October 10th was Mental Health Awareness Day which saw a plethora of people from all walks of life bravely sharing their stories across blogs, vlogs and social media. It was great to see the conversations opening up and people using hashtags such as #itsoktosay and #itsoktonotbeok. With 1 in 4 people in the UK suffering from illnesses such as depression and anxiety you can guarantee that we have all been touched by mental health issues at some point in our lives. Be it personally or through a family member, friend or colleague; we all have a mental health story to tell.
My story starts about 12 years ago when I was in my early twenties. I’d had a crazy few years; I was married at 18, moved down south, partied hard and was divorced by 21. I started seeing someone new and quickly became pregnant. It was terrifying. I lived between my boyfriend’s parents house and a room above the pub I worked in, so I didn’t even have a proper home. I was drinking heavily, smoking weed and earning minimum wage. How could I bring a child into that? It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do but we decided to terminate the pregnancy. I had agonised over it for so long that I was nearly 3 months pregnant by the time I went to hospital for the operation on February 3rd 2004. It’s a date that will forever stick in my head.
Naively, I thought that that was it. It was over. I was no longer pregnant, problem solved. In reality, it was just the beginning. The beginning of my depression and anxiety. The beginning of not being able to get out of bed. Not being able to face the world or even those closest to me. Of seeing no joy, no colour, no hope. Just a bleak grey fog.
I moved the 300 miles back to my childhood home and sunk deeper into the fog. Have you heard of the term functional alcoholic? Well, I was a functional depressive. I was working, socialising and, as so many people do, putting on a happy show for the public. But it would be sporadic. I would binge drink then not be able to leave the house for days on end. It was a vicious circle of alcohol and anxiety.
Most of my twenties are a bit of a blur to be honest but at some point the anxiety and what I later learnt to be panic attacks caused me to lose a job that I loved and I decided to seek help. The doctor immediately prescribed antidepressants and warned me not to drink whilst taking them. Obviously I didn’t listen as alcohol was my coping strategy (an extremely ineffective one, admittedly!) and I spent a few vague months orbitting Mars before deciding to cut down on my alcohol intake and try to get a grip on things. Something shifted in my head, the pills started to work and eventually I felt strong enough to come off them. I learnt to understand my body and the physical signs of anxiety which meant I could take myself out of a situation and talk myself down before a panic attack erupted.
A year or so later I went backpacking on my own around south east Asia. A bit of a contrast to my foggy days of only leaving the house after dark so that I wouldn’t see anyone! Finally, I was cured. No more mental health issues for me! Hmm, maybe not.
Fast forward a few more years and you will find me once again living 300 miles from home but this time in a Scottish village with a new baby. The heady mix of hormones, loneliness and isolation found me sinking into that all too familiar fog, but now I also had the added pressure of keeping a tiny little human alive. Oh hello there, postnatal depression! Annoyingly, it took me a while to realise just how far my mental health had declined. Madeleine was nearly a year old when I sought help from the GP who was very understanding. As well as the anti-depressants he also prescribed a regular date night with The Other Half and suggested I needed to do something for myself! Shortly afterwards I launched Nest & Dressed.
I stopped taking the antidepressants when I fell pregnant with Thomas and despite suffering physically throughout my pregnancy my mental health remained stable. This soon changed once the hormones wore off. I will never forget the heartbreaking moment I realised I needed help for a third time. Thomas was only a couple of months old and I was losing my temper with Madeleine on a regular basis. On this particular occasion she had pooed in her knickers and as she laid on her bed crying I was stood over her screaming in her face that she was disgusting. I will never forget the look on her little face and it makes me cry every time I think of it. My poor baby. A light bulb went off and I ran straight down the stairs to make an appointment with the doctor. The next day I was back on the anti depressants. I will never forget that moment but I hope to God she does.
That was 18 months ago and I have no intention of coming off the happy pills any time soon. At the moment they make me a better mum. They help me cope with the overwhelming task of being a full time parent whilst also working from home; of having to be in two places at once both physically and emotionally. They are a crutch, a stepping stone, a helping hand. My children are the most beautiful little people in the world; they deserve the best. And at the moment that means a medicated mummy!
If you are struggling to cope or finding life overwhelming please do ask for help. It is far more common than you think and is certainly nothing to be ashamed off. Make an appointment with your GP, speak to a loved one, ring a helpline (lots of contact details here) or even reach out to me via social media. You are not alone and things will get better.
Are you a #medicatedmummy? What’s your mental health story?