This guest post was written and shared by Becky, 41, Yorkshire
‘It’s ok not to be ok’ …. a phrase that we have seen increasingly splashed about over social media in recent years, particularly more so once the Covid pandemic really started to hit hard.
Deep down I knew this to be absolutely true and had the greatest empathy and respect for those people who could say this because of their own experience.
But the part of me that really hadn’t been well for a very long time never let me acknowledge that it was applicable to me.
I have always had very high expectations of myself, this combined with an innate sense of insecurity, an absolute fear of confrontation and the need to push myself out of my comfort zone meant taking responsibility and absolute control in all areas of my life turned me into a ticking timebomb when it came to my mental health.
Looking back, I suppose I was always going to ‘go off’ at some point.
I left home at 19 because I wanted to, not because I had to. My parents were brilliant and had provided me and my siblings with a very loving and secure family environment in which to navigate through the ups and downs of early childhood and the hormone raging teen years. Nothing bad happened during those years, it was all very normal. Apart from a poor choice of boyfriend at 15… but hey who’s not had one of those?!?!
I was just chomping at the bit to start my own adult life, independently from the family home.
Whilst I was in my 20s these personality traits helped me to successfully transition out of the family home, to secure a good job, set up home for myself (with new friends) and form new (and long lasting) friendships.
I met my husband when I was 24. He lived in London, so I soon moved there, created a home with him, made new friends and continued to develop my career.
We married when I was 31 and our first child soon followed. I approached ‘nesting’ in my usual overachieving way, and we moved house 5 days after the baby was born – because I wanted to start the next phase in my adult life and apparently that needed a house not a flat.
In 2013 (when our first born was 2), we moved to Yorkshire. Whilst I didn’t grow up there, my family came from there, I spent many childhood summers there and my parents had moved back 5 years prior. I wanted to create for our children the idyllic, country family life I’d experienced growing up. I wanted my children to have their grandparents as a real part of their lives just as mine had been. This would not happen if we stayed in London.
I think this may be the turning point for my mental health, but quite frankly I’ve only just realised whilst writing it down.
Nine months into our move, my husband was made redundant. I had continued to work for the same London based company but remotely. So, whilst this redundancy was not ideal, we could manage for a while whilst he found another position.
Unfortunately, the only position he was able to secure was back in London – but the money was good so financially we could cope with supporting two households. I wasn’t fazed by the idea of running the family home, looking after 1 child and working a full-time job 5 days a week on my own.
It was physically tiring; lonely at times as I didn’t know anyone other than my parents and I didn’t have the opportunity to make new friends through work. But I didn’t see this as a big problem. It takes time to build a new life 200 miles away from your old one. I could do this, and I did it for four years.
At 36 our second child came along. I had been desperate for another child and had spent the previous three years hoping that it would happen soon. But it didn’t happen as easily as I was expecting it to. I became obsessive about it, but I hid it very well…. I’m good at that. I didn’t want to put any pressure on my husband, so I hid how desperate I was, how heart-breaking it was every month when my period came. I didn’t talk to my husband at all about how much this affected me. That’s another story, but suffice to say, it didn’t help in the long run.
But finally, it happened, my second baby was born, and all was right with the world… apart from my husband being made redundant again which resulted in him losing his business. This time it took 9 months to find a new position.
Those were hard months for him, and his own mental health suffered greatly. So, I felt that I had to be the one who was always ‘up’, always positive whilst being very aware of the dire financial hole we were sinking further into each and every day.
But finally, he secured another position, again in London. So back to running the house and a full-time job, with two small children 5 days a week on my own. Again, I told myself that it didn’t faze me, I’d done it before, and I could do it again…. I am more than capable.
We talked many times about moving back down to London, mainly so my husband could actually see his family for more than 40 hours a week. But we loved Yorkshire, we’d started to establish a network and really didn’t want to move, plus we couldn’t afford to at this point.
My parents were a great help, whenever I needed them, they were there, every time, without fail… but these core personality traits of mine would not allow me to admit I needed their help at all. So, I only let them do a little, when in reality, I could have done with a lot more.
We went on like for this for a further four years and then Covid happened.
On the one hand we have been very lucky through this whole clusterfuck – no-one close to us died, we both kept our jobs, my husband was finally at home and we had a house with a private garden so time outside the home was possible.
BUT….. there also came downsides with keeping our jobs and the husband being at home. My husband was responsible for migrating 2000+ users over to remote working at the drop of a hat, so suffice to say he was pretty busy in those early months. He worked 14-hour days and we barely saw him during the day. His stress levels were through the roof.
I was luckier in a way, whilst I was running several huge projects at work, I had the most amazing boss and team who stepped up and helped me to navigate splitting my time between work and childcare and home-schooling. But I still felt guilty about not being there all the time – even though I knew several colleagues were also going through the same thing.
