My story begins when I was around 8 years old, I’d been ill with nausea and vomiting. I’d never knowingly been sick before. I remember feeling frightened. I remember feeling a total lack of control over my body.
Over the following weeks and months I can remember becoming obsessed with making sure I wasn’t sick again. The ‘incident’ was at the very forefront of my mind on a daily basis, so much so I restricted my diet. Big time.
I began to only eat foods I deemed as ‘safe’. By this I mean foods I had convinced myself wouldn’t be able to make me sick.
Of course, my Mum grew concerned and took me to the Doctors. The Doctor soon realised this was something more than a childhood fad and referred me to a child psychologist.
By now I was very thin, the psychologist, and I can remember him saying this, told my parents that I would have to begin eating properly, otherwise I would have to be admitted to hospital. I was really quite underweight.
Although my memory of this time is slightly hazy I know I began to get better. Slowly. I was diagnosed with OCD and although my diet was still somewhat restricted, it was nothing like it had been; prior to seeing a psychologist.
Things continued to be ‘normal’ throughout the rest of my childhood and into my early teens, I’d always been a worrier and certainly a hypochondriac, but nothing as dramatic as when I was younger.
Aged 17 I had what I refer to as a relapse. I was anxious often accompanied by a low mood and again my diet was restricted. I’d tried to take anti-depressants but had a very bad reaction. In December 2003 I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for young people as a day patient.
I hated every second of it, I can even remember by best friend coming to rescue me from there once! After the first couple of days I told my Mum I wasn’t returning. That was it.
I remember my Mum talking to the hospital and them trying to encourage her to get me to return. I promised I would return after Christmas 2003 and I did. But only for one day when I realised I simply couldn’t step foot in there again. It wasn’t for me.
Gradually, I got better throughout 2004. I often wonder if the fact that I lost my Grandad (whom I was very close to) at the age of 16 the loss had an impact on my mental health.
I’d also gone through a stressful relationship at the time and was unable to secure a steady job.
As things began to improve throughout the year with me landing my first proper full time job and ending the relationship; my mental health improved. My phobia of being sick was still there but not as prevalent or life controlling.
Fast forward a few years, and although I still had elements of OCD; checking behaviours, avoidance etc. I felt I was able to manage my condition to the best of my ability.
Aged 26 I fell pregnant with my son, throughout my pregnancy aside from some slightly anxious moments mentally I was fine. For medical reasons I elected for a C-Section and because a lot of preparation went into organising the deliver, I think this served as a distraction from any concerns I had for my mental health.
Things soon changed once I’d given birth however. My son arrived 1 week ahead of the scheduled operation. The delivery was traumatic which instantly had an effect on my mental health. Never in my life have I felt as anxious as I felt for the first few weeks I became a mother.
I visited the GP a week or 2 post-partum and explained some of my thoughts and feelings. This alarmed him slightly and so he called for a member of the Mental Health Crisis team to visit me at home. At the time I didn’t really understand the significance of the crisis team visiting me, however, a couple of years on I now understand.
I was told I was suffering from extreme anxiety, which would get better in time and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) would be the best form of treatment for me.
Looking back, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for CBT. When I would visit my therapist I was so anxious and consumed with intrusive thoughts I would spend our sessions asking him for reassurance. I wasn’t using his time or resources effectively, I now know I was feeding into my anxiety. I was giving weight to my OCD.
As the first year of being a Mum progressed, I would find myself experiencing highs and lows, some days I would feel fine, other days were a real struggle.
I began a part time job when my son was 10 months old, I was also in the midst of planning his first Birthday party which would be followed quite closely by Christmas.
I could tell I was heading for a burn out, however, I was determined to get through December as best I could.
And then the New Year came and I’d had enough. I simply couldn’t get out of bed. As sad as it sounds, I’d given up caring, I was so exhausted with the thoughts that would encircle my mind on a daily basis.
It was at this point I knew I needed serious help.
I remembered I had a prescription for anti-depressant/anxiety drugs, I was given a couple of months previous by my GP. Because I’d had a bad experience with SSRI’s when I was a teenager, I was too scared to take them but now I had nothing to lose. Things couldn’t get any worse.
With all this in mind, I took a week off of work, my Mum and my partner helped me out with the care of my son and I took the time I needed to take to allow myself to get better. I let the side effects come and go (which they did and they weren’t as bad as I’d anticipated) and I gradually began to feel my worries lift. That all-consuming feeling of anxiety was beginning to wane. It felt incredible. I’d always been under the illusion I would be the one person who would be unable to be treated. I wouldn’t respond to it.
This was far from the case.
I was lucky enough to have a fantastic GP at this time, someone who fully understood what I was going through and made it her business to ensure I received the correct support.
A few weeks into taking the medication I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This diagnosis made perfect sense. I felt relieved that the way I was feeling finally had a name. I knew I had OCD but I’d always been certain there was more to it than that. I now had it confirmed.
From February 2015 I began to see the most wonderful therapist. When I say she changed my life, I mean it. It’s no exaggeration. She taught me techniques that have become invaluable with managing my anxiety, my intrusive thoughts and the sometimes exhausting elements of OCD. I will be forever grateful.
Of course, the medication has helped hugely, I’m so glad I took the plunge and decided to begin my course of tablets. However, the lessons I have learnt from my therapist have stood me in great stead for the future.
I no longer dread situations like I previously would have.
’m not saying I’m cured, but in comparison to how I was a little over a year or 2 ago, the progress I’ve made is unprecedented.
These days I feel like a different person. I love my life and I love how far I’ve come.
As a result of my experience with mental illness and the importance of discussing mental health, I consider myself to be a huge advocate of raising awareness.
Talking about our mental health is paramount in ensuring any potential stigmas are broken down. Suffering from a mental illness does not make you a weak person, it doesn’t define you.
To anyone who is concerned with how they feel I would implore you to seek help. Talk to a friend or loved one, see your Doctor. I am living proof of the fact that there is help out there.
You can and you will get better.
A mother of one from the UK, I enjoy nothing more than putting finger to keypad and writing. I hope my experiences with mental illness can help and encourage others to seek help.
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