365 days ago, on October 10th, World Mental Health Day, I published a post I had worked on in collaboration with Funky Pigeon and their #BelieveInHappy collection, in support of Mind the mental health charity.
Reading that article back brings back a huge amount of emotion that I was battling with at that time. I touched on it within the post but massively under egged it, because well, y’know, over sharing. Ugh.
But reading the words of the products I was promoting and typing the advice I was writing down in hope to inspire and influence others, I realised that it was actually staring me in the face, that I needed a little help myself to get out of the rut I was in. A feeling that a dark cloud was following me around, trapping me in a place I just could not see a way out of.
I had been a stay at home Mum since being made redundant four years earlier and was feeling trapped in a cycle I couldn’t see any way out of. Scared to make a change, feeling too heavily depended on by the girls and yet also undervalued by society, worthless and, I guess, a little lost. The bad days had all started blending into one and the joy from my incredibly privileged position was entirely escaping me. I focused on every menial piece of negativity and cleaned the house on repeat like a woman possessed. I had talked everything through with Dad Muddling Through to death; even he had to admit he didn’t know how to help me and get the old Sarah back.
I broke down to my Mum and a close friend, but in every other sense soldiered on painting on a smile and making sure the kids were fed, watered, safe. What was however lacking was a little bit of happiness.
The first thing I did was speak to a friend I knew had experienced mental health struggles before. She gave me the encouragement to reach out to either my GP or Mind directly, and try and access some counselling or therapy.
With the support and reassurance of my husband I made that appointment with my GP and as the days drew near, I wrote on a piece of paper two lists. One was of how I was feeling, and one was what was triggering those emotions. That piece of paper was then my armour I wore into battle, knowing that however overcome or frozen my thoughts may be in that vital moment of outpouring, I could explain everything by placing it on the desk in front of me.
I still have that piece of paper, and looking back at the words scribbled down with the kids crayons is a permanent reminder of the symptoms to look out for. Paranoid, hurt, sad, lonely, hot, overwhelmed, breathless, tired, light headed, tearful, irrational… Not so happy times.
I was incredibly lucky to be listened to by an amazing GP who made me feel safe and able to speak openly. She diagnosed me with depression and anxiety, with OCD tendencies. She reassured me that some of what I mentioned was totally normal, and also that some things were outside of what was day to day ‘Mum life’. As a Mother herself she assured me that she could help me get to a place where I would feel not only ready to make changes, but enjoy the time with my young children whilst I had it. Her words meant everything.
She encouraged me to seek the therapy that was available to me through Mind, pending an initial assessment and offered me a course of Sertraline selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) to help bring my anxiety back under control.
Honestly, at this point, I would have taken any help I could get and I gratefully took the advice, the medication and the therapy up there and then. I knew my mood was affecting my daughters, who were starting to mirror some of my behaviours, and ironically as an act of selflessness, this was something I knew I needed to sort out for them – I just wasn’t in a place to even acknowledge that I could get the old me back for me.
By December I had been taking 50mg sertraline every day for two months and was already feeling like a different person in the best possible way. To the point that when my assessment came around for the CBT I had applied for, I thought they may turn me away.
That didn’t of course happen, and as I rattled through my long history of self confidence issues, insecurities and social anxieties, they had no hesitation in offering me my six sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My past had plenty of material to untangle and saying it all out loud to a total stranger was both liberating and incredibly uncomfortable – facing your biggest triggers is never going to be easy.
We got cracking with the CBT (which I think as probably part mixed with Counselling) and week on week we unpicked the pieces of my past which were continuing to cause me pain, hurt and physical reactions in the strangest of times.
It all started to make sense, and with time, I was able to see my own behaviours and traits in an entirely different way. Almost like reconnecting with an old friend who needed an arm around them rather than an enemy I was constantly trying to push away. Opening it all up and having a good old poke around was the first major step in really getting to know myself better, and learning that self awareness takes away the power of anxiety which had been crippling me quietly for a very long time.
Acknowledging my Achilles heel left me feeling more equipped to manage my emotions, which were undoubtedly heightened by the decision to give up drinking – something which I had perhaps self medicated with for many years.
Over the course of my free therapy sessions with Mind, it felt like I was unravelling from a cocoon like a butterfly. I secured an interview, landed a job, negotiated a part time position, sourced a childminder, and made that leap to a place I never thought possible.
In the meantime,more importantly, I re learnt how to laugh, to sing in the kitchen with my kids, to embrace the bedtime hour, to feel authentic gratitude for my lot, and to make peace with the person who I am.
It’s safe to say, I know in my heart of hearts I beat the depression back into it’s box fairly quickly. I clawed my way out of it’s jaws with the support that was available to me, and for that I am forever grateful to the NHS and the charitable work of Mind.
My daughters got their bubbly, playful Mum back. My husband has got his level headed wife back (most of the time anyway) and I learnt that despite seeming like she was long gone, the happy version of me was there all along. She just needed a leg up back out of the darkness.
Anxiety however, that’s been a trickier beast to negotiate. I still recognise when it rears its ugly head, when those OCD ticks come into the foreground and when my physical state is altered for irrational reasons beyond my control.
Almost exactly one year on, I naively thought that now everything was ‘fixed’ I’d be able to come off those tablets, return to life as this new and improved version of myself, and put this phase behind me. Reducing my dose by 50% without medical advice however taught me that it may not be that simple. Let’s just say, too much, too soon and medical advice was definitely required to help manage the symptoms which reappeared after the telltale three week adjustment period. But that’s okay. There’s no rush. I know I’ll get there.
I know through open conversations with friends and family that A LOT of people medicate to alleviate anxiety. I know that I am in a good place now. I know that I need to not put that pressure back on myself – that’s how I got into this mess n the first place.
Maybe now is not the time. Maybe anxiety is part of who I am. Or maybe I still have a little way on my journey to go.
What I do know is that conversations around mental health were vital to help me. Sharing stories and raising awareness around Mental Health Day can change lives.
I know that because the person sitting here writing this could not be further away from the one that wrote one exactly a year ago. I am testament to the importance of talking about it as the first step to make things change.
So please, open the conversation. Don’t be afraid to talk to that one person who might understand.
There is a rainbow waiting for you beyond those dark clouds, I promise.