I still remember the moment when I finally admitted that I was struggling. It was a Sunday, we were spending the afternoon at our friend’s house enjoying Sunday lunch. I was sat curled up on a chair drinking a glass of red wine and chatting with my friend and our husbands and she asked me, “how’s work?”. I remember just starting to cry. It came out of nowhere. I said “I just don’t think I can do it anymore.”
I went to the doctors the next day. I could not face work. I could not do it anymore. I had been to the doctors previously because I had been having panic attacks, although I didn’t know what they were at the time. I had a slipped disc in my back some time before and was still recuperating, I was also working full time as an Early Years Manager, also studying for my Foundation Degree – as well as being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. The first time I experienced a panic attack I was in the supermarket and I briefly lost my husband and daughter. I panicked and become upset and then I lost it. Hyperventilating in the car park in front of my bewildered family. I came home, locked myself in my room and cried myself to sleep. I did not even realise it was a panic attack at the time.
When my Nan passed away in November 2015 after a long illness it had a profound effect on me – but nevertheless I carried on. The stress I was experiencing in my daily life was intensifying and Christmas had become a trigger for me. I love Christmas but it’s a frantic busy time at work and I put so much pressure on myself to create the perfect Christmas at home that I was beginning to feel miserable around this time of year. Usually after the rush of Christmas had passed the stress and anxiety would leave me. This time it hadn’t left, it stayed, stubborn and determined – lingering on. The feelings intensified and I can only explain them as so overwhelming they began to ruin my life. I was constantly operating in a state of panic, fear and frustration. The slightest thing would knock me sideways, I was always on the verge of tears, panic pounding in my chest until it began to consume me – I was in physical pain, heart pounding, stomach churning, shoulder tension gripping pain.
So when my friend asked that seemingly innocent question. I just reacted. I didn’t say my usual “fine”. My friends and I always joke that I was always just fine, even when I wasn’t. I hadn’t planned to confess my feelings, I don’t think I had even realised how unhappy I was, I was just exhausted from holding it in for so long.
The doctor prescribed antidepressants as well as anti-anxiety medication. I was signed off work for a short time with stress. Then not long after I returned to work, a much-loved colleague passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly. My role as part of the school’s senior leadership team meant I was responsible for informing and supporting staff and helping to lead a large team through a what I can only describe as a traumatic event. We all supported each other through this time but it was a distressing and difficult time navigating our way through this experience.
I held on and held on. I dealt with all of it. Until I just couldn’t hold on any longer. My husband clearly remembers when our lives changed. When I became so ill, I lost all hope for the future. I spent my days in bed, trying to sleep away the day, just to make it to the next day. I couldn’t leave the house. I went from being the life and soul of the party to avoiding life, people, anything. I felt no joy or happiness. I was numb to all the feelings that once consumed me. The doses of my medication so high, my speech was slurred, and days just rolled into one.
I write this blog because at the time friends and family wanted to know how and why this happened. It wasn’t just one thing. It didn’t just happen. It slowly crept up on me, showing signs it was coming and I ignored it. Knocked it back. I carried on thinking I was just fine that I was invincible. I am sharing my lived experienced because, this can and does, happen to anyone. Nobody – not one of us, is immune to experiencing mental heath issues. Had I or friends, family or colleagues known about the risk factors of mental ill health then perhaps we would have spotted the signs and symptoms sooner before I reached crisis point.
I hope that if even one person reads this and recognises any familiar signs – either for themselves, a friend, family member or work colleague, that you take action to do something about it. Huge big life events can and do happen and we can’t plan for them, they can land with no warning. In order to have the capacity to deal with things that life throws at us, we can place value on our health, how we think, feel and take care of ourselves. Preventative measures that safeguard our health and not reactive measures when we have shown disrespect to any form of work, life, balance.
There is an old saying, “make time for your health and wellbeing now – or you pay the price later”. I paid the price, mine and my families lives turned upside down and it’s taken time to start living and loving life again. Make the time today, it really is small the everyday things that you do to take care of yourself and how you prioritise your health, placing it firmly at the top of your to-do list that matters.