What’s it like suffering mental illness? For me, it’s this.
It’s been a good few months since I held my hands up and said I needed help. The pressure of being post natal, having a young family depending on me on top of the years of long-term mental health issues had taken it’s toll. In March this year I was feeling incredibly broken and honestly felt like I was never going to function properly again.
If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you follow me on social media and have caught some of my updates regarding medications I’m using/used and the counselling sessions I’ve taken too.
Now I feel ready to open up a bit about what happened that got me to the lowest point I’ve ever felt in life. Hopefully to educate and provide support to those going through similar.
As I said, this didn’t happen overnight. For most of my adult life I’ve swept much about my mental health under the carpet. There were warning signs and I just ignored and hoped they’d go away or dismissed them as silly, without addressing them.
I can’t be alone in that approach. One warning sign became two, became more and before I knew it, I had created this rickety wall of crap around me and it was inevitable it was going to come tumbling down and take casualties.
Here’s some of the warning signs of me knowing how ill I was and still am. I don’t know if everyone gets these or a selection or completely different ones. The symptoms don’t really matter, we are all different but here’s mine and it might help you notice signs with yourself or others.
Warning Signs of my mental illness
Please note none of these are cured. Not sure if any of them will ever go away completely, it’s such early days to expect too much. I’m hopeful though, it’s important to hold onto hope.
Night Terrors / Trouble Sleeping
At the very beginning, the turning point, eight years ago, when my mental health issues took control of me started with disrupted sleep.
The first time I realised what was happening, I woke up and I was at the window in my bedroom. Gasping for breath and petrified about where I was. I had been sleep walking and had wanted fresh air, I think. This was back when I lived in an apartment and was so thankful there wasn’t stairs for me to fall down.
Over the course of eight years the night terrors have varied in severity but I’ve never gone longer than a few days without one. That means for eight years I haven’t slept properly. Even on the nights that they haven’t occurred I am often scared before sleeping, apprehensive about what the sleep will bring.
Sometimes it involves me moving around, other times screaming out in my sleep. Sometimes I will calmly tap my husband on the arm and say very politely “Can you help me, please?’ then have a massive panic attack.
Sometimes I don’t wake up, sometimes I do. Waking up during a night terror is the most scariest thing I have ever experienced, leading to a near instant panic attack.
I rarely remember my dreams too. I am unsure if they are a cause, probably.
Only been around for the past 12 months but oh, how that feels like a lifetime. These daily headaches are not a pain that goes away after a couple of paracetamol and a lie down. These crippling headaches feel like burning acid is moving around in my brain. The feeling of chlorine water rushing up and fizzing behind my nose like I’ve jumped into a swimming pool without breathing out.
Dizziness / Disorientation
Connected to the headaches, I presume as these seems to come hand in hand with them. A feeling of motion sickness, wooziness, like I can’t focus my eyes. Walking suddenly becomes a massive chore without feeling shaky, dizzy and nauseous. Very similar to seasickness.
Issues with eating connected to my mental health have been a long time coming. I’ve never felt comfortable eating in public or even around close friends and family. At the beginning of when my panic attacks started eight years ago, incidents started happening in restaurants or social gatherings around food. Feeling like I’m falling down really fast, cold sweats, being frozen to the spot with fear and not being able to shake it off, no matter how much I reasoned reality and my own safety with myself.
Important to note at this time, I didn’t at all realise these were panic attacks. I just blamed myself.
This started off being a sporadic problem only occurring on the odd occasion. Sadly in the past few years, it has now the norm. End of last year and for most of this year it has ruled my life whether eating at home, on my own, on the sofa, in restaurants, with close family or friends.
Frustration has never known anything like looking down at your plate of food that you really want to eat and with your stomach yearning for food and not being able to physically swallow any of it. The week I went to the doctors to ask for help I couldn’t eat any meals except under extreme stress and only then the odd mouthful. It’s taken a few months and thankfully I seem to have the eating under control with the attacks only happening intermittently again but most meals now carry an air of anxiety now.
