Blog post

Five Thoughts on My Mental Health

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought it would be an appropriate time to blog about something that is close to my heart. I suppose it ties in with the theme of the week which is relationships. I don’t know where I would be without the relationships I have with friends and family and in particular my husband.

1.How it all began

I have had mental health issues since I was 14 years old. My first panic attacks were hyperventilations, but they soon became extreme nausea, clamminess, shakes and weakness.  I am actually a very calm person, although I do worry unecessarily about things and I am pretty sensitive. My major fear in life is being sick, so I’m an emetophobic. The last time I can remember being sick I was about 9 and it wasn’t a particularly traumatic experience although I guess no-one actually likes being sick.

My panic attacks started in a maths class that I was struggling a little in. I had two episodes where I hyperventilated and was sent to the school nurse. My mum who is a trained nurse who had spent some time in psychiatric nursing mentioned that they could have been panic attacks, but I didn’t focus on that and just got on with my life. Around the same time I had an experience on the bus where I felt really sick and had to get off. Unfortunately this developed a pattern where every time I got to the same spot on the bus journey I would start to panic. It got to the point where I began to get wary about travelling in general. I had a fear of being in a car, on a bus or train and feeling unwell and being unable to get off. The problem with panic is that if you avoid the things that make you panic, it tends to grow and grow and this is what happened over the years.

people-feet-train-travelling

My parents were incredible as it must have been frustrating at times. My dad would find alternative routes to places that avoided going on the motorway and there were a few occasions where I had plucked up the courage to go to a local city by train, but then had to phone him to come and pick me up because I couldn’t bear to get on the train to come home! My husband has also been very supportive and it’s really interesting that in his job he now deals with mental health issues on a daily basis. I like to think that I gave him his basic training!

2. When it came to a head

Things reached a crisis point in 1995 when I was 24 years old. I had just returned from a year abroad in Valencia as part of my Hispanic Studies degree. Towards the end of my year abroad my anxiety had heightened to the point that I felt unable to leave the flat. Within a couple of days of returning home I told my mum that I didn’t see the point in going on living. She made me an appointment for the doctor the following day. I saw the doctor and he was amazing. I think he saved my life. He told me that I was suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder most likely caused by a chemical imbalance and he  put me on a new drug called Seroxat. it was an antidepressant which had been particularly helpful for people with GAD.

pexels-photo (4)

Within 6-8 weeks I felt like a new person. apart from alleviating my anxiety it made me realise that how I had been feeling inside wasn’t normal. I assumed that everyone felt a bit low, a bit paranoid and overly focused on the minutiae of life (I had once fixated on a butterfly trapped in a sliding window, I couldn’t release it and eventually it died. I was devastated). Over time I began to be able to do things I hadn’t been able to do in a long time, go on the motorway in cars, long train journeys and the biggest thing was that I started to forget about panicking. I met my now husband at university and although it was sometimes in the back of my mind, things dramatically improved.

3.The setbacks

After thinking I was  on the road to recovery I had two major setbacks both of which coincided with me coming off the antidepressants. The first was in 2001. I was living in Liverpool by this time with my husband to be. A very well meaning doctor forced me to come off the medication. I understood why he was doing it because at the time it was still quite taboo to be on anti-depressants for any prolonged period of time. Well, that was a nightmare for a start he gave me the wrong instructions for reducing my dose so I was coming off them too fast and feeling awful. Within a couple of weeks of stopping them completely the old feelings started to come back, and then on a trip to Tesco (of all places!) I had the mother of all panic attacks. It was by far the worse one I had ever had. I ended up outside Tesco with the lovely lady from the cigarette kiosk and the security guard calming me down! I was straight back to a different doctor in the practice who put me straight back on them. I also signed up for a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

pexels-photo-54539

The other time was when I began trying for my eldest daughter. Obviously I was told I would need to come off the tablets again. I eased myself off them gently this time, having taken advice from Dr Google! Right from day 1 of my pregnancy I felt terrible. By 16 weeks after constant nausea (not great for anyone let alone an emotophobe!) and feeling horrendously down to the point of feeling like I wanted to disappear I went back to the doctor who put me on Prozac (although not safe during pregnancy, had more anecdotal evidence of any effects during pregnancy). I was also given some appointments with a Community Psychiatric nurse again (I also saw one before I went on my year abroad to Valencia) as I was on the verge of agoraphobia and just didn’t feel myself.

