This time last year I was in a very bad way as I was battling with both anxiety and depression. Unfortunately I've experienced both of these things throughout my life, but this time it was worse than it had ever been before. When it first came about I did what I had done previously and went back to counselling. This helped for a while and kept me functioning, but it also made me realise how bad things really were. I'd had a couple of really bad days when I'd called in sick, just not being able to function and it was only when I admitted I couldn't actually cope with going into work (let alone doing any) that things really got bad. It was like I'd opened a floodgate and all of this grief, sadness, anxiety and unhappiness just started pouring out of me.
After one particularly hard counselling session I knew I couldn't face going into work and I also couldn't face lying to my manager about it any more. So I called him up and just cried down the phone to him, explaining that I hadn't been off with a migraine, but that I really wasn't in a good way. I don't know what I thought he would say, whether he'd be cross or fire me or what. All such irrational thoughts because my manager was such a kind, caring man - but I was still petrified. As it turned out, he was completely understanding and throughout my whole "bad episode" my work - including my manager, my boss and my colleagues couldn't have been more supportive. This of course was a massive help, but it still didn't stop me worrying about it all.
It's hard to say why I suddenly got so bad, there were lots of external factors that probably didn't help - which I'm not going to go into here, but I think actually it had been a long time coming. It was like up until that point I'd just been frantically treading water, trying to stay afloat; juggling too many balls, whatever the analogy - life had become too hard.
Interestingly, it wasn't the depression that was the hardest - but the anxiety. This time last year I couldn't leave the house without having a panic attack. The anxiety would be intense, lasting several hours and then when I finally calmed down it would send me spiralling into such a dark place, unable to accept this was happening to me. It's a pretty horrible feeling, when even walking to the shop feels impossible.
I was signed off for 6 weeks in total. It sounds like a long time doesn't it? Yet every day was such hard work. Forcing myself to have a routine was the hardest part, get up, get washed, eat breakfast. Just the basic things we take for granted, that usually take us less than hour, were exhausting.
This time I also went the medication route, which unfortunately was a pretty awful experience for me - but I'll save that one for another time.
During this time, my family and friends were a God send. It was a time when I realised who my true friends really were, going out of their way to visit me or call me and just generally be there for me. It was also during this time I really got into sewing which I wrote about here. I finally managed to go back to work, part time at first and then gradually full time. But even that wasn't an easy process. I had a massive wobble and had to be signed off again, and actually after Christmas "tricked" my brain to going back to work full time by just pretending I'd been off on holidays.
Being signed off and being very ill actually wasn't the hard part. The hard part was getting back to some kind of normality. Suddenly you have to go from just getting up in the morning, to doing a full days work, doing the washing, cooking, cleaning, seeing friends, and it can easily become overwhelming and before you know it you can be right back to square one. Having a period of illness that completely floors you makes you very VERY cautious to go back to full steam ahead.
Before being ill, I lived life at full speed - and it was too much for me. The time I had off, finally made me realise, I couldn't do it any more. So I started to slow down. It wasn't easy, but I had to teach myself to live life at a slower pace - from the literal speed I walked to work, to the way I felt when something stressed me out, to the amount of time I spent seeing friends. Every aspect of my life had to be analysed, and rethought.
I've talked a lot on this blog about balance, and how finding it is so tricky - but for me it's a matter of survival. Between battling depression and anxiety and coping with chronic migraine, I have to have balance. Often this makes me feel pretty boring, I very rarely go out all night any more, and I compare myself with my party-hard housemate but I just can't do it. In September I started a new job, which has been tough, but I've finally got to the point where I can do a full time job and still enjoy my time outside of work - I just have to go steady. It's not easy, and it takes a lot of planning and a lot of saying no but that is the way it has to be.
A lot of my friends and family are very understanding of this, they get that if I decline an invitation it's not because I don't want to see them, or have a better offer - but it's because I need to say no. Sadly, there are still a lot of people in my life who don't quite get it - they don't understand that having time to myself is a necessity and that it's not only re cooperation but usually prevention from getting too burnt out.
Putting everything else to one side for a moment, I think it's important to say that I'm actually really proud of myself and what I've accomplished in a year. I am forever comparing myself with others, and putting myself down saying I should be able to do these things - but this is part of my negative thinking that only exacerbates the problem. In a year I have gone from feeling like I can't cope with anything to having a new job, that I'm doing full time and managing to enjoy life again. I still struggle, and I know, like my migraines, that depression and it's little friend anxiety will probably always be there, but hopefully they can be much more manageable in the future rather than being an ongoing battle.
Struggling with your own mental health issues? Check out my 5 ways to help you stop worrying