***TW: Mentions Suicide ***
“I work as a paediatric intensive care nurse here in the city. I am diagnosed with anxiety, depression and social anxiety. My mental health issues began when I was 23 (but it’s now abundantly clear that I have struggled with my mental health as early as aged 7). I suddenly found myself unable to get out of bed in the mornings, found myself crying most nights and having panic attacks most days. It’s almost as if it came out of nowhere, no warning sign and someone had broken into my room one night and placed a weight on my chest. One day I was fine, and then I was waking up the next, not fine at all. I was scared of everything and everyone; I remember having panic attacks in the middle of pubs and clubs with my university friends, I couldn’t look people in the eye, was convinced everyone was looking at me and hated me. It was then I developed a taste for unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was diagnosed with social anxiety and muddled my way through my first experience of therapy. I remember at my last therapy appointment leaving, posting a happy looking selfie with a caption somewhere along the lines of “just finished therapy, so happy, feeling free” and crying when I got home; because I wasn’t fixed. If anything I was worse. But I carried on, pretended to everyone around me that I was better.
At 25, in my third and final year of university, I suffered from a mental health crisis that unfortunately (or fortunately) now makes me a suicide survivor. I had spent the previous three months struggling; struggling to sleep, struggling to get out of bed or the house, I stopped eating and at one point, stopped drinking anything. I was overexercising and finding anyway to punish myself that I could. Eventually, one day it all became too much. I ended up in A&E and spent the next 3 months in intensive home treatment after refusing an inpatient admission. I nearly lost everything, including my nursing career. And it’s funny really; after trying my best to die, I’ve spent the past 3 years fighting to get my life back on track and feel alive again; which is now finally happening. I’m not only surviving, but I’m finally, thriving.
I’ve spent the past six months in a therapy that I have been waiting for since my crisis. It has honestly changed my life in so many different ways. After my crisis, I spent a lot of time working on myself. But it involved a lot of fighting, being absent from other people’s lives, steps forwards and step’s backwards. I spent a lot of time being stuck. What does that mean exactly? Well, I made so much progress on my own, but I would always hit a wall. I’d always nearly end up back at square one. I’d always end up back in the doctor’s office with them telling me that I wouldn’t get any better until I got the therapy. I remember many moments of being on the edge of giving into the intrusive thoughts and going back down the darker path again. The therapy that I had was CAT (Cognitive Analytical Therapy) which focuses on looking at the way a person thinks, feels and acts, and the events and relationships that may be the underlying reason for this (often from childhood or early life experiences). It brings together ideas and understanding from lots of different therapies, which I really enjoyed as it didn’t put me into a box of doing work I didn’t enjoy.
As part of the therapy, I started writing. I recall my experiences of writing about my feelings and experiences before my crisis really overwhelming; the fact that it would just manifest my feelings and putting them down on paper made them even more real. But this time it was different. It was, and still is, a healthy outlet for my emotions, which helps hone them down. I’ve always said that I am a sensitive person who experiences emotions in extremes, and writing definitely helps that. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, I formed a blog called HealingwithH.com. It was never founded with the intention of ever being a mental health blog, but it truly has turned into something wonderful. My blog actually became a part of my therapy, and I am so proud of it. The blog now is a resource that (hopefully!) contributes to the destigmatisation of mental health. I’ve created it as a safe space that may have helped me during my crisis and in my recovery from it. During that time, I felt such shame in what I was feeling and what I was experiencing; I hid a lot of behaviours and feelings and lied to a lot of people about what was happening (something I’m not proud of). If I was able to talk about what I was going through without the fear of being shunned, pushed away, or even worse, I may not have ended up at the breaking point I did. Even though I still struggle to talk about what I’ve experienced, I’ve made it a little personal mission to be a part of breaking down all of the stigma that has been built around mental health. I feel like if I can have the strength to open up about all of the things I’ve experienced, and experience with a brain that struggles (because I still struggle regardless of how much help I’ve had over the years) – it might encourage someone else to open up too. They might not hit the breaking point that I did a few years ago. They won’t reach rock bottom. I feel like, as the world starts to open up again, we need to start opening up too. My hope is that someone see’s this and goes out to dinner with their friends or family, and they open up a conversation about mental health. I feel like it’s that kind of behaviour that’s going to move us away from mental health being seen as so shameful.
We all have mental health, whether that be good, bad or somewhere in between. We should be free to talk about when we’re struggling, we should be able to admit to the struggle. It is not shameful in any sense of the word. For me, I know and have come to accept that I will never fully recover. I will have good days. And I will have bad days. But I also have to keep thinking about how far I’ve come, and all the effort I’ve put in. I have to keep being gentle with myself. I have to keep taking little steps; and the big ones will take care of themselves.
What are the things that help me when I’m having a bad time?
- If I’m struggling with motivation, or I’m struggling with basic everyday tasks, I’ll write a list to work through. This normally compiles of simple (but not so simple when you’re having a bad time) tasks such as showering and brushing teeth
- If I’m really not feeling up to much, I’ll make sure I have a fresh shower, fresh bedsheets, Pyjamas and put on a comfort show/film with the lights down low
- Giving myself permission has been a very big thing; to cry, to feel (and not fight the feelings), to sleep/nap if I need too, too rest and not have a day with productive things in it, to eat whatever my body wants (and if I don’t want to eat, lots of fluids).
- Writing – I write a lot behind the scenes that you may not get to see on my blog. But I’ll only write if I’m feeling safe to do so and am sure it won’t make things worse
- Read letters/cards from friends and family – I keep every single card that a person gives me. Every. Single. One. When I’m feeling bad, I’ll take them out and read them to remind myself that I have a lot to live for.”