REAL STORIES | My Crazy Brain – Mental Health & Me
I’ve talked quite a bit about my mental health battles.
The flood gates to some of my mental health problems well and truly opened when I started my blog – Girl About Yorkshire – over two years ago. Having a platform to talk about my experience with mental health problems really is a huge help, to me, and to others it seems. It has been very cathartic for me.
However, until now, I have skimmed stories, experiences, memories and advice off the very top of my much deeper bubbling pot of mental health troubles.
There are some things that I don’t talk about because quite frankly, they make me sound like an absolute fucking bat-shit-crazy nutcase. On the odd occasion that I do bring them up, it’s never in the context of a serious mental health discussion – it’s always relating to how ‘crazy’ I am. Taking the piss out of myself. I do this a lot. I find this cathartic too – peculiar, I know. Come to think of it I’ve never talked about my childhood memories as they relate to my mental health. I may not have, until now, even associated these memories with my mental health – but thinking about it, as I write some of this stuff down and place myself back into some of the situations I mention below, I was terrified. I was a child with mental health issues from as early as eight. Oh how I wished I’d have just talked about some of what went on in my crazy little eight year old brain – I think had I have just told my mum all of it – put it into context – it would have helped steer me in a different direction mentally. Maybe not. Maybe she would have gotten me some help? Who knows.
Post Natal Depression – My Mental Health Labelling
I publicly pin my mental health problems on the back of the birth of my second child – my daughter Ferne who is now four. Because if I label my mental state as Post Natal Depression, somehow, to me, it seems more acceptable to talk about it. It has a proper name. There are scientific reasons behind it. Lots of other woman, who have suffered, understand me and my ramblings. Every time I bring into a conversation that I suffered from PND – I manage, for the duration of that conversation, to convince myself that my mental health problems – my depression and anxiety – were spurred on by the birth of my children.
But when I take the time to sit and think about what caused my mental health problems, like now, as I write my thoughts down, I can’t actually pinpoint when they started or what triggered them. But I know it was long before I had children. And my mental health problems are more than depression and anxiety, which seem to be the most prevalent of conditions and sadly seem to be on the rise.
Post Natal Depression, for me, came in waves of exhaustion, sadness, guilt, negative thoughts, irritability, lack of confidence, can’t be arsed, headaches, low sex drive etc. I never wanted to harm my beautiful little girl, but sometimes I just wanted someone to take her a way for a while. I wanted to sleep for days. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or go outside for fresh air. I didn’t want to cook, or clean or do all those things that a wife and mother should be doing – things that I had once enjoyed doing. And then all these thoughts trigger guilt. Shit loads of guilt.
PND & Anxiety – the threat of the fret
Throw my social anxiety into the PND mix and when I did manage to take Ferne out to baby yoga and all those other God-awful baby groups – alone – because the 2nd time round you don’t have your anti-natal besties – I was constantly convinced that everyone in the class was judging me. My social anxiety would be on over-drive and I’d end up sticking my foot in my mouth with some stupid attempt at delivering something funny in those classes – clearly no one found it funny – and then I would go home, alone, with my baby and fret for days over the sheer stupid bollocks that came out of my mouth at that baby group.
My fretting was on overdrive too. I would fret at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and before bed. When I was bathing her, feeding her, pushing her round the park, putting her to bed – I fretted about everything. All sorts of pointless shit.
So I went to the doctors after about five months and the female doctor quite quickly and easily prescribed me what has been a never-ending course of anti-anxiety and anti-depressants after I had rattled of all my list of symptoms. “Come back and see me in 6 months” she said.
That was three years ago. In all fairness, my anxiety is so much better thanks to 50mg of Sertraline a day. The depression though – that still hits me like a truck often enough, and can engulf me – clinging to me like an oversized, heavy wet towel for days. Looking back, I know that I had all sorts of out-of-the-ordinary thoughts and feelings long before my beautiful little Ferne was born. I know that I had times (and still have) when my brain feels like it’s going to burst out of my head. Detonate like a bomb. Lots of bad thoughts and feelings cover the walls and the floor – I know if they leave me alone I can relax.
Our Bones V Our Brain
If I’d have fallen off my bike at 10 years old and told my mum I’d broken my leg, I would have been carted off to the hospital and given an X-ray to determine if I had in fact broken my leg. If blood was gushing out of a deep wound, it would be bandaged up immediately. It would have been physically obvious to the doctors – they would know what to do to mend my leg as quickly as possible. It would have been taken care of and I would have been sent home and told to take some time off school / work – told to rest up and recover.
In my early 20s I suffered from panic attacks quite regularly. Mostly in the middle of the night. I would wake up, sit bolt upright wanting to scream, heart pounding, sweat dripping off me, pins and needles in my legs. Convincing myself I was having a heart attack. At 3am in the morning – and everything always seems so much worse in the early hours of the morning. How would I get to hospital? I can’t go dressed like this? Who cares I’m dying. After about two years of those God-awful panic attacks I went to my local GP. I had to be referred to the hospital – it took a good few weeks to get an appointment. Possibly even months.
The hospital doctor confirmed I was having panic attacks and reluctantly gave me an ECG which I absolutely insisted on having. He didn’t want to give me that ECG, he didn’t think I needed one – it was ‘all in my head’.
I never had another panic attack again after that ECG. Just like that – they stopped. A doctor gave me an ECG and told me I was fine and I believed him. And just like that those awful panic attacks stopped. I’m not sure if that makes me just a little bit mental or a lot mental? But would I have had to of begged for that X-ray for a suspected broken leg? The answer is no. I would have been given an X-ray without a shadow of a doubt. I wouldn’t have been referred somewhere else, nor would I of had to have waited weeks. My leg would have been seen to there and then. Fixed on the spot.
