Mental Health Awareness: My Story

mha

A few weeks ago saw in Mental Health Awareness week and the fact that we have to dedicate a whole week to it proves that we have a long way to go in ridding the stigmas attached to these life-altering conditions.

I’ve never written a post about this before and rarely even talk about it on social media. My friends know I have anxiety but unless you’re really close to me, you probably don’t know the story. I’m in no way sympathy seeking with this post; I don’t want sympathy because I’m actually in a very good place right now and have experienced a lot of positives along my journey of anxiety. But… Like millions of people before and after me, I too want to help rid these rotten stigmas and maybe, just maybe, help someone going through the same thing.

Without going into too much detail, my anxiety started after a bout of the flu in October 2011. I’d never had the flu before (I know right, go me!) so it struck me down like a bolt of lightening. I was bed bound for about 2 weeks which completely threw me because before that I was always out and about, at work, sixth form and clubbing with my friends. After being in bed for so long, I was petrified to go anywhere in case I felt how I did when I was ill; sick, dizzy and faint.

I had absolutely no idea what anxiety or panic attacks were at this point, which is probably why I didn’t cope very well with it at the beginning. I had no idea what was happening to me and at one point, I couldn’t leave my room for about 2 weeks because I was scared of well… everything. I lost my confidence in doing things I would normally do and I lost my confidence in myself. I was my own worst enemy, I didn’t trust to be outside with myself in case something happened and that was the absolute worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.

I went to the doctors who diagnosed me with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder); a disorder that means you’re generally in a constant state of anxiety, over nothing in particular, even when there’s no obvious threat. My “fight or flight” response was all out of kilter and I perceived everything, yes everything as potential danger. They sent me for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which unfortunately didn’t work for me but then my mum found a private counsellor who I reluctantly went to see. She focused more on talking about your problems in a relaxed environment and I absolutely loved her. She worked wonders and I will be forever grateful to this woman for helping me get back on my feet.

Compared to 3 years ago when I was scared of stepping outside my own front door, I’ve come a long, long way. Although there are still some things I can’t do such as going into massive shops (like Tesco Extra, eek!) and drive on busy roads, the list of things I can do is gradually getting bigger and bigger. Anxiety doesn’t have an over-night cure and although it’s something I can admit I will probably now have my whole life, at least now I know it’s something that doesn’t define me and is something I can control (most of the time!)

Although this condition changed my life in every which way possible, there have been so many good things to come out of it. I wouldn’t have started my blog if it wasn’t for anxiety, gained all the opportunities I’ve had through it or met all the wonderful people I now know through it or started my own online business or pushed myself to start writing my own book. I also appreciate the little things in life much more now than I’ve ever done before. The little steps I can take every day to enhance my life prove to me that anxiety doesn’t have to be the centre of my world anymore.

I’m by no means saying that everyone’s experiences with anxiety, depression or any form of mental health will be like mine and not everyone will find the positives in it; which is a shame but unfortunately, reality. But what I am saying is that whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone, there is help out there and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There have been multiple times throughout the past few years where my life has felt so small and I’ve felt so powerless against my own mind but my counsellor taught me it’s the little steps you take every day; as little as going into a shop or talking to a stranger that make your world bigger and bigger are what matter.

I’m not claiming to be an expert but I’d love to share a few things that have helped me:

1. Stop comparing. Your struggle is different from everyone else’s so although it’s good to talk with likeminded people, don’t compare their journey, experiences or achievements to your own. I struggled with this by always thinking about how well other people were doing compared to myself but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta focus on yourself!

2. Talk to someone. Like I just mentioned, talking to someone about what you’re going through really helps. Doctors, family members, real-life friends, online friends, forums, helplines; there is always someone there to talk and although they might not be able to physically help, just getting your worries off your chest can work wonders, make you feel less alone and make the world feel that little bit less scary.

3. Be productive. Think about where you are in your life and what your current struggles are and work out how you can over-come them. Write down things you’d like to achieve and cut them into smaller chunks to make them more manageable; even something as little as going to the shop.

4. Do research. If you have anxiety or panic attacks and don’t know much about what’s happening, like I didn’t at the beginning, do some research and read up about what’s actually going on in your brain and body when you feel anxious. The more I found out, the more I realised it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was, just a chemical reaction.

