Health and Disability · Invisible illnesses · Personal

My journey with my mental health, and some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

As it’s World Mental Health day on 10th October I thought I’d share my journey with mental illness with you. 

I’ve suffered with depression on and off since I was a teenager which has been closely linked to my physical health problems and long periods of high stress. I get to a stage where I’m not functioning properly, can’t physically speak to people, hate myself so completely and feel utterly worthless and a burden to everyone around me. I get paranoid, think I’m upsetting people, worry about everything and cut myself off from friends and family spending time sleeping, overeating and feeling horrific.

It all started when first got ME in the 1990’s when it was either seen as a mental health condition or simply a non existent one and one of the things that happened, as well as seeing loads of doctors and getting tons of tests done was being admitted to a youth mental health facility at the old General Hospital. I was there for 6 weeks and had to go to school part time for the last 2 weeks as it was just down the road which was not fun! Unsurprisingly some of the girls at school stopped speaking to me and didn’t want to be friends anymore because of this. I let them. I spent time with the ones who didn’t make it a big deal, who wrote to me and came to visit, as you do when someone is in hospital!

Tip No. 1 – People who love you and support you will be part of your life whatever happens and no matter what health problems you have, mental or physical. If anyone treats you badly because of this, then CUT, CUT, CUT! Keep the people in your life who are worth it, they’ll always be there for you, my 35 year friendship with my oldest friend is testament to that! She’s seen every single up and down of my life and has always fully loved and supported me, so I surround myself with similar people who bring joy to my life.

My next bout came when I was at university and split up with my first boyfriend. I was devastated and really didn’t know how to handle it and depression took over. I spent weeks crying, in a pit of dispair, hating myself and everything about me. My flat mates were on the verge of ringing my parents to come and help me as they really didn’t know what to do, then I started feeling a bit better. I’d decided to get a job and just starting work again really helped me. 

Tip No 2 – Keep busy. Getting back to work then was just what I needed to help me get out of my head and think about other things. When I wasn’t well enough to work and was living at home my mum gave me a job to do everyday, it made me get up everyday and interact with another person which was so helpful to get me out of my PJ’s and be aware of the world. I still do this now and my occ therapist supports it for my physical and mental health, getting, up, dressed and going out everyday stops me from slipping into my own head and negative thoughts. 

When I moved back home after being away at Uni I really struggled. I didn’t want to be living at home, didn’t want to be back in Newcastle and was so unhappy with myself in general. Work was just awful and I had to take time off as I wasn’t managing at all. I went to the doctors and was prescribed antidepressants, I went back to work part time and eventually found something new.

This was the worst period of depression I’ve had. I couldn’t function, couldn’t speak, didn’t see the point in anything and even considered suicide. When I started taking antidepressants they took ages to kick in as I had to try a few different types before anything worked for me which was frustrating and didn’t help as I had to go through different side effects with each one and get my hopes up that they’d work only to be dashed again when they didn’t.

The person I was referred to at that time for support I just felt uncomfortable with, I only saw him a couple of times and I hated it. I didn’t want to tell him anything and felt like a failure as it wasn’t helping me so going back and asking for someone else was not an option for me. I felt embarrassed, didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to let people down or make a fuss, so I didn’t.

Tip No 3 – Get help. If the first person you see doesn’t work then keep asking until you find the right one. Since that man I met an amazing lady who I ended up seeing for 2 years and learning so much from. I’ve seen another 2 fab therapists since then who’ve also helped me loads! So if you’re struggling again, ask for help again. It does take ages to get an appointment, but it’s totally worth it! 

Tip No 4 – Put theory into action. I’ve put into place methods that my therapists have suggested that have reduced my anxiety, stress and helped me out of periods of depression over and over. Challenging negative thoughts, mindfulness and checking the reality of the situation are my favourites and I still use them now and will continue to use them in the future when I’m struggling.

