The Mental Illness Tag

Hi everyone! Welcome to the Mental Illness Tag! I was asked to do this by the tag’s creator Becca (here is the link to her blog https://beccadoeslifethings.wordpress.com/ ) and thought it would be a good way to spread awareness. I tag anyone that feels comfortable enough to do it. If you do decide to do it, make sure you send me a link in the comments so I can see it!

Here we go!

Question 1 

What mental illness do you have? I have anxiety. I was also diagnosed with depression but thankfully that has gone away for now.

Question 2

When were you diagnosed? I was officially diagnosed in July 2015 though I was told that I have suffered from it for approx eight years.

Question 3

Who knows about it? Originally, just my family and one or two friends. Now anyone who has read my blog knows!

Question 4

Do you receive treatment for it? Thankfully at the moment; no. I was on Sertraline Bluefish when I was at my worst.

Question 5

Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything? It did in the beginning but now it doesn’t really stop me from doing anything. I am very aware of my reactions to certain things and try to keep myself out of situations where I know I might get anxious and be at risk of an attack. On the other hand though, I have accepted that there will always be a possibility of an attack and try to push on and try new things anyway.

Question 6

Is there anything in particular that has helped you? Definitely my family and going to Jigsaw. I think my anxiety has actually brought my Mum and I closer together. I feel now more than ever that she is just a phone call away x

Question 7

Can you describe what it feels like to have your mental illness? I think this is a great question! It is hard to explain and I think it is important to point out that no two people will experience a mental illness the same way. This is the closest I can get to explaining it: Imagine your worst school day ever. You were late and got screamed at by the teacher that hates you. You forgot your homework in another class and got detention. You failed that test you had last week and have a twenty page write out. You got homework in every class. You go to detention and low and behold it is the teacher that screamed at you this morning supervising, and they wont let you do your homework. You run home but are too nauseous to eat anything. You go up to your room and sit at your desk with your four hour pile of homework plus your write out in front of you. You feel stressed about getting it all done in time, you worry about your mother having to sign your failed test. You start your maths homework but you were so distracted by your bad day that you didn’t pay attention in class and forget how to do the problem. It is the last straw and you start to panic. Your chest tightens, you get a lump in your throat, your hands start to shake and the room feels so warm that you can hardly breathe. You play out how bad tomorrow is going to be in your head and just want to cry because you can’t take it anymore. Imagine how you would feel at that moment. It is basically that feeling constantly, every day. It is not fun.

Question 8

What is a common misconception about your mental illness? That you are only looking for attention. I feel like a lot of people who come out and tell people about their issues are met with this response. Anxiety and depression are talked about a lot these days which is great, but it also means that a lot of people think it is just the ‘in thing’ at the moment. It is sad for those who are brave enough to talk about a very personal thing to be almost shamed by it.

Question 9

What do you find the most difficult to deal with? I would have to agree with Becca and say the feeling of isolation. Sometimes your mood goes so low that you think you are completely alone in the world. It is hard to remember you have people that love and care about you when your mood and self esteem hits a low point. Thankfully the people around me are good at reminding me!

Question 10 

Do you have anything else you would like to say? I know it sounds a little silly and naive but just be kind to each other. You never know what type of day someone has had or what they might be going through, so be patient with others. That rude server might have had a really bad nights sleep because they had something troubling them, that person that pushed past you on the street might be running late for an exam they spent all night studying for, the loud person on the phone on the bus might be on the phone to their daughter who they haven’t spoken to in three weeks. You never know so take a deep breath and think for a minute.

Well I hope you enjoyed this little tag! I have to admit, it got my brain thinking a lot about my own anxiety and how it affects me.

I’m going to make sure my next blog post is a little more cheerful!

Chat soon!

 

-Vifa

 

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My Battle With Mental Health Part 3

So this is the last part of this little blog series. I have enjoyed writing about it and have been pleasantly surprised by the responses I have gotten. Thanks again for all of the support!

I think one of the greatest things about counselling or talking to a mental health professional are the things you learn about yourself. Whoever you talk to is on the outside of your life, peering into a little window and seeing glimpses of the past and present that define you, that worry you, that make you feel vulnerable and weak. On the one hand that is a scary thing to imagine, but you will be surprised by how much they see by just seeing into that window. Beethoven saw things about me that I had been too distracted to see. He reminded me of how hard my life has been from the very beginning, how I have fought every day of my life for everything I have. He listed out some of the major things that I have gone through in my twenty four years on earth and asked; if he had told me that someone else had gone through all of those things, what would I think of them?  The answer came surprisingly quickly.

‘I would think that they are a really strong person’

I was reminded that I am a fighter. I am stubborn and strong, resilient and reliable and even though I hit a low point in my life, I was still fighting. By asking for help, by going on medication, by going to Jigsaw, I was not giving up, I was still fighting. It is something I find myself still trying to say to people today.

