My Journey in the Dark

Realising that it really is okay, not to be okay…

I’ve always been a happy person. Of course not all of the time, that’s not human, but most of the time I am optimistic about life and the road ahead.

This is me when I’m me!

But, in December 2021, my body and mind took me places that I don’t really want to go again. I still don’t really know why, possibilities are hormones, stress, burn out, thyroid or “just one of those things”, I’m still investigating the reasons. I’m feeling a lot better four months on, but the scars (not literally) are still there.

Please be warned, this blog post discusses suicidal thoughts and possible triggers. I want to share because I am a classic case of “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone!”

Here is my journey…

I am a primary school teacher and like many people, I found 2021 a challenge. We had a death in the family that impacted us all, we had a major fire in my work place (luckily no one was hurt) and covid in general caused stress and disruption. Despite all of this, I ended the year feeling okay. I look back and there were signs that my body wasn’t 100% e.g: losing appetite, increased anxiety spells for no reason, feeling dizzy and “out of body”, not wanting to go places in my weekends, upset stomach (loose stools) etc… I just put all of this down to being busy and needing a holiday. I was eating healthily (mostly) and exercising regularly. Walking the dog and in general, I was taking care of myself. I love my job and my life, so I didn’t think I was stressed.

When the end of 2021 came and summer break was here, I was tired but happy. I started the Christmas break shopping for presents and enjoying the sun and my family. I was still having symptoms, but I was getting on with it. Then Christmas Eve came, I woke feeling weird. A mix of anxiety, fatigue, stomach pain and no appetite. I made myself get through the day with my husband and kids because it’s one of my favourite times of the year! I wasn’t going to miss it. Christmas morning I couldn’t eat and I was constipated and I had stomach pain still. My husband ended up taking me to A and E. They gave me stuff to get my bowel moving and pills for the stomach pain. I hardly ate a thing Christmas day but thankfully I perked up that night enough to enjoy my family.

Boxing day, I woke and couldn’t eat and the fatigue was extreme. It is so hard to explain extreme fatigue. It isn’t tiredness that you can just get up and soldier on through. Walking is a struggle, talking is hard…EVERYTHING is HARD!!!! I was hardly eating and mostly sleeping all the time. Thankfully I had a spell of better health (not 100% though) over the New Year period and I was able to enjoy a holiday away with family and friends. That didn’t last though. When I got home, a few days later I could barely get out of bed. I would walk to the shower in the morning and be exhausted. I could barely lift my arms to wash my hair. I would be puffed out from that small walk and I would have to sit on the bathroom floor to put my contact lenses in. I look back now and I can’t believe I even got out of bed, but for some reason no matter how bad I was, that was always important to me to have a shower, even though most days I would just be straight back in bed afterwards.

These hard days continued, day after day after day after day after day…

I would wake and feel the worst anxiety I have ever felt as soon as I opened my eyes. Make myself have a shower then get back into bed, sobbing and fretting. There were no triggers, this was just how my body felt. I couldn’t eat, so my husband would buy watermelons, they were pretty much all I could eat. I would sleep and cry, sleep and cry, sleep and cry. Everyday we hoped would be a better one. Some days were better. I would get a glimpse of ME! That glimpse would give me hope that all of that rest was helping, but then CRASH! My body and mind would go down again. I honestly started to believe that this was my life now. This was me now. I can remember one morning, the sun was shining and I could hear my husband out in the kitchen. I lay there and felt so helpless and guilty. I felt like I was letting everyone down and that life was going by without me. I felt so utterly crap in every sense, that I couldn’t imagine feeling good again or being the functional human that I used to be.

On one of my many dark days. All I could do was cry 🙁

The six week school holidays crept by and I just couldn’t get on top of what was going on. The Doctors were unsure and thankfully I have a wonderful naturopath who gave me good supplements and began to try and find out what was wrong. I couldn’t go anywhere due to anxiety, lack of energy and appetite. It became apparent that I was not going to be able to return to my beloved job at the beginning of the year. I took that really hard and I look back now and that contributed to my stress. I wasn’t being patient with myself. Thankfully my work is supportive and they found a replacement teacher until I could return. It took me weeks to get my head around that, but I was in no state to work anyway.

