This week was a good week. Generally, my bipolar has been stable for a while. I am able to go to work and hold down two jobs somehow and I also passed my probation (in the words of Borat, Great Success!). But there are times when things are overwhelming and I feel like a wobbly mess. Like today.
I achieved my goals that I came up with when I was in the middle of agoraphobia a few months ago. My panic disorder reset itself to a healthy level thanks to therapy and things improving at work. As such, I have been able to see more people face to face and this week I was able to go to Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club with my Dad to see Natalie Williams and Soul family Motown show (my Chanukah present). We have been before over the years and love going to see them and going with my Dad makes me feel safe as he drives us.
However, I often find that something like that is followed by a day of needing to slow down and look after me as I can feel a little depleted and more anxious. Its just a bit of a pattern my mind goes too. The cold and dark weather also do not help with this and I start just wanting to stay at home. I have also been putting myself under too much pressure and end up exhausted.. any other perfectionists/achievers do the same?
So, I couldn’t go to see friends and some family this weekend and had to cancel arrangements which wasn’t great. However, my baby nephew was born last week and had his Jewish naming ceremony yesterday which was special as Rob and I carried him in on a special pillow. We then hosted my mum and step dad for shabbat (Jewish sabbath) lunch- so I am seeing that as a big achievement despite everything. In the past, I wouldn’t have even been able to attend it- so I know I am in a better place. However, I also had to cancel other family plans which I don’t feel good about.
I think I have just been trying to do way too much as I always do when I feel a bit better and I am sorry to those I have had to let down due to increased anxiety. I know its not my fault, its an illness, but I still feel bad.
One positive, at the ceremony I was able to see my two aunties who I hadn’t seen for a while (which was one of my goals too) so that made me so happy.
Overall, I am doing well but I am still dealing with the panic and anxious thought patterns at times… and its learning a) what the triggers are b) what I can do to help myself when it happens. I have had about a month off from seeing my therapist so probably need another session soon. I think I just need a quiet day watching Netflix.
(image: Grow Together Now)
Rob and I are getting away over Christmas so hopefully that will be a good time to recharge and reset my batteries after a very busy year for both of us.
My sister said to me today to remember to be kind to myself, so that is what I am going to do. Though I do feel a little bit sad at having to cancel plans. Though I look back at the past few weeks and realise that I have done a lot in terms of seeing people- so maybe its all just too much and I need to plan less.
I am mostly healthy and life is generally good. Heres to climbing mountains, not carrying them all the time- and not feeling guilty if I can’t achieve something.
I sat in A&E on a Wednesday morning trying to control my breathing.
My day began normally with a rushed breakfast and a sweaty commute on the Northern Line. I got to work and started to feel lightheaded and slightly panicky. My chest hurt and I found an empty office to try and calm down. It didn’t work. My brain was screaming ‘heart attack’. A kind colleague put me in a taxi with directions to the hospital.
Of course, I wasn’t having a heart attack. It was a swift diagnosis and then I had hours to wait before seeing the on-call mental health specialist. My panic turned to shame. Especially as I watched ‘real’ sick people come and go from A&E.
It wasn’t my first panic attack, but it was my first one at work.
I was diagnosed with anxiety years earlier in Canada by my GP. I managed it through talking therapies, medication, and support from family and friends. I didn’t have to tell anyone at work and outwardly I always looked like a confident professional. I have what is commonly referred to as ‘high-functioning anxiety’.
My stress levels had been building since I moved to the UK. New country, new job, lots of work travel with more responsibilities, and missing my regular support systems. I felt uncomfortable in my own body; it ached all the time, my memory was unreliable, my hands shook, and my stomach always hurt.
I ignored all the signs and pushed through. It wasn’t one thing, anything specific, or even the building pressures at work. I stopped taking care of myself and I was scared to ask for help. Deep down, I knew it was my fault that I ended up in A&E.
I turned on my phone and scrolled through concerned messages from my team. Excuses raced through my mind: migraine, food poisoning, allergic reaction. Anything but admitting the state of my mental health. How could they, or anyone at work, respect me if they knew my truth?
One of my team members sent a private message asking if I needed a toothbrush. Even now, I can’t explain why it was their simple message that gave me the courage to tell the truth. Perhaps I sensed their kindness and concern? Perhaps because it was ‘normal’ when everything else felt out of control? Whatever the reasons, I decided to be honest with my team and my colleagues from that moment.
