Mental Health is something that is different for everyone. I never felt that I wanted to share my story but as it is World Mental Health day, I thought there was no better time. To begin, I would like to say that I am not writing this to generate sympathy or attention. My only goal is to do my part in normalizing the topic of Mental Health and perhaps encourage you to talk if you need to.
Next I must make clear that I am not a Mental Health Professional and while I work as a nurse, this article does not represent the opinions of my employer.
My Journey Begins in May 2018…
In hindsight I had been feeling ‘off’ for quite a while. Extreme tiredness, crying for no reason, sleepless nights, over thinking all decisions and manifesting symptoms of illness I saw or treated in the Emergency Department. I was trying so hard to make a ‘success’ of my blog that I was driving to Dublin for events several times a month, posting content daily all while being a nurse, mother and wife. Something had to give.
It did. Me. I gave. I went to work one morning and couldn’t go out on the floor. Talking to my boss that day was the beginning of a long long road. He was so empathetic and understanding. Told me to go home and see my doctor and not think about work. I called my Dad and he told me to come to my parents house where he brought me to my doctor. There I was diagnosed as severely depressed with anxiety and catastrophic thinking. I was given a prescription for medication and the reassurance that I would get better.
What Happened Next?
I can’t remember. Those days were a blur. I slept a lot, cried and tried to talk about what was happening in my own head. On social media you see those quotes ”It is ok to feel…….” but the truth is I felt nothing. I was completely disconnected to myself and life around me. The energy it took to act cheerful and happy was exhausting. All I wanted to do was sleep.
Over the next few months I improved and moved to a less stressful area of nursing which was a blessing but also not the best environment for me for many reasons. It added to my feelings of uselessness. Coming from a high energy, high skill area like ED into the opposite left me feeling like I failed. But we struggled on and then my grandmother passed away. The grief was unlike anything I have experienced. The pain of her passing was like being winded constantly.
Depression, Anxiety and Grief Oh My…
The months after my Nan left were not easy. Even now as I write this I feel that pain at the top of stomach, crushing so much I can’t breathe. Christmas came and went, new year rang in, Easter passed and I was spiraling into a depression that I didn’t think there was a way out of.
My GP changed my medication and that seemed to help for a while. Summer went well but I still didn’t feel anything like myself. I presented a happy, cheerful Louise to the world and felt nothing on the inside. As we moved into September my body and brain couldn’t put on a brave face anymore. I broke. So badly I felt I couldn’t be fixed.
Was the hardest month I’ve had in this journey. I saw no future, I didn’t want to live. Please do not mistake my feeling like that to mean that I do not love my family. I do, with all my heart but I felt that I was a burden and eventually they would be happier without me. Seeing my family so worried and my husband so tired ate away at me. I had no plans to die BUT I wanted to go to sleep. Life made me tired. My thoughts made me tired. Everyday was a painful cycle of sadness and then guilt. I thought ‘What Is The Point Of This? Why Live Like This Only To End Up Old and Dying in A Hospital Bed’.
The guilt was crippling. I had everything I had ever wanted. My son, my husband, my home, loving family, no real money worries and a good job. Why couldn’t I enjoy it? What was wrong with me?
Mental Health Recovery…
It is a journey in progress. I can not say I am miraculously fixed but I do feel better in that I see a future. It might not be 30 years from now but even thinking about next week is a win. I feel my motivation returning. To get dressed, apply makeup, leave the house. All very simple things we take for granted but things that required a lot of effort from me. I returned to social media. Not all day everyday but when I feel like it. I have been out with a friend for drinks. Another milestone as I have spent months declining all social invitations and opportunities.
I am making plans to return to work in a different area of nursing but I am looking forward to it. Again, another huge milestone. I traveled to Dublin for my first event and it felt good to see some of my favourites. It exhausted me but I made the step. A big thing for me was taking back my power. My Dad told me to break it down into baby steps. Stop the thoughts before they spiral. He said it is ok to not feel like the old Louise. Maybe we won’t see her again. But the important thing was that I was taking back control of my own life.
Where To Next?
I have no idea. It has been a week since my last crushing panic attack. Win. I get up out of bed at the same time every morning. Win. I answer texts and phone calls from friends. Win. Social media is back to being a hobby and not anyway my real life. Win. You see? Nothing major or groundbreaking. Just a series of little wins. Do I still have a long way to go? Yes. But the difference is now I want to do it. I am not frozen with fear and my connection to my world is returning.
I check in with my GP weekly. I’m not going to publish his name but he is amazing. Compassionate, encouraging, kind and patient. He has played a huge part in my recovery and the belief that I can recover. Do not underestimate the power of a good family doctor.
There is no shame in feeling like this. You did not fail. It is an illness that requires treatment like any other. My grandmother is probably rolling in her grave at the thought of me sharing my ‘business’ with the nation but you know what? It is that mentality that hinders rather than helps. People have said I’m brave to talk about it. I’m not, I just refuse to feel less than because I have an illness. It is as simple as that.
So, if you feel like I felt, talk to someone. Anyone. Once you start by taking that small step, all you will feel is relief. Life is this big, wonderful rollercoaster made up of happy days and moments of sadness, memories both good and bad and times where you feel like the wall is too high to climb over. But you do. I can’t say it was any one thing that helped me more than an other. I can only describe it as a switch being flicked and each morning there was less and less hopelessness.
And that is ok for now. I am celebrating the little wins. Social media can make you think that everyone else is living there best life. What a joke! How many of you thought I was living my best life? I feel I am now living a better version of my life. The fog has lifted and I see things so clearly. What and who is important. I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow so I just focus on today. Today, I do not want to die, I feel connected to my family and if that is how I live everyday for the rest of my life? Then I will be living my best life.