Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Walking the Walk

Some of you out there know I'm a supporter of Beyond Blue.  I did some fund raising for them during my first marathon; we also requested donations in lieu of gifts when we got married in 2009 in honour of Plumbing Boy's brother & another close friend of ours - both of whom took their own lives.

It's taken me a while to decide to write this post but as I am a firm believer that you must walk the walk if you talk the talk; and that is, if I want to help remove the stigma surrounding mental health in our society, & encourage others to seek help when they need to, then I need to talk about my own mental health.

Mid 2014 I was diagnosed with anxiety & my GP placed me on mild anti depressants.  I also sought counselling on referral from same GP from a psychologist. BTW - Medicare offer rebates for some mental health services - info here.

The most difficult part (after going to the GP) was going to that first session.  I procrastinated for some time & walking in the door of the clinic took every ounce of my courage.  I'm embarrassed to say that the fear of what if someone sees my car in the car park & what will they think entered my mind (I was worried about co-workers more than anyone).  That is such a terrible reason not to seek help, but it also shows how far society (or is that just me) has to go in beating the stigma.  Walk the bloody walk.

I was lucky & I felt comfortable with my psychologist from the beginning.  That's not to say I spilled everything in the first session: trust was built over time.  Not everyone has a good first (or second) experience & my understanding is that sometimes you need to try a few counsellors or psychologists to find a good fit.

The first thing she explained to me was that our sessions were a non judgemental, safe place for me to explore my thoughts & feelings.  That her only job was to support me & help me work through them.  There was no right or wrong so long as I wasn't thinking about or doing anything illegal (or planning to harm myself or others). This was a confidential space where I could be myself.

How did I come to be in this state in the first place you may ask.  Nothing in particular happened to me.  I'm just an ordinary office worker.  The anxiety crept up slowly, & I did see it coming.  I think I had my first mild panic attack in 2006.  Having friends with depression & anxiety who are prepared to speak in detail about their experiences, I had a fair understanding of what was happening to me.  It took a while & the encouragement of a friend who is a nurse for me to take that first step though.

There were certain aspects of my life & relationships I wasn't happy with & I'd been struggling with some of these feelings since my teenage years & early 20's.  Previously I'd been able to lock them in a box & not think about them but over time I guess they started to seep out & eventually like the Boggarts out of Harry Potter I became less in control of them & more & more paralysed by fear of them: fear of failure, fear of not measuring up to a standard I'd set for myself & that I felt society had set for me.  I needed help to get rid of them so to speak, or, to stuff them back into the box & get the lid firmly back on (I chose the first option).  You can call it a midlife crisis if you please.

You don't really get rid of feelings, but you can modify how you feel about them & approach them differently.  One of the things I found invaluable in the counselling sessions was the perspective I gained on not only my behaviour but the behaviour of those around me.  

I'm not going to go into details about who & what here, but I can see that in an anxious state your reality from the inside is completely different from someone else's reality looking in from the outside.  Something to bear in mind if you have to deal with someone in an anxious state: you simply do not both see the same situation in the same way at all.

I came off the medication after 6 months & continued with the 12 months worth of sessions doing all my home work - yes, there is that - & began to tell a few close friends.  Plumbing Boy was really good & in some aspects part of the problem (but by no means the only) but committed to being part of the solution.  

The first 3/4's of 2015 was also difficult & I revealed what had been happing to me to my parents early that year.  I didn't need to go back onto medication nor get a referral for another 12 months of counselling although have been considering it lately (to help me deal with our new living arrangements & especially with the changes Alzheimers is bringing & will continue to bring).  

I continued to put into practice what I'd learned in counselling & continue to do so now.  I've been feeling more like my old self this year.  More at ease.  I still have to remind myself sometimes that storm clouds pass & that it is OK to sit with uncomfortable feelings for a while.  If you go back & read this post about a ring it will probably make a whole lot more sense now.  

The point of this post I suppose is to remind you that nobody is exempt from life pressures.  1 in 5 adults are affected by mental health problems every year & nearly 45% of the population are affected at some stage in their lives - read more here. It doesn't matter what the pressure is, whether you think it worthy or not: if it is affecting you emotionally or psychologically, there is help available to you, you are not alone.  Talk to your GP, talk to a friend, talk to a stranger in an organisation like Beyond Blue, or Sane.  But you must speak up - it will take courage, but you can & must do it.


C said...

I applaud you for the hard work you have done to work toward getting better and for sharing with us.

I totally agree with you that we must 'walk the walk' when it comes to talking about mental health. I had a situation with it at work and had planned to make up a fake reason about leaving for a doctors appointment, but decided that there is no shame in being honest about a mental health struggle. More people understand than we realise.

Love your work Cat.


AlleyCat said...

Thank you very much lovely - your support means more than you know.

Well done to you also for your bravery at work - that is the whole point isn't it of walking the walk - to remove the shame & stigma around an illness as more common that many in society let on. xoxo

Char said...

I've had to deal with mental health issues for many, many years. My husband suffers from depression and was on medication for well over a decade. He'd had it since his teenage years but only sought help in his late 40s. My middle son has had severe depression and anxiety and has tried to commit suicide a couple of times. He's still on medication and is in a really good place now. When he was really bad I had terrible anxiety and ended up seeing a psychologist. Best thing I've ever done. He helped me deal with the crap that I was having to deal with plus stuff from when I was a kid.

There is no shame in having mental health problems. There is help out there and it can make the world of difference.

AlleyCat said...

Thanks for sharing Char - that's certainly been a tough gig. Glad your son is in a good place now & that you sought help too - it really does make the world of difference!!!

Carol said...

My hubby's best mate from his younger years committed suicide, we shall never know why and wonder if there was anything that could have been said to have steered him onto a different path. I also see so many from work PTSD. I think a lot of the stigma is because it's the mind. You can't see that someone is a bit (or a lot) broken, you don't see a bandaid, or a splint or anything that. So brave of you to share like this. And that my friend makes you an awesme individual, because someone will read your words and it will help them. XX

AlleyCat said...

Thank you Carol - that was the idea - if I can help 1 person by sharing & make a difference to them (& in turn hopefully their families also) then I will be happy!!

Blue Grumpster said...

Society's standards... Don't even go there, my friend. It's too depressing a place.

But I agree: "In an anxious state your reality from the inside is completely different from someone else's reality looking in from the outside." That's as true as gold.

AlleyCat said...

Thanks Blue. I didn't understand that until it happened to me (inside v outside).