Mental health, that subject that we’re attempting to stop being a taboo subject but, in my opinion, risking it becoming trendy. Yes, we’re much more aware of the issues but it almost seems that having a mental health issue is something to be desired. Let me tell you, from my experience, that’s not the case.
I’ve suffered with mental health issues for the best part of 10 years, on and off. What started as taking a mild antidepressant as a muscle relaxant for an ongoing headache that just wouldn’t shift, started to unravel the cause behind the headache. Depression. At the age of 17, in my final year of Sixth Form, I was faced with feelings I hadn’t known before, I struggled to enjoy life, I was constantly teary and, to be honest, I was embarrassed about it. I went to a counselling session which was less than empowering and left feeling like I had had no reason to attend.
The few years that followed, I went through cycles of recovery and then would find myself back tracking, feeling teary again, agitated, struggling with life. This continued for about four years. I suffered from panic attacks when I was driving. I couldn’t control my emotions and I hated that. There would be periods of time that would require me to take antidepressants. I don’t quite know what happened but at around the age of 22, I started to self-manage my mental health. Maybe it was my frequent exercise routine, a better diet or because I had more knowledge of what triggered the feelings I had and I could manage them more successfully. There was no more medication. Yes, I still had days when I felt down or sad, but they weren’t as clustered, I could enjoy life more. Occasionally I would suffer from bouts of insomnia but I could handle it, I knew that eventually I would get a good week of sleep and that would sustain me.
In the summer of 2017 I kept getting headaches, some that I couldn’t shift for days or weeks at a time. In the September, my anxiety was increasing, I would worry about things that were completely irrational, I knew that, but I couldn’t stop these thoughts taking over my mind. The smallest thing would happen and I would find myself in tears, for no reason. My sleep was bad, and the three things mixed together were not a good combination. I could feel myself getting worse but I was scared of going to the doctor.
At the beginning of October, on a Saturday evening, nothing major had happened but I just couldn’t cope, I rang my parents and drove for two hours, trying not to cry, arriving there 24 hours earlier than anticipated. At that point, I knew I needed to do something. The racing heart of anxiety was consuming me, and I was afraid that I would burst into tears at any given moment. I avoided seeing people because I was embarrassed that I might not be able to control my emotions and social situation made those feelings of anxiety so much worse. I went to the doctor, I cried, she gave me antidepressants and told me to self-refer myself to the local healthy minds team.
This is the part of mental health that is not fashionable, not desirable. Yes, we no longer want it to be a taboo subject but when you’re suffering and all of your feelings appear irrational, one of the last things you want to do is talk openly about it. You worry that people won’t understand, even when they claim to. The last words you need to hear are ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘you’ll be alright’, because in those moments, you can’t pull yourself together and it doesn’t feel like things will be alright.
It’s exhausting. On the days you feel like you can face people, it feels like you have to paint on a happy face and on the days you can’t, you’re exhausted from pretending. Mix that with an erratic sleep pattern and it feels like you’re stuck in a pit you can’t get out of.
I didn’t tell many people what was actually going on because I find it really hard to explain the situation. I also couldn’t face people continually asking me how I was. And how exactly do you say to those around you ‘oh, by the way, I’m taking antidepressants and having online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy because I can’t handle life right now’? The depression, the anxiety and the insomnia make it so hard to do things like that.
I remember one particular day I went to visit somewhere, it’s something I had been putting off for a while but I knew I needed to go. I prayed the whole car journey, I felt sick. Anxiety was consuming me. I was so worried that I wouldn’t cope. However, the whole day people kept telling me how happy and healthy I looked. I could not have felt further from that. When I left, I was exhausted. Exhausted from the face I had painted on, from pretending to be okay. So life was pretty crap. But there was one thing that never changed. God. God and his faithfulness. God, the solid rock I have built my life upon. God, the firm foundation. I may not have been happy but I never lost my joy. I may have been anxious but I never lost my peace. In the hardest and darkest times, I prayed. Those nights I couldn’t sleep, I prayed. The days when I couldn’t understand why I was crying, I prayed.
Over the last 10 years, I can honestly say that no matter what I’ve been facing, God has been right there with me. At times I’ve found that hard to believe but as I look back, I can see it. God has put the right people around me and moved me into or away from situations at the right times. Yes, it’s been hard but He is the constant in everything, the one I can depend on. As I’m coming into recovery again, I’ve come to learn again how much I can rely upon God. I know He has walked this journey with me, I’m pretty convinced that at times He’s carried or dragged me along as well. He has given me the courage to speak out and I’m certain that He’s prompting me to share all of this now.
I’m not cured. I’m still taking antidepressants but I’m hopeful that one day I can come off them again. I’ve completed CBT but it doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious anymore, I just know how to manage it a bit better.
Let’s continue to speak out about mental health but let’s not dress it up, let’s not make it desirable. Let’s be real and authentic and love one another as we walk through it. Let’s not question people or make it the elephant in the room. Let’s not make it the whole person, because it isn’t. Let’s also keep pointing people towards Jesus and sharing testimonies about the differences He’s made in our lives. Let’s remember that He too wept. Let’s fix our eyes on Him because regardless of everything else...
He is the constant and He always will be.
Written By Kate Newhook