I am not unusual. The Mental Health Foundation cites a 2013 study with 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. All my life I had been told I was ‘stressed’, ‘a worrier’, and ‘a perfectionist’. These characteristics make me successful, but they often cost me my mental health.
I recognise that being able to speak out is a privilege and that my seniority made it easier. It was still a risk, but I could no longer afford to be silent about my mental health. My main concern was that I would lose credibility at work. I didn’t want others to see me as weak, unreliable, or incapable.
Senior leadership, my team, and my closest colleagues were immediately supportive and sharing my story changed from being scary to empowering. Speaking out gave me some control over my anxiety and I became a better leader because I could bring my whole self to work. I started to see my anxiety as, if not a strength, something that allowed me to engage honestly with others and with my work.
I would like to share that as a white, middle class Canadian women working in reputable organisations with access to support, I feel that I have had some level of privilege at being able to access this support. Additionally, anxiety as a mental health disorder, is also relatively understood and more accepted.
No matter anyone’s background, including mine, talking about your mental health can be scary and make you feel vulnerable.
There is no one way to support mental health at work and everyone copes differently. It’s not about online yoga classes, taking deep breaths, or flexible working policies. I think it’s about awareness, inclusion, and having difficult conversations. Often when I am struggling, the only thing I want from my employer or a loved one is to be heard.
As a leader with anxiety, I think some of the most important things I can do is speak openly about my experience, help others to do the same, and listen to their stories. I took every opportunity to do these things while working at Imperial College London Business School and I continue to do so in my new role at Cambridge Judge Business School. Instead of just asking my team ‘How are you?’, I ask questions like ‘Are you getting enough sleep?’ or ‘What can I be doing to support you?’.
When I interviewed last year for my role at Judge, I intentionally spoke about my anxiety and how it influenced my leadership and working styles. I felt it was a risk worth taking.
I want organisations, employers, and employees to understand, and to see through my example, that having a mental health disorder doesn’t mean you can’t be successful or ambitious. Everyone faces challenges. Our organisations need to be a place that talking openly is encouraged and supported. Anxiety has taught me to be kinder, more empathetic, and that bringing these qualities to work are beneficial for me, my colleagues, an organisation’s healthy culture.
Erin Hallett is a mental health writer, advocate and speaker, originally from Canada- she now lives in the UK.Erin works at Cambridge judge business school.
Social anxiety is quite common but it affects people in different ways, situations and circumstances. Some people may find they have anticipatory anxiety before certain events, like interview days, big events like weddings and public speaking. But for those that suffer with everyday social anxiety this can be equally debilitating.
Living with social anxiety can be tough because it literally affects everything we do. From the choices we make, activities we participate in, opportunities that are presented to us and naturally, the way we live our lives. It can also have a huge impact on the direction of our life and how it unfolds.
For many people living with social anxiety, it can range from mild to very extreme. It’s often triggered due to particular circumstances. Big events such as:–
Going on a date
Meeting new friends
New job interview.
It can also be triggered by everyday events. For example:-
Going to the supermarkets or the shops
Speaking with the cash register assistant
Asking for directions
Walking around in public places.
In order to address the many challenges of social anxiety, we need to understand the specific causes.
Social anxiety manifests itself as tension in the body, elevated heart rate, paranoia, awkwardness, inhibition, not being able to express ourselves in certain moments where we want/need to. This is often caused by the beliefs and the ideas that we hold in our mind. When these are triggered, or we are provoked/threatened by the particular circumstance, this is when the anxiety kicks in.
In our everyday existence, we have two types of thinking.
One type of thinking is known as logistical thinking. This is simply our organisational logical thinking such as, today, I need to get the train. Or we may have thought when we go to the shop, I’m going to buy apples today, they are on the list, together with potatoes and rice. It’s very logistical. This kind of thinking holds no real emotion and is more matter of fact.
However, most people living with social anxiety describe themselves as self-conscious and this is an accurate description of the second kind of thinking, known as self-referential thinking.
Self-referential thinking is where we are referring back to ourselves.
For example… we might have the logistical thought, OK, I need to get the train. But then self-referential thinking would come in, making us consider, what happens if I miss the train? What happens if I’m late for work? What happens if the train is delayed? What will people on the train think of me? Should I be getting the train to work rather than driving?
This is where we apply personal meaning to our circumstances and to the logistical tasks of the day. We give it meaning that relates back to our self-image and identity. Within this, self-referential thinking is where a lot of anxiety is created.
