The BBC are doing a season of programs about mental health called #In the mind. A lot of courageous people have shared their stories, its time to share mine. Have you seen the Mac Millan tv advert, with the bloke standing in the snow in a hospital gown? While the announcer says ‘Cancer can be the loneliest place, no one should face cancer alone’? I haven’t had cancer, but I’ve lost two people closest to me, to it. I can’t know what it feels like to have it, but the loneliness, the isolation, the desolation and fear they are portraying in this advert, that is what living with my mental health problems are like for me. Except, there is no kind nurse who comes to rescue me.
I’m not writing this at the best time, day two of a migraine and Ibruprofen has only just kicked in to ease the pain and here I am looking at a computer screen. I am also only just holding it together amid a panic attack, but on the other hand, you want to know what its like to live with these things so here goes.
Have you ever fallen over on ice? Do you know the feeling, in those fleeting seconds as you start to fall, where you have no control on anything, and the ground rushes toward your face and you know its gonna hurt when you hit the floor? Constant anxiety feels like that. Like you are about to be hit by a car that is inches away from you and you are looking at it but you can’t move to avoid the impact. Like the lion is about to pounce and you know you can’t outrun it. Its exhausting, its terrifying, and it rarely lets up, day or night.
After living in situations that were really upsetting, as carer for both parents who had terminal illness. In jobs where I was verbally abused on a daily basis. Trapped with no escaping the situations and getting more and more physically vulnerable thanks to constant pain from hyperflexing. I lost my home when my father passed away and not so long after that, if it wasn’t for my fiance I would have been homeless. Then one day, it happened, I snapped, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t go out, could barely make a sentence. Couldn’t really explain to anyone how I felt.
At times my brain feels like a bee in a jar, a million thoughts happening at once, the implications of every thought have to be considered and decisions are physically painful. I can’t use the phone, and agoraphobia makes it impossible to leave the house for most of the time. When the phone rings or the doorbell goes; I jump like a frightened cat when the thing rings, same too when the doorbell rings. I only open door to people I know or trust. I do have flashbacks to traumatic events that happened in the past, my brain still trying to see if there was a way I could have changed the outcome I have now.
Right now; I’ve been hiding behind closed curtains for the last week, a tree has been cut down, my world view has changed, and I’m terrified. Going into the garden feels like stepping off the edge of a cliff. Things that other people wouldn’t think twice about doing cause panic attacks n so much fear.
Friends, and I almost want to write that like ‘friends’. People I used to call friends, couldn’t understand why I couldn’t communicate and couldn’t see them, even when I managed to write to them to try to explain. I was terrified of everyone and everything except my husband. They moved on, without me. You really find out who your friends are when the chips are down!
If you are wondering about telling your friends and family about your struggles, prior proper planning would be my advice. Bear in mind that a lot of people have no idea what it is like to live with mental health issues, of what ever kind. So be prepared for questions about it. Not everyone will ‘get it’. Not everyone will stay, so maybe choose who you tell carefully. It might be a good idea to wait till you are feeling as well as you can do, before you take the plunge and come out.
My experience of anti-depressants didn’t go well. I am sensitive to medication in general and for me these made the symptoms of anxiety significantly worse and the side effects were so bad I couldn’t continue with them.
After four different anti-depressants had taken their toll I stepped away from medication.
There was a long waiting list for therapy and eventually I got on to a CBT course. By then I’d been housebound for over 2 years. I struggled to attend even with my husbands support and they discharged me, not because I was fixed but because I haddn’t made enough progress. This was all the options NHS had, so I gave up taking up precious GP time, don’t get me wrong she’s wonderful, but if that was the only options and they didn’t work, what was the point keep going over and over the same problems with her.
Then in 2014 my darling husband passed away, my best friend, my soul mate and also my carer. I was and still am devastated. In despiration I tried the GP for suport again, but still anti-depressants or CBT were only options. I already wanted to die, it just wouldn’t be safe for me to take them with no one here to support me. I emailed Cruse bereavement care, got assesed at home in about a month and started to see a weekly therapist for about 15 weeks, she was so kind and supportive. But as all things must, this support ended.
The GP did put me in touch with a private home help company who have been fantastic. I can email them and they will make calls for me and speak to people on my behalf. The lovely lady from there also does what I cannot around the house. Without them and the peer support on Elefriends I really would not be able to cope.
I started this website to keep my research of useful websites and books, to share the knowledge with others on this lonely journey, so you don’t have to search from scratch too.
Luckily I follow Stephen Fry on Twitter and he Tweeted about Elefriends an online community for people with mental health issues run by the charity Mind. Without them I would not still be here. I can go online and post on there day or night and someone will be around. Given how much they people on there have to go through as individuals the fact they offer support to others too is incredible and BIG TRUNK hugs to all my Elefriends you saved my life.
Coming out to neighbors about anxiety and depression
I came out about the extent of my anxiety to close neighbors the day they came round to commiserate about my husband’s death…not the best day, wasn’t playing for sympathy, just over shared coz I was in shock n shut down but…fair play to them they have been amazing. That’s the weird thing about this, the people I most thought I could rely on and had been closest too, have vanished. People who were smile and wave friends are the one’s who I can knock on the door to and ask how to do something if I get stuck. You never know which way people will go.
If you struggle to explain how you feel, have a read of Matt Haig’s book ‘Reasons to stay alive’ if it rings true with your experience, let others read that, then come back to you.
Alternatives to medication
We are all unique, as I mentioned before I can’t take anti-depressants, instead here is what I’ve tried.
These do help ease symptoms of anxiety. My basic things are anxiety, social phobia, agoraphobia, depression. But having read an article on PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) I match so many symptoms it makes sence of the anxiety and depression. Haven’t spoken to GP about this yet, not sure if there’s much point. If I have got that, it would be complex version coz of being trapped in situations for years with no escape and also on repeated instances.
This is helping though, it takes practice but if I can get a panic attack before it gets too set in, then Mindfulness really helps. Ruby Wax book Sane New World was a game changer for the techniques in there too. Bless you Ruby, your book is another lighthouse in a stormy sea.
Mindfulness teaches compassion, not just toward others but to ourselves. Because other people condem you for not trying harder, when they have no clue how hard you are trying, its all too easy to buy into that negative narration and say ‘Oh they must be right, if friends, family, Drs are all saying this. It must be true’. It is the illness that creates the problems we have, and the ignorance of others creates fear and judgement where there doesn’t need to be.
Compassion not blame
Just as I don’t want to be blamed for my illness, nor do I blame the NHS that there are not the resources available for us all, its just how it IS. That’s why on days I could focus I began my own online research for options, so I give you the links I’ve found, or other options that have been useful, on this website for you to see if any are helpful for you, in your situation.
We cannot control how others will view our illness, all we can hope is that by sharing our stories, maybe they will begin to listen and it time perhaps understand the difficulties we face. That because we shut up and give up, doesn’t mean things are ok, it just means that we have learnt not to knock on that same door anymore.
Evolution takes time, generations, but mental health services have come a long way since the 1960s so its a waiting game. Perhaps one day mental health will be given the same priority and respect as any other health issue. To be treated with care and compassion, not judgement and the assumption that if we just put a bit more effort in, we would all be better.
I pray we can all find a peaceful path through our pain and that when we share others will try to listen with compassion, even if they cannot image how it feels.
When all hope is lost, WAIT. Cry as loud as you want, let out the pain, but wait. Another day, things may look different. But you have to keep breathing to get to that place.