Mental Health and Me

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In a time where mental health is spoken about daily, by the hour and by the minute and in a time where there is, or should be greater understanding of the struggles and difficulties of others it can still be really hard to talk about our mental struggles.  And there is still a sense of shame about talking about our problems and also a worry that we will be defined by our illness or, even worse, treated differently because of it.

I’m writing this as I have recently been diagnosed with anxiety, stress and low mood, and consequently I have been advised to take a break from work and to start taking tablets to help me feel better.  I also have Aspergers which is part of the autism spectrum which means I process things a bit differently to others and certain things can cause me stress and anxiety on a day-to-day basis.  Normally I am pretty good at dealing with day-to-day stresses, whether it be too much noise, the lights being too bright, lots of things going on, lots of different things to do, worrying about whether I am doing things right, interruptions, the list of things goes on and on….  I have developed coping strategies for most stresses that I encounter and on the whole they seem to work.  Well, they have done until recently…I started to notice that the coping mechanisms that I normally implemented were not working so well…making lists and prioritising what needs to be done usually stopped me from panicking but I noticed that faced with several tasks to do, at home or work, I couldn’t work out what to prioritize and started to feel like I couldn’t breathe as there was “too much to do” and that I couldn’t complete any of it.  I found that I couldn’t concentrate, following conversations was becoming hard work, the background noise becoming too distracting and as loud as the person talking to me, even coming home to the relative silence of my home felt like sitting in the middle of a football pitch at half time.  I couldn’t read my book, I lost where I was and kept reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over, or forgetting what I had just read and having to go back a page to re-read it.  Even sleep, the one total shut off from the world wasn’t helping, I was waking up after having nightmares, sweating and gasping for breath, or lying there, so totally drained of energy yet unable to sleep as my mind just kept going over things that had happened. should have happened, could have happened, might happen…

And while all this was happening my skin was suffering too…I broke out with eczema on my face – on my forehead – right.between.my.eyebrows.  (Thank you body for giving me something else to add to my stress and worry list…).

I eventually, after months of pretending I was fine (I sort of made myself believe that if I got up and put a smile on and managed to go to work, I couldn’t be that bad and that it was “all in my head” and that it was just me…) went to the doctor.

The doctor that I saw went through a load of questions with me about my life, feelings, mood, work, sleep and eating habits along with lots of other questions.  He said that my eczema outbreak had been caused by stress and that he thought I was dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety based on my answers to his questions and how he read my body language.  He gave me a prescription for Sertraline tablets which will increase serotonin levels in my brain and make me feel better in due time.

I’ve now been taking the medication for a month or so now, originally I was on half a tablet each day which was then upped to a full tablet every day.  The side effects are not that good, I’ve felt sick, dizzy, hot, cold, thirsty, not hungry, my concentration levels are still really low, following anything on the tv or reading is really difficult and I can’t decide whether it’s the meds or the stress and anxiety still.  I have days where I really don’t feel like leaving the house or even seeing anyone and just existing in my own bubble, though I feel like that sometimes anyway because of my aspergers (though that sort of feeling comes after time spent with too many people and being a bit sensory overwhelmed…).  It’s hard to know what is caused by the tablets, what is stress, anxiety, aspergers, or me.

Sometimes I feel like I am just this bundle of diagnosis’ and it can be hard to sift through what is what to the extent it can become exhausting and overwhelming.  Sometimes I wonder if I am becoming my diagnosis/illness or is it becoming me?  Sometimes I just feel really lost in it all and wonder if I’ll ever feel “normal”, whatever that is?

I do  know that I am really grateful to my family and friends who I am able to talk to and who accept me for me.  I’m sure it can be difficult to converse with me at times,  I am not particularly good at explaining how I’m feeling either or putting words to what I’m thinking or feeling, so explaining how I feel can be hard work.  I’m also greatful that the doctor that I have been seeing is really patient and understanding, he doesn’t try to put words into my mouth, he sits and listens or will ask more questions to get a full picture of it all.

There is no shame in seeking help for whatever is going on in your mind, whether it is speaking to a relative or friend, a doctor or health worker, or anyone who you can trust.  If you notice that you are struggling with things then reach out and talk to someone.