So today’s blog post is a little bit different. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m very passionate about mental illnesses and increasing the awareness of mental illnesses, especially in young people as this is commonly a topic which is unfortunately avoided. The response I received from my post on World Mental Health Day was incredible and I had so many people messaging me asking me for more information and wanting to know more about mental health so they could try and understand, which personally made me so so so so soooooo happy because it meant that you guys genuinely wanted to try and learn more about such a personal topic. Because of this, I had a thought. I opened up my night to you guys and asked you to send in any questions that you might have about mental illnesses and I’d answer them based on my own personal experiences so that you can get just a small insight into how someone suffering feels. I also asked my friend Stacey, who also suffers from a mental health condition to answer the questions too, so that you guys can see how differently it can affect two people, but hopefully still get an insight into what it is like. Stacey will also be setting up her own blog soon, where she will post regular updates about mental health, so be sure to follow her on Twitter so you know when she has set it up.
Below are mine and Stacey’s answers. We both really hope that these answers enlighten you just a little, and if you ever want to know anything more about any of our situations then feel free to message either of us on Twitter and we will be happy to respond.
Q- I know it’s hard to try and describe how anxiety feels, but to the best you can, how does anxiety feel to you?
G-Yeah you’re completely right! Describing anxiety is so hard because without actually suffering with it yourself some of the things that you say to try and describe it people are like what? To me personally, anxiety can happen at any point and last for any length of time. I’ve experienced it happening in the mornings and stopping me going somewhere, I’ve got up and got ready to go out and then physically could not bring myself to go. On the other hand, I’ve also experienced it randomly coming on when I’ve been out. I suppose the best way that I can really describe anxiety is that it’s this feeling of suddenly being alone, and you could be surrounded by so many people. You feel a sort of sudden paranoia which stops you from doing what you were planning on or were doing.
S- I feel like I’m drowning like I can’t breathe. If I’m in public I feel like everyone can see how much I’m struggling and they’re just laughing at me. Sometimes it can be that bad that I’m physically sick. People always think it’s just being nervous and worrying but it’s not, it’s far from that.
Q- How long have you suffered from a mental illness?
G- A few years. I have only recently gained the confidence to speak out about it before.
S- I’ve suffered from mental illness since I was 12, I only plucked up the courage to go to the doctors when I was 16 though.
Q- Do you have any techniques to help you cope when you feel anxious or are having a panic attack?
G-I suffer from panic attacks regularly, and I have learnt a lot of coping techniques which work for me. I did a detailed post about them in my world mental health day post, which I have linked if you want to see! My main piece of advice would be to focus on your breathing. I know that when you start having a panic attack you understandably panic more and get yourself into a state of extreme panic and progressively get worse and worse. And so I find that the main thing which helps me is really focusing on my breathing and trying to regain a regular breathing pattern with deep breaths.
S- I’m still figuring that out, when I’m having a panic attack I try and focus on something around me and try and regulate my breathing, it’s hard when I’m out in public and sometimes it doesn’t always work.
Q- What help have you had in relation to your mental illness?
G- I’ve had a few different things which I’ve tried in an attempt to help. I’ve tried counselling but personally I didn’t think that was for me. I’m quite a keep to myself person, and so really, I try and handle things within my little friendship group and not with medical professionals.
S- I’ve had various different counsellors, I’ve been referred to the crisis team, I’ve been admitted to hospital I’ve had it all, absolutely none of it has been adequate. After my first suicide attempt I went to the doctors and they said because I was out of ‘the moment’ I was fine and there was nothing they could do. After my second, I was admitted to the hospital, got referred to the crisis team, they asked me two questions and from those questions said I was fine so I was discharged.
Q- Have you ever tried counselling and if you have how was it?
