Turning a Corner


Thank you to The Sligo Champion for publishing my article about my mental health issues this year, I know many readers aren’t local so I’m also sharing the article on here. I hope it’s of help.

This year took me on a journey I never expected to go on. I never thought I had a problem with getting older but suddenly my youngest had flown the nest and I found myself wondering what was next for me. We’d recently moved house and everything was upside down. I couldn’t see a time when things would be back to normal – whatever normal is.

I found myself enjoying a meal with friends one minute and feeling like I was going to die the next. The walls seemed to close in and everything got magnified. Faces seemed to loom over me and the sounds were deafening. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was very frightened. Thankfully I managed to leave and felt somewhat safe once I got back to my car.  

What I now know as panic attacks would creep up unawares. I was petrified on a daily basis, I didn’t want to go into town or go to a shop. I’d have a constant pain in my chest and tense shoulders. My heart would start pounding, I start sweating and shaking before I knew it I was a sobbing wreck. I even had a panic attack in a mindfulness class!

It took courage to go to the doctors and ask for help. Even though I had the support of my wonderful family I felt very alone. I was put on a medication, the panic subsided but something else kicked in – depression.

I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression since the beginning of the year. The anxiety was always there but kept well hidden. The depression, well that was something that arrived out of the blue.

I’m happy to say, yes I am happy!, that I feel like I’m coming back to myself. I will never be the person I was again because I’m much more understanding of mental health issues. I realise that most people have their own battles to fight and their own demons to face. It’s a tough place to be in but I hope now to be more compassionate and if I can offer help, even if it’s only virtual help I’m happy to do what I can.

Talking to different people has given me the most help. Everyone who has experienced this has their own words of wisdom. This week someone said to me “It’s not the situation that matters it’s how you deal with it” – so true.

Another person said that a lot of us are trying to conform to living the life that is expected of us – and wow does this make a lot of sense.

I was having a bad day when a man walked by and said “There are no heroes in this movie.” It was said just at the right time and gave me the courage to continue on even though my heart was pounding so much I felt like it was going to jump out of my chest and run out of the door.

Isn’t it funny how life works out like that? New people come along and you just click with them. You hear parts of their life and you could almost have said the same thing yourself.

I know I still have a long way to go. This was fairly obvious to me the other night when I was waiting for people to arrive and I started to get quite anxious. I hovered in a corridor and almost left. My counsellor had told me to try to relax if I felt like that and wait five more minutes. I did and I managed to calm down. That’s huge progress for me.

I’ve managed to say no a couple of times when people have asked me to do things that I don’t want to do. I’ve also managed to say yes to things that I really wanted to do and I’ve thrown myself into them wholeheartedly.

There are still a few things I’d like to change about myself. I talk way too much, I really should come with a health warning. I need to learn to close my mouth and just listen. I also need to learn to trust people, not everyone obviously, but I know I have built a wall in front of me and it’s very difficult for people to get in. Some people might think I’m stuck up, I’m not I’m just minding myself. Hopefully this will change in time.

It’s been a hell of a rollercoaster ride and there were times when I just wanted it to stop but it’s very much a learning curve. During my life I’ve realised it’s the experiences that you live through that make you the person you are today.

None of us know what is ahead of us so we can just think about what is happening now and try to deal with it as best as we can.

Depression isn’t prejudiced, it can attack anyone at any time, if you do speak out, you’ll find that there are so many people out there in the same situation but were just too frightened to say it. The mental health stigma will never end if people don’t talk about it.

I’ve tried to turn my experiences into a positive. At my lowest I received a comment through the blog from a lady telling me about Havin’ALaugh (Rennafix). I knew of them but wasn’t too sure what it was all about. The charity pay for people in mental health therapy to have life-enhancing experiences.I contacted them when I was at my lowest, I really didn’t have the energy to do anything but I would have loved a seaweed bath.They sent me a voucher and off I went and after four months of my camera sitting in a bag I took it with me. I went for a walk along the beach and started seeing things that used to inspire me and I started taking photos again.

Little by little I got the strength to carry on. Realising that I wasn’t alone, that Havin’aLaugh was there, that readers of the blog knew how I felt, all helped immensely. So much more than the conventional health system where I was given a prescription and told to go for a walk.

I was determined to try to give something back to the charity that helped me so much so I put the word out that I wanted to have a coffee morning in aid of Havin’aLaugh. I had lots of offers of a venue including The Blind Tiger, I gladly took them up on their offer because from an anxiety point of view it made sense. People could see who was in there before they set foot in the place, it’s open and airy and there are two doors for anyone who might want to leave.

Not only did The Blind Tiger give me a venue they also sponsored the drinks. Other cafes, businesses and members of the public gave cakes and raffle prizes and we had around 200 people during the course of the morning and raised over €1000!

We’ve since had two more coffee mornings, much more low key, and more of a cuppa and a chat. Anyone is welcome, if you feel isolated, if you are new to the area, if you want to find out about the charity, or if you just want a chat. It’s a lovely, relaxing morning.

As 2017 draws to a close I am in a much better place than I was at the beginning of the year. I’ve found an inner strength that I didn’t know I had. People tell me I’m brave for speaking out, I’m not, I’m just being honest. If my experience can help just one person realise that they aren’t alone that’s good enough for me.

7 thoughts on “Turning a Corner

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  1. Well done my friend. Im happy for you because I know how despairing you felt and there are now longer periods when you’re feeling better than feeling anxious. Wishing you all a lovely relaxed family Christmas.

  2. Wow, what a journey this year has been for you, and it sounds like a year of growth. Thank you for sharing, and stepping up and speaking out. By doing this, you have helped so many, thank you. I look forward to meeting you and sharing coffee- perhaps at The Blind Tiger next year 🙂 ❤

  3. well said, Val. Really glad to hear you have come back from the darkness yourself. I have no doubt you have helped many people – and will continue to help many more – by your honesty. Shatter the stigma….:-)

  4. Great post Val, one thing I learned about panic attacks and depression is that those who are crippled with them were previously very strong.. when panic strikes they join a club no one wants to be a member of . Few people will get through life without a run in with both -life is just two chaotic for anyone to have an answer for all the crazy stuff that may befall us..

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