Let's talk about our mental health. Seriously, please people, talk openly about how you're feeling, not just physically but mentally.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the two are very much connected. Mental health problems can be devastating, and life-threatening. The stigma mustn't stop us from speaking openly about these difficulties. Most importantly, we need to make sure it doesn't prevent people from seeking the appropriate help. Things are improving, and more people are speaking out, but there's still a long way to go.
For the last few years, I've really struggled with my mental health. Summer 2015, my mental health nosedived and I ended up struggling with depression and then anxiety too. I was tearful, wanted to just stay in bed, found everything overwhelmingly difficult, had doubts about everything, and overthought everything. Luckily, I was in regular contact with doctors who had supported me with my other health problems for years, and they were amazing. I started on a low dose of antidepressants, and had some counselling at uni. Things improved.
I then had some awful experiences when I collapsed and lost all movement due to functional neurological disorder. My mental health difficulties probably contributed to my body collapsing to such an extent- my body systems just couldn't cope with the constant physical and mental pain; I was pushing myself beyond my limits in so many ways. While in hospital my mental health actually held up really well. I had a few down and frustrated days, but only as you'd expect and in proportion to what I was going through. It was a difficult and distressing time though.
I was in hospital partly with dissociative problems, where my body shuts down in response to becoming overwhelmed by physiological AND/OR psychological stress. Severe anxiety can trigger my seizures or cause symptoms of my functional movement disorder to worsen resulting in uncontrolled movements. Functional conditions are really complex problems and my mental health is part of the problem.
My next mental health battle was (and is) with post-traumatic stress. I am plagued by memories of experiences in hospital. In March 2016 something happened that worsened my PTSD hugely (I was wrongly accused of faking my symptoms by a nurse and was bent backwards by her while I was in a seizure, injuring my back and causing chronic back pain). This resulted in serious trust issues and severe anxiety in hospitals, as well as added pain to cope with. It's not easy for me to talk about it, but I want to mention it, because it has a significant impact on my life. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder causes constant fear and over-awareness of my surroundings. My startle response is massively heightened. Being haunted by difficult memories is something I wouldn't wish on anyone.
My depression and PTSD worsened over subsequent months and I ended up in a really bad day place mentally. I ended up battling suicidal thoughts. I can't begin to describe how difficult it is to be in that mental headspace. I still sometimes end up in that mental headspace, but it's not as intense and constant as it was, thanks to a change to my antidepressant, and an increased dose, plus ongoing support from my psychologist. While at my worst, I shut everyone out. I became despondent, uncommunicative and had lost hope. I couldn't envisage recovering to any meaningful extent. My physical and mental health were horrendously debilitating, to the point where my quality of life was awful. I didn't feel capable of anything.
I got given the lifeline of an inpatient stay for intensive neurorehabilitation, to help me walk again, but that led to my most recent new mental health difficulty, when I suffered with overvalued ideas resulting from a very extreme level of anxiety while in hospital. Returning to a hospital environment after all that had happened in the past was practically intolerable, I had sleepless night after sleepless night, the level of fear and distress was almost unbearable, and as a result I started to experience things that weren't happening. It happened because I was terrified but in itself it was terrifying..
Although the overvalued ideas have stopped since discharge from hospital, I've actually re-started on my antipsychotic recently purely to help with my sleep. I'm also under a psychiatrist to monitor things because of my experiences in hospital. Being on an antidepressant, an antipsychotic, and seeing both a psychologist regularly and a psychiatrist makes me feel like I'm mad, but as my psychiatrist said 'there's no such thing as mad'.
As a result of all these experiences and my ongoing battles, I feel quite well placed to talk about mental health these days, and as though I should, but it still doesn't make it easy. I know most people won't be comfortable talking completely publicly about their mental health, but maybe Time To Talk Day will inspire you all to maybe open up to a few people, or encourage you to ask questions that give people the opportunity to really open up to you if they wish. Have those conversations- they help.
If you're struggling, please get help and support. Your GP is a good place to go to seek help- they can make referrals or signpost you to other services. In some areas you can self-refer for NHS talking therapies. The Samaritans can be contacted by phone or email. Friends and family are probably more than happy to listen if you open up to them. Please, don't suffer in silence. And you're not alone. So many people struggle with mental health problems- it's not just you, you're not an oddity, and you're not 'mad'.
If you have chronic physical health problems, and your mental health is suffering too, please know that that's so common and not abnormal at all. Please take a look at this link https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
If someone you know seems to be struggling, give them the opportunity to talk to you. Let them know that you're there for them, and SHOW them that you are. Drop them the odd message to ask how they're doing, and do so even if you don't get replies (as that could be as a result of depression or anxiety, but knowing you still care helps). Offer to go with them to appointments or sit with them beforehand. Please be patient and please stand by them even if they're not always nice to be around- mental health problems can affect attitude and behaviour- remember they can't help it, they're ill, and they need your support to get better and back to the person you know and care about. Don't give up on them even when they're giving up on themselves and potentially seeming like they're wanting you to give up on them too.
Does my mental health scare me? Yes, but I'm working with professionals to get better and am being well looked after. Does speaking out about my mental health scare me? Massively, but I think it's important to speak out so that others don't feel so alone. I want to help to normalise mental health difficulties and reduce the stigma. I'm not the first to face these problems, and sadly I won't be the last. My own problems are complex and debilitating, but milder or more simple problems are just as valid and are worthy of care and attention and support too. Kindness and openness can't cure mental illness, but they are so important, they can make the experience easier, and can maybe help to prevent things snowballing. Don't wait for problems to get completely out of control- seek help early and be kind to yourself and others- you never know when someone might need that kindness more than you could ever know..