From vulnerable to curious; my journey

| , | By Claire Whiteside
From vulnerable to curious; my journey
I was desperately unhappy in my job. It was stressful, I worked long hours and wasn’t supported by my boss, despite my frequent requests for help.  I didn’t feel as though I had the confidence or strength to make any changes; I simply accepted that this was the way it was always going to be. In addition to this, my Mum became ill and rightly or wrongly, I felt obliged to take care of her - my own needs no longer mattered.
 
I became very withdrawn. I stopped doing things I enjoyed. I’d make excuses not to see friends, or go out with my husband. I lost concentration very easily and was very snappy. I felt angry and frustrated all the time, but couldn’t identify what it was that made me feel this way.
 
It all came to a head on a normal Monday morning.  I got up, showered and dressed and went to open the front door to leave for work.  Only I couldn’t open the door; I was rooted to the spot and was filled with overwhelming feelings of terror and dread.  I started to scream and thrash about.  I remember yelling “I can’t do this anymore!  I can’t do it!”.  I was hysterical and inconsolable.  We managed to get an emergency appointment with the doctor and as it turned out, a doctor with an active interest in mental health.  He diagnosed me with clinical depression and acute anxiety and deemed me unfit for work.  The temporary relief I felt was soon overshadowed by the labels of my diagnosis; I wasn’t depressed, how could I be depressed? I was a busy, bubbly, outgoing, strong willed, stubborn woman.  I didn’t have time to be depressed. 
 
As a recommendation from my doctor I contacted the Wellbeing Service via email - I didn’t feel confident enough to use the telephone.  After my initial assessment, I began guided self help, which involved me working through CBT based exercise sheets and liaising with a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) once a week via the telephone.  I didn’t find this effective; I felt that too much time was spent filling in my PHQ9 and GAD7 scores, and not enough time helping my problems.  I grew frustrated and declared CBT was not for me.  I was then referred for some one to one sessions with a PWP.  I maintained the belief CBT was not for me, and felt like I was going round in circles, so I discharged myself from the service.
 
I had declined antidepressants during all my follow up doctor appointments; I was adamant I wasn’t ever going to use them.  I tried lots of alternative therapies, like Reiki, Reflexology, St John’s Wort and Bach’s Rescue Remedies.  I relied heavily on my husband and Mum to take me to appointments and assessments, and developed safety behaviours to help me cope day to day.  I avoided things and situations where I didn’t feel in control and became more and more isolated.  My sleep pattern was really erratic; I barely slept at night and would lie awake until 3 or 4 am.  My mind was whirring the whole time, filling my thoughts with “What if …?” scenarios and it was exhausting.  I felt worthless, useless and didn’t know who I was anymore; I’d lost my identity and felt I had no purpose, so what difference would it make if I didn’t wake up in the morning? Would anyone really miss me?
 
When I told my husband this, he was absolutely mortified.  For the first time, I could see that my illness wasn’t just effecting me; my poor husband, Mum and close friends were all going through this with me.  After 9 months of fighting and denial, I finally accepted that I was indeed depressed and that I did need help.  I decided to try antidepressants.  I also accepted that although the medication would be a tool to help me, I was the only one who could make myself well again - I had to take responsibility for my own recovery.  So, I contacted the Wellbeing Service again, pushed myself to attend a taster session, and signed up to attend the “Facing your Fears” workshop.  I was so scared, but made myself go to the group.  I liked that it was relaxed, full of like minded people.  It was a safe environment and I felt valued.  So much so, I attended more workshops, gained some confidence by talking to the staff and other group members and began to use the tools and techniques I’d learned in my day to day life.
 
Now, I have new, more effective coping mechanisms in place.  I am better at verbally communicating how I’m feeling and keep a journal to help record and process events.  I find this really helpful as it’s a safe platform to vent and I can be completely honest.  I’m also more aware of how many tasks I can cope with and try hard not to cram too many things into one day; I need time for me, to do the things I enjoy.
 
I’ve learnt that it’s OK to say “No” to people, and no longer feel obliged to justify my choices and decisions.  I’m setting the foundations for the best version of me that I want to be, not what others expect me to be.  I get to chose what I like, who I see and within reason, what to do.   I feel scared, excited and curious by this - what’s next for me?
   

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