When you look at this picture you probably see a happy girl enjoying a night out with her partner. What you don’t see is the story behind the picture. Three days before, I had a nervous breakdown and had just been signed off work with anxiety and depression.
The theatre tickets were booked months in advance to celebrate our fifth anniversary, and my partner thought that going might help me feel a little brighter. Before the show I had an anxiety attack. I barely remember the show itself but do remember looking at the exits and wanting to escape.
Four days before this picture I went to my doctors for a routine appointment. I had been suffering with depression for 10 years but had always struggled on regardless of how I was feeling. That day I admitted to my doctor I was seriously struggling to cope and although my doctor wanted to sign me off work, I declined.
The next day I went to work as normal but asked to speak to my manager as I was worried about my job performance and wanted to give her a heads up that I wasn’t feeling the greatest. In my 8 years with the company I had never let my depression affect my work and I was terrified of the thought of being off sick.
It was 3pm before my manager had time to talk to me and too me into a little room. My manager was in shock. I was happy and upbeat, and was the last person she ever thought would struggle with such severe depression and sit in front of her crying, calling herself a failure. I left work that day feeling relieved that, but also completely lifeless.
Both before and after that day I suffered severe suicidal thoughts and anxiety. Although I had lots of wonderful people in my life I no longer wanted to live it. The doctor described it as my head being broken, just in the same way as people break an arm or a leg. However, the issue with mental health is that no-one can see the extent of the damage. Without the support of my partner, family, friends and manager, I am not sure I would still be here today.
The weeks and months that followed were extremely difficult and involved yoga, counselling and a change of anti-depressants but gradually I started to feel like Shauna again. At the start my aim was to try and leave the house on a daily basis regardless of whether I ventured to the shops or a little walk. The anxiety I felt while in crowds was overwhelming but gradually it started to get easier and I started to get my confidence back again.
Four months later I made it back to work. Everyone had been excellent and although no-one knew what the problem was, they know it was mental health related and that I will tell them when I am ready.
It’s now almost a year after my breakdown and feeling much more like my old self and have made plans for the summer and can see a future again. I still have my bad days when I just want to cry and stay in bed but, but I will tell my family, partner and my manager I am having them. I have also accepted that it is likely my depression will never fully go away and when I look back at how bad things got, I have a renewed sense of determination to live my life to its fullest.
I get asked a lot what triggered my breakdown but the truth is there was no one thing that triggered it. Lots of little things built up over time until one day I couldn’t keep going. I always hid my mental health issues, viewed them as my dirty little secret and thought if people knew, they would think I was a weak person and a complete failure.
My depression makes me more resilient but also more understanding of how people around me might be feeling. I don’t want sympathy or for people to feel sorry for me but I want to raise awareness for mental health and depression.
The picture at the start of my story is to show that just because someone looks ok on the outside, it doesn’t mean they are. If writing this makes one person sit down to ask if a friend or family member is ok, then writing this has served its purpose.