Thursday, 7 July 2016

Mental Health Recovery


This week i've been reflecting on my mental health and how far I have come in my recovery.


I really hate to use the word 'breakdown' because of the images it conjures up for people. If you hear someone say 'I had a mental breakdown' you can't help but imagine straight jackets and institutions with padded walls. But the reality is quite different. It's also very common and it can happen to anyone. 

A mental or nervous breakdown is in essence an accumulation of disorders such as anxiety, depression and dissociation which manifests to such an extent that the individual can no longer function on a day to day basis and complete their usual activities such as going to work, driving or leaving the house. 

This has happened to me twice now in my lifetime but I rarely refer to it as a 'breakdown'. Instead I generally say that i've been 'unwell' over two periods of time. But I was unwell to the point where I literally couldn't do anything.

Most of you will already know that I have suffered with depression, anxiety and panic attacks on and off for three years now. In 2015 I came off my medication and celebrated being meds free and 'normal' again. I didn't realise that i'd come off my meds too soon until I found myself spiralling out of control again. Almost as soon as I had got myself better I could feel myself getting worse again. Anxiety slowly crept back in which made me feel low and teary and like I was failing again.

Many people will say the only thing worse than having a mental breakdown is having another mental breakdown. And this is something I can sadly vouch for. I genuinely believed that what happened to me in 2013 wouldn't happen again and that it was something in my past which I had overcome. But I was wrong.

Looking back I can now see that I was in total denial about getting ill again, it was almost like I couldn't accept it so I continued trying to carry on as normal until I again reached breaking point. 

Unfortunately recovery is a long and slow process and your life completely gets put on hold until you're better again. This was something I desperately didn't want to happen again. The thought of it made me feel like there was no point in carrying on anymore. I felt like I had nothing to live for and that I was letting everyone down again. It's hard to explain how completely unbearable this felt.  

But of course I did carry on because that was the only option. I went back to my GP, got put back on medication again and signed myself up to another course of therapy. Eventually, and over time, things slowly started to get back to normal and I could see the improvements each and every week. I had got myself better before and I knew that I could do it again. There was no other comprehensible alternative other than this but it certainly didn't feel achievable at the time.


And so now I sit here 9 months into my second round of recovery and my life is pretty much back to normal. There are the odd days where I may feel more low than usual or experience a little more anxiety than usual, but on the whole I am able to do everything I want to do without any hesitation which is a wonderful feeling! The dark cloud that was once looming over me and stripping away any hopes and aspirations has dispersed and I can see the light again.  

A few weeks ago when we went on holiday I found myself looking forward to the trip instead of imagining all the worst case scenarios. This felt so strange to me that I had to stop and double check the feelings I was experiencing. It was almost like I was saying to myself 'are you sure you're not worried about that because you would have been before?'. It felt so weird and almost like there is this little demon inside who is still trying its best to rock the boat and have me doubt myself. 

Last month my husband and I had planned a really fun day out with lots to look forward to and for a brief moment I felt a genuine burst inside of excitement and happiness. If you suffer with low moods or depression you will understand that you just become accustomed to the never ending numbness and lack emotion. It takes a lot for me to feel any major emotion, and I mean a LOT. I've been so used to feeling completely flat that these emotions surprised me to the point where I had to stop what I was doing and reflect for a second or two on how I was feeling. It may have only lasted a minute or two at the most but it was there and I felt it.


Another crazy thing that has happened to me is that I have found myself in situations where previously I would have had a panic attack and I haven't even given it a second thought. I was in London a couple of weeks ago and my husband and I couldn't be bothered to walk the 2 miles back to our car so we just jumped in a taxi. I'm not exaggerating when I say that even thinking about sitting in the back of a cab used to bring me out in a cold sweat and if it was something I had to do then I would have spent a long time beforehand psyching myself up for it and ensuring I had all my safety measures in place before doing it. As the taxi pulled away with us in the back it suddenly occurred to me that this was something I should be scared of or panicking about. It sounds so crazy as I type this but it was like I had forgotten that I didn't like getting in cabs and my anxieties around that and for a moment I couldn't believe that i'd just jumped in the taxi without giving it a second thought. It was almost like I was trying to freak myself out even thinking about it and I'm sure I could feel that little demon inside me willing the anxiety symptoms to come on but thankfully they didn't and I won the battle yet again. 

Recovery is a weird and wonderful process. It's unbelievable how i've become so used to feeling a certain way and that feeling normal emotions like happiness and excitement are so alien to me. The fact that I have felt a glimmer of them recently is amazing to me. 

I now realise that i'm prone to anxiety and depressive episodes which means that they could happen again throughout the rest of my life. I am now less naive to the illness and understand that it's not something that will just go away forever. It will always be there in the background ready to rear it's ugly head again and that's something I need to be conscious of. It's also something I need to continue to work to try to make sure that doesn't happen again. I need to be much more aware of how I am feeling in future and, most importantly, I need to be honest with myself and accept if I feel unwell again. 

