|This is a line from a Leonard Cohen song - Anthem. He says it better than I can but then he says most things better than most people and that's why he's Leonard Cohen (thanks to my friend, Aymi for introducing me). Doesn't mean he's always happy. That in itself is a good thing in my opinion.|
Hello my loves,
Thank you so much for your kind words about my last post and your warm welcome back to the blogosphere. I am super happy to be writing to you all again. This post is text heavy and will contain a little bit more about sewing than my last but mostly about how sewing helped me recover so I won't be offended if you don't read, as this is after all a sewing blog. Though because I am both writer and editor of this here journal I get to make the rules *boss face*
It's Friday afternoon in Brighton and I'm looking out over the seaside and it looks more mid winter than late spring. The sky is bullet grey and even the seagulls look a little bit more agro than usual. I also didn't get a job I went for on Tuesday (the feedback on my interview was really good though so it's just a case of keep knocking on those doors). However, I feel quite content and I know that means I'm well. The reason I know this is because when I was a sick a day like today might have made my mind wander to the place where the crap thoughts are that make me feel really shit. You know the kind of thing - Oh Rehanon you don't know what you're doing. You're kidding yourself. You shouldn't have done this! You should have done that! You're too old. You'll never be happy, blah, blah, blah - bore off! This still happens but it's normally just a quick cursory visit and I certainly don't set up camp there like I used to.
I've set out to write this post many times but other thoughts (mostly nice ones these days) came into my head or the time wasn't right or I didn't have enough time or I didn't have enough words or even too many :) but that's the thing with mental health there's no time like the present. It's only in the here and now we can do stuff about it. As it is, in the UK it's Mental Health Awareness Week and I think that's a pretty appropriate time to share my story and raise some awareness.
Before I go any further I just want to highlight the fact that I'm no expert and neither do I claim to be. I've got no professional training and I know people who had much more difficult experiences than me. I'm just telling you my story because that's one of the things I think is really important in tackling the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. I feel like it's so important to be open and to be aware when people are talking to you because that might be the day, that they say, "I just wanted to say I'm not actually fine and I'm struggling and I need a bit of help." Life is really hard sometimes even when to all intense and purposes it seems like you're just sailing along. Deep down I think most of us know that but by saying yeah it happened to me and I was able to do something about it and now I'm in much better place is good for all concerned. So these days I when I see stuff in the media saying you should be this, that or the other I say fuck off the only thing I should be is me. Counselling taught me that but more on that later.
I've no real idea how many people read my ponderings but I figure if even one person reads it and it encourages them to seek the help or at the very least make them realise that their mental health is nothing to be ashamed of then that's no bad thing. Shame is in fact the one thing that didn't stop me from writing about my mental health issues. I actually never felt ashamed, which when I look back makes me wonder why I did leave it so long to get help. One thing I think it could have been was that for as long as I can remember people have come to me for advice and I guess I thought if people are asking for my help then surely I can't need it myself. My ex partner though, who is a very good egg and a great friend to this day knew I needed help for a long time and he often told me so. I hasten to add it was in a really lovely non-judgemental way because he wanted what was best for me. He also picked me up for a long time too and then he finally let me pick myself up and that just made me realise even more how much he cared. Actually, I had several people very close to me who knew I wasn't well and they all helped me on the road to brighter days and I can never thank them enough.
Looking back on it all I guess I thought I would just get better over time as after all it is meant to be a great healer. What mattered to me so much at 25 matters so little as I'm one month and two days from 35 but at the time I know I felt completely different. The other side of the coin is that not all my days were sad. In the midst of some times where I felt so sad and everything was going wrong and I just felt so lost, I had moments that when I think about them now make me heady with joy. That's one of the real shockers about mental illness, really "happy" people suffer. It's another reason why I wanted to write this post because there were a lot of people that were really shocked when I admitted I'd had a breakdown because I'm considered to be a really positive person. That's another part of why mental illness can be so tough to deal with. You even end up arguing with yourself and then you just try and block the feelings and it only magnifies the pain. Happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive but when I finally admitted I was ill the sad times were far out weighing the happy times and in my mind I couldn't see that it was ever going to change.