I never felt 100% better during that pregnancy, although things did improve enough for me to almost enjoy the last few weeks before the eldest was born at 37 weeks. Midway through the pregnancy a midwife said that she had heard that you could get a type of postnatal depression which was antenatal. I googled it of course, but there was little known about it at the time. Twelve years later, many more people have an awareness of AND or Antenatal Depression, it can be very lonely feeling so down about pregnancy which is supposed to be a happy and blooming time. I just felt blooming awful!

4. What does panic feel like?

From the outside when someone has a panic attack it can be difficult for other people to understand. Often panic attacks happen in the most innocuous of places and for the most innocent of reasons. My panic attacks start with a feeling of apprehension. For example if I was going on a train (I still have a love-hate relationship with trains!) For a while before the journey I would worry about having a panic attack. People with mental health issues often have incredibly vivid imaginations, so I would find it quite easy to replay a previous panic attack in my mind and still feel all the fear and emotion involved in it. As the day for the trip comes closer, the fear gets worse. By the time I’m getting on the train, I’m feeling shaky and lightheaded.

Once the panic takes hold it’s really hard to shake off and I have found the only way to stop it is to get out of the situation. The fear is the worst thing I have ever felt. I always liken it to that feeling you get when someone is chasing you or you have a near miss in your car. It grows and grows and I feel hot, but clammy. I start to get the shakes, I can’t talk coherently and sometimes I start to cry. All through this I have really bad nausea which doesn’t seem to stop. I feel faint and just all over rubbish. I don’t want to be in public as I feel embarrassed and I have realised over the years that the fear of being sick in public is greater than the fear of being sick at all.

nature-fashion-person-woman

The panic tends to fade the minute I leave the situation which is the most immense relief. I often feel very hungry after a panic attack which seems odd to those around me. One minute I’m feeling intensely sick and then the next I’m ravenous. I guess it is all that adrenaline, it’s very draining having to panic, you use your whole body! Luckily panic attacks are few and far between now and I have developed a number of coping strategies to try and avoid them taking hold. I find Bach Rescue Remedy useful and for some reason Extra Strong Mints are always comforting (I guess the peppermint helps with the nausea).

5. Stigma

I would love to say that the stigma of mental health doesn’t bother me, but it does. I’ve shared stuff with friends and family, but it’s not really the kind of thing that you drop into polite conversation. Like many people, I worry that others might see my mental health issues as a sign of weakness. That’s bizarre, because those of us who do suffer have to be so strong. We have to try and put our happy face on to the world. I’ve lost count of the times where I have felt full of terror and anxiety, but had to be brave in public. I’ve felt more pressure to do that since having children as I have always been paranoid about passing on my fears and anxieties to them. In another way having kids has been good because there is less time to think about yourself and a lot more of your time is taken up focusing on them and their wellbeing.

I do feel different to other people. In spite of how well I feel at the moment, I still have ups and downs and I still have periods where I feel incredibly anxious. I can manage a flight to Spain, but I can’t imagine being able to fly to somewhere exotic or far-flung unless you knock me out like Mr T (and yes, the husband has suggested that). I feel a bit sad sometimes that I have been held back from doing things because of my anxiety. Although I never thought I was going to be able to have children because of my anxiety and intense fear of being sick. And I did, I feel really proud of that. I also managed to spend two years living in Spain which were incredible and indirectly led me to meeting the love of my life!  I would love to be able to make long trips abroad, but apart from the thought of the flight, it’s the thought of internal travel when we were there. Coaches and minibuses are not my friend and don’t even get me started on boats!

daisy-heart-flowers-flower-heart

If you met me you would not know in a million years that I have mental health issues, I’m a calm person still a bit prone to overworrying, but I am happy and positive. I come into my own in a crisis, and in everyday life I have very few panics. I have been told that I will have to take the antidepressants for life as they seem to be the only thing that controls the panic attacks and generalised anxiety. I am ok with that, I see my mental health issues as being a long-term issue like many other illnesses that require medication.

