As I have said in the bio the underlying theme of this blog, along with my marriage break up and getting divorced is coping with mental health. I wanted to put a blog up now to break up the constant talk about my marriage break up and to give you a little insight into why I felt the need to do this blog and why I feel talking about mental health is so important. For as long as I can remember I have had an anxiety disorder. Through this blog I want to explain what anxiety is for me and when I first became aware of something not being quite right with me. This is lining up for when I dive into my ultimate low point with my mental health in 2018.
The word mental health brings up a lot of questions, worried faces, eye rolling and scepticism – it has almost become a brand of its own. I for one am incredibly grateful that it has become such a big talking point, it allowed me to understand myself and my brain a little better. It gave me answers to questions about myself that I had for years. For as long as I can remember my struggles with my own mental health has been a huge elephant in my room
something I have been aware of for years but too scared to come face to face with.
But as it become a topic which was discussed more frequently and more openly, it allowed me to realise these elephants in the room weren’t exclusive to me.
If you have ever experienced issues with your mental health I am sure you can relate to the fact that it feels like you are fighting a battle. I am talking intense battles, think Game of Thrones, The Avengers or Troy. They are ferocious, bloody, hot and intense, with no sign of stopping. You are exhausted but despite this you continue to fight or you continue to run and hide.
I have learnt a lot over the last few years about the fight or flight response – neither is particularly effective when you are battling anxiety. But despite my understanding of this I would try and fight my anxiety, or simple try and run from it – my battle strategy was wrong. A new understanding about attacking these anxious thoughts came from a mindfulness workshop I did a few years ago. I learnt the best thing to do was simply to let my anxiety be – if I ran from it I became exhausted, if I got tangled in it I became exhausted, if I tried to fight it I became exhausted. But if I just acknowledged it being there and let it be, it eventually left – important to note sometimes not straight away, but eventually.
I will be completely honest with you I still haven’t mastered not getting tangled up with my anxious thoughts, but I am learning. I still have huge fits of anxiety, but I try to accept that as awful as this feeling is
and let’s be honest it is bloody AWFUL!!
I know eventually it will go, it may take a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks, but eventually it will subside.
When I was at my worst and I was lying in bed all day trying to think this mental health condition away I remember thinking this feeling is never ever going to end – I am going to feel like this forever and that feeling can be pretty unbearable.
But importantly I didn’t feel like this forever, I am proof that even after the worst bout of my life, I did get through it and even if it was the hardest battle of my life (think battle of the Bastards in Game of Thrones me being Jon Snow, my anxiety being Ramsey’s army) the feeling that I never thought would end eventually did.
I believe that my mental health got as bad as it did in 2018 because I allowed it to, I allowed the thoughts in my head (which by this point made no sense and had no logic) to grow and grow and grow until they swallowed me whole. I was unable to step back, accept these thoughts and feelings and let them be, I battled them to the point of them tangling themselves around me and dragging me further and further down – this is why I believe I got as bad as I did.
I think what people find hard to accept with Mental health conditions is you can’t see it. When I was at my worst no one really knew what was going on with me, my family, my friends and my husband. I had become an expert at hiding it – through fear and embarrassment. On the outside I looked normal and I acted normal, but inside my thoughts were screaming at me, telling me how worthless I was, how I wasn’t good enough, how stupid this was – these thoughts were endlessly and all consuming. Imagine a duck in water, on top of the water the duck is calmly moving along, but under the surface the duck is paddling for his life
this is what I was doing, I was paddling for my life.
I will go into more detail about this particular episode at a later date. Today I want to explore when this issue began for me.
One thing I couldn’t hide through my period of anxiety in 2018 was my weight loss, despite the baggy clothes and double layers (who wears a thick woolly jumper in May?) I was clearly losing weight, rapidly, and this was clear for everyone to see. In some ways this became a saving grace, because it was one element I couldn’t hide and I knew I needed people to see what was really going on.
