I know that this is my first real post for Illness, Life and Me, and as much as I wanted to start with a positive post about something I loved, it is currently Mental Health Awareness week and I think that it is so important not to let the opportunity pass to raise awareness about Mental Health. I spoke a bit about Mental Health and Coping Strategies in my post: Time to Talk About Mental Health; Part One. But I thought I would focus this post on my own story, showing others who may read this that the way they are feeling is normal and that they are not alone. I want you to be aware that this post comes with a warning for possible triggers and is very sensitive. Also, this was so hard for me to write, so it will probably be hard to read, but I believe the only way to break the stigma is for people to be open and honest about their experiences, and there is nothing held back in this post.
Growing up I had heard people talk about mental health, I felt bad for people with mental health issues, but could not even begin to understand how it felt. Until I developed FND in March 2015. I honestly can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I started to feel depressed, but I definitely denied it for long enough. It took me a good year from March 2015 to even come to terms with what had happened to me. I was constantly looking for a cure online, asking for help, researching and trying new treatments, so I didn’t really let it all sink in. It was only really when I was diagnosed with FND in November 2015 and exhausted all the research methods that I actually let the idea that I would never be ‘cured’ enter my mind.
It was at this point where I started to realise that everything I had dreamt of, was working towards and achieving was all gone, I could no longer be the Talent Manager I had trained and worked my ass off to be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just my career that I lost, I lost my independence where I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t wash my own hair and I couldn’t cut my own food. Relying on people who once relied on me was another massive blow, I had always been the organised one, giving advice, reminding people of deadlines etc, now I was relying on family and my boyfriend to remind me of appointments, and whether I had eaten breakfast. I began to realise that my cognitive abilities that I once took so much pride in, were gone, I couldn’t have an adult conversation for more than 10 minutes without switching off or feeling fatigued, I would look at my first class honours degree on the wall like I was some sort of fraud. It was like I suddenly woke up and realised the situation I had been living in for the last 12 months.
It was around this time that I started seeing myself as a burden to everyone. I could see my relationships were now changed from ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ to ‘carer and patient’, ‘mother and daughter’ to ‘carer and patient’, ‘father and daughter’…. you get the picture. Even my younger brother who had always looked up to me was now reminding me what I ate for dinner and helping me to the bathroom. I brought up how I was feeling a few times, but no matter what anyone said or how they said it, they couldn’t change my mind, I was convinced that they were just saying it because they had to.
Although all of this was going on inside my head, I still refused to accept or believe that I had poor mental health. I remember my mum asking me a few times ‘Jenny are you sure you don’t want to go to the doctor and talk about your mental health’ I would always reply that I was grand or that I was dealing with everything, even though inside I was thinking ‘what will a doctor do, they can’t make me better’ and ‘I’ll only upset everyone if they know how depressed I am’ along with other negative thoughts.
One day when I was in the shower on my own and I looked down at my left hand and seen a vein, my first thought was ‘I wonder will I feel it if I put something sharp into this vein’. I didn’t, and looking back now I can see that I was way past the stage where I should have asked for help. But I put it down the fact that it had been a year since I had felt any sensation in my left side, and I was curious. The next time I got the thought to cut my left leg to see if it would hurt, I told my mammy straight away. I knew it would kill her to hear me say the words, but I knew I needed to admit to someone how I was feeling. That same day I went and seen a GP.
Unfortunately for me, the mental health system let me down, which is another reason why I’m sharing my story like this. I was placed on anti-depressant tablets, referred to the mental health team, which had a 12-week waiting list, and sent home with the instructions to come back in 3 weeks to see if they worked, along with the number for Lifeline. I’ll never forget that feeling when I left the doctors office that day. I felt like it was such a big deal for me to go and open up and admit to this doctor how I was feeling, and I wanted something to help me straight away, but instead I left feeling like I went into see her with a sore throat and she had given me antibiotics, suddenly the feeling of ‘no one understands what it going on and how serious this feels’ got bigger and bigger. I knew it would take a few weeks for the tablets to work, so I kept telling myself, ‘hold on for another few weeks’, ‘it’s only a few weeks’, ‘at least people can say you tried’. Many times I pulled up the number to Lifeline, but got so afraid of being made feel the way that doctor made me feel, that I didn’t make the call, although now I know that Lifeline would never make anyone feel like that!
