Chantal and I have been friends for a few years now, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say that sharing our recovery journeys with each other has cemented our friendship.
Chantal’s story is beautifully written, it shows her strength in her own vulnerability even in in the face of adversity; its depth and raw honesty will undoubtedly be a comfort to others that may be in the throws of internalised battles through a shared identity, that there is HOPE.
One thing I’ve certainly learned is, that ‘through struggle comes strength’ and Chantal’s story certainly epitomises this.
Thank you Chantal for opening up and sharing xo
Before continuing to read this wonderful blog please ‘CONSIDER THE CONTENT’, if it causes you to feel uncomfortable in anyway, please talk to your loves and/or seek professional medical help.
My name is Chantal, and I’m a 38-year-old unemployed single mother of three. This time last year I was very proud of my full-time job, and I looked forward to establishing a healthy relationship with a man I was falling in love with. A lot can change in a year.
I’ve experienced a fair bit during my short time on this earth, and if I were having a bad day, I would simmer the experiences down into a black tar of negative thoughts thick with despair.
Luckily, I’m not having a bad day, and I’m not feeling particularly sorry for myself. I’m in Koh Samui, Thailand, on my own, enjoying my first real holiday in a long time. Today if I look back on my life, I see challenges that I overcame, I see an education in resilience, and I see opportunities for self-improvement.
A quick summary of some of the majors in my life. I am diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety, PTSD and Ankylosing Spondylitis.
The first signs of depression surfaced at around 18 years old, and after 20 years has settled into a 6-weekly cycle of week-long lows, a couple of days recovery, and a moderate run at depression free living. At about the 5-week mark, I’ll become awash with generalised anxiety fuelled by some issue like finances or relationships (sometimes irrationally), which will induce a depressive episode. While I congratulate myself on my ability to kick depression in the butt after a week, and recover in a couple of days, I am still actively working on the triggers for anxiety, so I can break the ‘cycle’ altogether.
Sometimes anxiety can be useful – the stress helps me to be very organised, make plans, maintain a clean household, and (I think) be efficient at work. But overall, anxiety is not a friend to me. Organisation and cleanliness can quickly turn into OCD behaviours. Making plans can sometimes turn into Life Planning and setting the bar way too high, leading to massive disappointment; and high work efficiency has led to multiple burnouts and breakdowns.
I developed PTSD after a fatal motor vehicle accident when I was 20, but it has hung around due to other chronic stressors in my life.
The Spondylitis is a degenerative form of arthritis, also known as Bamboo Spine, as it causes the fusion of the spine into a rod. From the age of about 19 I have suffered chronic back pain and was finally diagnosed with arthritis and treated accordingly since the age of 24. My flare ups can sometimes be so debilitating I can’t tie my own shoelaces.
Those diagnoses aside, in 20 years I have created three marvellous human beings who have at times been my sole reason for living.
So what have I learnt, and what can I share?
Here’s some solid tips to creating a support network if you’re a survivor of anxiety and depression like me.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt is to find a GP that you trust with everything you’ve got. It’s hard to do, and it means a few appointments with GP’s that don’t fit the bill before finding the right one. If you visit a GP regularly, for things like random mole checking, upset tummy sick notes, odd headaches that won’t abate, medication, etc. then it will become quite easy to ‘let it slip’ that you are not feeling too crash hot in terms of mental health.
Being able to say you feel generally low, have poor concentration, randomly cry, freak out at the shops, can feel your heart beat in your chest after no exertion, want to sleep for a week – is the first step to getting the help you need. Your mental health is totally worth ten minutes of your doctor’s time to say aloud that you think something is wrong with your head. It’s an acknowledgement that you are willing to explore what might be the underlying cause which and may include blood tests for lady or man problems to rule out physiological issues, as well as a frank discussion about your thoughts and feelings (including those of self-harm).
Your GP can offer short-term medication options, and referrals to other practitioners. My GP is responsible for my Mental Health Care Plan, which is a bare-all document listing all things wrong with me so I don’t have to explain it over and over again when I go to see other doctors or specialists. One thing my GP reminds me to do is to talk to my family.
Family. I might not know what the cause of my sadness is at any given time, so talking to family is not necessarily to talk through issues and try to find solutions. Talking to family, for me, is to tell them that I feel sad, despondent, worthless and helpless. It’s to tell them that I am not coping. It’s to prepare them for other follow up calls or texts that may include “I’m gonna come around and sleep over if that’s ok”, or “I’m off to hospital tomorrow”.
All families are different, and mine has a nice history of anxiety and depression shared almost equally amongst my siblings and parents. I am very lucky with my family, in that I know I can say what needs to be said, despite what they might be going through themselves, because I’m worth the love and support they can give me to help me through the tough times. I’m sure the most common worry with communicating to family about mental health that most people experience is being a burden. Thinking that you will just be an annoyance, or upset the apple cart, or make them anxious or upset. The truth is, you will probably do that to them, but what makes a family great is that it won’t matter.
