I’m more than happy to tell you about my own anxiety and depression. If this story helps even one person then that’s great.
When I was 21 I moved into my first house (just me) and one week later I went abroad with my boyfriend. While there I had a couple of episodes of what we attributed to ‘too much sun.’ I was shaking and felt sick and had to go back to the apartment on 2 occasions. It would be 3 years before these were diagnosed as panic attacks.
At 24 I felt faint while on the bus. I got off in Sheffield City Centre and banged on the doors of Yorkshire Bank. I knew they had closed to customers but I also knew my sister was behind that door. We caught a taxi back to my house, thinking I had a virus. That virus lasted 3 years. During these 3 years I would be diagnosed with ME and struggle to keep my job. I lived on my own and yet relied on my boyfriend, sister and parents to get me to the places I needed to be. During that time I became obsessed with gardening, the only means of escape I had from my four walls. Unfortunately I had bad neighbours at either side. At one side a man who would get drunk and smack his wife every Friday night, the other, a Schizophrenic. Three doors down another man with mental health problems. I came home one day and the kids of wife-beater had gone into my garden and ripped all the heads off my flowers. They couldn’t see the problem.
I worked at the local psychiatric unit in Admin. I therefore knew when my next door neighbour was admitted and what he’d been admitted for. The previous night I’d told Den I could smell burning. He told me I was being stupid. I snuck a read of his case notes . He had tried to set his bedroom on fire. That bedroom adjoined mine. He’d abscond from the ward and return home. I’d hear tunnelling noises near the cellar and he’d shout through the walls that he was going to kill my cats. He tried to set some of my plants on fire. When he eventually was rehomed, the water services said he had indeed been digging towards my cellar and had just missed vital pipework.
One night the man a few doors down started his usual behaviour; playing the same song on repeat, extremely loudly, for hours and hours. This is the point I would say that I had a complete nervous breakdown. I rang my parents in tears saying I couldn’t cope any more. They took me to their house and I spent the night in a quiet bedroom, no doubt worrying them to death, but saying I couldn’t cope any more.
I was lucky. My mum got me an appointment at my G.P. surgery. It was a new G.P. One who listened and said I needed to try anti-depressants. I’d had one attempt before and the side effects had been too weird and severe. I’d only taken one. This G.P. took time to reassure me and told me that I could feel really sick for 2 weeks, but to think of it like flu and that in a couple of weeks I’d feel better.
The tablets made me vomit profusely for 3 days. They altered my pupils and made me look like I had a mad stare for 2 days. I made light of it but I know my family was worried. I started to feel less sick and more, well, normal. Just over a fortnight later I sat up in bed on a nice morning and asked Den if he’d take me to a garden centre. You have no idea how much of a shock this was. I’d barely left my house in 3 years.
I was re-diagnosed. I’d not had ME, I’d had limiting panic attacks and depression. That G.P. spent months with me on and off, showing me some behavioural therapy, such as spinning me in a chair to reassure me that although I’d get dizzy it would wear off. Without her I don’t know how I would have ended up to be honest. My body when it gets low truly makes me feel I can’t get to the end of the road. That I’m sick and exhausted. I know this because under the direction of new G.P.s I reduced and came off my medicine twice more.
The second time I became depressed and agoraphobic. I could only walk around my street. It would wear me out. Then I could only get to the post box. Then the top of the drive. When my father broke down in tears in front of me I knew I needed medication again. My father, the stocky, hard as nails, Police Sergeant. This couldn’t go on.
The third time my depression hit after I’d had a period of severe anaemia and flu. It was the worst bout I’d ever had. I’d sit in the car and wonder what would happen if I put my foot down and pranged the car in front. I didn’t want to kill myself. I just wanted to feel something. My medicines had to be increased this time, as the bout was so bad. I’d only taken a low dose on my second episode, as it was primarily anxiety and 10mg did the job. This time I needed the standard dose of 20mg. I was warned it could make me feel worse. I kept a diary of the side effects so I knew how bad they made me feel throughout this time. That diary is heartbreaking to read. Knowing how low I got and felt during that time. The increase in tablets gave me 24 hours where I had to tell Den I felt unsafe and to keep an eye on me. There was broken glass on the ground and I wondered how it would feel if I cut my arm. I thought about sitting on my window sill upstairs. Stupid things. Again, they were never full suicidal thoughts, just ridiculous ones that came into my mind all connected with the fact I was just so damn numb.
It passed and I improved. That was 4 years ago. I remain on the medication and I don’t intend to ever come off it. Maybe in time there will be improved medicines to change to. I say often, diabetics aren’t expected to stop insulin, why are depressed people taken off their tablets? If it’s situational depression and the stressor is eliminated yes, but for long term sufferers of anxiety and depression, no. I expected a fight on review with my current G.P., a no-nonsense character. He surprised me, ‘sounds sensible.’
I have low days, but I don’t attribute these to my depression. We all have low, crap days. I still have the occasional panic attack but I breathe steady and try to let it pass. I don’t hide my anxiety and depression and because of this I can tell my friends if I’m having a wobble.
If you haven’t tried medicine and I know many people are reluctant, I hope this gives you the confidence you need to ask for it. Yes you may feel at first as if you’re losing your mind even more. Afterwards you might just find you have your life back. I’m glad that my anxiety and depression are not restricting me so much these days and I can be the fab mother, partner, family member and friend I desire to be. If your health practitioners are unsympathetic, find another who is. The only thing I’ve really been left with out of all this, is I hate to feel out of control, because it reminds me too much of my illness. That’s why I rarely drink and why sometimes I escape back to my hotel room while others dance for hours. In Peterborough in March at my first book signing after party, although I still only had one drink, I did dance all night. It was the first time in years I felt I had properly let go and been myself.
I hope my story has given hope or reassurance to others. You wouldn’t know I had all this going on to look at me. In fact the thing people say to me most when I tell them I’m on anti-depressants, ‘But you’re always smiling.’ That’s right, because my anxiety and depression are currently well controlled and for that reason I’ll smile every single minute.
Image (c) Pinterest 2015.