Changing the Narrative Around Medicated Mental Health

I have one distinct memory from that first time I took anxiety medication. I got on a bus. That was it. No elevated heart rate, no sweating, no nausea. For the first time I realised the way I had felt for most of my life, was not usual. I wasn’t supposed to get worked up about getting on a bus, I was meant to just get on, buy a ticket and sit down.

I was first prescribed anxiety medication sometime during the disaster of a relationship that was the tipping point for my slide into depression. For some reason I didn’t take it for months. I think some of the reluctance to take it came from a notion that I wasn’t ill enough. As if, because I wasn’t yet suicidal, I wasn’t worthy of treatment. At the time, I thought my experiences were almost insignificant compared to the trials of other people.

A great many, myself included, have had to struggle to get people, primarily ourselves, to understand that they are ill. We look healthy and the same as when we are not suffering from mental illnesses, but we know that we are. Yet, sometimes, it can feel that you are constantly trying to ‘convince’ others of the same truth. For those of us with mental illnesses, such as anxiety, one of the greatest fears is that we will not be believed.

The comment I now hate hearing most is that everyone feels stressed, or that everyone has low days. I became convinced that I must be a ‘drama queen’, an ‘attention seeker’ and just not able to handle what all my peers could. Fortunately, I now know that isn’t true, but it took me a long time to gain that knowledge.

After that relationship ended a number of things happened, and I finally started taking the medication. I think I was worried about yet more comments from friends and colleagues. So when I told my friends about what I was taking and they said how they had studied it at vet school, it felt so casual. Completely devoid of judgement. I suppose they had studied it, and so understood what it was for and didn’t see it as a big deal.

Medicating mental health remains a personal challenge. A great many of us are not adverse to medication, and applaud others for treating their own mental illness through it. We compare it to the logic of taking painkillers, antibiotics or any other medicine that we consider necessary to treat physical ailments. Yet when it comes to taking it ourselves…

What makes us shy away from treating our own mental illness as we would a physical one? Are we guilty of viewing it as weakness, as if ignoring our struggles stop them from impacting daily on our lives? Do we feel that by drowning out the cruel voice of our own mind we are defeated by it?

If it is considered that the first step to recovery is acknowledgement, then the second has to be changing the narrative surrounding medicated mental health. The idea that someone is weak, dramatic or attention seeking for acknowledging mental illness is interfering with treating and recovering from that illness. It needs to stop.

 

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Lessons from Blogging: Reflection

For me, reflection plays a big part in how writing a blog can hold great benefits for mental health. It is an aspect that I am not naturally good at. I am one of those people who jump from one project to another and am always looking for the next challenge. Whilst I find this fun and exciting, it does mean that I rarely take time to think about what I learnt from experiences or to really enjoy the results.

I am relieved that writing yesterday’s post held everything that I’d hoped it would. It was really cathartic. To systematically work through some really tough memories and to be fully aware about the feelings that those memories evoke. Publishing the post felt good as well. Whilst I doubt that it will have forever expelled those memories from my mind, pressing a button and sending it away did feel like I was finally letting some of those feelings go.

I am now feeling a lot more confident about posting and am looking forward to writing more about my personal experiences with mental health and the circumstances that I feel impacted upon it.

 

 

‘New Year, New You’

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape, sexual assault and suicidal thoughts.

Today was my first day back at work following the festive season. I am very fortunate to have a job that I really enjoy and is relevant to my past (and hopefully future) studies. Whilst I was down in England I had my haircut. A very simple action, but one that received a lot of (positive) attention. I am very grateful for the compliments my friends have sent my way but some comments at work got me thinking.

When I walked into the office this morning a number of people called out, ‘New year, new you!’ The New Year actually wasn’t involved in the decision to cut off over a foot of hair. I thought it was a very practical choice as I work as a tour guide in a city that has average wind speeds of almost 13mph. I was getting fed up of having my hair tied up all the time, especially as I am not very good at styling and so it just ends up in a lacklustre ponytail. So I thought a bob was the way to go. Easier to wash, quicker to dry, letting the style do the talking as it were. However, perhaps there was an underlying motivation.

