This week was mental health awareness week, and something I feel very strongly in raising more awareness of… more specifically to those who have a sibling with DMD. To discuss mental health seems to be such a taboo subject, and I often believe that those who have never suffered with their mental health (luck you!) underestimate just how powerful the brain can be. How much it can end up controlling your life in ways you can’t really imagine until you experience it.
We all have stressful times in our lives, some small, some large and come catastrophic events. Sometimes these times are when our mental health suffers most, or for some people (like me) it can be months after the event when you really start to struggle. When you have a sibling with DMD you already have a high pressure living environment to start off with, and that’s just the circumstance that no-one can help. But then comes the stresses that your own life can bring. Work, friends, boyfriends, moving house… you name it. So I don’t think it’s a bit of wonder that most of us at some point or another hit a really dark patch. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for me. So I wanted to share a small part of my struggles and my journey with mental health.
My worst time with my mental health was definitely last year. Last year took me to places that I have never been mentally, and never wish to go back to. But before I delve into that… when I was younger even though I was aware of Joe’s condition I don’t think it really resonated with me realistically to more recent years. There were (and still are) plenty of times where it was awful to watch him struggle and be in pain, and that does make me very sad, angry and upset. I want to fix it, and I can’t. I really feel that I have definitely struggled so much more with all of this more recently than I ever did as a child or a teenager. Maybe it’s just because you understand more, who knows?
I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression around 4 years ago. I had a period of high stress mostly at work I think (seems like forever ago so it’s hard to remember), but the defining point was when I was on a training course and I had my first panic attack. I had never experienced anything like it, and I really thought I was dieing (sounds dramatic I know!). I couldn’t breath, my heart was racing, my head was spinning and I just couldn’t get a grip on it. One of my other colleagues called an ambulance, and the two men that came were lovely and really reassuring. When I was told I’d had a panic attack, I was instantly mortified. All of that fuss and I was having a panic attack!? Going back into that room I just wanted to curl into a ball and die, I was so embarrassed. Everyone was really nice about it, but I didn’t want to even tell my mum at first because I felt so stupid. But the reality is, that a panic attack is really scary when it’s happening. If you’re lucky enough to have never have had one, then don’t judge someone else until you experience it.
From then I was on and off with my anxiety running high, constantly worried that people didn’t like me, I was upsetting someone, I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have enough friends, I wasn’t successful enough, I was too fat, I over analysed every single conversation I had…. the list goes on. Over the last 2 years I have been through some good patches and bad patches, but I had found things that helped me and I slowly started to feel better. As hard as it is for me to admit, as I have always saw this as a failing, I have had 2 rounds of counselling and 3 rounds of cognitive behavioural therapy. Up until this moment, the only people that knew about this was my mum and dad, my husband, my siblings and two friends.
Last year there were a series of events (which I won’t go into detail about) that lead to me having a breakdown. Some of the states that my hubby would come home and find me in where awful. There were a couple of occasions where he literally picked me up off the kitchen floor hysterical. I couldn’t speak or control my emotions at all, and he would just hold me until I fell asleep or calmed down enough to speak. I felt like I was in the big black hole that I just couldn’t get out of. During that time, my hubby was, as still is my absolute rock. He was patient, understanding, cuddled me when I needed it, calmed me down when I needed it… all the small things that make such a big difference. It definitely would have got a whole lot worse if it wasn’t for his support, love and understanding, and for that I know that I am an incredibly lucky woman.
The reason that I am putting this out there now, is because after a lot of hard work I am finally coming out of the other side of the dark pit that I have been in. I am no longer embarrassed or ashamed about what I have been through, and I know that there will be some very difficult times to come that will test my mental strength again. Admitting that you struggle with your mental health isn’t a weakness, in fact it’s a strength and it’s taken me a long time to realise that. However, I write this post and I still panic about what people will think and how it will be received. I do think some of that anxiety comes with living in a small town where people gossip. It’s so easy to feel like everyone is talking about you or knows everything about you. My heart races and I delete and restart about a hundred times per blog post, but I want to help others, and it also does some good to take myself out of my comfort zone as scary as it feels!
When you have a sibling with DMD it is more common than you realise to struggle with your mental health at some point or another. It’s a lot to get your head around, and as a child your dealing with adult issues that a child shouldn’t have to be aware of. Then as an adult, that reality feels bigger and scarier than ever sometimes. Some of the things that have helped me, are keeping a regular diary. I currently use Fearne Cotton’s ‘Happy Journal’ which I swear by and has really helped me (a christmas present off my hubby!). I go to the gym regularly which really helps keep my anxiety at bay, and I am very organised as this calms me down. Sometimes it takes a dark time for us to really assess our life, who is in it and the positive and negative impacts these things have. The difficult part is that sometimes we have to distance ourself from people who aren’t good for our mental health, and change our bad habits such as over eating or drinking too much. It’s really difficult at first, but when you start to feel and see that difference it’s so worth it.
I really hope that by overcoming my fear of talking about my mental health, that someone somewhere feels less alone and can perhaps relate to aspects of my own experiences.