You are not giving up or admitting defeat, you are simply changing tactics. 

Sometimes we can’t fight alone, and for someone who has always been independent, it can take a lot to trust someone enough to help you. I put my trust in my family, in my GP and in Jigsaw and they all came through for me. I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help.

I went to sessions with Beethoven for five months. Session by session I trusted him more, let a little more out and piece by piece we built my confidence up again. One of the most important lessons  I learnt though was on my first day.

Beethoven explained that I am a brunette, so if someone turned around to me and said ‘your hair is blonde’ my mind would instantly tell me that this information is false. In a lot of cases of depression, sometimes you constantly think over the negative thoughts you have about yourself.

‘I’m a bad person’, ‘Nobody cares about me’, ‘I don’t deserve to be happy’.

These thoughts, and thoughts like these are just that; thoughts. When you repeat something to yourself over and over again, your brain will start to think that these thoughts are actually facts. To this day, if I catch myself thinking something overly negative about myself, I will say in my head (or out loud) ‘this is just a thought’, because that is all it is, a thought. I am a good person, I’m not perfect,  I make mistakes just like everybody else does, but I deserve to be happy and loved. You have to train your brain to dismiss a negative thought as false, just like it can with the colour of your hair. I have brown hair is a fact. You looking in the mirror and thinking: my hair makes me look ugly, is a thought. Recognising the difference helped me so much. It might seem like a simple thing to know, but when you are in place where you are surrounded by negativity, you quickly forget the difference.

Just before Christmas last year I felt well enough to come off my medication. I have no doubt in my mind that going on the medication was the right decision, but my doctor had been right, it wasn’t something I needed forever. I had my last Jigsaw session at  the end of January this year. Beethoven listened to everything, made sure everything I wanted to talk about was talked about, and that I felt happy to try and live life without Jigsaw. He told me I could come back if I needed too and he wasn’t lying. I had what I like to call a ‘top up session’ recently just to make sure I was ok during a difficult time. The sad thing is that my depression and panic attacks could come back at any time, but Jigsaw have given me the tools I need to handle them if they do. Most importantly though, they are there if I ever need that extra bit of help.

Life can be hard at times and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. If I want anyone reading this to take anything away from these blogs it is this: It will get better. There is hope for everyone out there. Sometimes you are so surrounded by darkness it is hard to see the light but I promise you, it is there. Not all of us can find it on our own but there are people out there to help. Never give up, you are worth the fight, and you will come out the other end a much stronger person. Mental health effects all of us whether we suffer from a mental health issue ourselves, or know someone who has one. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure everyone knows that there is no shame in it and there is help there if and when you need it.

I am lucky that I am in a much better place now as recently I have become very aware that not everyone makes it. There are so many people out there who, like me, kept everything bottled up inside. Unfortunately, not everyone gets help on time and find they can’t go on fighting anymore. If you suspect anyone you know is going through a rough time let them know you are there for them, try and encourage them to talk to someone or maybe bring it to the attention of someone the trust and feel close to. Sometimes the smallest gesture can save a life. Try to be kind to everyone you meet, you never know what a person might be going through.

Thank you once again for listening to my story. Just knowing I have helped someone by writing these blogs has made it so worth it for me. I am not ashamed to talk about this anymore so please don’t be afraid to ask me questions. I have had a few people come up to me over the last couple of weeks to ask questions, or say that this helped them and it really does put a smile on my face. I am proud of myself for doing this and no one can take that from me. My mental health journey hasn’t ended, I don’t know if it ever really will, but I know that I will get though anything else life wants to throw at me because I have people who will be there to support me.

Thanks once again.

 

 

-Vifa

My Battle With Mental Health Part 2

Just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who has commented or messaged me their kind words of support. I got some messages from people I never would have expected so it just goes to show how much people can care. Well let’s continue…

When you hit rock bottom the only way to go is up…

That was the mentality I had when I walked into my first Jigsaw appointment.

My brother had convinced me to give it a try and had arranged an appointment for me. I stood at the bus station across the road and looked at the green decorations on the glass building in front of me. I had seen this building a million times, told everyone how great a service it was for young people, but the idea of walking through those doors myself terrified me. I had planned everything I was going to say carefully, gone through every question I thought they would ask. In my head it was a test that was going to label me as “crazy” or “sick” or worse, stupid for feeling the way I did.