G- Like I said previously, I have tried counselling but I didn’t really think it was for me. In no way would I say to someone to rule it out completely, because everyone is so different, and I can’t emphasise enough how just because it didn’t work for me, that it won’t work for everyone. Personally, I found it hard to open up to someone who I didn’t know too well and I feel like that’s why I didn’t think it was an effective process for me to take.
S- I’ve been in and out of counselling since I was about 13, I find it helped for a little while but the problem for me was it brought things and memories to the surface but didn’t teach me how to deal with the emotions I felt, so I had all these emotions and thoughts going on in my head and I didn’t know how to cope with them which has resulted in two failed suicide attempts.
Q- Apart from the known about help, is there any help which you’ve had which worked well for you?
G- There is always this talk about going the doctors or being referred to counselling, but personally, I think that there is also so much help which isn’t spoken about regularly such as support groups, or opening up to people around you. But like I’ve said so many times, don’t rule out
S- No professional help I’ve had so far has been any help to me.
Q- Have you spoken about your situation with your friends or family?
G- I’ve not really spoken about it with my family that much, but I am very, very open about it with my friends and really tell them everything so that I have a huge support network.
S- I’m very close with my brother, he suffers from bipolar so knows to some extent what I go through so I speak to him all the time. I’ve spoken to my mum and dad, but they don’t fully understand so it’s hard to speak to them, don’t get me wrong they make every effort to understand and research things online if they don’t know but I feel more comfortable talking to my brother.
Q- Do you think that once you have a mental illness that you can ever ‘get over it’?
G- I think it is very hard to ‘get over’ a mental illness because you have so many relapses that you keep going back to the place you were once in, and you could have a good 6 months for example and then end up back at where you started. I think with time, it just gets easier to cope and you understand how to deal and handle your illness yourself. I don’t know if it is ever possible to ‘get over it’, I’m sure I’ll let you know one day if I ever find out!!!
S- With me, because I suffer from borderline personality disorder I will have it for life, it’s just a case of managing it well and not letting it take over your life. Regards to depression or anxiety I’ve known people who have said they don’t suffer anymore but I’m not sure, I think you’ll always have it it’s just learning to cope and manage it well.
Q- Why do you think that mental illnesses are so hard to talk about?
G- I think they’re so hard to talk about because people don’t understand enough about them and so whenever the topic is touched on people shy away from the conversation and I think it’s because they’re scared. The word mental illness isn’t exactly an inviting topic of conversation, is it? And I really think that people are just scared of what they don’t know much about, and the thought of not being taken seriously by these people makes it hard to talk about mental illnesses.
S- People get scared about things they don’t understand. They close off and don’t want to know which is why we have to talk about them as much as possible so people get over their initial fear. It’s a massive issue that people need educating about. Also the stigma, people don’t need to be told just get over it or stop being stupid, that doesn’t help. That makes things worse. The worse thing someone could ever say to someone who’s finally plucked up the courage to actually confide in someone is telling them to get over it.
Q- Do you think that mental illnesses are spoken about enough in society?
G- No, No and No again. Mental Illness is a topic which, unfortunately, people run away from. I personally think that there should be a discussion introduced into school so that people can be educated on mental illness. It is truly impossible to understand how someone is feeling, but if more and more people are educated then maybe one-day mental illnesses will be treated with the respect that they deserve.
S- No, but I think it’s got better, it’s still not good enough, though. I still think we as society has a long way to go in terms of accepting and understanding mental illness.
Q- What advice would you give to someone who is suffering alone?
G- Do everything at your own pace. If you think you can cope alone and you think that is best for you, then stay that way. If you want to open up to someone then do it. Don’t force yourself to do something because you read it on Google for example. Take everything at a pace that works for you, and remember, there are so many support networks available for you.
S- Don’t ever feel afraid to open up to someone. A friend, a family member, a suicide hotline, doctor, a stranger, just anyone the first step is always the hardest. I’m glad I finally plucked up the courage to tell someone because I don’t think I’d have been here right now if I hadn’t, it was such a relief to know that someone else knew what I was going through.