Examples of self-referential thinking
Note: everyone is unique and everyone has their own thought patterns, leanings and identity. Here are some examples of self-referential thinking that can provoke anxiety in people:-
What will people think of me?
What if they don’t like me?
I hope I don’t come across as being awkward.
What if I embarrass myself?
Are they looking at me?
What if I make a mistake?
All of these thoughts can be considered seeds. The first domino in the sequence triggers the momentum of catastrophizing self-referential thinking. This can lead to a sense of anxiety, dread, panic or embarrassment.
Struggle with social anxiety
I actually used to really struggle with social anxiety and this would prevent me from speaking in front of groups. It would make me feel very self-conscious and on edge when I was in supermarkets, when I was around people in public places. I’d often worry about what other people were thinking of me or how I was coming across and I really used to beat myself up over this. It made me feel as though I was somehow inferior or there was something wrong with me.
In my quest to beat social anxiety, I tried a lot of things to try and overcome this. Some of the things I found most impactful were part of my own professional therapy training.
During our practice sessions with my colleagues, we would get to work through many of our fears and anxieties. That provided me with a great deal of relief and clarity.
Another thing that really helped me was the concept of self-acceptance. Because it’s often the things that we reject about ourselves that we then project onto other people. So if we don’t like the shape of our body or the way we look, we will assume that perhaps other people won’t like that either. But that is a projection of our mind onto these people.
It’s none of our business what other people think, it matters more about what we think and self-acceptance is a beautiful concept. A practice where we draw in the things that we feel such great resistance to. Then we seek to embrace it, accept it and claim ownership over it. That way we take back our power and finally give ourselves permission to exist as we are, without judgement or criticism.
After all, this is about reclaiming your sovereignty, your identity, your freedom from these thoughts, insecurities and worries. These are the things holding you back from living your best life, enjoying your life and fulfilling your potential.
Comedians have social confidence
Take comedians for example, they often talk about embarrassing moments and they talk about all the taboo topics such as farting and other awkward encounters whilst everyone in the audience cringes with laughter at the shock factor.
But whilst the audience cringes with laughter, the comedian stands there proudly and boldly, proclaiming to the world. They take ownership of their so-called insecurity or embarrassing moments and they do so with confidence. That’s because a confident person is a self-accepting person. They have claimed ownership over their embarrassing moments and taken their power back from them.
Bringing self-awareness into your thoughts
The first stage of transforming your anxiety is bringing self-awareness to your thought process. The question you need to ask yourself is: What is making me feel anxious?
Some people are afraid of judgement, criticism, embarrassment, drawing attention to themselves, being the odd one out, being rejected.
Whatever it is to you will be unique and if you spend time thinking about this, you will begin to get a clearer understanding of what’s really generating all of this anxiety. It can be helpful to use a notepad and pen for this exercise.
Social anxiety is just a symptom of an unconscious behavioural response. The good news is that it can be changed because all behaviours can be changed. This isn’t something that you’re born with. This isn’t something that you’re destined to live with for the rest of your life. It is something that can be resolved and there are many ways to do this.
Taking the right path for you
Some people feel inspired to take the route of exposure and setting themselves social challenges. This is done in the way of, OK, if I’m afraid of talking to people or more afraid of what people think, I’ll set myself a challenge. Every time I go out in a social situation, I’ll ask someone for the time or ask the shop assistant, how are you doing today?
But whilst that’s all very well for a lot of people living with social anxiety, it can be very intense and confronting, even just getting to that stage can be challenging. So for that reason, professional one to one therapy can be really helpful for this.
Some recommendations would be to first find a therapist that you trust, that you feel a genuine connection with them. Always check to see if they have a proven track record for helping people get results, and that they really are an expert in their field.
Once you find that connection, build that trust and learn to enjoy your unique character, your anxiety levels will fall as you take back control.
Social anxiety is an unconscious behavioural response that’s generated by our beliefs and thought processes, all of which can be challenged and changed..
At some point in our lives, the vast majority of humans on this earth will experience a degree of anxiety in certain social settings. How we react, adapt and behave within these settings is dictated by our attitude and perception of the experience.
I really wanted to write today because the sun is shining, apple blossom is on the trees and Spring is finally here! I always feel more hopeful and happy once Spring is here but living with bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder can mean that some days are harder than others.