Me Too

It had been over 3 years since I last had my haircut or styled, coinciding with the start of quite a dramatic period in my life. Summer 2014 had been a really fun time for me. I had just finished my second year at university and I was able to travel, working on archaeological excavations and staying with friends living across Europe. I felt very happy and positive.

Then I went back to university.

I entered into a relationship in the middle of the first semester and it took me a long time to realise that a number of aspects of it were unhealthy. During this time my mental health began to decline. I have always suffered with anxiety, I am prone to overthinking, catastrophizing and compulsive hand washing. For the first time, I began to experience stress-induced migraines, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

My confidence was slowly being chipped away by what evolved into, what I truly believe to have been, an abusive relationship. My boyfriend complained about my cooking, so gradually I stopped. He attacked me about my religious beliefs and when we moved into a one bedroom flat, I lost a safe space to pray. I used to have a mole on my back, it never bothered me but my boyfriend would often comment on how ugly it was. It eventually had to be removed for health reasons, and I expected a positive response. But I was left with a scar which I was told was ugly too.

My boyfriend struggled with my anxiety and I was not without fault during this period. I have a very quick temper and unpleasant insults were exchanged on both sides. There were times I caused him to worry because I was out late with work colleagues without my phone. However, one night I had been out with colleagues after work, answered his texts concerning where I was, and looked behind me on my way home to see him following me. I was working a lot during this time and researching for my archaeological dissertation. I was tired as a result and no interested in sex. But my boyfriend would pester me until I would allow him to have sex with me so he would let me go to sleep.

Eventually, I voiced to a colleague what was going on, and that I didn’t want to go home that evening because I knew that I would have to have sex. She asked me why I was staying. It was a wake up call, I finally realised that I didn’t want the relationship to continue. I went home and told him I was leaving. A number of things happened next, including some very manipulative behaviour, culminating in him raping me.

I was lucky. I was scheduled to leave for an archaeological excavation the following day and I was able to pack a bag and walk away.

Unfortunately, although it was the end of that relationship, it was not the end of a year of sexual harassment, assault and suicidal experiences. But this was one of the main purposes of starting this blog, to be able to work through what happened, to gain healing and to talk about it – something that I am very passionate about. I posted on social media as part of the recent #MeToo campaign. It was really emotional, and almost frightening, to speak out about my experiences for the first time. Society needs to change so that those who have experienced any form of sexual misconduct or mistreatment no longer feel afraid, embarrassed or fear that they will not be believed if they speak out. I believe the best way we can support each other in anything is by talking about our experiences and encouraging others to talk about theirs.

2nd January

It’s not ideal to be writing about the 2nd of January on the 7th. Fortunately, the delay provides a demonstration of the proceeding content. One of the biggest challenges of this time of year, in addition to the grey and miserable weather, the dark evenings and the pressure for merriment, is New Year Resolutions.

Resolution…

Who hasn’t had ‘January Syndrome’? Starting with high hopes for the New Year, strong motivations and a real determination for change.  Whatever it is, fitness, budgeting or starting a blog, most people have, at some point, woken up on the 1st of January with the notion of ‘today’s the day’!

Reality…

But then, the obstacles begin to appear. If you’d planned to go for a run, may be it’s raining. You meant to go the gym after work, but it’s been a long day, you had to stay late and now you’re too tired. Maybe some unexpected costs put a spanner in the works for your budget. Regardless of what it is, undoubtedly, reasons, complications or excuses (whatever you choose to call them) will crop up. For me, my husband and I visit my family in the south of England every New Year. A mixture of travelling and catching up with friends and family, resulted in some late nights and unpublished blog posts.

Some years you may well have had success with resolutions, but sometimes the slip ups in diets, exercise regimes or other new projects in the early days of January can make it feel like it’s game over. I have some friends who don’t set resolutions for this very reason. Coupled with the bad weather and darker days, for many, New Year’s Resolutions can add extra pressure and have a huge impact on their health. They feel stressed, anxious or depressed.

