My Mental Health Journey From Anxious To Mindful
Anxiety, TIAs & Avoidance
As a child I was always on the quiet side, not one to seek attention or enjoy the limelight. I was well behaved, did well at school and would like to think I didn't cause anybody any trouble. I can remember not particularly liking "organised fun". My own birthday parties were less enjoyable than going to others, things like swimming lessons and going to play areas were more troubling than exciting. I was very happy though, I had the perfect upbringing in a loving family and look back with great fondness on my early years, as I do on all of my life.
Secondary school and teenage years can often be challenging for a lot of people but they were probably the most enjoyable years of my life. I had a big group of friends, most of which are still my closest friends now. I played a lot of football and enjoyed it immensely, although there was always that niggling unsettled feeling before games and training and although I loved playing I would often look for excuses not to attend. An element of social anxiety was clearly present in my teenage years - although at the time I had no knowledge of this whatsoever. Naturally my friends would be looking to go to pubs and clubs whenever possible and whilst I'd sometimes go just to keep up appearances I was never comfortable. As I got older, towards 18-19 I would regularly make excuses for not going out, to the extent that people knew not to bother asking. If ever there was a house party or a game of cards, boxing fight to watch I'd be there - I just didn't like the hassle of going "out out".
I started to be conscious of what people thought of me, that they thought I was boring, anti-social and odd.
Eventually my coping strategy was to play up to it "You know I don't want to come out, I'm anti-social" and I'd just assume that persona - I still have it now to a degree.
Throughout my twenties I just continued along the same path of avoidance, at this stage I still didn't know anything about mental health issues and just assumed this was my personality and that everybody felt like this at times. I'd switch between avoidance and forcing myself to do things, telling myself to get on with it and suck it up. In my early twenties I met my beautiful wife while we were working together part-time in a restaurant. We moved n together when I was about 24 and got married when I was 26. We have been blissfully happy ever since and she's the best thing that's ever happened to me. Having a girlfriend/wife and a house also gave me the perfect lifestyle which allowed me to avoid going out without it being obvious.
At the age of 25 out of the blue I suffered from a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) which is more commonly known as a mini stroke. Obviously this was a huge shock to me and my family and although I was fortunate in that it left no lasting physical damage I think it certainly left it's mark on my mental health. Attempting to go back to work after a month of recovering I had my first episode of extreme anxiety which led to me needing to take a further few weeks off. This is the first time I recall feeling what I have since suffered from on a more regular basis.
It was in my early thirties that I finally decided enough was enough and went to the doctors after a period of feeling particularly unwell. This was a very difficult decision to make as I'd spent years pretending I was fine and that I just needed to pull myself together. I still attached a stigma to mental health and felt embarrassed.
The first trip to the doctor resulted in him telling me that "everybody feels anxious from time to time, it's nothing to worry about". He basically told me to stop wasting his time and made me feel 100 times worse.
He reinforced my thought that I was making a fuss over nothing and this just made me cover up even more. This was in 2012, not 1980.
A couple of years later I had internalised my feelings to the point that I was basically a nervous wreck and I broke down again. Thanks to the support of my wife I went to the doctor again and luckily saw a different GP. He was brilliant. He immediately reassured me that what I was feeling was not normal and that I was right to seek help. This in itself was such a weight off my shoulders, to know that I wasn't "making a fuss" all of these years and that I had been battling something pretty significant. I was put on antidepressants (Mirtazapine) and referred to the local CBT centre. CBT didn't work for me, although I wasn't in the correct mental state to engage so I certainly don't see this as a reflection on the treatment.
Since this point I've been continuing my journey, trying to find the correct medication and attending counselling sessions. I've tried Mirtazapine and then Citalopram but these didn't work for me. Around two months ago I had another rough period and the doctor advised me that I was now showing some depressive tendencies, which I half expected to hear. I'm now taking Venlafaxine in the morning and Quetiapine at night. I'm still unsure whether medication is helping at all but I'm still at the stage of being patient and seeing it as a long term course of treatment.
What definitely are helping me and have been absolutely brilliant for the whole time I've been attending are my counselling sessions. I attend sessions with a fantastic lady called Yaz at Footsteps in Four Oaks, near Sutton Coldfield. Footsteps is a charity that provides help to those who need it and I can not praise it highly enough.
Currently I'm feeling good - strong positive and confident and this is down to my sessions with Yaz, of that I'm in no doubt. This is the first time I've shared my story and it's been hard and I'm nervous about posting this blog post. I hope that just one person can read this and relate to it and take some positives from it because that will make it all worth it.
So now we're up to the present day and we get back to the main theme of the blog, I'm starting an online business and I'm making sure that I look after my mental health while I do it - I hope you can all join me on my journey........