5. Get physical. Did you know that it’s been scientifically proven that exercise helps with anxiety and can reduce stress? When I was at the peak of my anxiety, even going for a short walk made me feel 10 times better so get on your feet and do something to get your heart pumping; yoga can be extremely beneficial as it combines exercise with relaxation and breathing tips!

6. Go herbal. I’ve never taken medication for my anxiety which is something I’m extremely proud of but I know it’s crucial to a lot of people and that’s fine. But if you’re looking for alternatives, don’t hesitate to try herbal remedies. I take Kalms tablets and Bachs Rescue Remedy, which comes in all different forms. The mouth spray is ideal for keeping in your pocket!

7. Make a list of your achievements. I started doing this and every day I would write down 1 or 2 things I was proud that I did that day. Some of them were as little as walking the dog or having a friend round but they meant something to me and made me feel like I was getting somewhere and that’s what matters. By keeping a list, you’ll gradually see your daily achievements grow and grow.

8. Learn to breathe. When you panic and are extremely anxious, you breathe faster which can lead to hyperventilating. Learning how to breathe “properly” and learning breathing exercises to do when you feel yourself getting short of breath can really help because it teaches you that you can control what your own body is doing. The “7/11” method worked really well for me; breathing in for 7 counts then out for 11 to slow your breathing down.

9. Get outside. Being outside in nature and the elements always makes my anxiety decrease and helps me remember how wonderful the world is. Wind, sun, cold or snow, whatever the weather, wrap-up (or strip down!) and go for a walk, head into your local woods or the park or the beach and embrace the world. Being by the beach in particular I find extremely calming.

These are by no means “quick fixes” but they’ve all helped me and I hope beyond hope that any part of this post can help someone or at least if you’re going through something similar, make you feel less alone. But it is beyond important that if you think you’re suffering with mental health problems, seek a medical opinion.

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65 thoughts on “Mental Health Awareness: My Story

  1. My anxiety started when I was away from home and felt dizzy. It was only one time that I actually genuinely felt dizzy but whenever I went out for ages (and still sometimes now) I’d get myself into a panic that I was going to feel dizzy again! It was so bizarre going from being happy to go literally anywhere to overthinking even going to the shops. Thanks for this post, it was really helpful and it’s so reassuring hearing other people feel the same.

    Kirsty x
    http://www.havethetown.com

    • Oh god this sounds SO familiar! The dizziness is absolutely awful and the flu made me feel so dizzy and out of control. It’s a horrible shock to the system going from not worrying about anything to over-thinking EVERYTHING. You are definitely not the only one to feel like that ❤ I hope you're okay now! xo

      • I’m a lot better! I came home from travelling and we moved in with my boyfriend’s mum and for a while I really hated leaving the house but I’m alright for the most part now! It’s only really whenever I’m hungover it comes back for a few days so I haven’t really been drinking! But yeah it’s crazy cause all it takes is one event to trigger it like my dizzyness or your flu and then your body remembers that reaction and panics! xx

  2. Those are some amazing tips – I wish I had known them a couple of years ago! Glad you’re feeling a bit better than you did. 🙂 xo

  3. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for sharing, great post and I think you give good advice. I used to work with a lot of people who suffered from anxiety attacks. I found your story very interesting as there seems to be a solid ‘key-incident’. Your flu-experience.

    In hindsight, how do you reflect on that? Do you think it was the first time you realized you were vulnerable, therefore, not immortal? Would love to hear your thoughts. And congrats on coming such a long way! X

    • Hi! That’s interesting that you used to work with people with anxiety, I count myself quite lucky that I do have a “key-incident” where I can pinpoint the start of it – I know some people don’t, or don’t think they have which I can imagine is much worse, not knowing where it has come from.

      I think that’s a good point – I’ve never really thought about it before but I guess you’re right, I guess that was the first time I realised that you know, things CAN happen, Nobody is perfect or immortal – like you said. The vulnerable feeling I think is key; feeling vulnerable and out of control. That’s one of the reasons I don’t really drink anymore – I don’t want that feeling of being out of control! Thank you for your comment! xo

      • Thanks for taking the time to answer Jenny. Yes, control is a funny thing. I think we humans have a love-hate relationship with it. Sometimes it’s just as hard to take control of your own life to let go of control and put your life in the hands of others. Tricky business.

        I uess in the end it’s all about balance, accepting both the light and the dark. In ourselves and in each other and find a way to work with that.

        Just by looking at the number of replies, you can see the value of your post. Whether it is for information, recognition or support, it doesn’t matter. Sharing helps. So thanks again xxx

  4. This is such a brave thing to do Jenny I really admire you for posting this personal and helpful advice. I too have from time to time suffered from anxiety. Unfortunately about five years ago I suffered with an inner ear infection which developed into Meniere’s Disease, (an illness that seems to run in my mother’s side of the family,) This experience was debilitating and scary – you lose your balance, (feel drunk, but are sober) and unfortunately it is triggered by stress. I have found that Tai Chi really helps, I think it is the meditative aspect of Tai Chi that works, you can’t think of anything else or you lose sight of where you are meant to be going! This experience is one I would have preferred not to have suffered but it did give me a unique perspective in writing about losing control, feeling dizzy, etc . So out of an unpleasant experiences good things can and do happen. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to share this story with my readers on my blog, for now I’ll just share this little bit with you, and your readers.

    • The feeling drunk but sober feeling is one I can 100% relate too – my dizziness made me feel like that too and that’s one of the reasons I don’t really drink anymore! I can’t BARE to feel “drunk” and out of control of my own body! I’m sorry to hear about your experiences; Meniere’s Disease isn’t one I’ve heard of but I can’t say it sounds all too pleasant 😦 I’ve never tried Tai Chi but I think i’d like too! I think it’s very brave to share what you did in your comment and maybe someone who had the same condition you did will read it! xo

  5. Great post Jenny, i have depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and ptsd so I know how hard life can be. It was brave of you to write about this and post it. Well done x

    • I’m so sorry to hear that Tracy – I can’t say I was actually aware of what you suffer from but I really hope you have a good support network and have received help. I’m always here to talk, if you want! Thank you so much xo

  6. Such a beautiful and honest post Jenny. I started to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks after a particularly stressful time at work. It’s a scary feeling, and is still not taken seriously, particularly in the workplace!

    • Thank you so much Suzie! I’m really sorry to hear that and it’s just the WORST when it’s not taken seriously, especially in a working environment. I’d be interested to hear more about your work experiences with the illnesses. It’s a part of Mental Health Awareness that needs work on – everyone has a right to work and feel comfortable and safe in the environment they work in, regardless of what they suffer from xo

  7. This is such a honest and open post. Thank you for sharing your experience and giving tips about what worked for you. Well done on such a well written post you should be so proud jenny xx Adele xx

    • Thank you so much, Adele. And you’re very welcome, I hope my story can help someone else who might be going through something similar. Nobody should feel alone if they suffer from mental illness because unfortunately, it’s more common than we think xo

  8. This is wonderful! I think it’s amazing that you’re stepping out and bringing this kind of thing out in the public and I admire your rawness and openness. I think it’s critically important that these kinds of things are talked about more openly!

    • You are 100% right! The stigma needs to go so people aren’t afraid to speak out about stuff like this and don’t have to worry that people won’t take them seriously. I’ve definitely had those thoughts during the past few years! It needs just as much attention as a “visible” illness and can be just as deliberating and damaging if left untreated. I hate that there are so many people left without the right help 😦 Thank you for your lovely comment ❤ xo

  9. Jenny, thank you for such an amazing post.
    I have been on anti-depressants since the summer of 2012, I had had a turbulent few months with some personal probs and everything just got too much for me, I missed weddings, parties that my kids where invited too because I felt sick, faint and freaked.

    Since I’ve been on the pills I feel I have begun to rewire my brain, taking it slowly I started doing all the things that freaked me and now a couple of years later on I am so much better, I love blogging, have a job I love and off course my beautiful family. Plus the job is a forty mile round trip everyday and I hadn’t driven for a very long time, I’m proud of the fact I started to drive again.

    Thank you so much for posting and sharing, I still get down days but all you tips are really helpful! Xx

    • Heather, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all that. I too haven’t been about to go to parties and big events in the past because I’ve just found them too overwhelming. I’m so glad you’re much better now and you should be SO proud that you can drive so freely again! I would love to be able to. I’m glad you found them helpful 🙂 xo

    • Oh wow, really? I think we’d be surprised at how common a fear or uncomfortableness with supermarkets is! They are big, scary places – especially when busy! Glad it’s not just me! xo

  10. This is amazing! So many people choose to ignore and dismay these kind of things, so I really admire your openness and passion! I have a close friend that has extreme anxiety and I love seeing more people bringing awareness to mental health, because some people just don’t take it seriously! Again, great post!♡

    • Thank you so much lovely and I completely agree with you. A lot of people don’t take it seriously, possibly because it’s an “invisible” illness and it’s very hard, somewhat impossible to know and understand what’s going on it someone elses head. I hope your friend is okay and has the help she needs! ❤

  11. Girl I am so feeling you on this. I have been diagnosed twice with G.A.D. which seemed to start with an abnormally long bereavement period. I’ve had it for about 3 years now, and seen so many counsellors that I can’t even picture most of them anymore, and not one of them has helped. Through a better diet, exercise, and being productive I managed to get my anxiety under control to the point where I was able to forget all about it, walking around with confidence I didn’t have before struggling with G.A.D. Unfortunately I’ve been completely knocked back recently with some certain members of my family making statements like, ‘if you can’t handle life now, how are you supposed to get a job…who would employ you?…I don’t understand it because I can’t see it’. It was hurtful to hear this from family that I cared about, and it really really knocked me about, but if theres one thing that I’ve had to learn to cope with my anxiety is when to say a big F**K YOU to negativity. Starting to build myself back up through exercise and creativity now, but G.A.D. is NOT easy at all! Good luck sweetie xx

    Ness from http://www.wanderness.co.uk

    • Hi Ness, thank you SO MUCH for your comment and for sharing your experience. It’s very similar to mine, by the sounds of it! It’s so hard to find help that actually fits you and affects you positively. Like I said, CBT did absolutely nothing for me but can work wonders for others. I’m glad you’re feeling much better now and have managed to build yourself back up. Exercise, being productive and focusing on what makes you happy can work wonders! G.A.D is really NOT easy, like you said. Especially not being able to explain why you’re anxious when 99% of the time you can’t even pin point why you are! xo

  12. Jenny this is such a great blog post!
    I feel it is very motivating and very comforting!
    I congratulate you on all you’ve achieved! ❤
    Claire

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I also deal with mental health issues and it’s so refreshing that you’re willing to discuss what you’ve experienced. You have inspired me to write about my own struggles with depression and anxiety! 🙂 Your advice about talking to other people about what’s going on with you is spot on; I shared some of my story with my mother-in-law yesterday, which helped shed light on my sometimes odd-seeming behavior. Great post; thanks again for being an inspiration! 🙂

  15. I’ve also found that keeping a journal on my achievements (every time I leave the house) is a great motivator, and it’s awesome to look at and see all the things you’ve done. I went for professional help at the end of March and while I’m not close to “cured” (if there is such a thing?), it does make all the difference in the world.

    I really appreciate you being so open about this. I’m open about it too and people sometimes comment, saying that I’m an inspiration, and it just feels so good. If we can let one other person out there know that they’re not alone in this.. well, it just makes all the difference. 🙂

    • I get the feeling from your comments about this that we’re very similar. Leaving the house is an achievement for me too, sometimes! I agree, I don’t think I’ll ever be “cured” but I’ll just learn how to manage it as time goes on. It’s important to be open about it and try and help someone who may not know where to turn! (: xx

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  22. This post scared me a bit. I saw so much of my own story here.

    Usually, when I read about anxiety, it always is a little different. But like you, I got sick once, and it triggered something in me that left me confused and scared about pretty much everything. I could not step outside, fearing what would happen if I suddenly started feeling sick again. It happened 5 years ago. I found a program made by a Belgium guy who had experienced the same thing, and it was a great help. Following his different steps, I managed to get rid of my fears. I realized I was all behind me when I succeeded in going to college. I even went to live abroad in Japan on my own.

    But that’s when it came back. Two years ago, I got sick and doctors could not find what was happening. It brought everything I had fought back. I was back at home, afraid to leave the house, and with an unknown disease that made it worse because I did not know what was causing the different symptoms I had. Thankfully, my mom has always been very understanding and I was starting to make progress again, I went back to uni for a few month and even got a job. But the disease made itself known again and here I am, at home, unable to take the dogs for a walk. It feels no matter how many times I try, I always come back to the square one.

    Anyway, this is not a looking-for-sympathy comment 🙂 I just wanted to let you know how relieved I was when I read you story, to know that I was not the only one with this very particular issue. So Thank you!

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