For several years now I have suffered with mental ill health. I never used to talk about my depression or anxiety, not because I’m ashamed to admit or acknowledge my body’s frailties but because I didn’t want to be an encumbrance on people around me. I, like so many others, have come to realise that attitude is wrong.
I used to be a depressive who could not cope with the world, somebody who struggled to function on a daily basis. On World Mental Health Day, I want to share the story of my anxiety, and how I took back my own life.
Mental illness is a hideous thing, it is consumptive, it can take over the very essence of your being, it suffocates you until it renders you unable to fight back. As recently as 18 months ago, I was heading in to an abyss I would have struggled to escape, I was chronically sad, and more importantly for this story, chronically anxious. Anxiety is not simply a state of just being scared of things, it can manifest itself in multiple ways including nervous ticks, irritability and panic attacks.
In fact, it was a panic attack that eventually set me on the path to freedom. I was used to panic attacks at this point in my life, I didn’t experience them that often but they weren’t infrequent either. One afternoon, whilst I was alone in my Dad’s house, I heard several bangs outside. Despite the fact they weren’t particularly loud or close, my stomach sank, and a sense of imminent jeopardy took over me.
I tried to carry on whatever I was doing when the banging sounded again. Instinctively, I flung my body to the ground and crawled in to the hallway. By now, despite lack of any other evidence, I was convinced there was a gunman on the loose in my vicinity.
The banging went on for half an hour, I flitted between sitting in the hallway, on the stairs, and behind the sofa – anywhere where I couldn’t be seen from the window. Eventually, convinced that the ‘assailant’ was getting closer and closer, I ran in to the bathroom, locked the door, and sat in the shower, clutching my knees to my chest. My heart pounded and I sat sobbing, waiting to be killed.
A few minutes passed and the door downstairs opened, I had managed to lock it in the peak of my anxiety, so I knew it was my Dad returning home. I heard him call up to me and I felt a relief like no other. I had ‘survived’ a massacre made by my own mind.
For hours afterwards, I would not stand in eyeshot of any window, I was still terrified, despite the fact neither gunman nor any gunshots had ever existed. That night I returned to my Mum’s house to try and escape the scene of my episode, and whilst there, I made a decision to take back my life from my irrational mind.
It may seem so small to the average person, but I forced myself to go outside and grab a coffee with a friend the very next day. I had to prove to myself that I could be safe outside again, and I had to do it quickly – and it worked. (P.S. thank you, Emma)
Following my traumatic episode, my Mum and Dad came together and got me the help I needed, my Mum came with me to the GP and I was prescribed anti-depressants, and my Dad encouraged me to return to counselling, which helped me learn to rationalise the irrational thoughts that plagued my headspace. Ever since then challenging my illogical thoughts has become easier and easier.
Today, I am able to do things that just two years ago would have been unmanageable. I can go to London on my own, I can go for a coffee on my own, I even managed to live on my own for a year – I am mostly free from my own mind. And even when it tries to snatch back control, I am equipped to put it right back in to place.
The reason I’m sharing this story today is to make it clear that battling mental illness is not easy. My brain was ill, it was imbalanced. If I didn’t get the medical and cognitive help I needed I would still be in that place now. It is not weak to seek help for mental ill health; it’s not even strong; it’s just smart. Mental ill health is real, it is chemical, and it is science. With every other illness you get treatment, don’t let stigma make you treat depression, anxiety or whatever else any differently.
Though, I am far better now, I still suffer. But I have found a recipe for tough love that has helped me manage. I am tough on my anxiety when I have to be, I rationalise and scrutinise each and every nervous, irrational thought I have – it’s gruelling but it’s worth it. And on days when I feel lower than low, I wrap myself in love. I indulge myself with all my favourite things, I remember only the things I like about myself , I remember all the things other people like about me, no matter how small, no matter how few. Eventually, my irrational brain is quietened, and lets me be.
My irrational brain used to be my nemesis, now it is a just a nuisance I could do without, and am doing without.