Hey there! This is going to be a bit more of a personal and serious post as a) I feel like this is an issue which has a lottt of stigma around it and needs to be talked about as often and openly as possible and b) ya’ll said you’d rather learn about my mental health rather than the options I gave on the good old Instagram poll.
So, get ready for a bit of a storytime. My mental health became a bit of an issue for me firstly after I had a pretty bad being-sick-on -a-rollercoaster experience when I was around fifteen. I still have horrible flashbacks about it now and even though some might think it’s a pretty common thing (which it is), for me it was utterly humiliating and started my emetophobia. Emetophobia is basically the fear of being sick or being around it and for so long it overtook my everyday life and ultimately was the initial cause of my anxiety.
Another thing you should know is at this time my mum had advanced cancer. She got diagnosed when I was around thirteen, and at the time my Mum and Dad only told my sister and I that she had breast cancer in order to protect us as much as possible, as I was quite young and Steph was just going through her GCSE’s. What steph and I were unaware of is that not only did
mum have breast cancer, but it was Stage 2, and had also spread to her
bones.As many of you will know bone
cancer is incurable, and stage 2 cancer is particualrly bad news, as it is most
likely that the patient won’t be healed, and their life will probably be
shortened drastically.Once Steph had finished her
GCSE’s and I was a little older, mum and dad sat us down again, telling us the
full story this time. We cried and cried
for a long while, yet I could still see that mum was faithful, strong and determined to fight as well as she could, which
made me feel a little more hopeful but it was around then that my anxiety really started.
During Mum’s treatment of chemo, Mum and Dad would usually go early to the hospital in the morning and then be back for when Steph and I got home from school. I remember on those days I just felt so sick and overwhelmingly worried that something would go wrong which of course is normal if you were in this situation, but the fact I experienced all this so young is (I think) probably a contributing factor as to why my anxiety has gotten so bad later in life. As the years went on, Mum’s condition didn’t seem to be getting any better and even if it did one week, the next week we would have more bad news. This obviously put a massive strain on the family and meant Steph and I had to be independent, help a lot more around the house and perhaps grow up faster than we had expected to. Mental health wise, during all this I developed severe OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and thought that somehow Mum getting better was down to how many times I did a certain thing. It sounds so ridiculous I know, but I honestly thought that Mum would die because of me if I didn’t listen to a song an even amount of times for example. This put a lot of strain on me and made me worry uncontrollably daily which is when my anxiety got a whole lot worse. I would experience these weird episodes where I just sat there in my room and couldn’t do anything but worry and thought I must be just being dramatic so didn’t mention anything to anyone.
By the beginning of 2014, Mum’s cancer had gotten so bad that it was obvious things weren’t likely to improve. Being a naive sixteen-year-old by this point I still thought that Mum could have a shot at becoming well and living healthy and happily for years to come, however one day Dad sat me down and explained honestly what was going on. It was Easter and I was studying for my GCSE’s but Mum and Dad decided that I needed to know in case things got worse quicker than expected. Mum’s cancer had now spread to her brain and liver and I just remember feeling like my whole world had fallen apart. My mum was my ultimate best friend, I would tell her everything and anything and she was the most gracious woman you could ever wish to meet, and yet she became terminally ill.
It soon became clear to us all that mum wasn’t going to live past the next few
years.Just as I had began to sit my
GCSE’s, mum had a consultation with the oncologist and mum and dad got told
that mum only had a few weeks to live, as the cancer had become severely aggressive,
and was starting to seriously damage mum’s liver and weaken her bones.She got given the choice of chemo, yet by
this point it had only a very small chance of working, so mum opted for the
natural way, and was bed-ridden for the last couple of weeks of her life (it sounds really selfish to talk about myself now, but just a mental health update- at this point I was anxious quite a lot of the time but didn’t really know what anxiety (plus it’s probably pretty normal to feel anxious in a situation like this as well as doing my GCSE’s)).
On June 11th 2014, Mum passed away. The next few weeks were unbearable and even though I had encouragement from my family, friends and my church community, I still found every day really tough. However, from around this time onwards I seemed to have this fixed fake positivity act on all the time. I wouldn’t really cry, but I also wouldn’t talk about Mum and I just focused on being as positive as I could- mainly for my Dad and Steph. In September I started Sixth Form and still carried on this ‘positivity’ act, but by around Christmas the act started to slip and it was then I really started to experience anxiety. I would have mini panic attacks in class and not know how to act or who to talk to about it and just sort of muddled through it by myself. In class I would scratch any part of my body that was really discreet (such as my tummy under my shirt) really hard so the pain from that would distract the intense anxiety feeling I would feel in the middle of a lesson. This led to me having a lot of scratches all over my body by the end of a school day but the anxiety also manifested into other parts of my life. Travel was a big one for me and after a particularly hard 2-and-a-bit hour journey when I was scratching all the way home until I was in so much pain, I finally told my Dad what I had been feeling for so long.