Family doesn’t necessarily need to be blood. Lots of people don’t have any family for one reason or another. Your family could be your partner, a close friend, your core girlfriends or your best friend. It could be anyone that you can trust and feel comfortable enough to say “I’m not ok”, and they will have your back.
You’ll see I’ve put GP above family when it comes to mental health, and for my own personal needs, that is the order they have to go in. For me, because I’m a scientist, I find that talking clinically to a doctor about my condition is very beneficial, and then I go to family for the emotion-heavy support.
Psychiatrists. I’ve been seeing the same one for 5 years, and he has seen me through the period post childbirth, through marital breakdown, through extreme work stressors, through unemployment, through new relationship creation and breakdown, and through hospitalisation. It took one call to my psychiatrist in February to organise admission to a mental health facility. No bullshitting around – he already knew what I was going through because I routinely spilled the beans to him. He can recognise when it’s time for a change in medication, and tells me off when I start becoming slack with my counselling appointments.
The only negative with seeing a private psychiatrist (which I highly recommend because you can see them when you need to, as opposed to when the public health system decides you can have an appointment), is the cost. With a Mental Health Care Plan the out-of-pocket cost is quite low, but still a burden when you’re an unemployed single mother. But, when you consider how valuable a psychiatrist can be in times of crisis, they are worth borrowing a few bucks for.
Psychologists, Social Workers and Lifeline. At the moment I see a social worker through Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS), of which I am eligible because my Dad holds a DVS card. Psychologists, Social Workers, Lifeline or any other impartial counselling service can play a crucial role in mental health improvement over the longer term. They can teach you meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques.
What I’ve found most beneficial is working through the triggers of my anxiety. I know anxiety triggers my depressive episodes, so finding the cause of the anxiety for me is the key. Simple things like lack of sleep, chronic pain and being over-worked (the paid and unpaid kind) are obvious triggers for me, but there are others that are harder to define and still need exploration.
Having a solid, trusting relationship with a counsellor can be soul-soothing and life-saving, but more generally they can provide life-guidance and support when it comes to making sensible decisions.
Hospitalisation. For me, the first time was early this year. I think I did pretty well avoiding it for 20 years, but after my stay I thought, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” There were times over the past couple of decades when hospital would have been a great idea, but I was heavily burdened by my own judgements. I thought that going to hospital was a sign of weakness. I couldn’t be viewed as a good mother and a wife if I went to hospital, could I?
Even though I had a friend that was hospitalised after giving birth, and I totally respected her and her husband’s decision to do it. I thought nothing less of her. I visited her during her admission. But for me to do it - that seemed different. If I had managed to tough it out for so many years, then surely I could keep on toughing it out. But no, I couldn’t. And when I finally realised that I couldn’t look after myself anymore, I made the call to be self-admitted. To be honest, I don’t know if there is a stigma around heading off to the psych ward, because there isn’t one for me anymore and I couldn’t give a f**k what anyone else thinks.
I know now that if I feel like I need to go, I can go. There were lots of people there who were just like me – men and women. I see those people as brave, and I know I was brave too – for choosing life. We were all our own heroes.
Right now I’m on a mini journey of self-discovery. I need to do some soul searching because I have some personal issues that need some serious thinking. When I was at home I was busying myself with housework and Netflix and not doing a whole lot of thinking, so I chose to get away, and I picked South-East Asia to do it. I know that I am doing the right thing by taking some time out from my normal life to resolve some unhelpful thought patterns and put me back on the right track. For me, this trip is the self-care I need right now. When I go home, I would have made some decisions with a clear head and be refreshed and full of enthusiasm for life ahead. That’s the plan anyway.
I have to say, when Jason asked me to be a guest blogger, I experienced some trepidation. I am currently progressing through the Family Court and I’m ultra-sensitive to what information could be used against me. But I remembered back to my first Family Court appearance in April, after having been discharged from hospital for 2 months, when the Magistrate all but congratulated me on being self-aware enough to admit myself to hospital and get the treatment I needed. I decided that this blog wasn’t going to be about my struggles, but rather the tools I use to move forward on my journey of recovery. As I said earlier, I’m a scientist, so what I’ve written may seem all very cut and dry. To me, it is.
I follow the steps and use the support networks outlined in my Mental Health Care Plan, make sure its updated every year, talk to my GP often, get my meds from my psychiatrist, cry a lot to my counsellor, and have a family fully across my health.
The end result is that I am still here, and I am finding I have more good days than bad, and I know that this will continue.
I’m sure I’ll always be shadowed by depression and anxiety, but if I take the time I deserve to concentrate on getting well, those shadows will be gradually broken apart, bit by bit, and radiant sunshine will pour through.
Thank you for joining me.
Please fell free to contact me, to become a guest blogger or provide feedback via email at: The KiltedRogueRunner@outlook.com
If you're in crisis and need help, please seek professional medical help.
https://www.beyondblue.org.au Tel: 1300 22 46 36
https://www.lifeline.org.au/ Tel: 133 11 14
https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au Tel: 1300 65 94 67