Mental Health Awareness Week- How I got better & Accessing help.
This is a post in a series for mental health awareness week 🙂
I went from this… daily.
My Birthday 2017
Please remember things do get better & life will become easier to handle. It did for me and it will for you. There is so much support available to you it’s just about knowing how to access it and being in the right frame of mind to do so. Work on improving things when you’re having a relatively good day – if you try and tackle life on a bad day not much gets done and things can be overwhelming.
The best bit of advice I have to give with regards to mental health & supporting people with mental health conditions would be…
‘you have to want to get better and want to fix things otherwise things won’t get better’.
I of course still struggle with my mental health and it might comfort you to know this- I’ve just had a lot of practice in ‘feeling better’.
At 15 I was diagnosed with ‘Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety, with Agoraphobic and Claustrophobic symptoms.’ I later developed a diagnosis of depressive disorder (clinical depression). I guess the knock on effect of not leaving the house much due to panic contributed to this!!
I am not ashamed to say I have struggled and you should not be either. My mental health issues left me having 6/7 panic attacks a day everyday at it’s worse, not washing my hair, brushing my teeth, being too scared to leave my bedroom, staying in the house for months at a time, fainting left right and centre, not making it to school/ sixthform or spending the day in isolation as the thought of being near anyone or anything made me physically sick. I experienced pain, tears, suicidal thoughts and anxiety provoked feceal soiling regularly (that means pooing myself).
The idea of getting help for your mental health can be incredibly scary. Charities, Doctors and Nurses can help you to some extent, with getting better a lot resides on ‘homework’ completing self help tasks and activities suggested by professionals.
I was referred to a Psychiatrist who was a slightly odd, but wonderful man- in his late 80’s, incredibly intelligent, very quirky. He prescribed me a range of medication which we regularly reviewed & recommended books & blogs. My family were exceptionally supportive & my mum, dad & step mum alternated between taking me to appointments of which I am eternally grateful.
I also had regular appointments with the most lovely Psychologist once or twice a week. She would laugh at me to encourage me to understand silly thoughts and comfort me in moments of frustration. Therapy is a weird one. I spent years under her care and she knew absolutely everything about me, yet I know nothing about her at all. I couldn’t tell you if she was married or had kids or where she was from & I think this is really important in a good therapist. Finding someone completely separate from your family and friends. We focused on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) & the exposure technique- I genuinely think this technique gave me my life back! It’s very easy to say ‘don’t cry,’ ‘just do it’, ‘just go you might have fun’ I don’t think I actually enjoyed any social events for years. It is only recently I find my self having fun.
What is exposure technique?
“Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy to treat anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy involves exposing the target patient to the anxiety source or its context without the intention to cause any danger. Doing so is thought to help them overcome their anxiety or distress.” You repeat this process of exposure until the anxiety is no longer severe. Eventually the aim is you access the trigger with no anxiety and start to enjoy yourself!
Exposure technique works on forcing yourself into a situation which makes you feel uncomfortable! So for me, I had to go to friends and families houses, restaurants (gosh this one was a nightmare) Nandos was the absolute worst! I had to walk half way down my road without panicking, go to the shop up the road but not go inside. Go inside the shop, buy something, sit with a group of people, go to a party etc… I was sent on weekly missions. I had tasks set. Funnily for me- As a people pleaser- I felt intense guilt if I didn’t complete the task set & this therefore encouraged me. On weeks I couldn’t complete my exposure task, I felt I was wasting my parents money and my therapists time therefore I’d do them.
Tasks would include stages which we would build upon. Stand at the bus stop. Watch a bus drive past. Get the bus with someone (funny story here- my dad attempted this ‘challenge’ with me something that seems so minor now but was definitely such a big deal to me- I cried, resisted spending hours building up to it… waited at the bus stop anxiously with my dad… waited some more…the bus didn’t come! Ever. This happened every-time we attempted it. I loved this! I didn’t want to get on the bus at all anyway!!! Sometimes life works in your favour) However! The longer I spent avoiding situations such as taking the bus, the harder it was to over come and the more I struggled. I eventually got to the final stage of getting the bus alone.
Some things in life are unavoidable, there are no other options, they’re hard but they have to be done- prime example- in Venice there were water buses to get around- this was the only option (I would’ve suggested we hired a car or got taxis otherwise). My opticians is in the shopping centre- I have no choice but to go to the opticians to get broken glasses fixed etc..