This week, I have really struggled with low mood and social anxiety. I’m an optimistic person and sometimes I pack too much into my days and end up having a panic attack because I can’t cope. This is what happened to me yesterday when I decided it would be a great idea to pack in too much, including going across London and delivering many Body Shop orders to my customers and friends. My social anxiety was so high (I think largely due to being in lockdown) , I just wanted to hide and I ended up sleeping to escape my feelings and feeling super low. I am lucky that I understand what to do when this happens and I have a husband and family who support me too. I am still in therapy for my panic disorder and it has improved a lot but there are times when it gets triggered like this week.
I have also found that I am worrying more about what people think of me- if I have said the right or wrong thing or upset anyone. Its so silly but due to past rejection I get scared and those fears bubble to the surface.
On Friday, I had a really productive therapy session. There are a lot of worries about the future that I still hold and being able to unpack them in therapy is really useful for me. I am doing EMDR trauma therapy but a lot of it is talking out and facing those triggers one by one. I have a very good relationship with my therapist and having a session often calms my mind.
In positive news, last week I became an aunt to a beautiful baby girl, Cara Harriet who is the sweetest little baby. She is a joy and light in all our lives and I feel so lucky to have a little niece! My sister and brother in law are amazing 🙂
And in other good news, in April, my essay in the Book of Hope by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Britt Pfluger will be published alongside many others I look up to (Dame Kelly Holmes and my friend Hope Virgo). So there are good things as well as bad!
I am doing a lot better- I dont rapid cycle, I havn’t had an episode of mania or hypomania since 2014. My brain seems to like Lithium and Quetaipine (a mood stabiliser and anti psychotic). I have to learn to be kind to myself and practise self care, because my social anxiety is a fear response from the past.
Being kind to myself is of utmost importance. Heres a list of what I do when I am having a bad day: take a nap, have a bubble bath, read a book, hug the guineapigs and Rob, talk to Rob, a friend or family member, put on a face mask, cry, breathe and listen to calming music, watch a good TV show (I have been watching First Dates Teens), book in a therapy session, eat something nice, put some make up on, wash my hair, wear an uplifting perfume.
For many women, menopause can be both a blessing and a curse. Although it signals the end of menstruation, it also means that a woman is no longer reproductive and that the aging process has well and truly begun.
Menopause starts when a woman’s ovaries no longer release eggs, causing their monthly periods to stop. If you have not had a period for 12 months, this probably means you are going through menopause.
About menopausal anxiety and panic attacks
Menopause can give rise to anxiety and panic attacks, and the symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways. Often, you will feel your heart racing, and you will start to sweat. You may also feel a quickness of breath. In addition, there may be some tingling or numbness in your fingers. You could also feel dizzy, although you won’t pass out during an anxiety attack due to the high levels of adrenaline – you will just have to wait for the episode to come to an end.
Experts have advised that you can overcome anxiety and panic by focusing your attention on something else, such as a sound or a smell.
While some of these symptoms may be unavoidable, you can reduce their effect by taking good care of yourself. Consider the following tips.
Eat nutritious foods that won’t trigger your symptoms
Make sure you eat lots of green vegetables, dairy products, and foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Meanwhile, you should avoid spicy and sugary foods and anything that contains caffeine or alcohol. One helpful tip is to compile a list of any foods that seem to trigger your menopausal symptoms.
Maintain a regular exercise schedule while keeping yourself hydrated
Another adverse side effect of menopause is weight gain, although you can offset this by exercising regularly. The benefits of physical activities include:
A boost to your energy levels and metabolism
Healthier bones and joints
A reduction in stress
Exercise can also help you fight off anxiety and depression. This is due to the endorphins released by your brain during a physical workout.
Meanwhile, make sure you drink at least 8 to 12 glasses of water every day, as this will reduce your skin and vaginal dryness. Moreover, this simple lifestyle change can also reduce any bloated feelings you may be experiencing due to hormonal changes. As an added bonus, drinking lots of water can also improve your metabolism.
Take sugar in moderation
Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause depression and poor bone density. They can also cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate, which can make you feel tired and irritable.
Go out on a regular basis
Staying indoors for too long is not good for your mental health and may even aggravate your menopausal symptoms. As well as the benefit of absorbing vitamin D from the sun, an outdoor stroll can also reduce your stress levels.
Ensure you eat regular meals
Skipping meals is not a permanent weight loss solution and can exacerbate your menopausal symptoms. It is much better to eat your meals at regular intervals, as this will help you avoid any metabolism problems.
Although menopause is an unavoidable inconvenience, you don’t have to let it bother you. In fact, if you adopt the natural methods outlined above, you will be able to live life to the full without having to worry about the annoying symptoms.
