In 2017 I went on a journey I never expected to go on. I never thought I had a problem with getting older but suddenly my youngest had flown the nest and I found myself wondering what was next for me. We’d recently moved house and everything was upside down. I couldn’t see a time when things would be back to normal – whatever normal is.
One night I was enjoying a meal with friends and in the space of a couple of minutes I went from feeling OK to feeling like I was going to die. The walls seemed to close in and everything got magnified. Faces seemed to loom over me and the sounds were deafening. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was very frightened. My feet felt like they were stuck to the floor and although I couldn’t seem to move. Someone asked me if I was OK and it burst the bubble I was in. Thankfully I managed to leave and felt somewhat safe once I got back to my car.
What I now know as panic attacks would creep up unawares. I was petrified on a daily basis, I didn’t want to go into town or go to a shop. I’d have a constant pain in my chest and tense shoulders. My heart would start pounding, I start sweating and shaking before I knew it I was a sobbing wreck. I even had a panic attack in a mindfulness class!
When you throw depression into the mix, I felt that I’d lost myself. I’d become a shadow person that I didn’t recognise and I couldn’t see a way to come back from that. I will never be the person I was again because I’m much more understanding of mental health issues. I realise that most people have their own battles to fight and their own demons to face. It’s a tough place to be in but I hope now to be more compassionate.
I learnt so much about myself along the way. I talked to as many people as I could, I found out what helped them. I took time to rest and I’m blessed to have an understanding family who would listen to me and would know when I needed to be alone.
I went to several different counsellors, it took me a while to find the right person for me. I’m not going to lie, it was exhausting. I felt like I was a magician, pulling all the scarves out of a hat, and when the hour was up I was trying to gather them all up and bring them home. It was my emotional baggage – and there was a lot of it!
Writing helped me enormously, I wrote on my blog, there were several 4am posts. I found when I’d written something it cleared my head. I realised when the comments started coming in that I wasn't alone, far from it, so many people suffer in silence and don't feel like they can speak out.
I also had notebook full of random thoughts, when I look back on them now it doesn’t seem like I wrote them at all. I also spoke to anyone who would listen, so many people have their own mental health story, and you can learn so much from others.
People would tell me I was brave to tell my story, but the way I look at it is that I'd tell people if I had a broken leg and having depression and anxiety is no different. If we don't talk about mental health the stigma will never go away.
I’m doing so much better than I was. I’ve discovered quite a lot of the things that trigger me, so I avoid them, or I know how to deal with them. I’m kinder to myself, I don’t push myself as much as I would have done previously. I’m still quite anxious, and I’ll write more about that in my next post.
I suppose the message I’m trying to give people reading this is that you are not alone. Things can and do get better. I’m living proof of that. Reach out to people, start the conversation, and if you aren't in the right place at the moment take your time, you'll get there.