July 20, 2015

Hurrah! There has been a real shift in openness regarding mental health. Helen's blogMy only personal regret is that it didn’t occur sooner...

For me, one of the biggest breakthroughs came in my mid-twenties when a doctor used the words “mental health” and “anxiety” to acknowledge how I was feeling. Until that point I’d always thought that I was so anxious because of some outside factor like puberty or moving away from home.

When I started talking more about mental health, however, I came to realise that anxiety was a constant in my life and not how everyone lived. My behaviour - a cocktail of compulsion to check, a splash of worry about responsibility and a wedge of catastrophised consequences - had been with me for as long as I could remember.

I decided to try and do something with my self deprecating; oh don’t mind me, I’m just a bit OCD

Medical opinion aside, I don’t remember when I first told anyone about the problems I was having. It surprises me to write that, but, on reflection, I honestly can’t pinpoint when I first admitted the challenges I had leaving the house, the time I spent checking things, and the upset it was causing me. I don’t ever remember a time when my now husband wasn’t supportive and didn’t know; we never had one big chat, we just acknowledged it. With other people it was mostly hidden. Yes I was a checker, a worrier, but these were seen as good qualities, unconnected to the fact that I could be emotional and down sometimes. It made me careful, reliable, trustworthy.

Finally though, I decided to try and do something with my self deprecating; oh don’t mind me, I’m just a bit OCD, haha! And so one of the most powerful and important conversations I had was with a young counsellor. She helped give names to things I couldn’t - palpitations, disassociation, catastrophising - and she took the alienness out of behaviour that had been mystifying me for years.

My only regret regarding mental health is that I didn't talk to anyone sooner

I saw a few counsellors for general anxiety. I told a few people I was seeing them too. It was a double whammy of success. Family and friends had nothing but praise and support. They didn’t always understand, but they asked anyway and showed interest. As for the professionals, they gave me the power and knowledge to understand my thinking and behaviour. They appealed to the learner in me, giving me reading material on different psychological theories.

My only regret regarding mental health is that I didn’t talk to anyone sooner because I’ve never spoken to anyone about it without getting a warm and sympathetic response. In fact, for most people, their biggest question is often, how do you deal with it and can you help me?

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