An image I drew on one of my “better days” A self portrait of how I spent my summer holidays. Maisie the cat was a wonderful therapy cat.

Days, weeks, months went by and small improvements happened, but I was still full of anxiety, fatigue and low mood. I can remember walking the dog on the beautiful beach and all I felt was anxiety and I was crying. I couldn’t see beauty, I just felt horrible. That’s when this thought went through my head, “This is no way to live..” I then thought about how I couldn’t kill myself because I had so many people who loved me…but then I wished that I didn’t have to worry about that because I wanted to die rather than living like this. I tried to think of ways I could do it and none were viable.

That scared me that I went there and it scares me now thinking about it. I went there in my mind a few times after too, wishing I could just leave this world and trying to rationalise how it would be better. Thankfully always when I thought about it, a small voice in my mind knew it wasn’t really me and how much pain this action would bring my beloved family and friends. How on earth could a person who has a beautiful life, not perfect but so much to love, want to leave it? That’s how deep I was down. I felt like I had no control over anything. I was at the mercy of how I would wake every morning. I would wake some days feeling a little bit better and then crash.

Thank goodness I am still here.

Four months on I am so much better.

I am on anti depressants from the Dr to help balance myself again and give my body a break from the crippling irrational anxiety. The pills don’t completely mask all the anxiety, I am glad about that because it has meant that I have had to deal with it in other ways too. I tried hypnotherapy (that helped a bit), counselling (that helped a LOT), targeted supplements from the naturopath (these have made a huge difference), medical tests (these eliminated more sinister illnesses thank goodness). I have had to learn to breathe properly and I am now doing yoga. My body can’t handle high intensity exercise so I do gentle walks with the dog in nature. My appetite is almost back. I am eating to support my hormones and I have cut back hugely on alcohol. Caffeine isn’t great for my anxiety some days, but I still indulge as a treat.

I am so incredibly grateful for my husband. Sorry for the sop, but I don’t know what I would have done without him. He never gave up on me or even slightly lost his patience. He had to pick up the slack in every way. He bought and cut up endless water melons, held me as I sobbed, reminded me who I was even when I couldn’t see it, believed that I would get better when I was convinced that I never would.

My family checked in on me constantly, sometimes all I could do was sob on the phone to my parents and sister. I felt horrible doing it to them and I could feel their worry, but their check ins on me really helped.

My three gorgeous kids who I knew worried, but they got on with their lives. It was a comfort to me when I was feeling my worst, that they were still out there doing life. They each cared in their own ways and I so appreciated that.

My friends who texted, messaged and visited helped so much too. Even if it was only once, I wasn’t counting. I appreciated anyone who cared.

I have to make a special mention to those friends who shared with me that they too had struggled with mental health and also those who shared that they had taken pills to help. I was reluctant to take the pills that the Dr prescribed because I had heard so many horror stories about side effects. Those brave friends who shared with me, helped me to see that there’s no shame in needing medication and that they take a wee while to help. That was the case for me, they took around 4 weeks to help and I had one really bad day that I think was my body getting used to them, but now I feel so much better. I will continue to take this medication for as long as I need. It just feels to good to feel like me again.

I am still recovering. I have to be careful not to push myself. I am returning to work 3 days a week next week. I am nervous and excited. I have lost confidence in my body and gained a whole lot more respect for it at the same time. My husband keeps reminding me that it’s okay if I crash again (I’m terrified of it happening again). I never really thought I would crash like I did, so I’m worried I won’t see the signs again.

But I just have to have faith and breathe. Rest when I need to and truly appreciate my health when I have it. I am so much more grateful for everything that I have and I know now that nothing is worth having if you don’t have your health.

If you’re reading this and you are struggling, please hang on. Better days are coming, I promise. You are important and you deserve to be here! How you are feeling is not you, you are unwell and you need rest. Be kind to yourself. X

An art work that I created years ago, not knowing how badly I would need this message one day!