This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a very important week in my opinion as I believe far far more people need an understanding of mental health issues and how they affect people.
The problem with mental health is that other people can't, for the most part, see you suffering and because people present themselves as appearing physically well, others assume you are fine. But inside you're in knots.
This year, Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on anxiety, something I know quite a lot about. Many people can say they've felt anxious over something, maybe exams or meeting people, and they'll have no lasting effects. However, for those suffering with chronic anxiety, the situation is much different. Anxiety is a deep sense of worry, a perceived fear, without there being a definite cause or outcome, ranging from phobias to panic attacks. Symptoms differ from person to person but can include breathlessness, heart palpitations, tight muscles, insomnia and dizziness. Anxiety can lead to lack of confidence and self-esteem, crying, feeling irritable and depressed.
My first memory of a panic attack was with an ex-boyfriend in my early 20s: I can't remember exactly why but I remember exactly where I was which was in the car on the way home. I remember not being able to breathe properly and the feeling lasted a few minutes. My second memory of anxiety, which continued for many years, was sitting on my sofa about 2pm watching TV when I noticed my heart beating rapidly. It felt like it was going to burst through my chest. This coincided with my marriage starting to breakdown. For the following five or so years, I would wake every single morning in a state of anxiety with my heart beating rapidly and feeling breathless. Lots was going on in my life at that time; work stress, divorce, relationship stress (see a pattern? LOL). However, in this five year period I did go backpacking around the world alone, a big deal for someone with little confidence, but I loved it and it was a wonderful healing experience for me because no-one I met knew me and couldn't judge me. Back home, I turned to homeopathy, my confidence grew, I started running, met Daddy and life took a massive positive turn.
My second panic attack, about 10 years ago, was triggered by my tinnitus which I've suffered from for many years. If, when I'm in bed, when all is quiet and I focus too much on my tinnitus, I can feel the panic rising. It's a feeling of being trapped within these sounds for the rest of my life. Luckily I fall asleep quickly so I don't have to lie there too long listening.
So, for a while I enjoyed a good period of my life without too much anxiety - apart from moving house four and a half years ago - but then we decided to adopt.
Soon after Missy came I home I had the biggest Panic Attack I've ever had. I honestly felt I was going to die, it was horrible. Since then I've had a smaller panic attack and seem to have returned to that state of constant anxiety; heart pounding, unable to settle, lack of concentration, lack of self -esteem, digestive problems. Sometimes it's hard to explain how I feel and all I can say is that I feel 'unsettled' and 'all a bit of a to-do'. I'm not exactly sure what triggers it now because on the whole Missy's behaviour is fine and we can generally manage her and ourselves when she is in meltdown mode. It may be financial stress - I'm not earning but I'm not confident enough to return to my self-employment and I can't find a 9 to 5 job as Missy needs me here before and after school. It may be loneliness perhaps - apart from the school run (which itself I hate), I don't see many friends each week - this is where Twitter and my adopter friends there have been a lifeline. I am seeing some fellow adopters each week and really look forward to seeing them all - talking things through, sharing feelings and being supported is a huge step against anxiety.
I've had some good periods, particularly when I concentrate on doing meditation and mindfullness and my new found love for my vegetable plot is really helping. I'm not a fan of anti-depressants but do find homeopathy and, currently, St Johns Wort are helping take the edge of things. I really miss running which helped get back on track nine years ago and really need to get my back sorted before I can start again. I have started to go for long walks during the day which I'm really enjoying. I've returned to healthier eating - too much sugar was bad for my system, plus I put on a stone in weight which in turn meant I couldn't fit into many clothes and my self-confidence took a dive.
Even whilst writing this blog, I can feel my anxiety levels rising. So once I've finished I shall have a warm drink and then do some meditation before I hit my to-do list.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 4 people suffer from chronic anxiety. Chances are you probably won't even realise that one of your friends, family or colleagues are suffering. But if you find out they are, please give them as much support as you can. It's so important that mental health issues are taken very seriously and sufferers don't feel like they have to live with the stigma of a mental health disorder.