Today is Time to Talk Day – part of the Time to Change movement. It’s a day designed to change the way people think and act about mental health, simply by getting people talking. I recently signed up as a Time to Change Champion via the Time to Change website. By doing so, I have promised to use my own experience to engage people in conversations about mental health at any appropriate opportunity. So here I am…
My mental health story
I am a mature post-grad student and generally very happy and easy-going. Which is why it will come as a surprise to most people who know me that I have ever had a mental health problem. Thanks to the stigma surrounding mental health, I have done a very good job of hiding it from those around me for over two decades. But now here I am, trying to promote the fact that mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of… So what’s stopping me?
My problem began when I was 17 and sitting my A-levels while suffering from glandular fever. My pleas for special dispensation were ignored and I was repeatedly forced into a formal exam room feeling overwhelming exhaustion and nausea. Even now at almost 40 and with two children, those were two of the hardest and most intensely unpleasant weeks of my life. Not long after, I was diagnosed with M.E. and for the next 18 months I struggled to leave the house.
That initial exam experience has left me with an extreme fear of my own bodily sensations when I’m in any kind of situation I can’t easily remove myself from. So if I am in a meeting, an interview, an exam, a lecture, a gig, a queue, or even on a car journey, and I feel anything less than 100%, or even if I just need the toilet, I feel anxiety to the point where it can bring on a panic attack. The blood drains from my head, I go cold, my heart rate goes through the roof, and I feel the need to run.
Over the years I have developed coping strategies, including some OCD-type behaviours, so that I can still live my life. But at times it’s been a massive struggle, especially when I came back to University in 2011 to do a BSc in Human Biology. I always had to sit on the end of a row in a lecture. Exams were obviously tough – I needed medication to help me on those occasions. And even outside of University, I always need an aisle seat if I’m going to the theatre or cinema, I plan my car journeys based on multiple stops, and I have to be the closest one to the door in my weekly yoga class. Memories of previous panic attacks force me to be acutely aware of my easiest escape route! And some situations I simply avoid altogether – public speaking is a definite no-no for me!
I have sought help over the years – both through the NHS and privately. I have tried Hypnotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitve Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and I’ve taken a number of medications. I could not have got through my University lectures, exams and presentations without the aid of beta-blockers and, on occasions, Valium. The CBT seems to have worked best for me overall, although I can’t imagine I will ever be free from the anxiety entirely.
Very briefly, that’s my story. In opening up, I hope that I will help at least one person to do the same, which might allow someone else to follow suit, and so on… Let’s all get talking so that the stigma around mental health can be wiped out. After all, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem this year – that’s more than 15 million people! Those individuals need to realise that it’s OK, that they are not alone and that there is help out there.
For more tips and advice on Time to Talk Day, check out the Time to Change website.
If you’re concerned about your own mental health or worried about someone else, visit our Counselling and Mental Health Service website.
Another great tool for mental health advice and information is the Mind Charity website.
A huge thank you to our guest blogger, Georgie, for writing this honest post and for sharing her mental health story with us.