Despite some really low points I managed to get through university and I got my degree and then I walked across Spain. When I think about it now it was doing that, which kept me going much longer before asking for help. I think it was then I realised exercise was really important to my mental wellbeing. After this I pushed on through my late 20s drifting along and feeling less and less in control of the direction of my life. I just kept going because I thought that's what you did and in hindsight I was clearly scared that if I stopped that's when it would all come tumbling down. By the time my 30th birthday was coming around I was forced to stop and that's when I did fall all the way down.
The fear of coming apart was far worse than the actual reality. The reality being that in May 2010 after a series of events that found me back in Brighton a place that makes me happy to this day I finally had the nervous breakdown I'd be running from. After another night of disturbed sleep I was sitting on my own in a very ordinary office doing a temping job. As I typed I started wondering whether I was ever going to be doing something I really I loved and telling myself I'd let life pass me by. This thought pattern took over until I had made myself believe I was never going to be happy again and then I had a full on panic attack. I was crying my eyes out and I could hardly breathe.
I managed to get to the toilet and ring one of my close friends. She was amazing and she told me really calmly I was going to be okay and I just needed to trust her. Everyone was at a meeting so she told me to go on early lunch and she would meet me outside. I did what she said because I just couldn't think straight. I sat with her for an hour crying and apologising for being a state and that I just needed a bit of sleep and I'd be fine. She told me she'd been worried about me for a long time but you can't push people to admit things that they don't want to and you just have to be there when they're ready. All things I would have said if I was talking to someone else. She rang my GP and got me an appointment after work. I went along and I was fortunate to speak with a really kind doctor who listened to me explain about how sad I was feeling and how scared it was making me. He felt that although I was deeply anxious and really unwell that I didn't need medicine but counselling.
Following my appointment my GP referred me to a mental health clinic in Brighton who are also a charity and I was lucky enough to be seen within a week. I am beyond grateful for this and another reason why I wanted to write about my experience as sadly this is not true for everyone and mental illness needs to be viewed as equally as any other illness. I would describe my counsellor as the best kind of aunt you could wish for. In my first session I said to her I think I'd probably just over reacted and I didn't want to take up her time as I had no idea what I'd speak to her about for an hour every week. She smiled and said, "well let's just chat about your day and see how we go." In the end it actually took 3 months for me to bring her to point where I collapsed in the office. She made me realise that I wasn't weak and my mind was just really tired of being strong and it just needed a rest.
In the end I saw Babs on and off for 18 months. In that time life marched on and I moved to London for work and my relationship with my ex finally finished after 10 years. I was so scared that I would get sick again but my counsellor made me realise that wasn't going to happen and it was just another hurdle. She was right and even though I was really sad about us I knew it was for the best and that we were returning to where we started, which was being great friends. As my head got clearer and I started to realise that I wasn't my thoughts I had more space and in that space I began sewing, I started running again and I slowly started to see that I had a future.
It's now 5 years since my breakdown and I feel really well. That is I'm happy more often than I'm not :) It may seem an odd thing to say but I wouldn't choose to forgo what happened to me. I just think the wonkiness in my head is as I call it is no different to my weak knee left leg. Both just require a little extra care and attention to function properly. I know that eating well, sleeping properly, asking for help when I need it and making time for the things that make me happy like sewing, running, knitting, lying in the hallway with my legs up the wall listening to Pulp and spending time with the people that love me for me. Basically, just being me. Equally, I learned we all just need to keep trying everyday and some days will be extraordinary and others not so much but that's what make life interesting. Ultimately, though I found out good and bad, light and dark I like who Rehanon is and that seems as a good place as any to end up at nearly halfway to 70 :)
Here are some contact details in case you do want talk to someone. You really aren't alone and I promise you people really do care.
This is Miss Demeanour signing off and saying no matter what you might think right now I know you're amazing.