I would say that my anxiety, from the outside, first looks like eating disorder – I have never had a particularly healthy relationship with food. When I was a little girl any time I would get upset or scared I would feel or be sick. I even went through a phase of making myself sick because I didn’t want to go to school – I was terrified of my teacher, so scared in fact that I would stick my fingers down my throat in the morning and make myself sick so my mum wouldn’t send me to school – I was 8!
My mum naturally was really worried about me and took me to the doctors, they were convinced I had developed an eating disorder, discussed what I ate, when I ate, did I go to the toilet after meals? They took my height and weight and labelled me as underweight, I listened as they discussed reasons for this behaviour in terms and words an 8 year old wouldn’t understand. I sat in that doctors room next to my mum, and there sitting in the corner was my first little elephant. I could have told them then that this wasn’t because I didn’t like how I looked, I was making myself sick because I was scared, of my school teacher, but that sounded so stupid, so I didn’t. I could have told them that there were thoughts in my head that I couldn’t understand or manage or communicate, but I didn’t. So to avoid feeling embarrassed and looking stupid I threw a blanket over my first little elephant and pushed the thoughts in my head down.
Being sick become one of my default reactions, programmed into my brain, whenever I was scared or nervous, I was sick.
This response to when I feel nervous or scared, which I developed as a child, never really left, but I have a much better understanding and handle on it now. I now know that that nauseous feeling is from all the Adeline pumping around my body, triggered by my fight or flight response from whatever “threat” I feel. Now when I feel these “threats” I try and move to burn it off. I walk, I run, I fidget – anything to burn off that adrenaline. I haven’t got it completely down, but I’m working on it. I have tried all the techniques in the world and largely they work, I am just not very good at implementing them when I am having an anxious episode, but again I am getting there. Learning not to be too hard on myself has been a really big step too, reminding myself daily this condition doesn’t define me and I am worthy enough to receive love and support.
So throughout my childhood I knew there was something not quite right with me, I just didn’t really know what it was. I would go over and over thoughts in my head, something someone said to me, a throw away comment, a strange look. I use to imagine my brain was like a cobweb and every comment made to me would stick in the cobweb like a ball and I would go over and over it until I had quadrupled it in size and it was a huge issue – created from nothing. Little did I know that this was my anxiety.
Over time I taught myself about anxiety, I read everything available, researched, discussed and I would say I became an expert in what anxiety was. This didn’t stop me having a break down in 2018, it didn’t prepare me for how to manage and fight this battle. But it did at least allow me to understand what I was experiencing a bit better – it stopped me thinking I was broken and the only person going through this.
The strategy that I found did work for me was talking about it, I found once I voiced what was making me feel anxious it shrunk in size. When we have an anxious thought in our head it feels humongous, but often when we say it out loud and release it into the world, we realise how small and insignificant it is. You would not believe some of the stupid thoughts that sometimes occupy and consume my thoughts, and as embarrassing and stupid as these are I try really hard to share them. As a side note if you are someone that an anxious person is sharing their anxious thoughts with, feel honoured by this. These thoughts bring us huge pain and embarrassment so if we have chosen to share them with you you must be very special, we will only share our thoughts with someone we trust not to judge or ridicule us – trust me when I say no one thinks these thoughts are any more stupid than we do.
But also try not to let these thoughts consume you, share them – a problem shared is a problem halved and the issue will only get heavier if you are the only one carrying it. Confide in someone you trust, someone you know cares about you enough to listen.
We aren’t asking some to fix our issues, we just need someone to hold out hand whilst we fix ourselves.
So, if you are living with or experiencing mental health issues right now keep going, I know it can feel like an endless battle you are fighting, but it will get better.
Ask for help and remember you are not alone. Something I told myself over and over again when the shame of asking for help seemed too much was; if I had broken my arm I would get help to fix it, I wouldn’t just wait and hope it fixes itself. It is the same with your mental health, if it feels too much then ask for help in mending it. I am proof that it can and does get better.
As a final note, every time an anxious thought creeps into your mind ask yourself, is this a fact or a thought? Our brains are very good at trying to convince us of stuff that is not real. You are enough, you are worthy, you are loved.