It’s World Mental Health Day today so there will be a lot of words around. I never know quite what to say. I can be pretty articulate sometimes but more often I’m super mumbly — especially when it comes to discussing my silly anxious brain.
I tend to keep quiet around World Mental Health Day for a few reasons. One being that in some ways, I am oddly quite disheartened by the emphasis on people speaking out. Raising awareness and speaking out is of course a great idea, but the reality is that people have to continue speaking out and this isn’t often addressed. The NHS mental health services are in such high demand (especially this year) and are so underfunded that you personally have to keep pushing, keep speaking out and try not to get lost along the way. It’s incredibly difficult to drive your own recovery forward in this way and can often feel like nobody is listening and nobody really cares. Yes, people need to speak out, and I love that this raising of awareness means I personally feel a lot more comfortable to share my experience and reach out, but it’s crucial there is someone there to listen. At times, there really isn’t and this has to change.
I also think a lot of people speak about their experience with mental illness in a much clearer way that I can. I find it hard to put into words and can get a bit waffly. So with all that in mind I thought I would note down what it’s been like being an anxious lady asking for help over the past decade. And so I don’t get too wordy along the way, I’ve broken it down into bullet points.
– Final year of undergrad degree.
– Sneaking off to have a cheeky cry in the practice rooms (I was a music student).
– Friend suggested to see a GP. Told it was deadline stress — Antidepressants from the GP
– No follow up so stopped taking medication. Drinking lots and lots of gin instead — many more sneaky cries in odd places.
– Coping better? Lots of fun with nice friends. Met a nice boy. Less anxious lady for a while.
– Got a part time job. Cried lots with fear. Quit job. Got a different job. Spent many days terrified of doing the wrong thing at new job.
– Applied for lots of ‘sensible’ Graduate jobs. Mumbled too much? No job for me.
– Started feeling weird, lethargic and faint quite a bit. Went to the GP about this (plus tummy issues). GP not sure – told to ‘keep an eye on it’.
– Physical health fell apart. Fainting weekly with a naughty poorly tummy (nice boy says I shouldn’t call it “naughty” as it understates how horrific the symptoms were). Terrified of it happening. Started having panic attacks.
– Pretended I could carry on as ‘normal’. Got a job. Had a breakdown. Couldn’t leave bed. Scared to leave the house in case of panic attack and/or fainting.
– Lots more fainting. Fainting at home, at volunteering, at boyfriend house, in the street.
– Constant day-to-day anxiety. Scared to leave the house. Scared to be left on my own. Multiple panic attacks every day.
– Decided I couldn’t cope — went to the GP again. GP prescribed meditation and suggested self-referring to CBT
– Reached out to local CBT. Explained it all again.
– Started CBT with a nice kind man who only showed me diagrams for 6 weeks.
– Passed to a senior CBT therapist for 6 more weeks.
-Not getting anywhere so asked for more help. Added to longer waiting list for specific help — told likely 1 year wait.
– Panic attacks now when alone for more than 10 minutes. Panic attacks with no obvious trigger.
– GP again. Diagnosed Panic disorder and General anxiety disorder. Added in another medication. Then a third.
– Therapy group for tummy/fainting issues starts. Met some lovely and helpful people. Felt a bit better with physical health.
– Panic attacks only once a day (woohoo?). Still can’t be alone. Still can’t go out without someone.
– More tummy/fainting days so panic attacks increase. Went to different GP — increases medication.
– Start one to one therapy. Fourth time lucky?
– Feel heard. Feel a little braver. Go out locally if someone nearby. Sit in a coffee shop on my own for the first time in years! Panic attacks only 2 or 3 times a week.
– Coping a little better so move cities with the nice boy.
– Ask to see the new local GP. Not a helpful human. See a different GP. Very helpful human. Can see I am ‘coping’ but need longer term help. Refers me to longer course of therapy (18 months to wait).
-Managing? Panic attacks only weekly now on three types of medication.
– Can leave the house alone sometimes. Living some sort of life?
-Longer term ACT therapy finally started. Life changing.
– Very anxious but pushing more and more.
– Making hints about my mental illness online. Using a separate twitter to speak about mental health more freely.
– Finally feel less ashamed of being an anxious lady.
-Started new volunteering. Set up a little Etsy store.
-Spending time alone and actually enjoying it.
-Reduce medication to two. Moving forward and adding things back into my life.
-FLIPPING GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Coping. To be continued…
Of course this is only my personal experience but I think it emphasises that there is far more of an issue than people reaching out to get help. Many GP visits and short course therapies were never followed up, so I’d ask for help again and again. Even in my darkest times I remained stubborn enough to push myself to get the care I desperately needed so I kept going. I am also incredibly lucky that those around me also encouraged me and helped me get the care I need. But it still terrifies me thinking to the amount of times I have started medication and not been followed up, I’ve asked for talking therapy and it’s months of waiting to find out I’m not on the right waiting list. It’s only because I kept asking that I got to this point 7 years on where I feel a little more myself.
But not everyone is capable of pushing this much to get help, in fact it’s completely understandable that those struggling would not keep pushing and questioning their care. So please, keepsupporting your friends and family to reach out if they are struggling with mental illness or a bad period of mental health, but also keep listening. Keep emphasising the need for more mental health support from the NHS and local services. It’s too bloody hard to do all this on your own.