Updated: Oct 15, 2020
My mental health took a major dip recently.
2020 has been tough for many. I know that's an understatement. I initially found lockdown quite calming but then it was difficult. I realised how much I feed off the energy of my friends to recharge, reignite and fire up my cylinders.
The summer was amazing, camping with my boys, hanging out at the beach, fresh air, watching my boys play and grow together. Nature is a tonic and time is a gift.
But then my father passed away on 25th August. This brought up so many different emotions. Grief, pain, confusion, sadness, anger. I had a lot of anger. Within the space of 2 weeks I had 3 pretty awful panic attacks. I haven't had them for years. I'd been mentally healthy for 2 solid years.
I was only diagnosed as having Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder 2 years ago at the age of 45. But I realise I've been living with it since I was a young child. I have a clear memory of holding my chest and almost keeling over around age 7. But I never mentioned it. Not to one person. I just got on with it. I edited it out. There was too much else to be dealing with.
I think of my eldest who is 7. His greatest trauma is deciding whether he plays with his lego or his PlayStation. My traumas were indescribable on a daily basis. I was constantly walking on egg-shells, fearful of upsetting others, terrified of a beating, drained from the emotional abuse. It's not really a surprise that I have anxiety.
But many of you reading this, who have met me, worked with me, had a laugh, and been out on the town with me may be surprised.
I could be talking to you right now having an attack and you'd be none the wiser. I'd still be smiling, but calmly breathing through it. In fact, the worst attack I've ever had was 2 years ago. I felt it coming on as we were rehearsing 'All I Want for Christmas' with my choir. There's a video of me, a few minutes before I collapsed, singing and dancing through the pain, looking full of life. I have what I call a high functioning anxiety disorder.
There's also a stigma around mental health. Those with the issues don't want to appear weak. Those who don't understand think anxiety is about people who worry all the time and are soft and fragile.
Those who know me know I am not fragile. I'm self-assured, confident, calm, cool-headed - all near antonyms for anxiety! So, I get a look of disbelief when I say I have anxiety.
Since, that night 2 years ago, when an ambulance had to be called out to me, I've been more afraid of my attacks. I really thought I was having a heart attack that night. The pain was impossibly intense and I just couldn't do my usual breathing my way out of it. My recent attacks have been quite vicious but not as ferocious. Each time I have an attack I am absolutely shattered for over a week. So, I'm now anxious about having an anxiety attack.
From attending the Mental Health First Aider Certification (which I highly recommend) I know grief can be a trigger. Knowing helps. I also have strategies to help me in these times.
So, I've started eating more healthy meals, being more active, reading more, taking more breaks, breathing. Most importantly I've been talking to my partner, brother and friends about how I feel.
This post is me outing myself as currently having poor mental health. I still led a fantastic team coaching day over zoom for the executive leadership team for a MAT last week. I coach leaders 1:1 and have been really enjoying running my Assertive Leadership courses.