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Mental Health Awareness Week – let’s get talking

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As it is Mental Health Awareness Week I thought it would be rather fitting to explore my own relationship with mental health issues. I have been affected (if that’s not too strong a term) by mental illness all my life as my mum was prone to what she called “breakdowns” which coincided with whenever something changed in my life. She has always suffered terribly with anxiety right from birth. Her mother took her as a newborn back to the hospital because she howled every time she was put down and could never be left; she was inconsolable. She grew up into a sensitive, worried child and recalls feeling “really down” at 16 and was anorexic in her early 20s. When my brother and I came along she sometimes put us in our cots in case she suddenly died. This didn’t happen often and it sounds so extreme when written down but I remember her often crying and taking naps. Besides this, I had a wonderful childhood and didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary! (And kids are fairly unobservant of their parents I’ve found…) It was when I was leaving to go to university that I selfishly put my foot down and demanded that mum see a psychiatrist. I couldn’t see how she was going to cope with both my older brother and then me being away from home with dad working such long hours. The GP reluctantly agreed and mum had a consultation.

I remember the first thing he asked was about her medication which he virtually threw out of the window declaring it antiquated and what the hell was she doing on those things for 20 years? He prescribed her a new anti-depressant and within just a few weeks a whole new person emerged. The fun-loving mum that all my friends know today started standing up for herself, bought a whole new wardrobe that wasn’t just the same boring skirt in every colour(!) and started not just surviving each day but living it. One remarkable difference was that her driving skills suddenly improved! She was alert and focussed and took an interest in the world around her – even if this included reading trashy tabloid papers and their tragic stories. She is still obsessed with medical programmes like 24 hrs in A&E!

Personally, I never understood why mum couldn’t just snap out of these depressing episodes. I had always been of the Happy Thoughts=Happy Feelings camp (a cognitive therapist’s dream). But for about 12-18 months after 3 of my 4 children I hit lows that I didn’t think should be possible when given the joy of new life. I was incredibly angry and resentful of others. I stuck on my happy face but underneath I was cross with the smallest error of others. I’d never really felt anger before and the emotion was very strong and at times over-whelming.

I started walking with a close friend, initially to try and lose weight and get fit after No.4. We have walked and talked away hours and hours over the past couple of years and it has done wonders for my mental and physical state. It has allowed me to open up about so much and to talk knowing that whatever left my mouth would not be judged which gave me strength to process emotions – fears, troubles, angers, bitterness… – and opened my eyes to how much nearly everyone I know is affected by difficult issues. (My friend is obviously a saint and I don’t understand why she’s moved away…!!!!) I could write about these issues for days!

The walking and talking left me lighter in mind, body and soul (and wasn’t always deep & depressing – there were plenty of laughs along the way!) and I would heartily recommend it to absolutely everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin with our approach to our mental health. I started years ago whilst at music college when I suffered from stage-fright – a debilitating fear that is hopeless for a wannabe performer! Someone suggested I wrote my worries down and, just like my blogs, once I started I couldn’t stop. I still have my “worry book”. It’s a great tool for letting it all out and re-reading at a later date with a cooler head. Sometimes problems seem so large at the time and on other days you can clearly see the path to take.

From what I have learnt, the majority of people, even little children, go through tough times and need support and that the most important thing is to be understanding. We may not have the answers but just knowing that it’s ok to feel the way we do and to not be judged helps to start the healing process.

So #gettalking

And #justask

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