Sitting in work on a busy but otherwise fairly normal day in February 2014, I was in no way prepared for what was about to happen to me. I felt a sharp pain in my chest, followed by what can only be described as a period of existential dread. I thought I was dying. Paramedics came into my workplace and checked me over. They couldn’t find anything wrong, which wasn’t as reassuring as it ought to be, and sent me home with instructions to see my GP.
I was signed off for two weeks, but went back to work with about as much idea of what was wrong as when I went off – none. I tried to figure out what was happening. Maybe it was some sort of physical ailment. I asked my GP to investigate this and was given some medication to treat the symptoms in the mean time. All the while, these ‘episodes’ kept happening, although varied in intensity. My partner at the time was adamant that I should get counselling. I resisted because I kept telling myself “it’s just a weird physical problem, there’s no way my mind could be doing this to my body” and ploughed on through weeks of useless medical investigation.
It took me months to come to the realisation that I was completely swamped by stress, and that that was causing the anxiety and panic that were taking over my life. Only after leaving my job was I able to look back with a bit of clarity and figure out that, actually, I had been under extreme pressure this whole time with little regard for my own well-being.
I’d like to say that everything is great now, but I’m still recovering from the effects of putting myself through that for four years. My body and mind aches. Speaking to other people who have had similar experiences is extremely helpful though, and as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.
"If you could ask for anything from one person who you believe could make a difference to mental health in your community, who would you ask and what would you ask for?"
I would ask a local representative (probably council level) to issue a strong statement to staff and public to roundly condemn the vilification of marginalised groups that are adversely affected by mental illness – homeless people, drug users, minority faith groups, LGBT groups etc.
Right now, for every progressive step made by youth groups, charities and advocates, there seems to be a step backwards from an elected official in the press talking about “junkies” or “career beggars”. If we want to start tackling these problems as a society, we need to address the way that we all speak about the people involved, and that starts with those in power.
Samaritans offer a free listening service for anyone who is struggling to cope. There is no age restriction, and you don't have to give them any personal details if you don't want to. You can call them free in the UK on 116 123.
Mindfulness is a useful technique for dealing with anxiety in your day-to-day life. It helps you to stay present in the moment and not retreat into your own mind, where anxiety can take over. Find out more about mindfulness from Mindfulness Scotland.
Habitica is an app which can help you keep on top of your day-to-day responsibilities. By setting and completing small tasks, you can unlock rewards, upgrades and even pets! Mental health challenges can often impact your daily routine, and having a rewarding way of keeping track of your successes can be very helpful.