This article was written by LadyCare Menopause Ltd.
On Wednesday 4th November, National Stress Awareness Day, Superdrug invited me to a zoom virtual panel event highlighting men’s mental health.
They said, ‘The event will aim to break taboos and increase the conversation around the mental health challenges that men have faced during the current coronavirus pandemic. ‘
We had a chance to listen to some famous and insightful panelists, including
Professor Green – Award winning musician and patron of CALM charity
Chris Hughes– TV personality
Matt Johnson– Broadcaster and mental health advocate
Alexander Leon– Writer and social change advocate
Dr Amir Khan– Doctor and best selling author
In October 2020, Superdrug conducted research to find out how the pandemic is currently affecting people’s mental health.
The research was conducted among 3419 of its customers. Key findings are highlighted below:
● 86% of people believe men find it more difficult talking about mental health issues than women
● 82% of people believe there’s still too much stigma attached to mental health problems
● 71% don’t think employers take mental health problems seriously enough
● 80% of people would like to see mental health services being made more accessible to people
● 66% people said that their mental health is still being impacted by the pandemic.
As a result, Superdrug decided to launch a new service, known as Mind Care Superdrug. There will be an online doctor for people to find mental health support, with a video consultation and people will be referred to appropriate services. This will be a huge step forward and is an amazing thing to do!
Matt Johnson opened the panel, introducing each pannelist in turn to discuss men’s mental health. For me as woman, I recognise how important it is for men to speak out about their feelings after generations of stigma around mental health.
Professor Green talked about his battle with life long anxiety, saying ‘You just want to get out out of your own skin’, anxiety can be difficult but in life we encounter difficulties and learn to build resilience. Prof Green experienced anxiety as a child and teenager and still deals with it to this day and promotes talking about men’s mental health. He also spoke later in the discussion about self harm in men, to include drug and alcohol abuse and his familys own experience of suicide.
Chris Hughes then spoke about his anxiety and panic attacks, saying he was ‘proud to discuss it openly now‘. He said that before he became well known, he would get anxiety in the workplace that he tried to distract from by going to the gym. However, it didn’t work as well and now he is in the limelight, he has experienced panic attacks, which would manifest as pins and needles in his body and hyperventilation. Hughes shares about his mental health to help others, especially men, through it so they stop bottling feelings up.
Alex Leon told us that he was (in his words), ‘gay, brown and didn’t fit in’. He reminded us that LGBTQ and minority communities often have poor mental health due to a lack of acceptance. He said that 75% of suicide rates in the UK are men and that the narrative that ‘big boys don’t cry and men should just get on with it‘, should be addressed. Leon asked ‘what forms of stigma do men face?‘ and said often it is ‘Be stoic’ ‘be unemotional’ or ‘here is what a man or boy should be‘ – which all lead to poor mental health outcomes.
Dr Amir Khan also introduced himself and his work as a doctor in the UK- a GP working with mens mental health. He agreed with a lot of what Alexander Leon said and offered some profound insights.
The discussion then came back to Professor Green, who told the discussion that sadly his Dad and uncle had died by suicide and he felt mental illness ran in his family. He has struggled with depression and said, ‘ We all chase happiness. You should feel highs and lows- when I don’t feel anything is when I worry’.
Chris Hughes said we must normalise the conversation around mental health and Alex Leon added that self compassion is so important.
I very much enjoyed the panel discussion and really appreciated the chance to hear from great speakers on mens mental health. Superdrug are definitely ahead of the game!
I wasn’t paid for this article but Superdrug sent me a box of wellbeing goodies including Vitamin D tablets, vitamin tea, lavender and peppermint essential oils, sleep aids, moisture socks for feet with marula oil and a pampering skin and body set. Thank you!
I have wanted to write this post for several weeks, but so much has been going on personally and I have been really emotionally drained (and launching my new business too). Let start at the beginning.
At the end of May, my mother in law (who is carer for my father in law with terminal brain cancer) was taken very unwell. She was rushed to hospital with stroke like symptoms and put into an induced coma on a ventilator as her lungs were collapsing. We were super scared it was Covid as she was shielding anyway and it came completely out the blue, on the day of her 60th birthday after we had celebrated.
She is the main carer for my father in law and so my husband Rob had to move in to their house to care for his Dad and support his brother. (cue frantic phone calls to the doctors surgery, hospitals, Macmillan nurses and Jewish Care, all done by my incredible husband).
