Update: Summer 2018
Since starting this blog in January, my life has gone through a series of changes (all good). I have become a runner, I am a published poet (currently working on my second book) but most importantly my mental health seems to have stabilised on the happy side of the road.
I wrote this in response to a comment on a recent post:
It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now – coming up to 4 years since diagnosis and a little over 2 years since I finished active treatment. The last year has been the most significant in terms of my MH recovery, last July I was in a very bad place and building myself back up from crisis point has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Being told I had PTSD was a huge step towards understanding why I was struggling so much, my six months with psychology gave me a comprehensive insight into how trauma had shaped my life and from there things started to change. EMDR, my blog, my poetry, running, it’s all helped.
I know I’m incredibly fortunate to be emotionally as well as I am right now, I have faith in my continued recovery and I appreciate the importance of everything I do to remain well.
I hope that sharing my story will help give people an awareness and understanding to enable them to provide compassionate support to someone who needs it. If we can encourage just one person to seek help then we make a difference to the 1 in 4 people affected by mental illness each year.
I was first diagnosed with depression when unsuccessfully going through IVF treatment many years ago. As I had no knowledge of the illness I didn’t really understand that I wasn’t to blame for feeling the way I did and felt responsible for not being able to get better. With medication and therapy my mood improved sufficiently for me to believe that it was a one-off and that I was ok now.
Fast forward to being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014… I was concerned that my depression was returning due to familiar signs and symptoms, however I was reassured that low mood was a normal response to cancer diagnosis so I carried on managing my emotions as best I could. The anxiety I experienced on returning to clinic for my 1st annual review was indescribable but once I’d accepted that my mammogram was clear, I felt like all the tension I’d been living with for the preceding year just vanished. I instantly relaxed and felt more positive about my prognosis. This was a fleeting reprieve as within a few days my mood dropped rapidly. Encouraged by a nurse and psychologist at the cancer centre I made an appointment to see my GP who started me on anti-depressant medication.
For 18 months all my GP could do was prescribe ever increasing dosage of medication, but my mood was not improving, if anything it was getting worse. I was struggling to manage the children and cope with normal day to day stuff, life just felt overwhelmingly hard. Then in May 2017 my referral to psychology came through and I was told that I wasn’t just dealing with depression but also PTSD caused by a number of traumatic life events. I was unaware that I had been living with and managing PTSD for a long time before cancer but that cancer had made it worse.
Therapy (Behavioural Activation and EMDR) has turned my life around, I genuinely feel better than I have at any time since my cancer diagnosis. I still need to manage my routine to minimise stress as my mood can quickly spiral downwards. I am awaiting referral back to psychology for further therapy to help with my unresolved trauma, but for now I remain hopeful that recovery is possible.
Mental illness can affect anyone at anytime, it impacts on your ability to manage ordinary day to day tasks, on how you relate to other people, on your work life, it makes you feel isolated and that no one understands what you’re going through, it makes you blame yourself for stuff that isn’t your fault, it makes you believe that things will never get better and that your loved ones would be better off without you. You would do anything to stop the pain.
But mental illness is wrong, things will get better, your loved ones need you and can help. Talk about your struggles and fears, ask for help, and just keep going.