As part of our ongoing mental health conversation, we’re grateful to be able to share Sophie’s experience of mental health. The more we talk about it, the more we can understand and help each other.
What is mental health? I see it simply as a person’s mental wellbeing. And mental health issues are when a person’s mental wellbeing is compromised by emotional or psychological problems which manifest themselves in a variety of ways. From having panic attacks due to experiencing an extremely high level of anxiety to manic episodes where a person’s moods can swing from one extreme to another; there are numerous conditions accompanied by various symptoms.
Most of us will experience some form of negative emotion or behaviour in our lifetime and for it to occur more than once, but for some of us, these emotions and behaviours are part of who we are and therefore, they will always be present in our daily lives.
I don’t mean to be gloomy, but our mental health is a big part of our human makeup and so having Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), depression or an eating disorder won’t just go away overnight. These are not things which will look better after a good night’s sleep or a cup of tea. These are things
which drive the way we think or feel and can then determine how we behave.
And if these emotions and feelings are not good, the outcome is equally not good most of the time. To me, this is one of the most important aspects of mental health which I think more people need to be aware of; there needs to be more of an acceptance towards the fact that mental health conditions are very real and those suffering from them will most likely continue to suffer from them for a prolonged period of time, if not, for their entire lives.
However, there are lots of ways to help deal with these mental health problems and this is another important aspect of mental health which I am a great supporter of, even though I recognise that it’s a hard thing to get your head around. I mean, who would think that writing down all of your worries, allowing yourself special ‘worry time’ or taking a pill would make a difference to the way you feel inside?
From a young age, I always thought that my negative thoughts and feelings were down to me just being a miserable person, continuously in a bad mood or feeling like there was something not quite right with me, but nothing you can do about it. And those around me who seemed more content with lots of friends or good family relationships were just lucky that’s who they were born to be. They were just naturally happy and that was that. Assumptions galore!
It took a very long time to realise that yes, some people don’t experience these thoughts and feelings to the extreme like myself and others do, and I’m not just a bit of a downer. I’m not choosing to be like this, something else is driving it and it’s when you start to look at what is driving the negative thoughts and feelings that you begin to see ways of managing them in order to feel better.
And that has become my main goal in recent years; to just feel better.
I wrote a book which talks a lot about bad decisions I’ve made in the past, specifically when it comes to jobs, and eventually how I have got to that ‘better’ place (Please Don’t Hire Me, I’m Scared!), and jobs have been one of my triggers for GAD symptoms, especially starting new ones. I started a job a couple of years ago, just as I was finishing writing my book and feeling a lot better about my mental health at that point, but it didn’t go too well. I had been working in the same job for about five years up until that point and was only changing due to relocating.
During this transition period, I worked in a local sixth form college on a temporary six-month contract and I absolutely hated it. I was covering for the manager who was on long-term sick leave and when she returned to work, she did not want me to do anything other than sit, answer the phone to disgruntled parents and print out a study period sheet each morning. Oh, and amongst other crappy things, she made me go and invigilate in an exam which was the result of a blowout she was having with the examinations office. I had no training or support, she just said I had to go over and do it. Kids were using their phones. I didn’t want the responsibility of all of that or having to discipline them. It wasn’t my bloody job!
Anyway, I managed to get a much better job working in publishing which is what I used to do and was really looking forward to it. The only thing which kept appearing in the back of my mind was the thought of having to commute on a train every day. I hadn’t done that before, but I had started a job where I commuted by car for an hour when I was younger, and couldn’t manage it. I just kept trying to turn off the worry, but as a lot of ‘worriers’ know, it’s like talking about the pink elephant in the room; telling yourself not to look at it makes you want to look at it because it’s there, in the room.
Worries are just the same. You want to be able to press a button to switch the worry off because you really don’t want to think about it, but for some reason, you don’t have the control to turn it off.
For me, the worry goes round and round in my head and this can last anything from a day up to several days until the thing that I’ve been worrying about has happened. During this time the worry becomes the thing that I think about most; it gets in the way of thinking about making dinner, going to the gym, sitting down watching television, reading, social activities and almost anything else.
A lot of people experience similar waves of worry or anxiety when they’re not looking forward to or worrying about something in the future, but with GAD, the symptoms are persistent and can be present most days if not every day. This way of ‘thinking’ is so tiring and has all sorts of impacts on your physical health, for example, feeling sick, experiencing stomach pains or shortness of breath. These are the ones I usually have.
So, I started this new job desperate to get away from the sixth form and start doing, what I felt to be, a much more worthwhile job – just because it’s what I wanted to do. I met my manager who was lovely, as were the rest of the team, got shown around the building, given some reading to do on my computer, then as the day carried on, I went to the toilet and just wanted to cry. I have no idea why. I just felt scared and a bit sick. Nothing bad had gone on. I just got this sinking feeling like I had before in other jobs and wanted to get away as soon as possible. I didn’t cry at work though. I tried to hold it all in and then the tears just poured out of me when my husband picked me up from the train station. And once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. I just got hysterical and I couldn’t say exactly why. I just felt like I needed to get to a safe place which was home.
I was lucky to have such an understanding manager because once I told her how I was feeling she didn’t push me to come back into the office, she listened to my issues without judgement and supported me when I did come back in. I went to my GP and got put on some medication, saw occupational health, got myself added to the waiting list for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in my local area and just dealt with it as best I could. As a lot of people will know, some areas of the country don’t offer CBT therapy on the NHS and the ones that do usually have a long waiting list, so I didn’t get to see or speak to anyone for a few months which was hard but just knowing that I had been honest about everything and felt I could trust my manager, made a big difference.
I had also been to CBT therapy before so I knew a few things I could try to help manage the worries, but it wasn’t until I went through this next lot of more intense CBT that I felt better and in control of all of this angst.
The medication has also made a huge difference and pill-popping isn’t something I want to encourage, but I’ve tried medication before which I didn’t really get on with; I regularly exercise in the gym or go swimming and have done for years, I do the CBT and now I’m on different medication,
I would recommend trying some, if not all, of the above to anyone who has similar feelings or experiences to the ones I’ve touched on here.
Mental health issues are difficult enough to deal with on your own, let alone share them with someone else, so I understand why so many people just don’t. I believe that there’s also still an element of shame linked to mental health issues which deter people from opening up about them.
That and perhaps some symptoms get ignored or buried, as the person doesn’t want to think that they have a mental health concern or be branded crazy or a weirdo.
Well, if there is some truth in what I’ve just said, then call me a crazy weirdo and be done with it.
By Sophie Bloodworth