Thankfully, my MIL came off the ventilator to breathe unaided and she tested negative for Covid 19. We think she caught a severe bacterial infection and she then got pneumonia in her lungs. She was in hospital for 4 weeks and discharged 2 weeks ago and is making amazing progress with her physio team and her speech. She is still frail but she is recovering slowly.
This blog post I don’t want to make about my in laws because they are private people. Dealing with all these scary changes has been tough on my mental health (and everyones).
We are slowly slowly coming out the other side, although we know my FIL will worsen in time due to the nature of his illness.
So what flowers are blooming during this adversity?
-On Saturday will be our first wedding anniversary and we will spend it together. Its been a rollercoaster year but I am so thankful to have Rob by my side!
-I am loving my new Body Shop at Home business and my team and incredible managers. It really has been keeping me sane throughout this time of family lockdown and I can’t thank Sarah Cardwell enough for introducing me to the business. The products are so good for self care and healing too, which has been so needed and I have made lots of new friends. It keeps my mind stimulated and earns me income too- I am so grateful.
-Yesterday, Robs kind family member went over so we could spend some proper quality time together (thank you). We went for a walk in our favourite little village near by where there are cottages and flowers and village green and pond- I took lots of pictures of my dream cottages and gardens. Then, we got vanilla chocolate milkshakes (first time in a café post lockdown) and visited family. It was so special just to have US time, so rare in this current time for our family.
-This blog is continuing to grow and turning into a side business and for that I am ever grateful. I am also loving sharing peoples personal stories and hope it is a useful resource.
-Our guineapigs Midnight and Nutmeg are a source of joy and give great cuddles.
-Friends and familys kindness and messages help so much. I havnt had a therapy session in a while but will do.
I am feeling positive but there will be rough days ahead in the coming months. Today though, I am enjoying slightly more calm and peace again before the potential storm, and watching the flowers that are blooming in adversity.
Trigger Warning: sexual assault, details of assault and severe mental illness
Its been a while but I thought I would put type to keyboard and write a blog for more mental health awareness.
Since my book was published, I haven’t written many follow up personal blogs, purely because the launch of my life story into the public domain felt overwhelming and scary. 6 months on, I am used to it being out there but I have been working hard in EMDR trauma therapy to help myself.
See, the truth is that right now the Bipolar Disorder for me is stable and under control on my medicines. I still get side effects- weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, but my mind is generally healthy in terms of the Bipolar- no mania or depression. Anxiety and panic yes but Bipolar, not really at the moment.
Yet, almost lurking unseen after I left hospital in 2014 and began my recovery was the fact I was traumatised by my experiences of going into psychosis (losing touch with reality via delusions, false beliefs) and my experiences when being sectioned. I will just give an overview as the rest is in my book- but this included- being restrained, being attacked by other patients and seeing them self harm, being injected with Haloperidol (an anti psychotic) in front of both male and female nurses in a part of the body I didn’t want, being chased round A and E by security men in genuine fear of my life, dealing with lawyers and going to tribunals while ill, thinking I had been abused by family and was locked up by a criminal gang and fearing my family were against me. My bipolar mind could not cope.
Just before this all happened, I was very vulnerable and was sexually assaulted by a man I knew through friends and all of this trauma stayed with me.
I did what most of us with severe mental illness and assault survivors do- I tried to rebuild my life. I tried to work in schools helping children with special educational needs. I tried to work for a mental health charity as a peer support worker for people like me. I began to blog and write and share as therapy- from charities to national newspapers. Bit by bit, as I wrote out what I has been through, I started to slowly heal. But, the symptoms of the extreme panic remained. I lost jobs because of it. I became depressed. I started dating but I often had to cancel dates- (before I met Rob, my husband who listened to me talk about it all and didn’t bat too much of an eyelid.)
I was in a state of flux, a state of transition. I knew I had trauma still living in my brain and body. I had been physically and sexually assaulted, I had been mentally violated- I had been sectioned twice in a few months and now I was sent home to try and rebuild my life as a 25 year old single woman.
I share this important blog, not to share that I am a victim- because I am not. I want to share that I believe for about 5 years, I have been suffering with some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My therapist believes the same.
The panic attacks that grip me with fear before work or the day ahead when I have to leave the house. The fear of going out or travelling at night alone. The fear of being taken advantage of and having to trust men again (thank you to my husband for helping ease this pain). The fear of exploitation, of losing my mind, of not trusting mental health professionals any more.
