My name is Ciara, I’m 24 years old, and on the 4th December 2016 I had a nervous breakdown.
It doesn’t sound like something that could happen to young people, does it? I often thought a nervous breakdown was something people in their late 30s experienced as part of a ‘mid-life crisis’. It wasn’t anything women (and men) in their mid-20s would have to fear because, as society screams at us on a daily basis – what have we got to be stressed about?
Doctors prefer to use the term mental health crisis, and the Oxford Dictionary describes it as:
My definition? I fucking lost it.
I remember the events leading up to it and the night it happened so clearly, though at the time it felt like I was wading through thick fog with rocks in my shoes. The week before, I’d been in hospital for a procedure relating to some health problems I’ve had over the last couple of years which had exhausted me beyond reason. I went to work as normal the day after that, and was due to have a tooth removed on the Friday. In our house, Sundays aren’t so much a day of rest as they are a day of getting shit done and preparing for the week ahead, which is what we did – business as usual. As soon as I set my alarm for the morning, however, it felt like I watched my mental health decline in front of me, and I was certain Dan could see it, too.
I had panic attack after panic attack and when I wasn’t panicking I was concentrating so hard on remembering.to.breathe that I ended up crying and vomiting all at the same time. Usually, Dan is really good at keeping me calm. He knows how to handle it, depending on the way the anxiety is presenting itself at the time. This was different; I didn’t want him to touch me or leave me or stop talking or start talking; my clothes were so uncomfortable it felt as though they were burning my skin. I can honestly say that I thought I was going to combust. As you can imagine, the days that followed were some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I’ve lived through heartbreak and I’ve lived through grief, but in that moment I wasn’t sure I’d live through this.
My mental illness had defeated me, and I was merely a puppet whose strings got tangled and thrown to the floor.
I spent the best part of December in bed, crying or panicking, but never sleeping. At one point I’d gone almost 80 hours without sleep, so of course my body hated me as much as I hated my mind. I couldn’t get out of bed, the mere thought of a train made me sick and I spoke to people so rarely that many close to me just assumed I had a problem with them. Usually I pride myself on getting everyone I know firmly in the Christmas spirit, but I wanted to rip the decorations down as soon as we’d put them up, and the entire festive period was a blur.
Depression is a funny word: the stigma attached to it has almost made it seem meaningless, like a nothing kind of feeling. Ironically, that’s exactly how depression affects me. I feel everything and nothing all at once. There is nothing worse than genuinely believing your family and friends don’t need you, that you’re a burden and all you’re doing is causing them more stress. Couple that with the fact that you do essentially become completely fucking useless and need somebody to remind you to eat and drink and wash – it’s a recipe for self-destruction.
The anxiety came and went. I remember going to the doctor and both my fiance and his mum had to take me into the room because I’d got myself into such a state about speaking to somebody that would help me. I couldn’t leave the house with people, let-alone on my own, so of course I spent a lot of time holed up inside chatting to the cats while Dan worked.
At the beginning of January I left my 9-to-5 executive job in London. It certainly wasn’t the easiest decision to make, especially with a wedding coming up and bills to pay, but I wasn’t given much of a choice. Financial matters cause millions of people stress every single day, and it was certainly a trigger point (one of the only things I could pinpoint).
Why not just avoid your triggers?
This was a question I got asked on a very regular occasion, and it was probably the most frustrating. While most mental illnesses will have triggers, things that exacerbate the symptoms and pull you under, it’s not uncommon to become completely unaware of what they are. I’ve always known most of the things that set me off – travelling long distances on my own, crowded rooms, phone calls, public transport are just a few of them. This time, however, I didn’t have a clue. Something as trivial as dropping a pen on the floor would send me spiralling, and all my usuals became impossible.
The thing with depression and anxiety is that they both produce conflicting symptoms, and because I was facing them all at once, there was no way I could pin point every single trigger. Think of it like a vodka Redbull -the alcohol is the depression, causing you to feel ALL THE FEELS at once, and the energy drink is the anxiety, pushing your heart rate up and leaving you on edge. The worst hangovers come from vodka Redbulls, too. On the one hand, I wanted to stop feeling all together, I wanted to stop existing, to sleep the pain away. The other part of me couldn’t relax until I’d figured out every single thing I’d ever done wrong and made steps to fix it.
Then comes the recovery
Leaving my job certainly had a negative impact on my recovery, and I honestly hope that those suffering with mental illness are given more legal support in the future. I was expected to make decisions I probably wouldn’t have made, had my brain been in check, and there was no way I could stand up for myself and fight for what I deserved.
Of course I worked with my doctor to find a treatment, and while I’m still (S T I L L) waiting for therapy, we have found something that helps. I now take 200mg of Sertraline, 20mg of Amitriptyline, and a low dosage of Diazepam as and when needed. I was also given sleeping tablets, because of course nobody can recover from anything when they sleep around 8 hours a week. The Amitriptyline helps with chronic jaw pain, IBS and endometriosis as well, so this lil’ bad boy is helping me fight both mental and physical illnesses.
Anti-depressants saved my life.
Please, if you have taken medication and decided it hasn’t worked, or you’ve never taken it but continuously preach to all suffering that they are bad, stop it. Just stop it. Without the help of the tablets I take, I wouldn’t be here today and I’m sure there are countless others that would say the same. Mental illness runs in my family, and I had quite a traumatic childhood, so it would have been a miracle if my brain wasn’t somehow affected. These pills help me see through the fog, they quiet the demons and they help me drift off to sleep at night. If you’re struggling, please talk to your doctor, and try to find something that works for you.
Dan and I sat down and worked out how to fix or change all the seemingly obscure niggles I had. After a while, I began to feel less like I was drowning and more like I was treading water: I could see land, I just needed to work a little bit harder to get there.
In the last month or so, I’ve managed to leave the house on a few occasions. I’ve headed into town with a friend and browsed Primark (one of my favourite pastimes), and I’ve been CLUBBING. I’m spending more time out of bed than I have in months and I’m starting to look forward to the future again. Before, I’d think about the future, quietly wondering whether I’d still be here, whether Dan would still want to be with me, or if my friends would decide I’m not worth the cancelled plans and flakey conversations. I’m starting to find my feet as a freelancer, and I’ve already been lucky enough to work with a few incredible brands that I myself use every day. I’ve got a routine back, and I actually enjoy putting make up on now. Going out alone is still scary, but it’s the next thing to conquer. I’m setting goals for myself now and I feel happy again.
One thing I didn’t expect to happen is that I’m ‘finding myself’. I’m almost learning things I didn’t know about me, likes and dislikes, and for the first time in my life, I’m becoming comfortable in myself. It’s all been very strange.
Of course, I still have dark days – recovery is a road I’ve never really taken myself down before, so I’m still learning. There are times when I don’t leave my bed because I’ve exhausted myself socially, or where I won’t reply to a single message or pick up a phone call. To me right now, the most important thing is being kind to myself; I cannot expect to get through this if I beat myself up every time I fail to get out of bed before 11am. I’m being gentle with myself, and that is a lesson all of it’s own.
I want to say thank to everybody who has helped and supported me over the last 4 months. Cheers for being patient and understanding and kind, when I was everything but. I owe SO much to you.
This post was terrifying to write, and works out to be almost the same length as an A level English Literature assignment – soz about that. It was difficult to write about things when I felt the way I did – tough to be enthusiastic when you hate yaself! But I want to blog again, and now I have a lot more time to write about anything I fancy! If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations. I’ll send you a certificate in the post.