Living with mental illness and the self-help methods I tried
This is the 3rd in a series of “My journey through anxiety, depression and psychosis.” You can read Part I and Part II if you want to find out more.
Let me tell you, I know all about mental illness and self-help, both from my personal and professional experiences.
Some of you will already know a bit about my journey, but after recent personal trials and tribulations, I thought I’d revisit this post.
I wanted to remind myself how bad that period of my life was, how far I’d come, how I got through it, and what helped. Having re-read the post I realise now that no matter what life throws at me, I will never let myself become that low ever again. I will seek out support way before it gets to that level.
See, I know how deep that black hole can be and, once you go down there, it’s truly not easy to climb your way back out! Mental illness is so hard to live with.
If you see anything of yourself or your own experiences in this post, perhaps you’ll feel relieved that you’re not alone, and you’ll seek support.
While reading my story you might gain new insight into different mental health problems, and understand how difficult it is for people who experience mental illness? Maybe you’ll recognise some of the symptoms in a friend or family member and learn how you might be able to help them?
Okay, let’s look at the self-help methods I tried for my anxiety, depression and psychosis. What worked, and what didn’t work so well.
Who said I had a mental illness?
One day I took the boys to see our GP about their asthma and after he’d seen them he sent them out to the waiting room. He turned to me and, with his hand resting lightly on my arm, said “Tell me, what’s the problem? You so thin and though you smile, I think you very sad.”
The floodgates opened and out it all tumbled; I sobbed, wiping the tears and snot on my hand as I explained how the boys’ dad had been cheating and we’d broken up around eighteen months ago.
My GP told me to take the boys home, he would make some telephone calls and I was to come back to see him in an hour. When I returned to the surgery he’d called a Psychiatric Consultant colleague who agreed to see me; like — now, at our local general hospital, and Dr Nga was going to drop me off!
Now let’s go back a bit………..
Self-help for my mental illness started here
……….I’d been struggling desperately. I couldn’t see an end to the pain. I felt scared, worthless, hopeless, and suicidal.
That was when I had my own ‘breakdown‘………….. and that’s exactly what it felt like. Both physically and mentally, I was broken.
I had panic attacks throughout the day and particularly at night, keeping me awake.
It was torturous; twenty-four-seven, week on week and, with no end in sight, I wished I was dead!
At that time, I couldn’t talk to anyone but I knew I needed help. I was desperate so I got books from the library (pre-wi-fi) and tried to learn some self-help techniques for my anxiety, depression and psychosis. It went something like this:
Natural Stress Relief
I tried every natural stress relief, sleep-inducing, over-the-counter remedy known to man, without effect.
As an aromatherapist, I made up bottles of stress relief oils then bathed in them and sprayed them around liberally.
However, despite all the lovely citrusy, spicy and fruity oils, all I could smell was the overwhelmingly floral lavender, reminiscent of my grannies old underwear drawers. This didn’t work either.
As a qualified massage therapist, I was aware of the benefits so I booked myself in for a few sessions. However, the first masseuse pecked at me like a small bird trying to feed itself for the first time; it was more irritating than soothing!
The second time, I went for a seated massage which involves sitting on the chair with your upper body leaning forward, your arms on armrests and your face peeking through a hole. Looks comfortable, right?
Well, this lady (who’d attended the seated massage course with me) had me sit on a swivelling office chair! My muscles tensed more as I had to use my feet and legs to keep the chair from spinning!
I used the local gym seven days a week, twice on Sunday; pounding the treadmill and pedalling like fury on the exercise bike.
If I couldn’t get to the gym I made up for it by jogging on the spot and running up and down our stairs.
I tried almost everything to relieve the constant anxiety and to wear myself out so I could sleep, but even the excessive exercise proved fruitless.
Hallucinations and paranoia
After three nights without sleep, I started to hear, see and feel odd things. I heard people (I didn’t recognise the voices – but they were real) talking to me and about me; saying I was no good and I was dirty.
I saw mice scurrying over my wooden floorboards, and felt something crawling under my skin; it itched and I scratched. I got up, tore off the bedsheets and put them into the washing machine on a 90 degree wash to get rid of anything that might have been crawling on them.
