How Acknowledging My Mental Health Made Me A Happier Person
Guest post: Alice Kirby
As a young woman working in a competitive industry, I feel like every aspect of my existence is constantly on show and being judged by those around me. Whether this is through the very high-pressure nature of my job or the sheer volume of social media our generation consumes every day, it makes any given moment of my life feels like it’s up for scrutiny and comment.
It’s still not something people like to talk about, I don’t really like to talk about it, and although the stigma is lessening around mental health, the pressure I felt I faced as a young woman in the workplace made admitting I was suffering from mental health issues seem like an impossible mountain I could not climb.
Something’s wrong with me
I eventually realised something wasn’t right at a pretty turbulent moment in my career. Lots of movement was happening around me as people switched out departments and changed roles. My boss had left a few months prior and I found myself adrift with very limited direction or leadership and with the absolute fear there was no place for me in this new world.
The morning of my breakdown felt like someone had turned the volume up on all my emotions. I was physically shaking with anger like I had been given a shot of adrenaline. So many questions were running through my head- none of which I ( or anyone else) had answers to at that time.
It was completely unrealistic to have pushed myself to go to work that day, but somehow I made it into the office. In retrospect, it’s completely horrifying. I remember sitting there, in stark contrast to the hectic emotions I had experienced that morning, feeling absolutely nothing. Everything became robotic, check email, reply, delete, repeat. I couldn’t face eating anything and so finished the day with a blinding headache that left me dazed and beyond tired.
When I finally made it home, I curled up under the covers on our bed and cried. Dark was a friend but scared me, the light hurt, as did the tiniest noise and my boyfriend could do nothing to calm me, despite his best efforts. I found it hurt to breathe and my brain was fuzzy from too many thoughts. In the small hours of the morning, I finally fell into a disturbed sleep, enveloped in my boyfriends' arms- who had not left my side that evening.
The downward spiral
The next morning I realised I couldn’t cope with work or face people. I made up a story about a stomach bug and called in sick. This went on for a couple of days and honestly, I remember very little about that time, except that getting out of bed was not a possibility. I can’t really remember the gentle conversations my boyfriend had to try to persuade me to just eat something. And even the thought of brushing my teeth or my hair or having a shower was too much. The only thing I could do was sleep, and if I did manage to force down some food, I quickly felt nauseous and so tired I could barely move. I was completely devoid of emotion, I felt numb, days melted together and passed in a hazy blur.
Three little words
On the third day I received a phone call from a concerned colleague, who asked the simplest of questions which ended up making all the difference, “Are you ok- how are you feeling?” It was like the floodgates had opened. I found myself inconsolable, tears pouring down my face all the while babbling into a phone in the hope that what I was saying made some kind of sense. I remember constantly apologising for lying about my stomach bug and for being weak. Because that was what I thought I was. I felt mentally weak for not being in control of my own mind, physically weak from lack of sleep and emotionally I was exhausted.
I had nothing left to give and by the end of the phone call my very shocked work mate said she was going to give me a number, all I had to do was talk to them. It took me 3 hours to find the courage to pick up the phone again, but when I did I realised she had put me in touch with a counsellor, who I arranged to meet.
Naming the beast
“You may be suffering from mild depression and anxiety symptoms.”
The sense of relief I felt when I finally understood why this was happening to me was indescribable. I wasn’t weird, this was a very real situation but I wasn’t going to have to feel this way forever. It was like someone had turned off the tv and the static had suddenly cleared in my head. I cried happy tears that night, finally things were going to start being better, I had a name for what was happening, and I was armed with a firmer understanding of just what it was I was experiencing.
Slowly but surely I’ve made great strides since my diagnosis, naming my problem has been the first step. Being brave enough to tell people at work and home that I suffer from depression and anxiety has been tough, and sometimes I’ll admit, I’ve not found the strength to.
One small step at a time
Since the above episode, I’ve got a new manager who has worked together with me to make sure that (should I ever need it) I have an action plan in place for my mental health. It’s fairly simple and not official, but by talking to her, it’s meant that the chances of me suffering so severely are much lessened in the future.
My then boyfriend (now husband), has since learnt to spot the early warning signs and triggers, even when I might miss them, and helped me to better communicate my feelings and thoughts before things escalate. Sometimes it’s simply realising that even I might not know what I’m feeling, but it’s ok to take the time I need to figure things out.
The best advice I can give is that if you feel you can, talk to someone. Anyone. It can be your friend, your partner, a mentor or even someone in complete confidence at the end of a phone, you’ll be surprised at the understanding people are capable of.
It’s ok to admit to yourself that you’re not perfect and that your mental health does not define you..
It’s ok, to be honest.
It’s ok to take time for self-care.
But most importantly, it’s ok to be yourself.
If you need support visit Mind’s website or call their confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393.