My Journey In Mental Health and Overcoming Stigma
Hey there fellow bloggers,
My name is Emma and I am hoping to share my story with your help to raise awareness of the importance of mental health.
In 2014, I had a breakdown after a traumatic incident in my childhood and was unable to function. I had to leave my workplace and was filed as a missing person. I was diagnosed with brief psychotic disorder during this time and PTSD. To make matters worse, I had previously been diagnosed with depression in 2007 and this condition worsened with the traumatic experience of my first psychotic break.
I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I had always been a cheerful, bubbly and positive girl who saw the world as my oyster. I appreciated everyday and loved life but when this happened, I lost all my independence. I couldn't get out of bed, my partner had to pick out my clothes everyday because I couldn't do this myself, I was too scared to drive, I didn't talk much because I was scared of what I might say.
Watch this space, as I share my journey with mental health and return to wellbeing. I hope this will inspire anyone battling with mental illness to seek help and trust that it will get better in time.
I guess you could say October/November 2014 was the lead up to my time of severe mental illness. I started to have strange thoughts, was distancing myself from loved ones, and was working around the clock in two jobs.
It had been a horrible year with two family members being diagnosed with cancer and playing the waiting game for some tangible answers.
Adding to this was the resurfacing of a previous traumatic childhood memory which I then tried to delve deeper into with a type of hypnotherapy. I can say now with confidence that this was not a good idea!
Walking along the beach...
December was when I started to feel the pressure of work. I was finishing the editing process of reports and I was so sick of looking at them. I coudn't wait to send them home. I had spent so many hours on them and it felt like I'd read them a hundred times. Ironically, the hardest was over but by this point, I was so burnt out I started to feel like I couldn't cope.
The stress got to me and I found myself rushing home from work to spend hours on reports and planning for the next day and it honestly felt like I got nowhere. It was taking too long to do simple tasks. Something that would usually take me 10 minutes was taking an hour or two now. I was very slow and my brain was overloaded.
I started to stay up later at night and I told myself if I just kept my head above water it would be the end of the year before I knew it. I couldn't sleep. I started to stay up most of the night, just keeping myself busy listening to music, exercising or painting. I've never been interested in painting before but I started to become obsessed. I felt unstoppable at night just keeping myself busy. My partner used to wake up and ask if I was okay.I was confused why she was worried about me. This continued for a couple of weeks and I was getting by most nights on 1-3 hours sleep. I didn't think much of this because in year 12 I had a lot of nights like this but the only difference being that I was studying for exams and I averaged 5-6 hours of sleep in my busiest times.
I was exhausted at work but I drank lots of coffee to keep me awake. I was okay when I was up and moving. There were a few times when I was marking student work in my office during my release time and I started to microsleep. This is something I've never done before at work. I woke up almost as quickly as my eyes had shut but I felt like I couldn't keep my head upright. I must have been severely fatigued.
I started to decline further around the 10th when I thought that I could read peoples minds and they could read mine. I started to have magical thinking that everything said and done had a special meaning directly related to me and my purpose for being here. I thought that I was on a special mission.
This is where it all went downhill, my harrowing battle...
I died my hair a bright, eccentric red, spent lots of money and started to wear unusual clothes that were out of character for me. I am so thankful that my partner accepted me when I was unwell. Not once did she judge me or see me differently. I was still Emma to her and I will cherish this memory for the rest of my life.
From this point on, I don't remember much. I received a lot of specialist treatment and by January, everything was beginning to look up.
January & February
January was the beginning of my recovery period but in many ways, it was still very much an uphill battle.
I was exhausted and spent hours at a time sleeping, often between 10-12 hours a day. Most of this was during the day, meaning I couldn't sleep at night. I still had some symptoms which made it difficult for me to sleep at night. i woke up screaming and felt too distressed to sleep.