At times I even felt resentful, towards my husband for having a more ‘important’ job so it wasn’t even a discussion as to who should pick up most of the home-schooling. But again, that’s a whole other can of blog worms! 😊
Home-schooling is enough to give anyone a breakdown; but trying to balance the usual childcare tasks (dealing with endless snack requests, providing meals like some short order cook in a roadside diner, dealing with the children’s own stress and anxiety, refereeing squabbles, finding new and exciting things to do with bloody recycling and don’t get me started on how Joe Wicks made me feel like Mr Blobby!) all with a full time job!. I was wearing so many hats I didn’t know if I was coming or going most of the time. And I felt that I was failing in all areas…Hello again high expectations!
But again, those core personality traits kicked in and I only allowed myself to cry twice, in the bathroom and quietly so my children and husband didn’t hear me.
Why am I telling you all the above?
All of these things happened over a 7-year time period, not that long in the grand scheme of things. It certainly seemed like it was one thing after another at times. During each one I never let myself acknowledge that I was barely coping / I needed help / I couldn’t stop without the world falling apart. I kept so much from my husband as I was worried about impacting his mental health; I wanted to protect him.
I never allowed myself to even consider that I should stop and ask for someone to help me or that I needed to take better care of my own mental well-being.
There was always an excuse not to analyse too closely how I really felt….my view was that I couldn’t ‘fall apart’ as people depended on me.
To admit that I wasn’t ‘ok’ felt like admitting that I’d failed. So, I carried on ignoring how I felt for so long that it became ‘the norm.’
I was scared that if I opened up about how I felt, I would breakdown and not be able to put myself back together again. My fear of crying and never being able to stop was very real.
2021 started and whilst things were far from over with the pandemic, things like home-schooling and lockdowns had become normalised and so were less of a shock when they happened.
It was only when the signs of anxiety started to manifest in (quite frankly terrifying) physical ways, that I knew I had to reach out for help. At one point I actually thought I was having a heart attack, then I convinced myself that I had a heart condition…I never actually allowed myself to think that all of these physical signs could be triggered by my mental state. So, I stuck my head in the sand for a further 6 months.
7 months, 2 weeks and 2 days ago I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t ok, that I needed help, and something had to give.
I called the Dr and was assessed for anxiety and depression; given a prescription for medication, referred for therapy and signed off work for 4 weeks (initially).
Even with the ‘validation’ of a diagnosis and treatment from medical professionals I still felt like a failure. I felt tremendously guilty about taking time out from work and the impact it would have on my team and the extra work it would mean for my husband at home – he already did more than his fair share. He really is a very good husband 😊. I was also very adamant that I didn’t want my children to have any knowledge of what was going on with me.
Back then I could never imagine feeling any different or feeling better. In all honesty I couldn’t remember what feeling ‘well’ felt like.
In the end I took 9 weeks off work and for the first 5 I slept, a lot! After that I was able to start thinking more clearly about everything, and I was able to talk openly with friends, family, and colleagues about my mental health for the first time ever.
A few months post diagnosis I have started to feel better. I still have bad days and sometimes weeks but I’m starting to have more good than bad.
I am now able to identify behavioural traits that aren’t healthy and I’m working hard to change them. I am also better able to identify and verbalise what I need to support my mental health recovery journey.
It is a journey. Medication and time off work alone will not fix this; it just gave me the breathing space and support I needed to gather strength for the work that needs to be done to recover.
Waiting for therapy to start took longer than we as a nation deserve (again another post for another time) and the initial online therapy offered didn’t really work for me. But it did help to me figure out what type of therapy I do need, and I am finally ready to commit to it.
Interestingly; 7 weeks post diagnosis I wrote a much shorter version of this blog on Facebook and the response I had from friends blew me away. I had so many comments on the post and via private message, where people told me their own stories. I worked out that the people that got in touch made up nearly 50% of my FB friends. Nearly half of these friends had suffered from poor mental health at one point or another – and that’s just the ones who got in touch. That’s HUGE!
Just last week I was speaking with a friend about that FB post, and she said she was shocked when she read it, she just didn’t expect me to have experienced something like that. It’s amazing the mask you present to the outside world – even those close to you – and I worked hard to make sure that mask didn’t slip…. Ever.
This was a mistake and one I intend to not make again.
So, for anyone reading this who feels as I did, please know that ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ is not just ‘one of those trite Facebook posts’ people ‘like’ and then scroll past.
It really is ok to admit to not being ok, it is ok to ask for help.
The world will not end if you do.
You are not weak.
You are not a failure.
You are not alone.
It actually takes tremendous strength to admit you’re not ‘ok’, firstly to yourself and then to others – be they family, friends, work colleagues and medical professionals.
Your mental health is so important. Poor mental health is real and acknowledging it might just save your life.
This post was written and shared by Becky, 41, Yorkshire