Mental Matters

When I Finally Admitted That I Needed Help

*TRIGGER WARNING* this post contains potentially distressing material on subjects including but not exclusive to self harm and suicidal thoughts.

I’m not really sure when I realised I was struggling with mental health challenges. As someone who self-harmed for quite some time throughout my teen years, I suppose I’d always assumed that I had some issues. But after the one and only occasion I tried to reach out for help at the age of 17 and was forcibly knocked back by a GP I had known practically my whole life – labeling me an “attention-seeker”. I got to feeling like he must be right and I buried everything.

I got a job, paid my own rent, ran my own life and did everything I assumed a normal, functional adult would do. My relationships, on the other hand –if they could even be called that – were dysfunctional in the extreme. I clung desperately to everything that was wrong with both myself and with anyone I tried to have an intimate relationship with. I was argumentative and volatile and I ruined it every single time. I assumed people would hurt me because I was a mess and felt complicated, so I controlled the pain by bringing it on myself so it would never be a surprise.

Perhaps not very surprisingly, I wasn’t very happy for quite a few years.

Then in the summer of 2009 I met my husband. Being with him didn’t fix me, and I don’t imagine that it ever will, but I had finally found a person who wasn’t willing to let me destroy everything. I had met someone who liked me enough that the fact that I was often moody and aloof wasn’t enough to push him away.

So we got married and we had children and, aside from a short battle with PND when my second child was born, I functioned pretty well to all intents and purposes for quite some time. Until maybe six months ago, when absolutely nothing changed on the outside and everything started to fall apart on the inside.

I didn’t have a high-powered job, although my job could be stressful. I sometimes felt like I was throwing more balls up in the air than I could catch, but I’d felt like that for years. My physical health started to deteriorate. I felt breathless a lot of the time, and highly strung. I had stomach aches and felt nauseous. I couldn’t sleep. So I went to see a doctor and I shook off the suggestion that I could be suffering from anxiety – what did I have to be anxious about? – and instead ended up being booked for an endoscopy.

The endoscopy didn’t find anything and I felt relieved and carried on as normal. I applied, interviewed for and got a new job. I thought that maybe if I changed my job to something a little less stressful and a little closer to home, I might feel better. But I started my new job and nothing changed. The physical symptoms continued and I started to realise that I wasn’t really feeling myself anymore.

It started with being tired, which was nothing new and something I hadn’t really noticed because parents of young children are constantly tired by default. Then I noticed that I didn’t really seem to have the impetus to do anything anymore, yet I would find myself feeling disproportionately anxious about keeping the house clean and getting the laundry done. If I started, I couldn’t stop. There didn’t ever seem to come a point when I was satisfied that I had done enough to prove that I was keeping my shit together.

I catastrophised by imagining the worst possible outcome of every minor failure and convinced myself it would come true. The high standards I held myself to began to consume me. And then one day as I was driving somewhere alone, I wondered if I jerked the wheel suddenly to the left, hit a tree and made it look like an accident, would my children still grow up hating me for leaving them?

I booked an appointment with a doctor the next morning. I sat in the waiting room, trembling, afraid of being knocked back again, and I tried to organise in my head what I wanted to say. I was very aware of the fact that I could lose my nerve at any moment.

When I got into the room, the words tumbled out. Words like “spiraling”, “hopeless” and “suicidal”. Words I hadn’t associated with myself except maybe in my darkest and most reflective moments during the sleepless hours of the night. I hadn’t said any of these words to anyone else, hadn’t even admitted half of them to myself. I didn’t mean to cry, but I did. As much out of relief to have finally said it all out loud as from the overwhelming fear I felt over what might happen next.

My doctor didn’t want to give me medication, at least not right away, so he referred me for therapy. It took a few weeks for my IAPT questionnaire to come through and I haven’t yet had my initial phone assessment. It was hard to be honest, to put aside the anxiety I felt about the outcome and look at myself objectively. This is where I am at now; in a kind of limbo between knowing I need some help and starting to get the help that I need.

I’m still working, although sometimes it is a monumental effort just to get out of bed in the morning. Even though I struggle with spiraling anxiety every time we go out, I’m determined not to let my mental health impact on my children’s lives. Sometimes my temper may be a little shorter than I would like it to be and I will probably feel completely mentally and physically exhausted after a day out with my boys in a way that I never used to. It frustrates me more than I can easily articulate, but I have to believe that it will pass. I look back at photographs of us from a year, two years, three years ago and I have to believe that I can find my way back to being that person, the wife and mother that I see in those photographs. I have to believe that even though I’ll probably never really be “fixed”, someday I’ll be able to function the way I used to without it feeling like such a gargantuan task just to get through the day.

Until then, I intend to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health by talking about it as openly and honestly as I am safely able.

Written by Davina Taylor
photo credit: JCTopping Joes Kloppenburg via photopin (license)
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