On 10th October 2018, World Mental Health Day, various Facebook friends posted about their experiences of mental heath struggles and some showed photos of the medicine that helped. Up until that day, almost all of my experiences of people who were on such meds had been negative. I had had some nasty and manipulative things said to me over the years. As a result, I would never have considered going on medication myself, no matter how bad things got.
But then, in 2018, various people shared photos of their meds and I was surprised. These people were competent, faithful and lovely.
Over the following weeks, it became increasingly apparent to me that I was not okay. One day, I had a panic attack when praying with some fellow curates. The room span and I thought I was going to vomit and fall off the chair.
I went to a meeting with a small group of local clergy. Afterwards, I had to go to bed for an hour and cry because there had been a tiny amount of tension in the room.
I felt like I had grown a new organ at the top of my chest which bubbled and pulsated at the slightest thing, and filled me with adrenaline and dread. Everything became a huge effort. I stopped cooking an did minimal housework.
I went on holiday with friends, and after a week off I felt no better. Christmas was approaching and I didn’t think I would make it through, genuinely believing that one more stressful situation or last minute task would mean that I would cease to exist.
All told, I was far from myself.
Upon reflection, it was a combination of circumstances and the personalities around me which got me to that place. If I could pinpoint the moment that things changed, it was simply that I got an email on priesting retreat about an issue that I had been led to believe would be sorted.
By the time it got to October, and I was avoiding the people, places and services that caused me anxiety and stress. I seriously doubted my calling because, if I could not sit through a meeting with other clergy, if I could not preach without being sick beforehand, if I could not look forward to the season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, how could I possibly continue to be in ministry?
I was a right mess. The trigger email was sent in early June and World Mental Health Day was in October. I didn’t pluck up the courage to go to the Doctor until mid November. It was only once I’d filled in the online NHS mental health quiz and got the result ‘seek immediate help’ that I booked an appointment.
When I did eventually, go to the Doctor, she talked me through the options and I decided that a daily, low-dose tablet to tackle anxiety and mild depression would be a good place to start. I came out of the Doctors, called Nathan, picked up the prescription and drove home with the little white bag on the passenger seat. As I drove, I felt like I was carrying a weapon. These things could change me. The next morning, I took a leap of faith and nervously took my first tablet, choosing to see it as ‘my friend’.
Within a week, I noticed that things started to seem a bit brighter. To begin with the tablets wiped me out. I would sleep for 10 hours, wake up and yawn my way through morning prayer, sip coffee in the office for a couple of hours, come home and nap in the afternoon.
The tablets gave me the confidence to speak to people about how I was struggling. I gradually started to make some changes to how I was working. I scrapped my Bullet Journal with a big To Do list in it because I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Eventually, I bought a Filofax with a years worth of dates in it, and that felt like a huge step forward, because it meant that I could see that there was life after Christmas. My lovely warden, Margaret, suggested that I have a few days with my family in Retford, and I did. I realised that I needed counselling and I resolved to go on a mindfulness-based stress reduction course.
Bit by bit, day by day, colour began to return to the world. I still had down days, and I still do, but they are outnumbered by the good days. Initially, I wanted to come off the tablets after that Christmas. But it takes your body a couple of months to adjust to these things, and so I accepted that my ‘friends’ would be part of my life for the longer term.
Now, over a year in, I am still taking my tablets. I look back and I am so grateful for the help I have received. I am far from having this mental health stuff cracked, but I am so much better than I was. My biggest regret, though, is that I didn’t seek help when I first noticed that something wasn’t right.
I think that the little boat that is me is a bit weathered, but ultimately much stronger and better equipped, making it easier to navigate the storms of life.
I have learned to be kind to myself, to judge myself less harshly and to be stronger in my saying ‘no’ to things. I am a lot more self-aware, which makes looking after myself more of a priority.
So, I have written my story down, over a year since I my ‘friends’ came into my life, just in case anybody else is feeling the same way. I’ve decided to publish this just in case there is just one person who needs to hear that seeking help is okay. If you are on the edge, struggling, and wondering if you should reach out, I have two words: do it.
And as I’m being honest, I owe Nathan a huge thank you. At one point, I didn’t cook, clean or help around the house at all. He took on so much to keep things going, from tea making, to risotto cooking, to handling the tax documents for the year- which really isn’t his thing at all! He has also had to watch me in this mess, and I know that was hard.
Anyway, I really hope that by talking about these things we can normalise them. Whatever it is you are going through, you are not alone. And in case I didn’t say it clearly enough before: get the help you need, it might be the best thing you ever do.
Much love & prayers,