Sunday, 7 August 2011

52: 23 Coming out about mental health

In my last blog post I hinted at some problems I have been going through. I always knew I would tell you more, but plucking up the courage to sit down and write this post just never came. However, today - after my cat woke me up at 6:30am - I saw that my friend Beth had posted a blog called Mental health and my struggle with anxiety. Suddenly I had the courage to come and write this, and not later, but straight away. So here is me, at 6:54am on Sunday morning, coming out about my mental health problems. 

I'm going to dive straight in, partly because it is always the easiest way to do these things, secondly because I am hoping Beth is reading this and knows instantly that she is not alone:
My name is Helen and I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, and I haven't had a good nights sleep in about 3 months. I take anti-depressants and am in therapy.

This is really not something I have talked to anyone in great detail about. My boss Nicola (@chipletmum on Twitter) and my immediate family are basically the only people I have confided in. This isn't because of the stigma around mental health - trust me, I work for two mental health organisations - but not talking to people about it has so far been about protecting myself. I haven't wanted to talk about it because every time I tried I would simply get ridiculously anxious or have a panic attack... not something I was keen to encourage until after I had been in therapy a little while.

So let me tell you about my therapy. I self-referred myself to Suffolk IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) a few months ago and have been doing some self-guided cognitive behavioural therapy with my case manager Alma. Some of the things we have done include keeping a thought-record to start challenging my negative thinking, learning ways to relax through practices such as mindfulness (which I am crap at but I still try) and simply understanding what is happening in my brain! I find it very hard but I know it is the best thing for me. (Side note - one of things I didn't try was an offer to join an anxiety support group... how do these people ever feel relaxed enough to actually go to that?)

In terms of understanding my anxiety I realise it is the safety behaviours that I need to challenge most (disclaimer - I am talking about what helps me personally, I am not an expert). The diagram will help me explain. For example:
  • Supermarkets with lots of people and to much money thinking is one of my triggers...
  • This causes me anxiety and often ends in a panic attack...
  • I leave the shop to sit in the car so I feel better, this is a safety behaviour...
  • This gives me short-term relief because I have escaped the situation I didn't like. Because I feel better I repeat this behaviour and the anxiety becomes a ally, warning me when I can't cope.
  • However this exacerbates the long-term problem because rather than stick around to overcome my problems, I m simply finding ways to allow anxiety to become part of my everyday life and it gets worse and worse.

As I mentioned I am also on anti-depressants (Fluoxetine, you may know this as Prozac) for anxiety. I actually started taking these back in January this year because I was having extreme shoulder problems. As you will know I have terrible joints and when I have a particularly bad flare up or injury I start getting anxious about how I will be when I am a mother, or old, or when it is tomorrow. A few months ago I moved into a new flat and started a new job. These things coupled with events such as my car being written-off all added to my existing anxiety. It got out of control and that is when I started therapy, and that is also when I had my medication doubled.

I am not typing this blog for sympathy. I am typing it to help both myself, and my friend Beth (and anyone else going through similar problems). I have come a long way in the past few weeks and while I still find things hard - I have to sit in the car still when James is shopping as I get very panicked in-store - but I feel happier knowing that I am doing something to take a hold on my own life. It is still an uphill struggle most days but I feel like I have some walking boots to at least help me get there a little faster, a little bit safer.

My starting point was reading the 'Anxiety' booklet at this website: It is very helpful in understanding, but don't do the exercises unless you're ready. Trust me, it causes meltdown. 

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