My panic attacks get triggered by certain events- it could be having to speak about my life or book, or seeing people I don’t feel comfortable with, of feeling exposed, of worrying about others judgement. I am still healing from all I have been through and experienced. The PTSD means that I have to take medication (Propranolol) to function sometimes. It means that I experience flashbacks in my body- I feel gripped with fear, I get chest pain and shallow breathing and I start to cry. I had one the other day at 4am….. thank the lord for meds so I could calm down and sleep.
My therapist is incredible and we have been working since October to process the roots of my trauma and panic disorder. We use a combination of rapid eye processing with talking therapy which helps to tackle each and every trauma- and we are still at the tip of the iceberg. It takes time to process the deep rooted experiences in my brain- we are getting there slowly.
For me, in many ways my future is uncertain. My medicines have long term physical side effects. Motherhood will be more of a challenge due to medication and my mental health- I am still processing the choices I will have to make, which I will write in another blog.
I want to end this blog by saying- if you know someone with anxiety, PTSD, another anxiety disorder or something like bipolar or schizophrenia- Be Kind. You never know what someone has gone through.
The NHS waiting lists for help are too long, services are too underfunded- all my treatment has been private provided by my family due to being stuck on a list for years. I am lucky, not everyone is.
I hope this blog gives some information about my experiences of PTSD since leaving hospital 6 years ago. It is by far the most personal thing I have posted since publishing my book but I hope it helps you feel less alone.
Positivity and Hope are key. Meeting my husband and my therapist changed my life for the better as I slowly rebuild and find an equilibrium again.
Trigger warning: talks about self harm, anxiety, depression and mental illness
For 10 or so years, throughout adulthood, I have battled on and off with something invisible and something I still don’t fully understand myself.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
I’m now 29 but my illness started at about the age of 21. In my third year of University, I started to dread things, I started to worry about everything I said, did and I started to question if anyone liked me. I have always been apologetic but this was different. I felt like apologising for walking into a room.
I was unable to switch off, unable to focus on my University work and I withdrew a lot socially. Life moved quite slow back then.
For me I knew this was out of character. I’ve always been fun loving and outgoing, with a smile on my face. I became confused about who I was. I developed an uneasy feeling that would take almost 8 years to learn to sit with.
During the first few years of my disorder, I definitely still achieved a lot. I often feel my disorder makes me thrive more, sort of like overcompensation, a little bit like proving people and myself wrong. I graduated with a BSc in Psychology and at the age of 24, I went on to gain my MSc in International Development.
I don’t think I truly recognised these achievements until about the age of 27.
Whilst studying my MSc life changed quite a lot for me. I had gone through a bad break up in my younger years but then I finally met someone who lifted me back up, who challenged my thoughts, someone who was completely different to me in every way. This was oddly comforting for me, a bit like escapism from my own ruminating thoughts.
Then I entered the world of professional work. I started out as a fundraiser, and in my most recent role I tried my hand at facilitating group therapy. In 5 years I have moved through 4 jobs within the charity sector. Sometimes part time.
During this time my anxiety disorder would often become too much. I often sunk low and developed bouts of depression. I would cry and sob. I was back and forth to the GP, often teary, often red in the face and always a bit embarrassed, even though I didn’t need to feel embarrassed.
At one point I was signed off sick from work, bed bound for 3 months, with no motivation at all, just me, myself and my catastrophic thoughts. I was pretty exhausted, shaky, drained and more confused than ever. My physical symptoms manifested as sweating, chest pains, palpitations, shortness of breath and the odd panic attack.
One thing I started to do was open up, I began to share things with my partner and colleagues. They let me cry if I needed and at the same time my GP was stabilising and finding the right medication to suit me. But I was clearly still unwell.
I quit another job I enjoyed through my inability to cope and my lack of self esteem. My Imposter Syndrome led me down another uneven path. Always overworking. Always overthinking. Always overcompensating. I didn’t slow down until I was forced to.
Another behavioural symptom of my anxiety is skin picking and nail biting. In early adulthood I would sit for 3 hours picking at my face and over the years I have made the skin around my thumbnail so sore it would bleed. It is now scarred.
My need to fiddle with something to ease anxiety is always apparent. Earlier this year, I was talking to my friend about making jewellery and how cool it would be to make my own. I have always been into accessories, fashion and jewellery so I said I’d love to make something I can wear and carry with me discreetly but also fiddle with, to stop me from picking so much.
