Saturday 4 March 2017

The Year I Stopped Laughing

Mental health is a hard thing to talk about. I'm not the kind of person who feels comfortable discussing my own mental health all that often, unless it's with close friends and family, mainly because I worry people will judge me or think I'm overreacting about something that I should have been able to keep under control. 

I have been on top of my anxiety for a good few years now, and I feel like I can reflect back on the year I went through the worst of it with a pretty clear head. I can evaluate the reasons why things got out of control and why I lost myself. If talking about that year on here helps just one person then it's definitely worth sharing, even if it makes me feel a little uncomfortable in the process. 

As with any story it's probably best I start at the beginning. Rewind to March 2013. It's snowing and I've been stuck in my room taking office calls all day. I'd recently broken up with my fiancĂ©. I'd called off the engagement and moved out of our flat together back to my home town. I was living in my mum's spare room surrounded by boxes of clothes and books, missing Brighton and trying to figure out what to do next. After I'd finished work for the day I got a call from my dad. He was ringing to tell me that my Grandma had passed away after battling breast cancer. I was heartbroken. 

I was very close to my Grandma; she lived in Portugal for a lot of my life but I would go and visit her most holidays and I would speak to her all the time on the phone. I told her everything. Every break up, every argument with friends and family, every career pipe dream. We'd speak about Formula 1 (her favourite sport) and she'd constantly be telling me how I should watch a race at Silverstone. She knew everything about me and my life and she always supported me like she was a parent. She took me on holidays when I was a child, skiing in Austria being my favourite. Finding out about her death on a day it was snowing was pretty ironic as my fondest memory was of me, her and her partner on a holiday travelling around Germany. It started snowing one evening and we turned all the lights off in our hotel room and just sat all cosy with hot chocolate looking out the window watching the snow settle. We both said how we wished we'd get snowed in so we didn't ever have to leave. 

My struggle with anxiety throughout 2013 didn't all just stem from loosing my Grandma. At the time I thought this was the only reason I was feeling the way I was but now I look back, there were so many other influences. I had a boss who was making my life hard. I had a best friend at the time who wasn't a good influence on me. I'd just cancelled a wedding and moved out of my beloved flat. I'd had to give up my cat and my dog and I'd left behind all of my friends from Brighton. Anyone in my position at that point would have struggled. 

Everyone's anxiety comes out in different ways. Mine was always sickness; I'd get so anxious about leaving the house that I'd feel physically sick and then be scared I'd actually end up being sick when I wasn't at home. I used to have panic attacks about going out and I lost count of the amount of dinners I had to cut short. I'd make excuses to not see friends, family, and pretty much anyone who I didn't feel comfortable around at the time. It was exhausting. 

I finally realised that I needed to speak to someone in November of the same year. I had gone to dinner at one of my favourite restaurants in Brighton to celebrate my Grandma's birthday; the first one since she'd died. I had a panic attack and we had to leave. I couldn't even eat my dinner. I'd had enough and after 8 months of feeling like a shell of myself I decided it was time to go to the doctors. I sat down in the doctors room and broke down in tears; I'm not really a cryer to be honest but I just couldn't keep it together anymore. So much so I was crying hysterically in front of a complete stranger. In the end I was prescribed some Beta Blockers and was put on a waiting list to receive CBT; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. 

The pills didn't really work for me, but the CBT was really helpful. The sessions themselves were conducted over the phone. I used to book out the small meeting room at work and sit down for an hour every Wednesday and speak to my therapist Tom. I used to call him "my man" as the word therapist just felt too clinical. I'm sure it sounded weird me calling him that but it was a phrase that just stuck... It made me feel like I had someone who was there just to listen to me. At a time when I felt like I wasn't anyones priority that made me feel important again.  

The thing I loved about the CBT sessions was having someone validate my feelings. When I told Tom about the things that were happening in my life at work and outside of work, it was so comforting to have someone tell me that I was completely right to feel the way I did. He made my anxiety feel like a reasonable output from all the negative inputs in my life. I'm a very logical person and this process worked well and helped me compartmentalise my feelings. I know CBT doesn't always work for everyone, but for me it was a good way to get me on an equal playing field with my anxiety. 

Once I got a hold on my mental health I was in a position to work on myself. I knew the last push to get myself back on track had to come from me so I bought all the self help books I could. I'm the kind of person who puts up with a lot, but I will always reach a point when enough is enough. Although the therapy and the time I gave myself to heal definitely helped, I think it was ultimately my resolve and my ability to recognise when things had gone too far that helped me recover. I distinctly remember waking up one morning and thinking to myself that I was done with feeling like shit. I can't explain how I got to that place mentally, I just knew I was done. It was a really liberating feeling. 

Anxiety will always be a part of my life. It will always be a part of me. At the moment it comes out in little awkward outbursts which most people I know find quite endearing, but there's the odd occasion when I get a glimpse of that year again and I get scared. I'm in a similar situation now to 4 years ago; living surrounded by boxes with a complicated personal life and only a vague idea of what the future holds. I feel confident that I have a hold of things though. I know there will be the occasional off day round the corner but I'm learning to embrace that; we all have lows but it's how we deal with them that counts 

All my Love
Sophy x

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