Everyone responds differently to medication, and for me, the first antidepressant didn’t work. So when I went back 3 weeks later and was told to stop my tablets, wait for a week, then start new ones, I was so scared. I had felt like these tablets were the only thing keeping me fighting the thoughts and feelings, and now I wasn’t going to have them for a week. I was starting to be more honest with family and my boyfriend at this stage, so when I told them my worries, they stuck by me all week, again this just added to the ‘I’m a burden’ feeling. Although again, they would tell me the opposite, I was convinced that they would all be so much happier if I wasn’t around, I told myself daily that they would have less stress and less to worry about.
I was starting to lose hope and thinking that I would have these feelings forever, so I went to see another GP. I told him that I had been on my new antidepressants for 3 weeks and that I still wanted to end my life, I couldn’t believe it when his response was asking ‘If I had tried exercising more and eating healthy.’ Baring in mind I had just explained that the reason I was feeling like this was because of my illness and that I couldn’t get out of bed. What struck me the most was that I wasn’t disappointed, this was the feeling from the GP’s that I had learned to expect.
I left and again, felt like no one was going to take me seriously or help, but a few days later I got a letter to say I had an appointment in 3 weeks with the mental health nurse. I gave myself the goal of getting to the appointment, I googled ways to help myself mentally when the feelings got overwhelming, and I tried them all, I spoke a bit about these in the blog post mentioned earlier. I was afraid of confiding in people and telling them what was going on, mostly because of how I felt leaving the Drs I never wanted to feel like that again, but also because I was afraid of putting people in an awkward situation where they didn’t know what to say. I told my best friends that I was put on anti-depressants, but made light of it, and didn’t tell them the full story.
I saw the mental health nurse and was referred to adult psychology, again another 9-week waiting list. I’ll be honest here and say that I believe had I not have been so ill, I probably wouldn’t have made the 9 weeks wait. I was sleeping for most of the day and unable to leave my bed, which meant that even if the suicidal thoughts were so loud, I couldn’t do anything about them apart from crying myself to sleep again.
When I finally met my psychologist, I was told that it would get harder before I would get better, but I had someone in my corner who I could say anything to, without feeling like I would make her feel awkward, or hurt or angry at me.
And she wasn’t lying, it did get hard and I had to bring up a lot of feelings that I had suppressed over the last 18 months, along with dealing with the feelings that I knew I had. I also admitted to her the times that I had tried to take my life or was close to that point, something I have never shared with anyone apart from her, until this post.
At one point, I left my session, got into my boyfriend’s car, and had to tell him that I had planned to take my life that day. I told him what my psychologist had recommended, and he listened as we drove home. He did what she asked, took all objects from my room, hid everything on the list I had made, and sat with me and my parents while I cried myself to sleep. That was one of the hardest days of my life.
Getting through that day, one hour at a time, and the next and the next, showed me the strength that I had and it was the moment when I feel like my mental health turned around. I had faced what I was most scared of, and had been listened to and supported throughout it all. I talked and talked and talked to my psychologist, partner and my parents and I started feeling like the weight was lifting from my shoulders. The only way I can describe it was that I knew I was in these dark heavy clouds, but I was starting to see them getting lighter, and I knew that the clear sky hadn’t gone away, it was still there, above the clouds.
I still have depression and anxiety, but I manage them, I don’t let them manage me. And it’s not all blue skies and the sunshine, I still have a slip-up or stop for a minute and realise that I’ve been feeling down for a few hours/days… I still get suicidal thoughts, but not as often, and I know what to do when I have them.
So for anyone reading this, please know that the clouds don’t last forever, the thoughts and feelings come and go like waves, you just have to know what type of surfboard or boat you need to ride them out. Please don’t be afraid to talk about how you are feeling, find someone you trust and tell them, just sharing what is going on inside can be such a relief.
Also, if you are reading this and you are lucky enough to have never had these thoughts, I hope you have more understanding about how someone with poor mental health feels.
Finally, I would love for everyone who has read this to be aware that our health care system is failing those with mental health issues. I was lucky enough to see an amazing psychologist but had to wait a very long time and I dread to think of the person who felt like me, having that waiting time, but no support at home.
Not only does it need to be more socially acceptable to talk about mental health and mental illness, better help and understanding for those with mental health issues needs to be fought for.
Some helpful websites:
Some important numbers to save:
Northern Ireland: Lifeline 0808 808 8000
UK: Samaritans 116 123
Republic of Ireland: Samaritans 116 123