You may have noticed it’s been a bit quiet around here lately. You’d be right, I haven’t written much for a while now, there’s a reason for that. The reason, I've been sick.
It’s hard to put it like that, mental health illnesses are invisible illnesses to so many, with no physical signs, most people (even those close) would probably not even suggest I was sick. For me to even put that label on it is hard and kinda weird, but looking back over this summer, looking back at all the assessments, doctors appointments, occupational health phone calls and talks with my councillor, yes I was most definitely not well.
Where did it all start?
This probably isn’t the best question to ask, it really isn’t that straight forward. Maybe we should start with what was wrong? Again thing’s aren’t particularly black and white.
I’ve had periods of depression in my adult life before, I’ve been as good as I can about it, taken myself to see the doctor, taken their advice. If it’s particularly bad, taken the medication they’ve prescribed me. But this time something about how I was were different. If you looked in to the glass house that was my life, you probably wouldn’t see anything wrong. Healthy woman, great career, good job, big loving family around her, loads of friends - what could it possibly be that would make her feel the need to drive her car off the side of the motorway when she was driving home from work every day.
Welcome to mental health illnesses. For the most part, there is no reason. I think as humans it’s natural to try and find rhyme and reason in things, especially those we can’t explain, but it’s a lot easier to accept these range of illnesses if you view them just as that, illnesses.
Not saying that there aren't external influences. Just like you might get run down by being overworked and picking up a cold, if you don’t take the time out to recover properly it will get worse. Life influences, triggers and disrupts.
So anyway, this had all been happening quietly in the background. If anyone unraveled the layers they would see work wasn’t at all how I wanted it, the environment was difficult, the projects demotivating and it had been this way for some time. I recently separated from my partner, it was the right decision for both of us, but when you’re a woman approaching her mid thirties, who had always seen a family in her future, this was particularly crushing. (There’s a fair few reminders everyday about the risk of having children over 35). Then this spirals, I own no house, I’m still yet to travel extensively…
Then there’s also the sense of guilt, like I mentioned, what was I to be sad about.
None of it is that simple unfortunately. Problems sit on a relative scale to people, not absolute. What upsets one person terribly may not even bother the next, it can take a lot of someone to understand and accept this.
Sorry I deviate. Suffice to say, things were bad. Looking back on it now, I certainly wasn’t even aware of how bad. Apparently crying whilst at the wheel of your car every evening isn’t ok. (It’s really not, part of me was getting used to it and was beginning to think it normal at the time - it’s not ok if you’re sad all the time, please go and get professional help).
Thankfully I went to the doctor, and thankfully I had a good doctor (from experience it’s worth finding a good one). She signed me off work for two weeks immediately.
I went to the surgery councillor, she advised CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) training. I’m in a very privilege position whereby I have private health care through work. I received 5 counselling sessions and with the same doctor 6 CBT sessions. I also feel lucky to have a very understanding line manager. I was signed off for a total of 6 weeks. I look back now and think, wow what did I do with that, it seems like a long time.
I was sick. So I started to get better.
It wasn’t a long time when you take into account doctors & councillor appointments, catching up with line managers and occupational health. And most importantly, going outside. I went to see people who I wouldn’t normally see, people who I would and my family. They came and saw me too. It was all very long, and very draining, and very exchausting. I'm not sure if I hadn't been signed off where I would be right now.
The one thing that has really struck me about opening up to friends about mental health struggles is just how many people it affects. Whether they themselves or someone very close to them. It’s made me feel a lot less alien about myself.
All of this helped me start the road to recovery, which I am still on. Work had a good scheme which allowed me to integrate back in slowly, so as not to go back full time straight away. Over the period of about a month and a half I upped my hours week on week, my first full time week was last week.
I’ve also learnt to be kind to myself. I’m feeling much better than the beginning of the summer, but then Sunday wasn’t the easiest of days, and I had a little cry when I got out the shower this morning. This is ok. It’s ok. Even if that’s how it’ll be forever, I’m alright.
Things I’ve learnt
So that was my summer, but there are quite a few stories - I thought maybe some of the following things might help people.
- It’s not ok to be sad/anxious/stressed/angry all the time, go and seek professional help. You’re not ok and although you may have an amazing support network, sometimes you just need extra help.
- Some days you’ll feel fine, and you may see your doctor on one of those days (It took me two weeks to get my first appointment). So you may feel a little silly, but still explain the other days, it’s important.
- It’s a long process, the first hurdle of admission is the hardest, but you still have recovery. (I found this was the most difficult for others to understand. Admission does not mean you’re automatically better, you still have recovery and this can take months, even years).
- Treatment is difficult, as whatever it is you have to stick with it for a while to see if it’s working, and sometimes it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t go and change it. (See point 2, it’s a long process)
- Some people don’t know what to say. They want to help, but they don’t really know how, this can mean they avoid you, they don’t mean to. You probably won’t feel like it, but sometimes you’ll have to approach them.
- If someone close to you has just been diagnosed with a mental health problem and you don’t know what to do, just ask them how they are. That’s all. Do this regularly - they will thank you.
- It's really super exhausting, bad days are bad days. CBT has been tremendously helpful, I know it's different for everyone but I would recommend it. It gives you coping mechanisms for such things as allowing yourself bad days, but actually focussing on the good ones.