It’s been over four years now since I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It came at a horrendous time because I was smack-bang in the middle of my final year at university, after spending my third year abroad in Spain. I think the scariest part for me was that I didn’t know what was happening. I just knew that I was in a very bad place in my life. So much so, that I had to make the difficult decision to defer my university degree and go back home to try and ‘get better’; whatever that involved.
Only as I was going through the worst time in my life, did I realise that mental illness had been affecting my family for years. I had no idea that my Granny had experienced it all her life, until my Mum went into more detail about it. My Mum had been affected by mental health issues too. Perhaps this is the reason I have had such great support from my parents. They are the two strongest people I know. If I’ve learnt anything it’s that having kind, understanding people around to support you is so important in coping with a mental health problem.
Unsurprisingly, my Mum was (and continues to be) my rock. Her understanding of anxiety meant she provided the emotional support that I needed. The one to take me to the doctors, to calm me down during a panic attack and to offer words of wisdom and encouragement throughout.
In comparison, my dad has always struggled to understand the emotional side of my anxiety; however, he has been there for me in other ways which have been equally as important. Over the months following my decision to leave university, he helped me build myself back up by playing tennis regularly. Some days were difficult, I’d lose my cool or I’d get a migraine. It might sound ridiculous, but every time we played, I felt like I was in a battle with myself. My Dad never gave up on me and remained patient.
It must have been so difficult and painful to witness someone they have both brought up and love unconditionally going through such a vicious cycle of self-loathing, barely capable of getting out of bed, never mind any other part of a daily routine. Something which always sticks with me was my Mum saying ‘your Dad and I didn’t see you laugh or smile for over 6 months.’ No matter how low things got, they never ever lost faith. That unconditional love continued throughout. Although they see me in a much better place now, I still have my down days and they are always there offering encouragement and reminding me of how far I have come.
I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by an amazing bunch of friends, who continue to help me in different ways. At some of my lowest points, including after a break-up, I was fortunate enough to have their support. A close friend was also going through a break up at the same time as me. It may have felt like the worst idea ever to be around each other at this time, but we were there to lean on each other. We were both giving each other the love that we were finding it hard to give ourselves. We were beating ourselves up whilst being supportive to the other person.
I remember, as things began to get a little easier for us both, we’d go on nights out, look at each other, smile and say, ‘look how far we’ve come mate. We’re both doing so bloody well!’ Now I’m back living in Spain and she’s off traveling the world. If only we’d had a crystal ball to show us where we are now on those nights when we would cry together. Obviously, that would have been far too easy.
Strangely enough one of the most helpful people was a friend who was traveling on the other side of the world. She’d felt the heartbreak of seeing a loved one move far away. I’d be wide awake at 2am, staring into space, my heart beating out of my chest and obviously everyone else in bed. But of course it would be the middle of the day in Australia and there she was, at the other end of the phone, sending me words of encouragement.
In the same way that romance doesn’t always need those grand gestures, us anxious folk are grateful for any small gesture. Sometimes a simple text that says, ‘I’m here if you need to talk’, can be enough. I’m in a new relationship now. It’s not been easy for her to have had to deal with how much the ending to my previous relationship affected me. She has been so patient and understanding. Hearing her utter the words, ‘I’ve been reading up on anxiety to try and get a better understanding’ was like music to my ears. This is the kind of person you want by your side and for this I feel incredibly lucky.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with mental health. I was one of the lucky ones. Some people still don’t understand mental illness. They are afraid of it, and as a result there are people out there who won’t have received support from their friends and family like I did. I really do hope that we can combat this stigma. Only by talking more and more about mental health can we achieve this.