He was super supportive (as he always is) and booked me an emergency doctors appointment to see what the doctors thought. It was in this appointment that I got diagnosed with severe anxiety and I got explained to me what anxiety was. Even though I was absolutely terrified, it felt comforting to know I wasn’t alone and that there was an explanation to what I had been feeling. Over the next year I went through CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and kept on trying my best to deal with the anxiety as well as I could. However, I slipped into the positivity act again and convinced everyone and even myself a little bit that I was fine and the lady I was seeing for CBT was really helping. Again, the act slipped and by the end of 2015 my anxiety had got worse, not REALLY bad, but not great either. By now I was in my second year of Sixth Form and decided to tell the people around me what I was really feeling. My dad supported me each and every day as well as he could and helped me talk to the teachers at school. They were really supportive and one particular teacher (if you knew me at school hen you’ll know who- hey Kim!) helped me more than she’ll ever know. My panic attacks started get worse and I would experience a severe one in class around 3-4 times a week. Not all teachers were sympathetic (I got told by one that I wasn’t smart enough or strong enough to get into my first choice Uni but just you wait and see…) but whenever I would have an episode I would see her and she’d help me work things out. My anxiety meant that I would have more days off school than most people and I had to go home during the day around once a week which made studying for my A levels super hard. When it finally got round to taking the exams my anxiety got super bad but I carried on as well as I could (it sounds like I’m giving myself a gold star- I’m not, just saying it how it is!).
Around exam time was when Will and I finally started to ‘see’ each other after knowing each other for a couple of years and putting our friend Rachel through third-wheel hell for a few months (love you Rach!). Exams were finally over and I enjoyed summer getting to know Will and having my anxiety being the best it was for a long time. When August rolled around I found out that I had got into the University of York (take that teacher-who-must-not-be-named!) and the anxiety started to come on, but at a controllable level (i.e. no bad panic attacks). Once I started Uni the anxiety started to get a lottt worse, to the point in fresher’s week I ended up going out about twice- the other times I shut myself in my room after pre’s due to the anxiety and emetophobia being so bad. During the Christmas holidays of my first year my anxiety started to get a lot worse and I would be having anxiety attacks pretty much every day. When I got back to uni to do the exams after the Christmas break, my anxiety would completely consume me every morning of the exam- I would be sobbing uncontrollably, gasping for breath and just completely overcome with doubt and worry. I would call my dad and (now-boyfriend) Will every morning and they helped calm me down enough so I could do the exams but we all knew something really wasn’t right. I got through the exams, however by the Easter holidays things got really bad.
For the holidays, my Dad had planned for us all to go to Disneyworld Florida/Universal Studios for two weeks. I feel so awful typing this but it was honestly hell on earth for me. I knew that Disneyworld was supposed to be the happiest place on earth, filled with things that I have loved and treasured since I can remember. Some days when my anxiety wasn’t bad were amazing and I’ll treasure them forever but the bad days were awful. Being waltzed around a busy park, pushing yourself to go on rides when you feel sick from the anxiety (not great for the emetophobia) and being in a strange place I don’t know made my anxiety spiral out of control. After the two weeks we set off to Virginia to go and visit some family friends. Whilst staying here I had my ‘big anxiety breakdown’. One night my anxiety got so bad. I went downstairs and sat at the dining room table sobbing so much I thought I was going to be sick and not being able to think of anything but hurting myself. Thankfully I had the strength to find my sister before I did anything I would regret and my Dad and Steph stayed with me all night. The next day, Dad went to the emergency department with our family friends but the emergency service said that if I wanted help in the States, I would need to be admitted to an asylum-type place and be watched 24/7 which was obviously a no-go. We got home to England as fast as we could and my recovery started.
Firstly we went to the Docs who once again diagnosed me with severe anxiety but also severe depression which I started medication for. I started on Citalopram (20mg/day) and the side effects at first were HORRENDOUS. Honestly, I’ve never been through anything like it- I felt so so sick and weak and dizzy for around a week which really triggered my anxiety, but after the first week started to feel more stable and started to reap the benefits of the meds. The doctors also referred me to the Warwickshire Crisis Team and I was under the care of them for a few weeks until I felt a bit more stable. I saw them a few times a week and then started seeing a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. The lady I saw was called Lucy and she was SO lovely and really helped me. By this point, I had decided I wasn’t strong enough to do the Summer exams at York and I had to drop out of year one. Thankfully I was given a second chance because of exceptional circumstances and after spending all summer recovering and getting stronger, started Uni again last September.
Uni was really great at the start of term and I made some friends who are such angels. However, in October things took a turn for the worse and while visiting Will in Aberystwyth I had an anxiety breakdown. On the train back to York I had a bad panic attack and had to get off the train in the middle of nowhere. I was sobbing on the platform and all I could think was ‘jump onto the tracks’. I was so close to ending my life but somehow found the strength to call Dad who drove to Aberystwyth to pick me up and take me all the way to York. This was probably the lowest I’ve ever been and the few weeks that followed were some of the hardest yet. The amount of suicidal thoughts I had increased because of the severe anxiety and depression I was experiencing. I sought help from the Doctors at Uni who increased my Citalopram (planning on doing another blog post on the stigma of antidepressants and my experience with them) and who said I should go home for a ‘mental break’.
No matter what I tried though, my anxiety and depression didn’t seem to get any better and I decided to drop out of uni in January this year. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make but it was definitely the right one. Uni was great but at the end of the day, my mental health and safety comes first and if home is where I need to be to get better then I’m willing to put my dreams of becoming a Psychologist on hold for the time being. I’m still learning that recovery is not a linear process and that some days will still be crappy, but in time these crappy periods will become further apart until they only happen once in a blue moon.
So that’s where I’m at right now and the mental health journey life has taken me on so far! Just want to say a huuuuge thank you to all the friends and family who have stuck by me and never give up on me- I love you!
Keep safe everyone, love life and remember you and your feelings are valid,
All my love,