Being angry at everything. Quick to flip. Getting mad about all the small things that shouldn’t vex someone so greatly. Spilt milk, small clumsy moments. My ability to cope on the small scale was severely compromised and I couldn’t see it. Merely laying more blame at my own door for being the problem, for not being perfect.
Yes, it’s normal for people to be angry but I know that this wasn’t anger that was within the boundaries of normality. At least not for my choice. I don’t want to be the kind of girl that gets angry from the minute her eyes open in the morning, straight the way through until bedtime. No, no, no.
Fidgeting / Lack of concentration
I can’t remember how many years it has been since I could sit down and just relax. I can sit down sure, but my head is always running at a million miles an hour. Whether I am thinking what I need to be doing, punishing myself for things that haven’t been done or thinking how badly I completed the things I have already done. I really struggle to switch off. Even sitting down for a 30 minute TV show is hard work for me now. Usually if I try and succeed at starting to relax, a panic attack comes out of nowhere and then I’m a mess. Picture being sat on the sofa and then jumping nearly one meter high in the air in complete shock from an unknown fear, then spending the rest of the evening standing up a fidgeting mess.
I think I hid from the illness so long with being frantic, always focusing on something and ignoring the problem, that if I do relax all that’s wrong with me comes rushing out. Like letting down my guard to my problems, so my body fidgets and keeps me on edge like a very weird security blanket.
I know I have already mentioned these but let’s go a bit more in-depth. Connected to many of these symptoms including fidgeting, eating and sleeping; panic attacks have become a massive unwelcome part of my life.
Starting off years ago randomly occurring during social outings or whilst I slept. Then more recently, panic attacks at home whilst trying to relax, in bed, when I wake up from sleep and during mealtimes.
When I used to imagine a panic attack, I used to imagine hyperventilating, struggling for breath. Sometimes that’s the case, particularly if I wake up during a night terror, but for me a panic attack usually means the world suddenly slows down to unimaginably slow speeds. I freeze in whatever spot I am in when it starts, my eyesight usually zooms in and can only focus on one thing that it then sees in great detail, I feel like my breathing goes so slow that I have to nudge myself to breathe every breath which in turn brings on this insane fear and dread that something terrible is happening to me, mostly because I feel things are completely out of my control.
Lying in bed, closed eyes and about to sleep is the most unkind way of a panic attack hitting me. Sometimes I can just throw myself out of bed before I’ve even fallen asleep. Because it’s that relaxed moment before sleep comes naturally, it’s a horrible shock to the system, one that then sets me on edge for the rest of the night.
Even after three months of medication they still happen. Sometimes violently, that screw my brain up for a few hours and sometimes softer where I can bounce back after medication again. This is possibly the one symptom I wish I could heal faster and completely.
Is there anything worse than feeling petrified?
But, whilst these symptoms, issues have been there, haven’t gone anywhere, in entirety at least, I don’t feel wholly out of control anymore.
The week I went to the doctors for help, I really needed it. Unable to eat, sleep, live without fear, and pain was not a nice place to be, a nice person to be.
Now, I wobble, daily wobbles in fact but so much gentler and I don’t feel as out of control and I definitely don’t feel like I am tormented and that I can’t cope.
If this isn’t a positive message for the benefits of mental health medication and talking therapies, I don’t know what is.
My life, on paper is even harder than what it was three months ago. My five month old baby has forgotten how to sleep during the night, my toddler wakes up before the sun even rises. I’ve also just sold my house and yet to find a new house to buy.
Life is stressful, there’s no getting away from that but without stress and work it wouldn’t be a life worth living.
So, wish me luck for the next couple of months. Hopeful for further improvements.
Lots of love,
P.S. Artwork shown are illustrations by Rébecca Dautremer from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I just absolutely love them.