I talk about mental health issues quite a bit on social media and am not afraid to speak up about it, particularly when I see how it’s affecting others. But I rarely go into any detail about my own battles. I talk about my “burnout” nearly a decade ago but a lot of what I discuss is the physical, rather than mental burnout but the reality is that my mind probably took longer to recover than my body.
I was under massive amounts of work stress when I burnt out, which had an effect on my mental health but I was also in a toxic relationship, which I rarely discuss publicly because, well, it’s still difficult to do so.
But in the interests of awareness (and because I am learning that being honest really does help other people) it’s important to me to be transparent about this stuff so here goes…
In a very short space of time my marriage split up, I moved house and jobs – all as a result of the fallout of getting ill with myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome.
I used some of the classic coping strategies, that had worked well in my 20s – like booze and food to numb the pain. But I couldn’t add in the other well used strategies of filling my time with socialising and working because the symptoms of the physical illness didn’t let me.
Then one day (what should have been my second wedding anniversary) my friends had to break it to me that they had heard my ex was moving in with his new partner. I literally hit an all time low. It was the last straw and I knew I couldn’t cope with this on my own any more.
I broke down in front of my GP that day. I remember feeling so stupid walking in and sobbing the words “my husband left me” – I mean she didn’t have time for this surely?! Obviously, she was extremely supportive.
I was prescribed with an antidepressant and I decided to seek a counsellor for talking therapy. I could probably have used NHS services but I decided to find someone privately, to speed up the process.
I had counselling for about 9 months before I started to feel like I was stable enough to spread the sessions apart, and after a year I made the decision (with the support of my GP) to come off the antidepressants. I found that I felt so “level” on antidepressants, I was unable to feel joy as well as no longer feeling depressed so I wanted to come off them. I want to caveat here that I am a great supporter of taking medication if it’s needed. I hate that people feel the stigma around this stuff. Medication was absolutely necessary for me in those early days but I then was able to manage with alternative therapies.
In the years that have followed I have learned a lot about mental health and personal development. I have recognised many signs of high functioning anxiety, which led to my initial burnout. I have identified that I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – (more on that another time) and I think for that reason my mental health will always be front of mind and something that is a continual work in progress. I still regularly seek out more counselling as well as other therapies when I need it and I am pleased to say that my mental health feels the strongest it has in the last decade.
It’s essential that as a coach, I take responsibility for my own mental health before I can support others. Its one of the many reasons I have regular coaching supervision (as well as being the professional and ethical thing to do).
I have learnt over the years the things that support my mental health and the things that don’t. I have created a “toolkit” of things to do when I feel low or anxious, to help me get out of those black holes but the one thing that has really helped me the most is to let go of the shame associated with mental illness. I wouldn’t judge myself for having a broken leg (although I probably would berate myself for falling in the first place!) so why judge myself for feeling depressed or anxious?
Talking publicly about this stuff is quite cathartic but I know when I was employed I would have been afraid to be as open about this stuff. I would have been afraid of being judged my colleagues or the organisation. That’s not right is it? That’s why this Mental Health Awareness Week I am fighting for better mental health.
If you would like more information on mental health, then here are some resources:
NHS mental health services https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/
Mind charity https://www.mind.org.uk/
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists