Mental Health and Me: An Update
I’ve spoken a lot about mental health over the years on this blog. I’ve never been, and will never be, afraid to open up and be honest about it. In fact, I’m pretty much an open book when it comes to my own mental health.
But over the summer my anxiety reached its peak. I wasn’t depressed, weighed down by the numbing sensation depression brings with it; I was anxious. I was paranoid. And I began to believe the worries and paranoia my mind made up.
I came back from two weeks of holiday with some of my best friends feeling fearful. The entire time I was away, no matter how much fun I was having, I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind, reminding me that I had to go back to reality soon. By the time we were heading home, I was sitting in the airport wondering how I was going to cope.
By the time I actually went back to work, I was giving myself pep talks just to get out the door. That on top of a sinus infection – HOW this happened when I lived in 30+ degree heat for 2 weeks, I’ll never know – made me a walking zombie.
How I Found Help
It’s so hard to describe how anxiety feels, because everyone experiences something different. But for me, sitting at my desk, it felt like my brain wasn’t connected properly. I wanted to work and be creative but my hands wouldn’t type. The pressure builds behind my eyes and I feel like I could cry at any moment. I have to take myself to the bathroom, and crouch down hugging my knees to calm myself, regulate my breathing and tell myself I just have to get through the day. That is me at the peak of my anxiety.
This feeling, this lack of control I felt, led me to see my doctor. The same way I did when I was 17, I made an appointment and told her how I was feeling, and asked her to recommend me to a counseling service. Here in Jersey, the service you’re recommended to if you’re suffering with anxiety is Jersey Talking Therapies. So, I got an appointment after a few weeks to have an assessment with one of the psychotherapists from their team.
It’s safe to say that the assessment left me feeling more in control, but a lot more vulnerable. Like a lot of people, I had let my anxiety build and build over months, and by the time I was sat in the assessment room answering questions, I was a mess. Now, don’t let this put you off. The assessment is very routine, they ask you to fill out a survey on the day of your appointment to assess what it is you’re experiencing or suffering with. Then you have an hour to talk about your early life, any previous therapy or experiences you’ve had you believe have led you to suffer with mental health, and generally just talk about how you’re feeling.
After that, they advise you on the type of therapy or service you might need, and tell you roughly how long the wait is to see someone. For me, that wait was up to 6 months.
Taking Time Off
At that time, I panicked. I had a panic attack in my car after I’d left the appointment at the thought of having to wait 6 months to get help, and in that moment realised in the mental state I was in, I was not fit for work. The slightest thing was making my emotional, I felt out of control of my own emotions and to be honest, pretty helpless. If you’ve not experienced how that feels, it’s hard to comprehend. But I’m not exaggerating when I say I felt like my life had crumbled, and there was no way for me to escape from the rubble.
So, I wrote out what was a very waffly email to my managers at work, and explained what had happened that day. After a meeting with them and the most supportive conversation, I went to see my doctor, and got signed off work for two weeks with anxiety. Luckily, the company I work for offer employees free access to a mental health service. It’s called health assured, and my experience with them has been faultless.
Through this service, I began seeing a therapist again. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed to talk to someone. It’s in my nature to talk, I am an oversharer and I find comfort in voicing my thoughts and feelings with someone, so I know therapy does work for me. Right now I’m half way through my course of sessions, and I have never felt more in control of my mental health.
So, that’s what’s going on with me. It’s all very easy for me to say this, especially since it’s not the first time I’ve been down this road. I first went to therapy when I was 17, and I have always had the love and support of my family to get me through it, so I know I am in a privileged position. But I wanted this to be more than just a diary entry of how I’m feeling, so here are some questions I got from you all. Hope the answers help!
Answering Your Questions
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. All answers are purely based on my personal experience and should not be taken as medical advice or fact.
Q Is therapy expensive?
- Prices do vary depending on who you see. I don’t think the more expensive the better, because at the end of the day YOU need to get on and feel comfortable with your therapist. The most expensive one in your area won’t necessarily be the best for you. Prices are usually set at an hourly rate, and it can vary between £30 and £120 a session across the UK. But it’s not the only option. For more information on where to find help in Jersey, click here.
Q How do you start seeking help?
- The best thing to do is make an appointment with your GP. Tell them how you’re feeling, and ask them what options are available to you. I also think that, when you’re comfortable doing so, telling your friends and family or people you’re closest to about how you’re feeling and that you want to find help is really important and helpful.
Q What are your thoughts on medication?
- Just like therapy isn’t for everyone, neither is medication. Personally, medication is something I have tried to avoid. This is because I take a contraceptive pill, which affects my hormones and in turn my mood and emotions. Having had synthetic hormones in my body for such a long time, from such a young age, I feel that I don’t ACTUALLY know the difference between what’s hormonal, emotional or natural when it comes to my feelings sometimes. So I didn’t want to take more pills and mask over or confuse my feelings even more. However, I know plenty of people who have found that medication has completely changed their lives for the better. It is by no means a quick fix or the easy way, but antidepressants are an option that I think only you can decide is right for you. Nobody can force you to deal with your mental health in a certain way, and you have the freedom to try different things until you find what works best.
Q Were you apprehensive about telling people you wanted/needed to go back to therapy?
- I am an open book, I cannot hide my emotions well. But my mental health has, unfortunately, been something I have mastered in covering up. The first thing anyone says when I tell them I suffer from anxiety and depression is ‘WOW I would have never known from the way you present yourself’. You become very good at wearing multiple masks when you’re suffering mentally. So, it did take me awhile to tell people I thought I needed more help. I started by telling my parents, then my boyfriend, and once I had answers (e.g. what I was experiencing, what I was doing to help it) I told my close friends and extended family. So you could say I was apprehensive, but mainly I was cautious of worrying anyone. But I am really glad I told people, because it means they can support me on my bad days, and celebrate the good ones. If you think that someone might need to go back to therapy, or need some other form of help with their mental health, be as gentle as you can when approaching them about it. Don’t start telling them what to do and that you think they have a problem, because chances are they’ll already know and then feel more vulnerable. Approach them in a caring way, for example ‘I’ve noticed you’ve not been as happy/yourself lately, is there anything you want to talk about?’. A lot of people find it REALLY hard to talk about this. If you’re worried about someone who has previously struggled with their mental health YOU can reach out to a service too. But the most important thing is to remind them you’re there, you can help and support them, and that you’ll never judge them.
Q What made you make the decision to get help?
- There comes a point where you admit to yourself that you can’t keep how you’re feeling to yourself anymore. When my mental health suffers, my relationships suffers. My day to day life becomes difficult, my thoughts become darker and my general being becomes less enjoyable. The problem is that you do become complacent, and start to tell yourself that this is just how your brain works. I convinced myself I would always feel lost, alone and helpless. My anxiety plays tricks on me, I know that now. It tells me that I’m incapable, that I’m set to fail and that things will never change. You really do become convinced, in the very depths of your dark days, that you will forever feel like you have no control over your emotions or mindset. But I sought help because I wanted it. I didn’t want to feel sad and lost every day anymore, and I wanted to feel better.
I hope that in whatever small way, this has helped someone. If you’re reading this and you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. If you feel lost, reach out. Whether that’s to me, to a friend or family member, or even a work colleague; there is always someone there who cares and can help you.
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