If you’d asked me until now if I suffer from anxiety or depression I would have confidently said “no”. Now I’d be forced to give you a different answer.
This isn’t going to be one of those “pour my heart out” blog posts looking for sympathy and affirmation, but I did think it important to share some truths I’ve learned so far on my journey to recovery.
- Admitting you need help is strength, not weakness.
- Putting yourself first isn’t selfish, it’s selfless.
- Balancing life’s challenges with things that nourish your soul is important.
- Physical health can be linked to mental health.
- Feel pleased for those who don’t understand. It means they’re not suffering.
The first step is the hardest. I battled against it for ages, not wanting to be “weak” or to “fail”. I kept reminding myself that other people have it worse, that however bad my day is someone else’s would make mine look like a fairytale. But that doesn’t help you deal with what’s happening to you in your life. That doesn’t help heal you.
I’ve tried lots of things on my own. Mindfulness is wonderful and I would heartily recommend it (see my previous blog post). Walking and being out in nature is also wonderful. I even had CBT a few years ago which, I have no doubt, helped me cope with all the rubbish that was thrown at me in the years immediately following that. But just after my 30th birthday I had my first proper panic attack – at work, in a classroom full of thirteen year olds who, once the excitement had worn off, were frightened.
The attack was so bad that the nurse thought it might be a heart-attack and was almost at the point of calling for an ambulance. I’d had what I’d thought were panic attacks before, but this was on a whole new level. I was terrified and also thinking “What must they all think of me? I need to get back to the children.” This, unsurprisingly, did not help bring my heart rate back to normal.
Two days later, it happened again. Only this time, I was asleep. Utterly utterly terrifying, readers. But this still was not enough to make me accept I needed help.
It took a third attack, when I was on my own in my classroom preparing for the next lesson, to make me realise something had to give.
I made the call.
And that’s when I learned something, readers. The only person standing in the way of myself getting better was me. I was the one fatalising. I was the one convincing myself that I would be judged, or labelled, or struck off. My Dr was wonderful and when I broke down in tears in her surgery she just cuddled me and told me it was going to be OK. She was going to help. She wouldn’t leave me. She’d see me on a regular basis and she’d help me get better. She didn’t judge, or tell me not to be silly. She did something I couldn’t do for myself: show kindness to me.
My second truth was the realisation that putting myself first and saying “no” isn’t being selfish. My Dr wanted to sign me off work and I refused initially, the way I’ve always refused. I can’t. I can’t let the children down. My team are struggling under the same burdens all teachers are; I can’t be weak. I can’t be off. I’d battle on. And that “selflessness” was actually incredibly selfish. You know why? Because I’m not my best and when I’m not my best my children don’t get the best out of me as their teacher. My husband doesn’t get my best out of me as his wife and best friend. My friends don’t get the best out of me. Time to be selfless. I’ve battled on to the point where I am quite literally breaking down. Time to stop. Time to listen to my body that has been desperately trying to warn me with psoriasis, hair-loss, tension headaches, disrupted sleep, nightmares where I’d dream a whole day and then have to get up and do that day, IBS, palpitations, tremors and now panic attacks.
Time to put myself first.
My third realisation is that doing things you want, like knitting for an hour, instead of doing a chore is not a bad thing. If you worked and did chores all the time you’d be run down and miserable. Then you’d perform worse during your chores and work hours. Your mood would bring down everyone around you. Don’t trust me? If you could ask my students they’d tell you immediately if I was in a bad mood. I wouldn’t be any different towards them but they could tell and the whole classroom atmosphere changes. Children are like dogs – they have a sixth sense for these things.
The fourth realisation is more a suggestion at the moment. A dear friend of mine has said that exercise and healthy eating helps her to feel better when she’s having a dog day. It makes sense so I’m going to give it a go and see if that can help me. I’ve made a start by not using my phone last thing at night, and reading before I go to sleep. I’m sleeping for more regular amount of time (or trying to – the cat brought in three frogs two nights ago – THREE!). I’m drinking more water and eating three balanced meals a day. I’m also Vitamin D deficient so am trying to get out into the garden for at least half an hour a day. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Finally, don’t feel obliged to share your struggles with anyone. If you’re signed off work then that’s your business and confidentiality means you don’t have to tell your boss the reason, just give a Dr’s note. Don’t be worried about labels and try not to resent people who don’t understand. Be pleased for them that they don’t go through what you’re going through, and look forward to when you can rejoin them in the sunshine.