I’ve always been what would have been described as a worrier, this was how things were labelled when I was young as mental health wasn’t discussed. This meant rather than spotting a problem earlier, the worrying grew until 5 years ago things came to a head. I was having a stressful time at work, managing several personal issues and everything got too much. I realised I was panicking about the possibility of panicking. That’s when I finally realised I may need help for my mental health.
Although I knew I needed help and the problem was mental health related, I had no idea what was wrong. Even the diagnosis didn’t give me more clues. I had severe Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Moderate Depression.
I decided I needed to take a step back, and rather than simply launch into fixing the anxiety, I needed to learn about symptoms and what it actually was. To go back to basics and fix the problem from the ground up. I quickly realised was that mental health and wellbeing was something everyone has, and I should view it like a large drinking glass;
Stress, worry or anxiety fills the glass with water. Your glass keeps filling and if you keep adding water it simply overflows. This overflow is when problems flare up; whether panic attacks or depression. In order to manage your ‘glass’ effectively, you need to learn to syphon-off water from a valve, so you can manage it correctly and stop it before it overflows.
Managing mental health is like having a tool box; before I got help my tool box was empty. I needed to fill my tool box with knowledge and tools to manage it effectively; to start the valve to syphon off the water from my glass, as it were. At first I was reactive; reacting to problems and triggers when they’d already overflown.
As I learned more through various tools – CBT, mindfulness, one on one therapy, antidepressants and wider reading – I managed to push back my response time. I learned what triggers and symptoms to spot; not just feeling anxious, restlessness or other obvious symptoms, but more subtle ones like tiredness, needing the loo constantly, or pins and needles.
As I learned what symptoms were warning signs, I implemented tools from my newly filled toolbox. This process wasn’t a quick fix that took weeks or months, but a process learned over the last few years. Each year has seen me get better at spotting signs earlier than the year before, and I’ve developed this to the stage I’m at now: 90% of the time I can spot what may trigger symptoms before warning signs are even there.
This year was a breakthrough, I live alone and far from family and friends so Lockdown was the biggest test yet – how to get through months of being alone in a 1 bedroom flat away from everyone I love.
The month before lockdown hit I increased self-care and used every tool in my toolbox (except the antidepressants, which I’d stopped taking). It was the hardest I’d worked on my mental health since my diagnosis. And while my mental health suffered, my triggers were managed and symptoms were extremely mild compared to what could have been. I cannot describe how thankful I was, or the wave of emotion that hit me when I realise I’d got through the other side in one peace.
So how did I learn to deal with GAD? Well by treating treatment and recovery in the same way I did when I was studying; the more you put in, the more you get out. I threw myself completely into learning all I could, being honest and observant of myself, and by putting all my energy into learning and developing new skills and an entirely new way of thinking. The road is by no means concluded. I’m not ‘cured’ and if lockdown has taught me anything it’s that I will continue to learn and grow my toolbox.
But all in all, I’m so glad I put the time in over the last few years, because I’m not so much of a ‘worrier’ anymore.
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