As part of our Men’s Wellbeing Matters series, our client and regular blogger Chris, looks back at his break down and unpicks all the moments where he ignored the signs of his deteriorating mental health leading to his hospitalisation. In this honest blog, he draws lessons for himself and others, showcasing how by intervening early and getting support at the first signs of struggle, you can recover without crashing first.
“I recently reflected on my mental health hospitalisation by stating in a previous blog that I was ‘glad it happened’. A strange conclusion, perhaps, for what was a very traumatic period of my life for both me and my family. However, it felt that by ‘breaking’ I was finally able to focus on recovery where previously I had been struggling for some time purely with survival; getting from one day to the next and hoping my anxiety wouldn’t get any worse.
Yet the conclusion that you need to let it completely break you before you can start a recovery doesn’t inspire much hope if you’re struggling day-to-day. Fortunately, by looking back on what happened to me last year I’ve learned some personal lessons from the experience that I’m keen to share with fellow Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety sufferers to help them become fellow survivors.
I can trace my recent anxiety issues back several years. A situation at work got particularly bad at Easter 2019 and following this I started with a therapist. This helped, a lot, but it wasn’t a cure. Towards the end of 2019 work was getting busier and I felt I was under a lot of pressure. The team was growing as were the number of projects I was responsible for. With further training and exams in January, Christmas 2019 wasn’t really much of a break. When back to work in January 2020 I was well fired up, rolling with the confidence from recent training and full of ideas of how to take on the challenges that lay ahead. I could feel at the time my mood was high. This is my typical response when entering a bipolar cycle; I always go up before coming down. This helped with my confidence and work in January was actually quite fun. I started to think of my bipolar as a useful tool; it was actually helping me. However, I was spending evenings and weekends churning over work issues or doing reading to prepare myself for what was coming up. I wasn’t giving my brain a break. A dangerous spiral towards an inevitable crash had begun.
Looking back, perhaps I should have been bold enough to seek support and time off in January 2020? – at the time when I knew I wasn’t feeling right. However, I fear that by taking just a couple of weeks off I’d most likely got more stressed sitting at home worrying about work and that taking only a very short respite period would merely have delayed the inevitable rather than prevented it.
So, the warning signs were there. I just thought I had it in hand. But doesn’t everyone with anxiety issues? Isn’t it just a rough patch we need to grin and bear it and get through it? I plugged on. Towards the end of March 2020 it was all change. As we recall the coronavirus pandemic hit and the stay at home guidance was issued. My work in the aviation industry suddenly halted as one by one all the projects were stopped. This gave me a great sense of relief – pressure to deliver was removed – but this was of course marred with a new concern for ‘what the heck do I do now?’. By the beginning of May I surrendered to my moods and emotions. I called in sick. I hoped a week would give me time to recover. It wasn’t enough, so I got a doctor’s certificate for another couple of weeks. But, I didn’t go to my GP for this, I contacted a private GP via my employer’s medical cover. The reason I did this is important to the story but on reflection avoiding my GP was not a wise decision.
Firstly, I had also been going through a process of gradually reducing medication and was nearly off one of the medications I’d been on for years. I didn’t want to have to start taking a higher dose again – even though that’s really what I needed. Secondly, I guess, I was scared of other implications of going to my GP. Would I have been sent straight to hospital? Something I didn’t want but has happened before. Also I had a strange notion of having had a ‘good record’. I hadn’t had any medical mental health intervention for approximately 11 years and didn’t want to spoil my record. I knew that I could contact the private GP service “in confidence” and I was able to request that they did not inform my GP of the consultation. It’s a crazy situation to be in when you’re too fearful to speak to your own Doctor about your health. Something that probably wouldn’t happen with a physical issue.
Had I gone to my GP the likelihood would have been that I would have been referred back to the local mental health services and been able to have got some specialist intervention and advice; a change to medication and probably most importantly a supportive voice for some much-needed time off. I probably wouldn’t have been sent straight to hospital at that stage as I was still functioning and not in serious mania. Mental health services now have a much-increased focus and preference to treat people at home. And, with regular visits and calls, recovering at home seems to me to have many advantages over the unfamiliar environment of hospital. Doing this might have changed the story significantly, avoiding hospital treatment and starting me on the road back to good health at home.
Looking ahead if I find my mental health deteriorating I need to read the signs like I did before, but this time be confident to ask for specialist help and to ensure I get a reasonable period of rest and recovery and avoid being pushed back to work too quickly. Ultimately 4-8 weeks sounds like a long period to take off, but is small compared to the 8 months I took after allowing my illness to get really bad before seeking treatment.
Since my latest illness, I’ve made changes to my life to keep myself well and try to avoid a slip back towards mental ill health in the future. I now take time to prioritise my wellbeing by vigorously defending time for activities that I enjoy and help me recharge – such as going for walks, bike rides, camping, meditating, listening to music and reading. I allow myself to escape my oppressive and repetitive thoughts by bringing my mind’s focus round on to being present for what I’m experiencing in this moment now; yesterday’s in the past and can’t be changed; tomorrow will happen tomorrow. When I finish work for the day, I now finish thinking about work for the day too. If I’ve got thoughts to process, I write them down in the form of journals or blogs. Doing this has helped me think about my life deeply, think about the life I want to lead and search out my authentic self. But, most importantly, I now feel able to set boundaries where perhaps I didn’t feel able to before – when I feel too much is being asked of me – and I feel confident in asking for help or time off when I need it.”
Want to write a blog for us?
We’re always keen to share mental health stories or give a platform to anyone wanting to share thoughts and educate others about mental health or wellbeing. If you’d like to write a blog or create a video blog for us, a poem, a song or a piece of art, you don’t have to be an expert at it, we can coach you through it! Just get in touch with Connie, our Communications Lead, at firstname.lastname@example.org