Worse still, that night I was wide awake, sitting curled up on my kitchen floor, and it came to me — with a thud-like a blow to my stomach — I’d killed someone!
I remembered it! OMG! My heart pounded and I felt the colour drain from my face as it all came flooding back.
How and where I’d buried that someone; by a huge tree outside my aunt’s flats. But I couldn’t remember who the someone was. I felt sick and tortured myself trying to figure out who it might be.
After that, whenever I saw a police car my stomach did somersaults, and I thought ‘This is it. They’ve come for me.’ I was terrified. However, there was no knock at the door.
At times I wondered if I should just hand myself in, and let them find out who I’d killed.
Mad, nuts or crazy
Although close friends and family were aware of my break-up with the boys’ dad and knew how devastated I was, I couldn’t tell anyone what was going through my head. I was afraid they’d think I was mad, nuts, or just plain crazy and that I should be locked away.
I certainly felt like I was going mad!
Seeing rats and the unknown ugly faces frightened me, but if I closed my eyes at least I would get some temporary relief.
However, the voices were incessant and unbearable; the constant rabble of people talking out loud about me and my inner fears. They spoke of all the bad things I’d ever done, and what should happen to people like me! They played tricks, and they were cruel.
The voices kept me awake with their irrepressible verbal abuse. So, I bought a cd player, earplugs and a few (out there) CDs with relaxing music. The sound of water, the waves, and dolphins in the background helped me sometimes — if I really concentrated on them.
I replayed these throughout the nights but still, my heart pounded in my chest and thundered in my ears. I could barely breathe, and the panic attacks raged.
By the time I got the boys up for school, I was a wreck; I was sluggish and jittery, but I somehow managed to hide it from the boys. Even now, thankfully, they tell me how they always remember me being cheerful and smiley.
Fortunately, my part-time but demanding job at a fashion company helped abate the voices for a few hours but the anxiety, depression, and panic remained.
I even tried expensive hypnotherapy but I couldn’t relax enough to go into a trance-like state.
I bought a hypnosis video to use when the boys were in bed. After watching it many times I did eventually doze off. Then if I kept my eyes closed when I ‘came to’, I was able to climb the stairs, get into bed and sleep for a while. Sometimes it didn’t work but I was so grateful for the times it did.
Did self-help work for my mental illness?
In hindsight, and before I studied mental health for three years +, I didn’t know that what self-help methods worked for anxiety or depression most certainly didn’t work for psychosis.
“Hindsight is not only clearer than perception-in-the-moment but also unfair to those who actually lived through the moment.”Edwin S. Shneidman
During my unwell years, I often remembered how, as kids, we’d all say stupid things like “The men in white coats will come to get you.” or “You’ll end up in Stratheden, (our nearest asylum)!
I recalled one day mum said my stepdad was taking her to hospital for a short stay and I asked if I could go with them. Dad said no, mum said, “Aye; she’ll be fine.” So off we went and I didn’t think too much of it when we passed our local hospital — until I saw the massive sign — Stratheden Hospital.
I assumed and hoped we’d just drive past that too. But then we pulled up at the foreboding buildings and the grounds surrounded by high metal railings. I was petrified, and felt a certain shame; my mum was going into the Loonie bin. Oh my God!
From the car park, I could see people roaming around; some were stooped or walked oddly, others made strange noises. A lady with long scraggly grey hair, wearing odd clothes, waved at me frantically then cackled like an old witch. Not sure if it was designed to frighten me, but it did!
Mum and dad got out of the car but I wasn’t allowed to go with them so I was left sitting in the car and told not to open the doors to anyone. Ha, as if.
Back to the future
Fortunately, although I had suicidal thoughts, the Consultant Psychiatrist and the Psychology team were confident that I had no intention of killing myself. I’d said that even though I felt suicidal, I could never leave my sons with that legacy.
Hence, there was no need for admission, and three years of weekly gut-wrenching counselling followed — on and off because at times I was too afraid of the feelings it all evoked.
I hope you’ll continue to read My story, Part IV. You’ll learn about my suicide attempt and more of the hell I went through as I lived with mental illness.
Over to you
In the meantime, can you relate? Have you tried any of the self-help methods for anxiety, depression and/or psychosis? What worked or didn’t work for you? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and I’m happy to answer any questions.