It’s Mental Health Awareness week. What happens when you do all the right things like exercise, eat well, spend time outdoors, sleep for 8 hours, take time offline but still suffer. What happens if everything in your life is going well, but you wake up one day and your world has turned upside just because of the power of your mind. I never thought I’d struggle with mental health. The best thing I know I can do to raise awareness and help others is to share my own experience of what happened to me this year.
I always thought recovery was a word only used when describing someone getting better from a broken leg and doing Physio exercises or a word used for drug addicts in rehab. I never thought recovery would be the word that defined the start of my 2019. I never thought 2019 would be the year that changed me forever.
At the start of 2019 I was diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and a specific type of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I had got to the age of 27 and never thought I’d experienced anxiety before and only thought OCD described someone who was obsessively clean. In fact, I’d been living in a heighten state of anxiety for pretty much my whole life and thought it was normal.
In January I woke up one day and my anxiety was through the roof and rising rapidly. I’d never felt anything like it before and it was suffocating. I felt like I was a completely different person. I had a huge spike, like a perfect storm, which caused me to go into a very dark space, I had weeks upon weeks of anxiety attacks, depression, severe intrusive thoughts and I honestly felt like I was losing my mind.
I couldn’t work, I couldn’t get myself ready, I couldn’t exist. During this time I remember I would look down at my feet when I was walking and wonder how on earth I was still putting one foot in front of the other. How was I not crumbling to the ground, how was the ground still holding me up. How was I still existing.
I felt like I was stuck forever in the most terrifying state of mind but thankfully time was still moving, seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, days turned into weeks. We are never stuck, we move through time.
One of the only things I managed to do during this time was on a Tuesday when the new magazines came out, I would go and get Grazia from the shop. I couldn’t really watch TV or read because everything would trigger intrusive thoughts but just flicking through colourful pages aimlessly gave an element of relief.
I remember when each new Tuesday came round, I’d be in awe that my body and mind had lasted another week. I know this sounds dramatic and even writing it now, I can’t imagine it but it’s honestly how I felt. There’s no words that can describe the feeling. It’s utter despair. Utter hopelessness. Complete all consuming suffering.
I didn’t want to be awake. I remember asking for an injection to make me unconscious until the suffering ended. I was desperate for any kind of relief.
Luckily, I was able to ask for help, if I didn’t have the support network I do around me I really don’t think I could have gone another second let alone another day. I was desperate and after a few failed and agonising attempts seeing GPs, therapists and even going to A&E, I finally saw a psychiatrist and was given my diagnosis and the correct medication to help take the edge off what I was experiencing.
All I had to focus on for weeks was eat, sleep, medicate.
When I think about where I was just a few months ago, it scares me so much. I was a shell of myself, barely existing but counting down each minute. Each moment was suffering, each moment was a challenge. Mental health had shown itself to me in a way I could never have imagined.
Then came the recovery which was slow. I kept hoping that I’d wake up one day and feel me again and all of the bad days would be erased from my memory or even just feel like a bad nightmare but instead I had to learn to accept. To accept that I wasn’t immune from the grips of anxiety and depression and that it was now part of my story.
I started to get glimpses of myself back again. I can count the number of good days I had during those first few months on one hand. Recovery is slow and hard and definitely not one straight line. One good day, my partner and I simply ate food, walked in the park and watched a feel good film but I remember messaging my Mum feeling such hope. Today’s a good day I wrote.
Now when I meet my psychiatrist and therapists we talk about the positives that have come from this sudden unexplainable episode. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why me, how could this of happened but I have to accept that I don’t think I’ll ever get a definitive answer as to why this happened. The human brain is so complex and when I’m feeling ready, I really want to learn as much as I can about it.
*Before this happened to me I didn’t actually realise there was a difference between psychotherapists and psychiatrists. I think it’s quite common not to know this so here’s a google definition: Because psychiatrists are trained medical doctors, they can prescribe medications, and they spend much of their time with patients on medication management as a course of treatment. Psychologists focus extensively on psychotherapy and treating emotional and mental suffering in patients with behavioral intervention.
I have faith now that I’m through the other side and it will soon become a hazey memory that one day won’t haunt me so much. I don’t know what my future will hold but I can’t live my life defined by this. I was me before, I’m me after and somewhere deep down I was me during.
Now I don’t wait to wake up and feel amazing, to live without anxiety or depression. Now I wake up and hope that today is a good day. Or maybe just an okay day.
Thank you Mum, Dad, Scarlett and my Sam – for holding me, for not allowing me to give up, for never doubting I’ll be okay again and… for everything.
Love, Lottie x
Nothing bad has to happen to you and there doesn’t need to be things wrong in your life for you to experience severe mental health issues. No one is immune, it’s something that quite tragically connects us all. But sharing our experiences will mean more people won’t feel alone. I hope more people will study and become experts in the human brain. I’m going to be doing some courses on Pilates for Mental Health this year and hope one day to create a safe place for people to come, move, breathe and feel less alone.
*Please note I am unfortunately not qualified to offer help or guidance however I hope that by hearing my story it helps you feel less alone and helps you find hope and faith that everything will be okay again.
If you need to talk to someone here are some places you can go…
Samaritans can be contacted on 116123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mind Helpline 0300 123 3393, email@example.com, text: 86463, there lines are open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
For urgent medical attention, your options are Accident & Emergency (A&E) and Emergency GP appointments.
Counselling – https://www.scarlettjeffrey.com