Emma’s Story

A few years ago if someone told me I would loose 2 years of my life due to severe depression and anxiety, be admitted 3 times into a psychiatric hospital and survive an overdose, I would have said ‘no way, not me, that doesn’t happen to people like me’ – I was well brought up, well educated and lived a comfortable life, settled in a job I loved, living with my best friend – with nothing unusual to complain about.  How wrong could I be?

I had been working in fashion for 10 years.  After many ups and downs I was finally in a job l loved.  I had moved out of home and living with my best friend.   My social life was going well – though this was an area I always have struggled with. Things seemed better than ever.

I then got a new boss and my world was turned upside down as she picked apart everything I did.

I had always had low self-esteem and harshly judged myself but she just enhanced those feelings, making me feel more useless than ever.

I’d never been a crier and would never dream to cry at work, but as things went from bad to worse I could not contain it. I would dread everyday.  I would cry and shake all the way down the never-ending escalator down at Islington.  On the tube I would not be able to breath, and on the walk to the office from the tube station my stomach would fill with dread. This was all before I even arrived at work.  At work I would find myself crying in the stationery cupboard, bathroom or anywhere where no-one would know, but as time went on I didn’t care who saw me it had got that bad

This was the start of what became a huge breakdown.

After 6 months of trying so hard I faced the heartbreaking decision that I had no choice but to hand in my notice. It was not until a year into my breakdown treatment that I realized I had been suffering from severe anxiety.

Leaving the company and ‘family’ I loved was the hardest part to.  But that time came, and on my last day I must have cried a river.  At the same time of feeling all this upset I also felt the biggest relief – things were finally going to get better.  Or were they.

Two months of job hunting took its toll.  My confidence was sinking drastically with rejection after rejection. When it got to the point of me not being able to leave the flat I knew I had to get some help.

It was here I started seeing my first therapist.  This was my first experience of therapy (aside from a brief support when I lost my grandparents years ago), I did not know what to expect and the mere thought of it was extremely daunting.  I found it increasingly difficult to open up to her about what had been happening and past experiences – this had always been a problem anyway, even with my closest friends.  She tried to do various mindfulness exercises to relax me, but in fact they ended up doing the opposite.  I was too ill to be able to handle these.  This is where I started scratching.  Not just gentle scratching, but scratching one point until it bled.  This was a physical sign of anxiety, and my first experience of self harm. I realized that my anxiety soared before seeing her that I knew she was wrong for me but I did not know what to do, or how to change things, confidence in myself was at rock bottom.

Then out of nowhere I had my first very severe panic attack.  Suddenly I could not breath and started to hyperventilate.  My flat mate did not know what to do.  My mum and dad would take half an hour to get to me and I was turning blue.  This is when the ambulance came.  They managed to regulate my breathing and when I came round they told me that mine was the 8th panic attack they had treated just that evening. (this shows how many people suffer in silence).  My mum came to the flat and it was decided that I should go back with her for the night.

I did not know this was to be the last night in my lovely flat with my best friend.

The next day my mum forced me to see my GP, as it was obvious something had to be done.  He referred me to a Psychiatrist (without who, I would probably not be sitting here writing this).  He referred me to a new therapist and he put me on some new drugs.

My new therapist was wonderful.  I felt a slight bit of progress.  The one thing I had an issue with was she was telling me to do nothing and think of nothing, to take it easy and listen to my body.  I remember saying to my mum, ”how do I do and think of nothing?”  This was something totally alien to me as I had always been quite a driven person, raring to go.  As a result and to compensate for this and to give myself something to aim I decided to enter a half marathon. I had 10 months to prepare, and of course I would be ‘better’ by then.

During this period I met up with a very old friend and discussed what was going on with me. She told me her brother had gone through similar and he spent time in a psychiatric hospital.  At this moment it dawned on me that plenty of people ‘like me’ go through this and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

The next day I was admitted into hospital.

I am not going to lie.  Arriving at the hospital for the first time was scary.  I had no idea what to expect, the sort of patients I would be in with or what was going to happen.  Even though I knew there was a huge problem somehow it still did not seem to be big enough for me to be in a hospital, it all felt very surreal.

As it turned out a majority of my fellow patients were just like me.  Admittedly we all had very different backgrounds and triggers but overall there was none of the ‘scariness’’ I had been expecting (which of course was fuelled by stereotypes which we are fed to believe are true).

The structure of my time in hospital had the same components every day.  First thing was an educational lecture.  Then we had group CBT.  Followed by lunch. Then, a group session of IPT.  Last thing in the day was for relaxation, things like mindfulness and yoga.  One morning a week we also had art therapy, which at the beginning I refused to take part to as it was too close to my design background, but after time I grew to love it and look forward to it each week

Although I learnt a lot in this time and there was significant progress, I was very drugged up as they were playing with meds to try and find what was best for me.  Because I was so drugged up I could no longer do the one thing that made me feel slightly better – running.

Another effect of being on so many meds was that I had a huge appetite for sweet things – especially brownies!!! Whenever anyone visited they would bring me some, of which I would eat them all.  A result of this I put on a tremendous amount of weight, but it all felt out of control.  This also affected my mood and self esteem as I was used to being a size 12 but now was a 16+.  I could only face loosing this weight 18 months later when I was ‘better’.

I was discharged after 8 weeks.  I had a holiday booked and was determined not to miss it…perhaps this was a mistake.

I was doing ok until a few things happened in a row – my friend from hospital committed suicide which obviously effected me deeply – she was a beautiful and talented vet who had so much going for her, she just could not see it.  Along with this I had a few distressing events happening very close to each other.
Despite all this I somehow managed to complete my half marathon – which although I was very proud of there was also a huge come down.  When I entered to do it I thought ‘I will definitely be better by then” but this ended up not true.
I then was deteriorating again so I was readmitted to hospital for another 2 months

I was discharged the week before Christmas which was the best present!!

It was an afternoon in January when it happened.  I was on my own in the flat, anxiety at its highest, depression at its lowest.  All I wanted to do was shut out so I decided to take my tablets to calm me down, then (and I never drink) I had a drink, which lead to more bad decisions and more pills.  I panicked as I was slowly passing out and then luckily called my dad , who came rapidly and with my mum spent 9 hours in a & e and then I was back in to hospital.

A few days in hospital the reality of what had happened hit me hard – it had not been something I wanted to do, all I wanted was to shut out the pain I was living.

This time in hospital was probably the most beneficial to me therapy wise but was made especially hard when people wouldn’t visit me as they didn’t know what to say or didn’t like to be in a hospital (because hey, I really loved being there).  This shock is what I needed.

That was now 1 year ago.  Now I am by no means ‘better’, for me this is going to be something I will have to deal with on an off for the rest of my life.  But I am slowly getting there.  I still have my very up and very down days where the struggle to get through that one day is unreal, but I am slowly remembering the coping strategies I learnt – although I must admit at my very bad moments they are very hard to remember! There are still things that are BIG challenges that I am yet to face but I am hoping to cope with these in the months to come.

Now I refuse to hide my struggles with depression and anxiety. Yes I have scars from my illness, but instead of being ashamed of them I wear them with pride they show I got through the hardest of times.

There is a terrible stigma with all mental health issues and this is something that needs to stop.  It needs to stop being such a taboo subject people tiptoe around talking about.  It needs to be spoken about as openly as a broken leg or cancer, after all at least 1 in 4 people suffer from it at least at one point in their lives.  Opening up about what happened to me was a big turning point for me and my recovery.  But by talking about my story I hope we can, together, reduce this stigma.



Twitter: @balloons_brain

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