Custard on Mental Health – an update

You’re always smiling and happy, I never guess there was anything wrong.

It’s time to talk day today as the Time to Change campaign tries to get people to talk about mental health and stop it being such a stigma. I thought I’d use my first blog to talk about my experience of mental illness, and try and start some conversations.

I come from a family of worriers, my Grandma was a brilliant worrier, my Dad has been known to stress out a bit and my sister and I have picked up the worrying gene! As a child I had stuff to worry about my Mum was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was 7 and she had episodes where she would pass out or similar, my Dad worked long hours so I was often in charge – just to point out I don’t resent this responsibility it has made me the person I am today and I wouldn’t change it. I had a great childhood, close family and everything I could have wanted, but there was always this nagging feeling that something bad had happened before, it could happen again. I would stress if my parents were late home from work, or if I was running late – I didn’t want worry people.

In my teenage years these thoughts mellowed, I guess I had other stuff to worry about like exams, school, friends – which oddly never worried me, only the stuff I had no control over. Maybe I could control everything then I wouldn’t have to worry?

I had a couple of ectopic heart beats in my late teens and my new obsession became controlling my heart rate, I became terrified if my heart rate raised much above normal, I feared exercise, overeating, drinking caffeine, drinking booze – all those things normal people don’t notice raise their heart rate. What if my heart started beating too fast and I couldn’t stop it? I had no control, which lead me to panic, then my heart rate would raise – a vicious circle.  Eventually it got so bad I got medical help, but rather than sort out the root cause of the problem they just gave me beta-blockers which reduce your heart rate (the same medication they give to people with heart attacks). Although these tablets made my heart rate slower it didn’t take away the nagging anxiety and fear. It got to the point where my life revolved around home, car and work (my safe places) and I didn’t like to go out on my own, smiling on the outside but terrified on the inside. That’s no life.

I eventually got referred to the local PCT Mental Health team, the first treatment was not so helpful but I was re-referred 2 years later and after 5 months of weekly CBT sessions I finally came off the drugs (At my worst I was taking the highest dosage – usually prescribed for people with really poorly hearts) and my life started again. l went on holiday to New York, trips away with friends and I am just coming to the end of a 3 month stay in London – on my own.

I have always been open about my panic attacks and anxiety with family, friends and people I work with. They are often surprised that someone they see as so happy fights demons everyday, but I have only met a few people who have judged me, and they are not the people who matter. I have found a Personal Trainer who knows my weak spots and helps me feel comfortable working out when my heart rate goes up and down! And my partner has been amazing, he has had to give me some tough love sometimes and remind me to man up. My friends and family have all been on my roller coaster ride and I’m glad they have been there.

My mental illness doe not define me, it is part of me. I don’t want to say it’s all simple, sometimes those anxious thoughts stray back but I manage them now, they don’t control me, I smile on the outside and the inside. In my new life, I feel the fear and do it anyway!

1 in 4 people are diagnosed with mental illness every year, for more information go to http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

So now were are February 5th 2015 and I’m updating this blog for my second time to talk day. I am already overwhelmed by the people talking about mental health issues on social media and it’s not even 8am!

My anxiety remains under control, a few blips here and there and a few things that are still a bit to too scary for me but it’s been a big year. I flew on my own, it was amazing, but most significantly I quit my job of 12 years to go it alone. My main worry was that my job was one of my safe places and without it and it’s structure would my brain fall apart? Turns out no! A few wobbles here and there but so far, so good!

Since I wrote this blog last year, so many people have commented to me on social media or in real life about the silent battle they have with their illness. They think I’m brave talking about it, ask me if it’s ok to retweet my comments, which means that stigma is still there, so I’m going to keep talking, please talk with me, it’s time to talk.

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