Although I’ve tweeted about my mental health, this is the first time I’ve written directly down anything more than 140 characters about it. Given it’s mental health awareness week, I thought it was a good time to speak more openly about my experience.
For those not aware, I am a sufferer of chronic anxiety. I don’t know when I first experienced it – I remember in primary school not feeling comfortable talking at huge lengths in class throughout much of my early school years. I remember being an outgoing child, but then remember entering my shell again as I started secondary school.
At high school I remember having Sunday night anxieties about starting a new week, I remember stressing about what people made of me in my teenage years. But doesn’t everyone go through it?
I don’t think I ever became of mental health impacting me until I was around 13 when I was diagnosed with a severe bout of glandular fever. After several months out of school my mental and physical health went downhill. I never recovered from the illness.
After many trips to see GPs over a number of years, and being passed from doctor to doctor I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E) likely to have been caused by the illness. A diminished mental health was one of the symptoms, along with considerably exhaustion and tiredness.
Throughout my university years I thought I’d dealt with the physical well, but the mental aspect was not so good. I lived with family, and commuted to university. It got to the point where it was touch and go whether I’d make a bus every morning, because I’d spent twenty minutes each morning trying to convince myself I could get on the bus. I’d pace around town at 7am worrying if I could stay seated for a 90 minute journey, and then I’d spend the rest of the time feeling anxious I wouldn’t make it to campus in time.
I went to see a GP to seek advice – their explanation was it was anxiety, but other than identifying this was the reason, they had nothing further to advise. A mental health condition was not something my family talked open about, and it was not something their generation experienced, so little was said about it.
At the time I was trying driving lessons, but lessons soon fell by the way side with every trauma involved in driving. Anything I can’t succeed at I drop or try to avoid. I wouldn’t try driving again for another 12 years.
I managed to persevere through the first year of university, but in my second and third year I encountered more problems. I couldn’t sit in a seminar without encountering the symptoms of vertigo – dizziness, blurred vision, and generally unwell.
I remember one night feeling so unwell about going out on a student night out that I wore sunglasses while traveling to try to ease the problems with my vision, only to abandon the journey because it clearly hadn’t helped.
When I saw another GP they gave me vertigo tablets. Tablets which, as you can imagine, had little impact. It was another experience where the practitioners only had answers for physical health problems, not mental health.
My friends would often ask why I’d not made it out, but at the time I had no idea why. I was a mess, I couldn’t really put into words why I couldn’t make the journey. It wasn’t a topic that was an active conversation in society, so I never registered this was responsible, nor felt they would want the full details if they asked.
After graduation came work. I settled into work better than expected, but with commuting I suffered the same issues as before. Getting the bus was draining, not helped by the fact they were consistently late. When you spend considerable time psyching yourself to get on a bus you don’t want to find them late or overcrowded. I remember people remarking on my tweets to bus companies, some baffled by the reaction I’d be giving. But it seriously impacted my health.
It wasn’t until I eventually moved to Norwich and could walk to work that things started to improve. Even then, travelling back to see family or going elsewhere via public transport could lead to an attack.
The illness is not just limited to public transport either. It creeps up everywhere and anywhere. Whether it’s answering an unexpected phone calls, walking into a busy social setting on a night out, going swimming, receiving a negative tweet, even having a date night with someone close to you.
Of course life has not been doom and gloom, in the years I’ve been set back by mental health I’ve appeared on Radio 1 a number of times, given speeches at rallies, presented at some big conferences including Facebook headquarters, given television and radio interviews with major broadcasters, had some successful relationships, and much more.
But it’s only in the last two or three years I have come to terms with my anxiety and mental health troubles. It shows the value of people having conversations about it and opening up. Until I heard outgoing people – much more confident than me – speaking about it in interviews on the radio and television I don’t think I’d ever reflected on my own experience.
Social media – although troublesome in many ways for mental health – has allowed to me touch upon it in my day-to-day life. Moving to Norwich meant a new surgery and a new GP where I could have more open conversations about it.
I tried a number of anti-depressants to help me, before moving off the tablets to try a new lifestyle when I started to feel more confident.
Being able to have a conversation about it – even writing this blog – helped significantly and allows me to develop who I am.
In the same time period I started to learn to drive again. I went from being a nervous wreck at the wheel to driving down dual carriage ways to passing my test and buying a car. It meant less reliance on public transport.
My anxiety is nowhere near where I want it to be overall, but I feel I am starting to grow once more as a person, and I feel I am getting closer to the person I want to be.
I wanted to use this blog to document my journey so far, but I also wanted to emphasise the importance of having a conversation about mental health – even a tweet.
The more “normal” it feels, the less stressful the experience becomes, and the easier it is to do things to tackle it.