After that period I managed to work my way out of my pit of dispair and changed jobs, started going salsa dancing, continued with the pills, made some friends in Newcastle and started feeling better. I did really well and kept myself on an even keel for another couple of years until work stress triggered me off again. I was getting through the days in a fog, crying, not fully aware of what was going on around me and I started worrying my family and collegues, I was told to take time off work so I went to the doctors, started back on stronger doses of antidepressants and started feeling a bit better after a few weeks as I didn’t have to go through the drug trials this time, I was straight back on the ones that worked for me.

I went back to work part time, struggled along through lots of family problems and got myself a new job. Seeing my fab therapist through this period was so helpful, but it took a lot of work and a long time. At one point I wasn’t making the progress that I wanted to and I got to a stage where she said something that really stuck with me.

Tip No 5 – You choose your reality. She told me that I was so ill that I could be hospitalised, or I could decide to make some changes and do things to help myself to get better. I decided to make some changes and I repeat this to myself when I’m at my lowest.

Over the next few years I got off antidepressants and managed my anxiety and depression without any support. I was doing well. Then when my health started to deteriorate about 3 years ago I wasn’t coping and was gradually getting worse mentally so I recognised the symptoms and didn’t want to ever get back to how low I was the last time, so I referred myself to talking therapies in Newcastle. When I got an appointment a young pretty therapist greeted me and I immediately thought “no way is this going to work” my own prejudices were blocking me, so I chose to give her a chance and be open to the process. Once we started talking I explained I’d done some CBT before and liked things to read, actions to try and suggestions to work on so she did exactly that. I had worksheets, reading lists and we reviewed everything that I’d done since the previous session and figured out what was helping me, came up with plans, strategies to use in specific situations and she was really helpful.

Tip No 6 – Be open to strategies and when something works don’t stop doing it! I found that I was catastrophising while I was driving and would often be hysterical by the time I got home as I’d talked myself into everyone hating me and everything I’d done being wrong. Through talking to my therapist I realised that if I had unfamiliar music I would concentrate on that instead, so I bought loads of new CD’s and felt much better. Now this has moved onto audio books so I have to concentrate on the story instead of thinking about things and making myself stressed. This will be a technique that I continue to use whenever I need to.

Through my chronic fatigue clinic I get to see a pyschologist and he’s been really helpful for trying to deal with having a chronic illness and my life becoming limited compared to how it used to be. I saw him alongside my occupational therapist and physio when I was off work and trying to get back to it, then after a while I was feeling better and managing so I stopped seeing him until earlier this year when I could feel I was struggling and referred myself back to see him for some help.

Tip No 7 – Never give up! Keep going back, and back, and back. Keep speaking to your GP. Keep taking the pills. Keep seeing the therapists. Keep doing what works for you. Mental health problems can be fatal at their worst and as long as you keep trying you’re living with the condition, which is amazing!

So right now I’m taking pills, I’m seeing a psychologist and I’m putting things into practise that work for me and make me feel better. I’m living with my mental illness. I know that I’ll continue to have my ups and downs throughout my life, especially as my downs seem to be triggered by periods of stress and you can’t avoid that! I’m not embarrassed by this. I talk about my mental health problems alongside my physical health ones and I’ll continue to ask for help for both when I need it and take advice from the people closest to me when I don’t notice it myself.

Bonus Tip – To remind myself how good my life is, and everything I have to be happy about I write in my “Happy Book” everyday. Each year I find a pretty notebook and for the past three and a half years I’ve made myself write down at least 3 things that have made me happy everyday. Sometimes it’s tough and I’m searching my mind for things, and other days I’ll write a couple of pages. They can be as silly as seeing a funny number plate on a car, spotting a rainbow or managing to cook some food. Or as great as being sent a video of my nieces or nephews, having cake with a friend or managing my Pilates exercises. This reminds me that my life is great, I have loads of good things happening to me and I can look back in my books on days that I’m feeling rotten. It also means I’m going to sleep with happy thoughts and I think it’s a huge part of what makes me so positive. 😃

Useful links:

Keep talking about mental health and let’s make sure fewer people are suffering alone, if you want to wear a T-Shirt then get in touch and I’ll help you get those conversations started!

Vic xx

Keep talking about your own mental health problems and get in touch if you want a T-shirt with any of the slogans in the picture 😊

Vic xx

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