This #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, I wanted to reflect on how anxiety and depression have affected me, in the hope of raising awareness and also standing in solidarity with others.
I have always been a ‘worrier’. Either I worried about homework, exams, what people thought of me, or what I’d said, how someone had taken it, and consequences of everything I did.
As I entered the workplace, it seemed normal. We’re so often under pressure and perhaps we’re working with demanding people who we feel we must please at all costs.
I still have flashbacks to being a press officer at the Department of Health and lying in bed at night worrying about a quote I’d given a journalist, or being on duty overnight or at a weekend, frozen in terror about the next call I’d receive and whether I’d say the right thing. It was not normal or healthy. I realise that now.
It wasn’t until 2013 that I sensed that I needed help – so I’d got through 26 years of adult life managing my strange knife-edge approach to life. And let’s be in no doubt, everyone who suffers from mental ill-health ‘manages’ it – some better than others. I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and was referred for CBT.
I know from others who experience anxiety and depression that CBT isn’t for everyone, but no coping mechanism is for everyone. We all have to find our own combination. It’s a bit like the EatWell plate of balanced nutrition. The big takeaways from CBT were that I’m ‘always on duty’ and I catastrophise. I found it really valuable to identify these and learn coping mechanisms. I’ve now got activities that give me ‘flow’ and help me calm the noise in my mind and step back.
Through training as a coach, I’m also able to ask myself what’s real and what I’m creating in my own mind! That doesn’t stop flashbacks to things I said and did over 20 years ago, and how I felt, but I’m better able to ask myself whether it matters and move on.
Last year was difficult in so many ways for so many people. I learned new techniques by doing a Positive Psychology course, helpful to clients as well as myself. I already knew that nature plays a big part in calming my mind and became a lot more appreciative of the small things and found meditation was hugely beneficial.
Towards the end of the Summer, visiting a friend in Somerset, I suddenly noticed that our country walks felt dull – as if they were through an opaque lens. I took little joy in the sights and sounds that would have normally lifted me. I didn’t go for early morning walks, where I normally would have jumped at the chance. I realised that I had no motivation, and felt guilty that I wasn’t more grateful for my life when so many others had struggled so much more.
I made an appointment with the GP. Around the same time, I took a Mental Health First Aid course. I think, looking back, that the stigma around medication for depression might have prevented me from seeking help if I hadn’t done that course.
I had the conversation with the GP about feeling bad about feeling bad. He set me straight and made me realise that if we’re feeling bad/low/stressed/irritable, we’re feeling that – don’t compare it against other people.
I’ve been dithering about writing this, because the last thing I want to do is say ‘what works for me, will work for you’. And I hope that’s not what’s coming across. The point is, that if you feel any of these signals I’ve mentioned here, please talk to someone who will listen and point you in the right direction. I spent too many years denying myself the support I needed, and it’s such a relief to want to get up every day, not worrying about everything I do or say (mostly), and setting myself goals and achieving them. And taking pleasure in the natural world again.
Photo credit: Headgirl Photography