My first experience of poor mental health was in the mid 90’s following the birth of my first child. I suffered very mild post-natal depression brought on by the loss of my Granddad followed by the premature birth of my son. I don’t remember a great deal about it and managed to get through without the need for medication. It was in 2002 when, following some challenging life events, I first experienced panic attacks. Where they came from I don’t know. I just remember being overwhelmed by so many things and having this constant feeling of needing to escape. I couldn’t stand being in a crowd or noisy environment. I found it difficult going to work and would start to panic on the drive in. I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt and I carried on for a couple of weeks but it all became too much and I sought help from my doctor. I was signed off work and prescribed anti-depressants. I carried on my daily routine and did not admit that I was ill. I couldn’t bear to be told to pull myself together. If only it were that simple. Eventually I felt unable to function. Everything felt too much of a challenge. I had no joy from anything in life, not even my two young children.
Another visit to my GP resulted in me being prescribed Beta-blockers and a referral to SHARE, run by CW Mind. I started there in January 2003. My friend, Elaine, came with me during those first weeks. I wouldn’t get out of her car. For the first 6 weeks of the course I sat looking at the floor. When it came to the relaxation at the end of the night, I couldn’t do it. I spent week after week trying to relax. I don’t think there was a week went by when I didn’t have to escape at some point during the evening, to the ‘ladies’ in floods of tears or shaking with the anxiety. I’d gone to the course believing I had anxiety. Yet the session on depression left me shocked. I was also quite severely depressed. I hadn’t realised. I’d had a CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) coming to my home on a weekly basis, but hadn’t realised just how bad I was. It was only when he told me at discharge that he had wanted to admit me to hospital on many occasions that I really understand how poorly I’d been.
There was one SHARE session that I remember so well. It was week 8 of the course. We were doing our relaxation at the end of the session when Elaine started to snore. I laughed. It was the first time that I’d laughed in so long. It was a very alien sound. And that was the point that I knew I could come out of this black hole. It was my ‘light bulb’ moment.
I remember my teacher from SHARE so well. To this day I call her my star. She gave me hope when everything seemed so bleak and hopeless. Her patience and understanding were endless. She’d been there too, as had all of the SHARE volunteers. That’s what makes them so good at what they do. They know. They understand. I often say to people that I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t gone to SHARE when I did. SHARE helped me understand the physical symptoms and also how to cope with the disturbing and, often, very distressing thoughts. The thoughts that so easily could have had quite devastating consequences had I acted on them.
I came away from the 12 weeks of the course with a tool-box, a tool-box that is still in use. OK, so sometimes it gets a bit dusty from only the occasional use but I know it’s there.
I was so ill I ended up taking 9 months off work. I still wasn’t better when I went back. I had to sit next to the door in meetings. My boss used to let me walk around the block, if things got too stressful. My panic attacks got fewer and fewer as I learnt to relax into them. My self-confidence increased along with my self-esteem.
I became a volunteer for SHARE for approximately 3 years. Initially supporting clients through the sessions and then I went on to teach the sessions. This was something I could never have seen myself doing. I was then fortunate enough to be offered a small admin job in the SHARE office dealing with the new referrals. Having that job led me to where I am today. A job opportunity arose for a Project Manager to get a Computerised Cognitive Behaviour Therapy service up and running in Coventry. I finally had the confidence to branch out into something I was passionate about. 26 years of retailing had taken its toll. I needed a new challenge. 5 years later I’m now the Operational Manager for the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service covering Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull. We work in partnership with the NHS in delivering the service. My experience of poor mental health definitely helps me in my role, whether it is dealing with the people being referred to the service or in determining new processes that affect our clients.
My mental health has good days and bad days. The difference now is that I understand it more. I accept that this is OK. I don’t place unnecessary pressure on myself. I’m able to say ‘I’m struggling’.
It sounds dramatic but I truly believe attending SHARE saved my life.
The truth is I’m a very different woman today to the woman I was back in 2002 and I wouldn’t be this woman without the support from CW Mind.