Today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day. It took me a while to realise I had mental health issues, I mean, ‘mental health’ means schizophrenia and bipolar, doesn’t it? Or, at least, that’s what I would have thought before my first experience of depression around 13 years ago.
I was working in a fairly pressurised, customer-facing job and, like most customer service roles, there are good days and bad days, nice customers and absolute nasty ones. We were going through a really bad period where the service we were trying to provide was being severely hampered by things out of our control, and the customers were, understandably, very unhappy. And taking it out on us. I have been spat at, shouted and sworn at and would have been punched, were it not for a strong glass screen inbetween me and that particular ‘gentleman’. One day I had had enough. I ran to the loos and sobbed. And didn’t stop. I couldn’t come out. Eventually I was sent home and I didn’t return for a few months.
I just couldn’t function. I couldn’t stop crying. I had panic attacks at the thought of going to work. I didn’t care about much at all for a while. I thought I was becoming a burden on those closest to me and they’d probably be better off without me in their lives and I began to think about how this could be achieved.
I had some counselling provided through my employer. It wasn’t successful and actually made things worse for a while, until I stopped going. I went onto medication. I felt like I had failed; I felt like there was a stigma attached to being on antidepressants. I wallowed for quite a while, not really knowing what to do with myself.
And then I began to realise I had mental health issues. I started thinking about it in the way that if I had a broken leg, I’d go and get it fixed. My brain was broken – a chemical imbalance that needed realigning, and those antidepressants were there to fix that. When I thought about it more, it had probably started way back, in my late teens when I was having a pretty shitty time of things, but couldn’t let on to anyone.
I eventually felt well enough to return to work, but in a different role for a while, which helped enormously. I left frontline customer service as I felt I had lost all confidence to handle any situation thrown at me.
I had a ‘good’ year or so, and didn’t suffer any poor mental health episodes until after the birth of my first child in 2007. I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression and again went back on to medication for a while. I also suffered after the birth of my daughter, although was diagnosed a little later this time. I gradually improved though, and have had a pretty good few years, with just the odd down day, or week, rather than months, just like a ‘normal’ person!
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had something of a mini-breakdown. Lots of things had been building up for a while and had all got on top of me and I knew that I needed help. I took some time off work (now permanently!) and have gone back onto medication to help ease the anxiety that I have been feeling. I don’t feel down right now, it was definitely more anxiety than depression this time, but still all under the mental health umbrella.
I am better at reading the signs now, and I know ways I can help myself if I begin to feel low: fresh air and sunshine if it’s available, talking it over with someone, and taking time to care for myself. And of course, spending time with my children can be the best pick-me-up ever!
My story isn’t over. Depression and anxiety will always be a part of my life, and it’s important to me to discuss it, share it and let others know that there is no shame in having mental health issues. We all have ‘mental health’, just as we have our physical health and some of us just need help managing it in different ways. If you feel you are concerned about your own mental health, or even that of someone else, please, please speak to a GP or someone you feel can help you. Let’s talk.