She mentioned worry beads and I was intrigued. I wanted to make my own twist on them. A prettier version, merging them with jewellery design that I would more likely wear, so I did and my life has changed. I have started a small business called Worry Knot.
(image: Emma Johnson at Worry Knot)
Alongside selling calming jewellery, I’m blog writing. I’m advocating more widely about the importance of opening up when confusing and sometimes debilitating symptoms develop. Not only is it therapeutic for me to make my jewellery but it’s extra therapeutic playing with this jewellery a few times a day.
Having something to focus on, things to make and to write about has been crucial in managing my own anxiety, especially at such an anxious time for the world. I hope my jewellery can go on to help those feeling anxious not only now but going forward into the future too.
Reducing anxiety at the moment in our every day lives is so important.
Having anxiety is something that many people have challenges with. It is estimated that about 1 in 5 adults have an anxiety disorder and that more than that will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
The symptoms of anxiety include feeling restless or on edge, being easily irritated, difficulty controlling feelings of worry and having difficulty sleeping, amongst others.
If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety, there are many things you can do to help reduce and manage those feelings.
1. Look at Lifestyle Choices
A number of different lifestyle behaviours could contribute to your anxiety. Drinking alcohol, taking drugs, eating junk food will all play a big role in how you feel. For example, excessive drinking or the use of drugs can cause a multitude of health problems including liver and kidney damage. It also causes mental illness such as drug and alcohol addictions. You may need further support from a psychiatrist or rehab unit if you are struggling with addiction or mental illness.
On the opposite side, exercising regularly and eating healthy foods are proven to boost your mood, increase the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy and improve your overall physical health.
If you want to manage anxiety, consider looking at your current lifestyle choices and if there is anything you have the power to change. Be honest in your assessment but know you have options for assistance. Making a big lifestyle change is hard but if there is something you know is causing your mental health and anxiety to worsen, it is a good idea to remove that from your life if possible.
2. Talk to Your Family and Friends
Even if you think your family and friends would not understand, you might end up getting some of your most valuable support from them. You should not ever feel you have to hide any of your mental health concerns from them, unless you know that they would react badly.
Try to avoid shutting people out, being secretive about your mental illness or becoming defensive when people ask.
True friends will listen and care. There is still a stigma to mental illness but it is important to find someone you trust.
3. Set Boundaries
If necessary you can set boundaries for yourself. This could mean letting people know there are certain activities you don’t participate in. It could also mean a limit on how much time you spend with friends and family, in order to practise self care and recuperate.
Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders find that setting up a schedule for themselves that they are consistent in keeping can greatly reduce feelings of anxiety. It helps them to feel more in control and gives them a structure that feels secure.
Setting boundaries is a way for you to have control over your situation and environment, although these should not be too rigid. There are certain things that can’t be controlled that can increase anxiety.
4. Let Go of Things You Can’t Control
If something is out of your control that is causing your anxiety there are ways that you can cope with these feelings. One suggestion is to write down how you are feeling to help let those emotions go. The BACP tells us that, “It can help to express this anxiety in a way that you can control. That could be writing down what you feel, or keeping a journal.”
You can also try making a list of things you are grateful for, or use breathing and relaxation techniques.
If you are still struggling to cope with things out of your control seek help from a professional.
5. Get Professional Help
You could turn to all types of mental health professionals to get help, including GPs (physicians), psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and therapists. You may be referred for talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness or EMDR therapy for trauma. They may also recommend medication for you too.
In the UK, you would go via your NHS GP who can refer you on to see a psychiatrist or to IAPT for counselling. Also check out the Counselling Directory website.
When searching for a good therapist in the USA, Karen Whitehead, who does counseling in Alpharetta, GA tells us that, “Psychologists (PsyD), Licensed Social Workers (LMSW/LCSW), Licensed Professional Counsellors (LPC), and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) can all evaluate and treat mental illness, provide talk therapy, support and feedback, and teach coping strategies such as mindfulness.”
Your counsellor will be able to help you better assess your situation and get to the core of your anxieties. Even if you already know why you get anxious, you can benefit from learning coping skills.
Your counsellor can indeed equip you with tools adapted for your specific needs. You will have feedback on what is and what is not working. You can learn to live with, manage and in many cases, recover from anxiety.
You Are Not Alone
Do not ever think you are alone when it comes to your anxiety. Try not to beat yourself up if setbacks occur or you have a bad day.
Talk with your therapist about ways that you can help to further reduce your anxiety. They will be able to help you.
This blog was written by freelance writer Samantha Higgins.