I went on antidepressants again and started to feel suicidal. This was something I expected as I felt the same way the first time I went on medication in 2007. I would have never acted on these thoughts but nonetheless it was still an awful couple of weeks. In the time, my anxiety was through the roof and I still felt like I was being followed. I was too scared to leave the house most days and would only leave with my partner. I was too scared to even walk my dog alone. I went to the airport to pick a family member up and had a horrible panic attack. It was terrifying.
After approximately 3-4 weeks, my condition improved substantially. I was able to sleep at night without fear, and started to slowly build up my independence again. I began to go to more social events with my family and friends. I also began to talk again. Something I didn't do much of in December.
Over the month of February, I regained my confidence with simple everyday tasks including doing household jobs, taking my dog on short walks and catching up with family and friends. I also started to drive again for short local distances.
It was during February that I began to fall back into a regular routine and this only continued to improve in March.
My Beautiful Dog!
March to August
From March to August, my main focus was on my health. I spent a lot of time reading, walking, spending time with loved ones, receiving extensive EDMR trauma therapy and making sure I was eating and sleeping properly. I was often tired for a few days after this treatment each week, so it was ideal that I had some time off to process the memories.
My medication was slowly increased until I felt less anxiety and I managed to find just the right dose. I was getting on top of my finances and started to feel in control of my life again. I was going back to my old self and this was the biggest relief in the world.
I looked into more options for future study. I had thought about studying chiropractic but I found out the opportunities for work in this field were quite low. I also wasn't ready to go back to teaching yet, even though it was something in the back of my mind. I felt like I wanted to try something new first. After a lot of deliberation, I decided I would study counselling.
In August, I enrolled into a counselling course as a full time student. I was really grateful for all the support I received over the last few months and felt like it was a way in which I could give back to others. I could see how my own journey with mental health could shed some light on similar situations.
I had also always felt more comfortable listening to others than being a big talker myself. I could see myself enjoying the counselling field and reaping the rewards of helping others power through difficult times.
I felt so lucky that my life finally had purpose again and was heading in a positive new direction. I noticed that the time begun to pass more quickly as I was loving my life again.
I just found out that my dad passed. I feel devastated. It hurts especially because he was so young, only 53 years of age. He was taken too early but now in heaven he rests. His time was up. I don't know why and I probably never will. I just hope I can manage the grief and still embrace everyday. I know it will take a long time and yes I am willing to be patient with myself as I mourn the death of the dad I loved with all my heart. I don't think it's fair that he had to leave early.
I got a job!
I'm back into work again at a nice little cafe at Docklands. It's been almost a year since I last worked so I am definitely enjoying being back into the swing of things :) It's reassuring to be working with people again, as this year has sometimes been lonely apart from the precious time I've been lucky enough to share with my family and friends.
I know it's come at the perfect time with my dad passing because it will keep me busy so I don't have time to think about it. Yes I will still cry a lot but at least I have so many reasons to wake up in the morning. My life has purpose. I am happy and thankful for everyday.
It is with great optimism and happiness that I say hello to the new year. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad to see the back of 2015. I wonder how many of you could say the same but I hope you can't.
I would say this past year has been the most challenging of my life and yet has taught me how to swim. It's amazing how we don't know our own strength until we are faced with hardship. I'm so thankful that I didn't choose the former of 'sink or swim.' Although there were many times I felt defeated. I felt like I couldn't go on. I had to fight with every fibre of my being and some days, I just felt I couldn't do it anymore. I wanted to quit, to fade away but somewhere inside a voice of reason forced me to just take the next step as small as it was. My partner also helped me keep perspective when I lost it in the darkest of days. Often, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel but crazily enough with each day, life almost appeared to become easier. There were the occasional days mixed in of one step forward, two steps back but these were few and far between.The light at the end of the tunnel resembled a dot, then a sparkle, a moon, and gradually became so bright that it illuminated the whole tunnel and I could finally see the way ahead.
I now wait in eager anticipation of the year ahead and all the blessings it brings.