I don’t believe in the ‘drugs’ alone, I think that to tackle it head on you need to combine therapies. I have tried a lot over the years, but the main things that have worked for me have been Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Relaxation Therapy. I once paid privately for CBT after I had my first setback. Luckily I was in the position to pay as the waiting list for NHS funded was 2 years (don’t even get me started on how underfunded mental health is!). The private therapist I saw was incredible and I credit her for really helping me, probably as much as the medication. The two main things I remember from seeing her that have stayed with me are ‘what is the worst thing that could happen’ and that ‘it’s very hard to panic if your body is relaxed.’ That’s one of the main reasons why I try and do relaxation exercises as often as I can. It’s amazing how tense your body can get and the natural reaction to panic is to feed it by tensing your body and increasing that flow of adrenaline.

I hope that this post has been interesting and please feel free to get in touch if any of these issues have affected you. I’m always up for a chat. Having mental health issues can be incredibly isolating and often you feel like you are the only one that feels that way. I hope that by sharing posts like this we can raise awareness of mental health issues so that people don’t end up suffering alone. I’ve only touched briefly my life with mental health issues and in the future I intend to write some in depth blog posts about agoraphobia, antenatal depression and a guide to good coping strategies.

MIND

No Panic

Pandas Foundation

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Pink Pear Bear

 

Previous Post

Next Post

14 comments

  • Baby Anon

    May 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    What a brilliant, honest and open post. I appreciate you sharing your story. There is, as you say, still so much stigma around mental health but it is brave people like you sharing your stories and experiences which will start to break down those barriers. #bigpinklink

    1. Siena Says

      May 31, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Aw thanks for your comments. Yes I hope that others will feel able to share their stories one day, it’s the only way to raise awareness and end stigma xx

      1. Baby Anon

        May 31, 2016 at 1:44 pm

        After I read this I actually saw it pop up on my news feed (with Mind, I think?) which was very cool. I’ve had a long association with Mind (previously was a trustee) and think case studies like yours can change people’s thinking dramatically, and give others the confidence to share. Keep on doing the great stuff you’re doing 🙂 x

  • Kerry-Ann

    May 23, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    You are incredibly brave for having shared such a personal story – I admire how strong and tenacious you have been in order to try and get through things. Anxiety can be a real nasty piece of work. Thank you for sharing your story…I’m sending you a virtual hug! x #bigpinklink

    1. Siena Says

      May 31, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      Aw thanks for commenting. I don’t feel very brave ha ha!! Yes anxiety is nobody’s friend. And the hug was lovely 😉 xx

  • This Mum’s Life

    May 24, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    What an eloquent account of what you have been through. It certainly makes it a lot easier to for someone to understand what it’s like to live with panic, when you see it written down like this. It really has been a long struggle for you, and I can relate to a lot of it. I was also a very anxious child, and had my first panic attack when I was about 11. Starting secondary school, and lot’s of pressure with all the dancing, training, and shows I was performing in, took it’s toll. I mainly ignored it for the rest of my time at school, until I got to 6th form, then had panic attacks all the time, and they’ve blighted my life on and off ever since. Unlike your experience and focus on trains and travel though, mine were never very specific. I gradually noticed that my sleeping pattern was the biggest trigger-I’d decline and decline into not sleeping, massively worry and overthink anything that happened to come into my head (getting cancer, my family dying, that kind of thing,) then they’d come. But once I’d had some sleeping tablets, and broken the poor sleep cycle, they’d become manageable again. I also had antenatal depression, both times, but didn’t recognise what it was. I’m really sad now that I was miserable for both pregnancies when I didn’t necessarily have to be. After my really bad episode after baby 2 was born, I saw a brilliant counsellor, and have stayed on the citalopram long term-like you, I think I always will do. I’m also wary over who I share what I’ve been through with, I always think I know who will understand, and who won’t. Hopefully the more that gets written about this, the less the stigma will be. I’ll look forward to reading your other posts going into your story in more depth. xx
    #bigpinklink

    1. Siena Says

      May 31, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      I’m sorry you’ve been through it too. I always think it does make us stronger in the long run though. I know only too well those anxious thoughts about people getting cancer and family dying, they stop me dead in my tracks sometimes (especially since having kids – you wouldn’t believe the things I worry about, although actually you probably would!)

