually I felt well enough to go home. I rang my Mum to let her know I was ok and that my brother had done a good job distracting me. Just like the doctor had, she took a deep breath and told me I couldn’t wait, I needed help now. I nodded my head though she couldn’t see it and said ‘I know Mum, you are right’. I don’t think it was until that day that I really understood how bad I was and that this battle wasn’t lost, I just couldn’t win it alone.
I will put Part 2 up in the next day or two. If you have any questions though don’t be afraid to ask. Not going to lie this feels super awkward to put online but I guess it is good to go outside your comfort zone everyone once in a while…….right? Well we will see I guess!
If you feel like you are suffering from any form of mental health issue I strongly encourage you to contact your GP. I will also leave some links to some great organisations below.