September 12, 2014

It is now a month since the sad loss of actor Robin Williams, who experienced severe depression. Blogger Cara talks about how mental health problems can affect anyone. Cara

Mental health is a hot topic at the moment. The sad loss of Robin Williams gave everyone a forum to give their opinion on mental health; the thing that has astounded me after that tragic event is that there continues to be a huge ignorance around mental health, why?

I have suffered from depression and severe anxiety throughout the majority of my adult life. The funny thing is I didn’t know it. I didn’t just wake up one morning and think “oh dear, I am depressed today”, it took years before I realised that I needed help as “something” was wrong. I am young, reasonably successful and very confident, to the outside world at least. I have amazing friends, a loving partner who is also my best friend and a close knit family – what the hell did I have to feel depressed about? “Get a grip”, “Have a word with yourself”, “Snap out of it”, “What is WRONG with you”!! The trouble is, when you do not know what is wrong or just how much your behaviour has changed, where do you start, how do you seek help?!

I felt I had no control over day to day life

I began to realise something was wrong when I wanted to sleep, sleep a lot. I was subdued in social situations and felt I had no control over day to day life. I was snappy, emotional and often downright horrible to those I love. I had no patience and no matter what my nearest and dearest did, it just wasn’t good enough, and in fact they just irritated me!

My anxiety really kicked in and most days I couldn’t get on the tube to work without my medication and my partner. He would patiently stand talking to me, playing with my hair, distracting me and encouraging me to breathe through the panic attack that had me feeling I was having a heart attack. The pain in the chest, numbness in the arms, the inability to catch your breath, the fear…the unexplainable fear.

Eventually after long discussions with my partner “something has to change”, I went to the doctors. What to say?! “There is something wrong with me, but I can’t tell you what it is because I don’t know”. I was lucky to have a brilliant GP who’s careful questioning and understanding manner made me feel comfortable enough to open up. Did I think about taking my own life? – Sure, Was I self-medicating with drugs or alcohol – no, not self-medicating, just living the life of a young woman in a big city, surely everyone drinks an excessive amount, no? At the end of the consultation she told me I needed help, what form did I want it in? A shrink, I don’t think so! Group counselling, definitely not!

The one thing I realised? I was ill

I was prescribed medication in increasing doses. I was given advice on positives to implement in my life and encouraged to join CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). I went and spoke with my GP every two weeks, opened up to my friends and family and made a conscious decision to change my behaviours – this wasn’t easy but each and every time I spoke to someone, I felt a little better, a little prouder. The one thing I realised? I was ill, this wasn’t something I could “Snap out of” nor could I just “Get a grip”. My mind was sick and I needed to help it to heal.

Of course it didn’t just happen overnight but slowly and surely over 18 months my life came back, I vividly remember sitting at my desk at work and a feeling came over me, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was – then it hit me, contentment. It was a long time ago that I last felt that.

With the support and love and my family I am back

With the support of my amazing partner, network of friends & family I am now feeling much better, exercising regularly and enjoying a moderate lifestyle. They will never truly understand what happened to me and where I went too, I am not sure I will either. But with their love and support I am back and I am ready to start the happy part.

Mental illness is unique to every single person that suffers from it and there is no easy cure, however, we all have mental health and sometimes, like our physical health, it can become unwell.

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