I worked up the courage to knock on the door and go inside (mainly because I’m obsessed with being on time). The room was bright, modern and colourful, pretty much everything you would expect a young adult to like. Everyone was friendly and spoke in that gentle voice you hear when people think even a loud noise could make you fall apart. I was introduced to the counsellor who brought me into a small room with warm lighting. I was nervous, I discovered a few sessions in that I fidget with my hands when I’m nervous and I remember doing this a lot the first day. She explained what Jigsaw did and how it worked, let me fill out some forms and did a few short tests to see where my mood was. I thought I was doing well, the paperwork was a good distraction and my nerves went down slightly. However, as I went through one of the tests I realised just how low my mood was. I never expected that my depression had gotten this bad. Up until now I had been focused on my anxiety since the panic attacks were now so frequent. The counsellor and I talked, she was very good at teasing out information I didn’t even know had been weighing me down. The session felt like it was over in a matter of minutes though I had been in there for an hour. She said Jigsaw could definitely offer me help if I wanted it and put me on the waiting list for regular sessions. She apologised saying they had about a four week waiting list but that I could call any time.

I was scared that another waiting list was involved. I didn’t know how long I could last without doing something to address everything that was going on. Jigsaw didn’t forget me though. Every Wednesday around 11am I would get a call from the counsellor to check in and make sure I was ok. She would ask about my mood and my attacks and make sure I was managing them ok while I waited. She had also sent my test results to my GP (she had asked my permission first) and low and behold my GP didn’t forget me either. I had an appointment with her a few days later. She had even personally called my GP to discuss my results and to see what she thought was the best course of action. I truly felt like they had genuine concern for my well being which made me finally start listening to, and valuing what they had to say. When I met with my GP again I made the very hard decision of going on medication. She saw how nervous I was about it. I told her how much I was afraid it would change who I was or numb me completely. She told me the science of how the medication she had chosen worked, how it would help me keep the hormone dopamine (the one that causes you to feel happy) around for longer. She explained the side affects that might happen as my body got used to it, and that it was a low dose for now that would be upped when my body became accustomed to it. Most importantly though she assured me that it didn’t have to be forever.

When I got home I read the pamphlet that came with the medication over and over again. I cried that it had come to this. If I was taking medicine I must be sick right? There must be something wrong with me. I told myself that this was my depression talking, not me. I took the tablet and the world didn’t end, the sky didn’t fall and I didn’t instantly turn into a robot. I kept taking them though in the beginning I did get bad headaches. I persevered, I continued to have my phone calls once a week, the headaches went away and after about three weeks I noticed the difference. I wasn’t numb, I hadn’t changed, it is hard to explain but it felt like I was seeing clearly for the first time. It was like I could properly process all of the emotions that had been making me feel overwhelmed. I still felt sad and alone a lot but those feelings weren’t ruling my life as much, I didn’t spend most of my days feeling like I was drowning anymore. My panic attacks were still there but they wouldn’t last as long and were coming maybe once every two or three days. I started to feel a bit of hope for myself.

Around the time my medication started to kick in I got a call from Jigsaw. The voice I heard wasn’t my regular counselor’s voice though, it was a cheery man’s voice that was on the other end of the phone. He told me he had a spot for regular sessions if I was happy to have him instead of the first counsellor I had met. If I’m honest I was a little reluctant to go with a male counsellor. I found it hard to open up to men since all of the men in my life had let me down at one stage or another. I thought I should at least give it a try though and agreed to see him in two weeks time. Since I don’t want to reveal his identity I will refer to him from now on as Beethoven (inside joke).

I didn’t really know what to expect from the man with the cheery voice. I nervously walked up to the Jigsaw doors yet again and rang the bell. He was in with another person so a nice, once again soft spoken lady sat me down in the waiting area until he was ready for me. Beethoven came out with a young guy and his family laughing and joking. There was no quiet, walking on eggshell voice with him. He was a ball of friendliness and cheer that you couldn’t help but smile with. He was a lot less cautious around me then everyone else was, (including my family) and I never felt like he was pitying me. He brought me into the same room that I had been in my first day. Talking to Beethoven felt more like talking to a friend or an Uncle you really get along with. I did the tests again knowing my scores hadn’t gotten better. I was nervous handing them back, afraid of a concerned or uncomfortable look coming back from him. I got the complete opposite. He nodded once he had added up the score and smiled at me. I don’t remember his exact words but it was something along the lines of ‘well I wont lie, it isn’t a great score but I’ve seen worse‘. He laughed and the tension was gone. I couldn’t help but laugh with him. Looking back, I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had said no to Beethoven’s call.

This is getting a bit long so I’m going to stop here. Looks like I will have to make a Part 3. Again, I hope this helps anyone reading whether they are suffering from a mental illness themselves or they have someone close to them who is going through it. 

Hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend!

-Vifa

My Battle With Mental Health Part 1

 

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. 

 

-Vifa

https://www.headstrong.ie/jigsaw/

http://www.aware.ie/

http://www.mentalhealthireland.ie/

https://www.rethink.org/

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/