‘Oh you’re such a drama queen, Lyndsey’
Long before I was diagnosed with PND, long before I had my children I self-diagnosed myself quite a bit. My mum called me a hypochondriac on a fair few occasions – a drama queen. I used to get a lot of brain fog, forgetfulness and fatigue. For a while I thought I might have had the early on-set of Parkinson’s, a brain tumour or Alzheimer’s. I fretted a lot about my life ending too soon due to some horrid illness. More fretting. Over the years I have convinced myself that I was dying of a number of types of cancer, HIV/Aids, heart attacks, blood clots, Meningitis.
When your brain is broken at eight years old…
The most crazy incident – and one I remember with disturbing clarity – was probably when I put a battery-operated Lego part in my mouth around the age of eight.
It gave me the tiniest electric shock – but I convinced myself that the electricity had gotten into my blood stream and I couldn’t ever lie flat in case it travelled up to my brain and killed me. I slept upright in bed, terrified of dying. I never told anyone in fear that they would confirm that the electricity would kill me. I had convinced myself that If I didn’t sleep bolt upright, my mum would find me dead one morning. I didn’t sleep properly for months. I can’t remember the impact this had on my days, but I expect I was pretty knackered a lot of the time if I slept sat up for some time. And I fought the urge to sleep for as long as possible so that I didn’t end up flat on my back.
I then convinced myself at around the age of 10 (circa 1990), when HIV and AIDs was a regular topic on the news, that I was HIV positive – I’d absolutely caught HIV from having my ears pierced. I remember thinking that every sniffle – every cough, every ache was the onset of those flu-like symptoms that come a few weeks after one has been infected with HIV. I listened carefully to the TV programmes and the news – I knew all the symptoms. For a good few weeks I waited for that flu to hit me. I didn’t tell anyone. But the thought of dying from something with so much stigma at the time, so young, I expect fuelled my depression and my anxiety. At eight! Little did I know that my brain – how it is wired – was going to result in mental health problems throughout my life.
Ironically I never self-diagnosed myself with a mental illness. But then I probably has no idea what one was. I just thought I was dying of something physical – something that I had caught or because of something that I had done.
I wasn’t dying but maybe if I had of been I would have had someone to speak to. Some support. I was eight for fuck sake. Perfectly wonderful childhood at that point – loving parents, all hunky-dory – but I was having all these dark thoughts about death. I wanted to tell my mum but I couldn’t. I was eight. I remember spending far too many nights as a child counting to a thousand. Sometimes two thousand. Trying to block the monsters and other scary thoughts and weird shapes out of my mind. Eventually I would fall asleep, but for what seemed like hours, every night, terrifying thoughts filled my head. Always at night, when I was alone, in the dark. I didn’t tell my mum. She would have told me to stop being silly.
Getting Older – Same shit, different thoughts
These terrifying thoughts manifested as I got older. I no longer have to count to a thousand to get to sleep, but there are other situations whereby I might find myself stood in a tube station, peering into that gap, wondering what would happen if I jumped. Just as that train was pulling in. I could be driving up the M1 from London to Yorkshire and I’d be battling to get the ‘what would happen if I drove into the central reservation at 80mph’ out of my head. What would happen if I threw myself off the hotel balcony or out of that window? ‘What if’ is a very different notion to ‘I want to’, and maybe it’s just the somewhat crazy erratic part of my brain playing some kind of Bad Cop with my Good Cop side.
A rebel living deep inside my brain – a little mental tumor, only it can’t be cut out. It can’t be zapped with radio-therapy. But it could kill.
Maybe not me, but it does kill others suffering with a mental health illnesses – I can understand how, if these thoughts are daily, and mine aren’t thank god, how it might all become too much.
I have a dog – he is big and black and doesn’t want to leave my side
For me, now, the most debilitating part of my mental illness is the bleak dead-end at the end of the a lot of my beautiful thoughts. The shutters abruptly coming down and trapping the shining light of happiness and excitement and anticipation of doing something. It’s blocked. The no-through-road to my beautiful thoughts. We plan holidays and days out and date nights and film nights and there is always that little niggle of emptiness. Why are we even bothering. I will inevitably get excited about all the events ahead – Halloween, Bonfire night, Christmas…
And then, out of nowhere, the excitement goes up in a puff of smoke and is replaced with a black cloud – a dead end. And then I don’t want to get out of bed or off the sofa. I don’t want to leave the house. I don’t want to see people. Some days are a real struggle. Of course I skip through the playground saying hi to everyone who want to say hi to me. On bad days, it’s only 9am and my day has been one hell of a struggle already. I struggle with all this motivational stuff that people slap all over social media. It is not motivating if you suffer from depression.
There are times when nothing is motivating. It’s like telling a rock to do a little dance. It takes all I have to motivate myself to clean my teeth some mornings.
I manage to drag myself out of bed on a weekday. I have to, to take my kids to school and to go to work – I know if I get up, get dressed, put my face on, battle through and get outside for a bit I will feel so much better. But it’s a battle. Weekends can be a killer with no routine or reason to get up. I have to push myself to do what some people do without thinking. Of course I have good days. I have great days. But I have fucking awful days too. Right out of the blue, that big black dog whacks me round the head with his huge paw and mentally he floors me and it takes a lot of energy and a big mental push to get through the day with him loitering around my fragility.
It’s time to talk…
…to our children, to our friends, to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen. We must encourage our children to talk. I can’t bear the thought of my little Ted and Ferne being blighted with the thoughts I had at such a young age. Worse still not being able to tell me. If they cut their knee they cry and they come running. We need to teach them to come running if their thoughts are painful too. I want my children to live in a world where mental health is treated the same as physical health.
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
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