Make A Change…

This year is different for me, due to a small fact I learnt about Thomas Edison. I gave my mum’s partner one of those ‘On This Day’ calendars for Christmas, and it announced that on the 2nd of January 1879 Thomas Edison began to construct his first generator.

Something more well-known about Edison is that in December, 1914 his factory burnt down. His friends and family were horrified and shocked by the lack of concern that Edison gave – even telling his son to ”Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again”. In a quote from The New York Times he said, “Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.” This quote has been adopted by business professionals as the desired attitude to have when faced with obstacles, but it can also be cited for personal reassurance. Most of us will slip up, make mistakes, miss days. We are human and we do our best. It is ok to ‘start all over again tomorrow’, as long as we do actually start tomorrow!  

So, despite setting myself the task of writing a blog post every day, missing four days has not sent me into a tail spin of feeling like a failure (and I can assure you that a few months ago it would have).

Interesting Edison recourses I encountered:
http://www.businessinsider.com/thomas-edison-in-the-obstacle-is-the-way-2014-5?IR=T
http://edison.rutgers.edu/digital.htm

 

 

 

New Blogger

I am having a lot of fun! Probably too much fun. You see, I am very much a technophobe. Or technically illiterate. Basically, very uneasy and easily confused by technology. I used to have to write a blog to track progress for an award I achieved at university. I couldn’t work out how to post entries or even how to view the page itself. All I could access was the text box…

Today, I discovered categories!! And tags!!! I’m so excited I’ve used a ridiculous number of exclamation marks and started a sentence with ‘and’. Terrible.

In the past, a few of my friends and relatives have kept blogs to promote businesses, to keep far-flung family members in the loop or to track their travels. I really can’t believe that I have started one myself. What will I write about? Really. I’m not sure I have anything worth sharing. I have no burning thoughts or desires that I think someone else should hear or pay any attention to. But I do have questions. Spiritual, academic and familial. I don’t intend to get deeply personal but as I have mentioned before, this is me talking to myself. Mulling over these questions, writing up my thoughts and letting them go by publishing the post. It’s not very relevant but I am hopeful that it will help me work through some of my anxieties, and if someone else finds it useful too, then that’s wonderful.

New Year

Having posted yesterday about why I like New Year, I feel I should mention that this time of year, including and, perhaps especially, Christmas, can be far from positive for many people.

The pressure to be cheerful and jolly, the economic strain of presents, decorations and catering, and the number of people that can descend on your home can make the festive season very stressful. This can repeat a week later for New Year. Lots of parties and drinking and, again, an almost enforced merriment.

Sometimes personal circumstances, or news from around the world, can make this a very difficult and trying time of year. Where trauma, of any kind, has been experienced, it can often be remembered at certain times of the year, especially when people are gathering together with high expectations. Others, unfortunately, may find themselves alone.

First Blog Post

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Today is my birthday. Being a New Year Baby has always added an extra dollop of resolve to New Year’s Resolutions and I had been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a while, so today seems the perfect time to start.

Blogging can have benefits for those like myself who have periods of mental ill-health. It provides a space for reflection, although if like myself you have severe anxiety, setting it up in the first place can be a very daunting prospect. But pushing through the mental barrier feels very liberating – another small victory.

Mental health and wellbeing most certainly should be talked about. Casually. Professionally. Comfortably. In whichever way and in whatever setting suits you. But this blog isn’t just going to be about mental health, although the subject is very important to me. This is me talking things through with myself. Mainly, things that worry me and the actions I am personally taking to combat these worries or deal with the causal circumstances. I am a storyteller, I love talking and sharing experiences which is probably how I wound up becoming a blogger.

I am an archaeologist, a history graduate, a Christian and wife.  About to embark on a journey into parenthood, my posts are likely to range from family life and spiritual questioning, to topics of interest. It’s not just history and archaeology that interest me. I am politically active, passionate about the environment and exploring a zero-waste life-style and veganism.

I am in the process of writing a book. I am not sure how successful this challenging project will be, whether it will even be completed. Thus, in addition to encouraging me to reflect, starting a blog is an exercise to flex my long-forgotten writing muscles. I hope you enjoy my ramblings and, at the very least, gain some amusement from them.