Once you start feeling better again it's very easy to forget to do all of the things that helped to get you feeling well again. If anything I think it's more important than ever to continue to do all of these things and help to reduce the likelihood of becoming unwell again.

I really wish mental health recovery was like having a broken leg where there is a solid and proven process to follow with an accurate recovery timescale. Sadly it's nothing like that and all of the uncertainty just adds to the misery. What works for one person may not work for another and the meds you try may not even be the right ones for you. In-between all of that you're still experiencing the symptoms of the illness along with some possible medication side effects and it can be completely debilitating.  It's hard to explain how horrible it is to take a medication and there be no certainty that it's actually going to help and knowing that in fact it will initially make you feel worse. It's a very scary place to be and an experience I wouldn't wish upon anyone.

Where possible I will always speak openly and positively around my own personal experiences in order to normalise the illnesses and reduce the stigma associated with them. I also really wanted to write this particular post so that it would always be there for me to look back on. Recovery is always possible and, yes it may be hard work and seem unachievable at the time, but in the end, and with the right help, life can get back to normal again.


Have you experienced anxiety and / or depression? 
How was / is recovery for you?
It would be great to hear some of your own experiences. 
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13 comments

  1. Amazing post! Very honest and true. I can relate so so much. I wish you never have bad episode again! Xxx

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    1. Thanks Liv, it's always good to hear how people can relate to how I feel. And thanks for your well wishes. xx

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  2. This is such a good post, I can completely relate to the being confused as to why you aren't worried and anxious about things, that always throws me off a bit! Hopefully it's all up from here xx

    India Charlotte♥

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    1. Ahh thanks India! It's weird isn't it when your brain is like double checking to see if you should be anxious. I hope there comes a day when I don't even have to think about anxiety at all. Thanks for reading and commenting xx

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story and I can relate to it. I have Borderline Personality Disorder & depression and have been on medication. The meds have made me much more stable although when I came off them before I had a similar experience to use when I started to feel worse just as I had gotten better so I have stayed on them now. I wish you all the best. - Becky x

    www.wanderergirl.com

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    1. Thanks for reading Becky. It's so hard when you get ill again after coming off meds and its difficult to see how you will ever be better without them at times. I'm not thinking about coming off any time soon as relapse was so scary. But hopefully one day i'll get there xx

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  4. Sarah, this was such a good thing to read. The stigma surrounding mental illness is really unjust, and as someone who has gone through periods of depression and isolation, I know just how difficult it feels to be at those points. Thank you for posting this, raising awareness, and for also helping yourself get to a place where you're thriving.

    Besma | Curiously Conscious

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    1. Thank you so much Besma! Your comments mean so much. xx

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  5. I loved the honesty in this post. It's good to know there is recovery in my future and the acceptance that recovery is not necessarily a permanent thing might be scary, but it's incredibly important to know. I relate to so many things you write, like the demons inside trying to get you to break and the fear that medication can make you worse before you get better. It's always good to know we're not alone in the world! Thank you for this post Sarah xxx

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    1. Thank you so much Nadine. I agree - people often don't talk about mental health recovery not being permanent and how quickly it can all change again. I'm glad you could relate to my words and I wish you well xx

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  6. This is such an excellent post, and so much of what you say resonates with me deeply. I had a sad realisation recently where I felt like I honestly couldn't imagine being anxiety-free when travelling in the future, and it has helped a lot to read that you have found yourself at ease in situations which would have previously been very difficult. It's hard letting go of the mechanisms we have in place to get us through anxiety-inducing experiences but once we are able to cope better without them it's so freeing and satisfying! xx

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    1. Thank you Nadia .... Anxiety and any mental health issue is changeable and it's important to know and remember that some times are better than others and recovery is possible. Its very hard when you are in the darkest depths of anxiety and depression to remind yourself of this and I guess thats why I find blogging about it so helpful as I have solid evidence of how I have been feeling. I really hope there comes a day when I don't have to think about anxiety or safety behaviours at all. xx

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  7. Hi Sarah
    Thank you so much for writing this honest post. I came across your blog whilst searching for information in happiness journals. I to suffer from severe anxiety, depression and low self esteem and found this post made me feel calm. I know exactly how you feel when you say you have to prepare yourself for things, put safety measures in place, I do the same. I struggle daily with believing in myself, always looking for my anxiety, questioning whether I am really feeling ok or just pretending. I call my anxiety Brian and tell myself that I just have to take him along for the ride. You're not alone in how you feel and it's so nice to know that I'm not either. It's settling to read it from someone else's point if view, to hear how you deal with it
    Thank you so much Sarah
    From Sarah

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