What is CBT?
“Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.” CBT FOR DUMMIES IS A GREAT SERIES OF BOOKS WHICH WORKS ON SELF HELP THROUGH CBT.
What is mindfulness?
the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
I hated mindfulness. It was not for me! That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you 😉
My Therapist worked with all three of these. She was incredibly patient & understanding- I must’ve been a very frustrating client to work with! Baby steps got me to where I am today. Things don’t get better over night and I definitely still have some issues, they’re just different now!
I had support through school & college of both educational mentoring/ pastoral support and counselling. If you’re in school and are anxious about accessing support these student support services can be a good first port of call and they also usually have email addresses which helps ease anxieties when communicating!
Three tips I took away from my school counsellors:
Headphones, wear them everywhere, t1ake them everywhre, have your own bubble, when you begin to feel the panic set in put them in your ears. I used to listen to hypnotherapy in my ears, my favourite music (weirdly some music triggered panic attacks) or just silence.
Chewing gum- This gives you something else to focus on other than the feelings of panic.
Tablet in my pocket: My small antipsychotic in my pocket- I can play with it, feel it and know it’s there if I need it. I managed to get weird special consideration for exams so although I could not take my phone in I took headphones, gum, one tablet in each pocket a pebble and a small soft toy- weird but I guess its a sensory thing- whatever works for you! No one knew that didn’t need to that I’d have these things on me!
I haven’t managed to shake some of my coping strategies yet and still use these behaviours however less obsessively. I always have the anti panic tablet on me but I haven’t taken one for over a year. Having it in my pocket is my support to know it’s there just incase but I also have the brain power to know I do not need to take it. I used to panic about panicking! I’d carry three pairs of headphones as one may not work, I might lose one. It was ridiculous I know now! But it worked. Having 3 pairs of headphones, 3 packs of chewing gum and a tablet in every room, pocket or bag stopped me panicking OBVIOUSLY?!?! If you checked any pocket of mine now- the tablet is almost always still there & so are the headphones (but just one of each!) If I don’t have them on me now I won’t panic, I use it as a sign of strength!
As my support was through private insurance, they only offer you 10 sessions. ( I think I might’ve done a short post about why I didn’t go with the local Camhs (child adolescence mental health service) before?- basically the receptionist petrified me on the phone as she was so rude and 15 year old Lauren refused to use the service. *eyerolls* )
My mental health was pretty abysmal so private insurance waived the 10 appointment rule and enabled me to see them every week right up until I went to University. So 3 nearly 4 years. Towards the end of my therapy sessions we ‘weaned me off seeing them’ this sounds silly but it was sort of to see if I could cope on my own. Gosh I sound like such a baby reading this back! This was tough. I cannot lie. I struggled. The only thing I would leave my house for was for these appointments. I was a massive planner & had lists of lists. I would insist on being driven to the door of everywhere I went alone and have someone wait with me before and after. If they weren’t outside the door waiting for me when I had finished I would panic. The thought of having to leave the house alone petrified me. As I reduced my sessions, I saw my therapist fortnightly, monthly, every five weeks- until I stopped asking for appointments- I felt I had nothing to talk to them about! Great.
Specialists believed my anxiety was brought on by a lack of control of social situations triggering OCD behaviours. Funnily Tourettes is often seen in people with OCD too! There are days I still feeling myself slipping back into negative mindsets feeling generally low, this is okay! I allow myself to have these days. Through years of therapy, I now have the tools to manage them.
I am not ashamed of the old me. I am sad I had to go through this & miss out a lot of my teenage years- it is part of what has shaped me and has given me so much resilience. I do not remember the last time I had a panic attack. If you knew ‘the old me,’ you’d be absolutely amazed with this information.
Let’s not glamourise mental health conditions & start to understand the raw truths of how they can make people behave. Mental health has a huge impact on our physical health, be it through stress behaviours, IBS or pain flares.
Understand mental health conditions can affect anyone and everyone has their own issues. Offer & accept help.
Through having therapy I now laugh & when I genuinely find things funny, explore, adventure and have the best friends ever.
Through being mentally unwell, I have become empathetic, calm, organised and understanding.
Be kind to each other, be supportive & understanding. Ask for help.