      I’m so glad you found a good counsellor, they are few and far between I think. With the AND i had it so bad with Grace, but didn’t get it at all with Siena although I stayed on the Prozac the whole time, I only found out I was pregnant at 10-11 weeks so it was too late to come off anyway!

      Hope the anxious times stay few and far between for you xxx

  • Sera Minchin

    May 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Thanks for this great blog. I started having panic attacks when I was 16. I still remember where it happened. I was lighting the copper for hot water so that we could have our baths. I did not do anything about it. I kept on having panic attacks, vomiting and like you said avoiding situations where I felt panic. I even got so bad that I could not even go to the restaurant as I would panic before I got there, and then could not eat any food as my stomach felt so full. I still did not go to a doctor until after I got married. Leading up to my marriage was sheer hell, panic after panic and even my wedding day was full of panic, of course this all happened in the 70’s and 80’s when I suppose mental health was a stigma. Finally I decided to go to the local doctor and he stuffed me around for a year with all sorts of meds. After this year, I took the situation into my own hands. I rang around and found a very good psychiatrist who finally after about 20 years of suffering told me that I had a chemical imbalance. I felt relief that finally there was a diagnosis to my suffering. The psychiatrist got me onto the right meds and I finally began to feel better. I often regret those wasted years where like you said I would not go to places because of fear of panic. Now in my 60th year, I am still on meds, I did try to go off them, but finally realized after a severe panic attack early in 2015 that I have this illness for life. I do not like it, but I have learnt to accept it. I have only just finished a mindfulness course and it has taught me strategies to cope with anxiety. I am also hoping to do the cbt course. To do these courses, you really have to be in the right mind, at my highest anxiety there was no way that I could have done these courses.

  • Kimberly

    May 27, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Thank you I appreciate your post so much thank you for sharing. I’m so envious of your support as I i’ve noticed that everybody seems to have at least one supportive person…I know it’s my fault that I have lost my support I don’t take it when was offered so now I have to fend for myself and I appear lazy and unwilling sometimes attention seeker yet I even notice that my personality changed throughout starting this post crying to now feeling angry and ashamed. Should share my story like you did because it can help… it does help . thank you for taking the Time to write it out and brave to share

  • Anna Senior

    May 27, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Hello I too suffer from Emetophobia, and now suffer from OCD also since getting pregnant with my first child 6 years ago. I struggle every moment of every day that the children will pick up a bug and in turn I will catch it. How do you cope with being a mum with this phobia? Xx

    1. Siena Says

      May 31, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Anna I cannot tell you how much I dreaded having children just for the sickness issue! I think the major thing that probably helped me was the CBT that I mentioned in my post. I think it changed my point of view so dramatically. It wasn’t the prettiest form of therapy as my therapist bought a video of people vomiting and I had to build myself up to watching it and being comfortable with it. It sounds gross, but it really worked. I also found that something kicked in with me when my kids were sick and I was so concentrated on them that I just focused on trying to make them feel better. That said, I am yet to deal with more ‘adult’ sickness as my daughters have only really been sick whilst younger. I still haven’t managed to overcome it for myself though and will still avoid situations that make me feel uncomfortable. Hey and I still have feelings of intense dread the minute anyone mentions norovirus or something similar. My hands are so dry I wash them so much!!! I hope you find a way through it. Relaxation therapy is fab too. I have one on my phone which is only 15 mins long and try and do that at night before bed. Hope that helps xx

  • Dean butterfield

    May 28, 2016 at 3:22 am

    I must congratulate you on your bravoury, well done you xx

    1. Siena Says

      May 30, 2016 at 8:40 am

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I just think the more we share, the less stigma that there will be. Although it is hard to open up x

  • Kiersten

    June 2, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: