I am a statistic. We all are in some way or other, for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons I am a statistic is that I am one of the 1 in 4 people who have a mental health problem in any given year¹. I’m not saying this for sympathy, or attention, or any other reason other than it is part of who I am. When I look back, with the benefit of hindsight, I have been experiencing some form of mental health issue since I was 16 or so, so roughly 14 years of my life. Now, some would say that at 16 that was to be expected…the teenage grumps, hormones, ill disguised rebellion or something else that a teenager is expected to go through in that great period of “growing up”. From what I can recall I was a fairly normal kid, with fairly normal interests albeit slightly antisocial (books rather than trashing variety of antisocial). But I also remember worrying. Worrying about everything, from whether my brothers were still breathing in their cots to whether that siren was coming for my mum when she was more than a few minutes late picking us up from school. Worrying about the weather, my clothes, my school work, bullies, friends, my rather uncertain concept of sexuality, my future, money, politics, ethics, animals…you name it, I worried about it.
I never realised that all the worrying wasn’t exactly normal and it became my normal – I was clearly just one of those people who were labelled a worrier; an old head on young shoulders as it was put more than once. As I got older, the worrying got stronger and more persistent. The worrying issues stayed roughly the same but the intensity of the worry increased. The more I worried, the more worries became apparent. Some days I managed to ignore them for a while but I would find myself wide awake after I’d gone to bed, staring into the dark with the worries whirling around in my head, breathing shallow and tears streaming down my face until I was too tired and fell asleep. Even in dreams I worried – no where was safe.
My first proper hit of depression followed shortly after I started university – and I thought I could drink my way through it. So I did. I was known for being the first in and the last out of the bar, the one who would persuade people to stay for “just one more (bottle)”, who would drink grown men under the table and then do things I couldn’t or didn’t want to remember. All this was in a bid to stop the crushing sadness that seemed to have crept up on me and taken roost in my head. Some people might say that I had nothing to be depressed about – and at the time, before I knew what depression was I would have possibly agreed with them. I was healthy (ish), had a loving family who supported me both financially and in the family sense, I had friends, I had a job, a degree place in the university I wanted, I wasn’t a teenage drop out and I had somewhere pretty nice to live. So what the hell did I have to be depressed about?
As it turns out, depression doesn’t work like that. You don’t have to be in a hell hole with no friends, no money and no future to be depressed. Depression is ultimately a sneaky bastard, one that screws up the production and reception of serotonin in the brain. Simples. Simple and also very complicated. No one quite knows how the brain and all its jiggery pokery works, nor how the magic little pills the doctor has dished out to me on so many occasions work with the brain but they do, for me. In the 12 years since I started and left university and then went on to be a “grown up”, I have been prescribed SSRI anti depressant medication 5 times. I have seen roughly 7 different counsellors and mental health professionals, whether for assessments or for talking therapy. I have been hospitalised once last year following an anxiety attack which felt like I was having a heart attack and as much as I am loath to admit it, I have tried to take my own life at least once. Clearly, it didn’t work – something I am grateful for now but at the time was extremely pissed off about.
Today however, was a turning point. I was discharged from the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) team and from my CBT sessions. My scores on the assessment were “sub clinical” according to the therapist and I’ve made proper progress. We had a lovely last session this morning, thrashed out a few lingering niggles and issues, recapped on the coping mechanisms and how to carry on with my ability to control the worry and the issues that cause the worry. I realised this morning how I have got them under a form of control that works for me: shoe boxes. Not literal shoe boxes but in my mind, I see all the hundreds of things that I worry about tucked into clean plastic shoe boxes in neat rows, each labelled with the lid firmly on. When the worry comes out of the box, it is only when I’m ready to deal with it, any other time it gets told to behave and wait until I’m ready to address them.
Worrying is part of who I am, as is the depression and anxiety…but it will not define me. I am more than that.
I am strong. I deserve that which I work for. I am whole. I am free.