In my previous article I told my story of how I struggled with clinical depression and associated symptoms such as panic attacks. In this final part of the story I want to tell my story of recovery.
Please Read This Important Information First
Many people have asked about my recovery, but before I share my story I want to make something completely clear. THIS IS THE STORY OF MY RECOVERY, IT IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. I hope it encourages some, but if you have any kind of issues then please seek advice from a qualified medical professional. If you are already diagnosed and have been given a recovery program from a medical professional then stick with it, do not stop taking any prescribed medication or modify the recovery program without taking advice from your medical professional.
My particular issue was diagnosed as clinical depression, which included symptoms like panic attacks, agoraphobia and anxiety. I had been diagnosed medication which I did not find helpful. I was also offered some counselling which was somewhat more helpful.
One key thing that helped me with my particular issues was to understand that my emotions and feelings were not separate from my body. When you first find yourself in the middle of a sickness like this it can feel for some like your emotions and feelings have a mind of their own (no pun intended) and I had to view myself as both a body and a mind, not separate entities - I took a holistic approach to my well being (I'm using the word in it's real sense not in some pseudo-spiritual way.)
I was in this place because I had burnt out, I had abused my wellbeing by not eating and sleeping correctly, by not taking regular time off and by pushing myself further than my body and mind could take. My recovery needed to take into account how I got here in the first place and, like many illnesses, not only does it take recovery but a realignment of lifestyle to prevent it ever happening again.
I remember reading a quote that went something like this: "Do not avoid hard work to stay well, but stay well that you may work."
The Slow Road To Recovery
Once I had figured out that my mind and body were a single entity and should be treated as such I tried to find some kind of method of recovery. It was slow, but I felt like it was time to almost start from scratch. I was not going back to the old life, especially as much of it had been the cause of my sickness in the first place so I had to find a new way of living. I was recommended a book which is no longer in print called 'The Joy Of Stress' by Dr Peter Hanson. It was a very practical book on dealing with stress, a book that I found enormously helpful in the way he wrote about the subject and also the practical things he talked about. He wrote about why you have the feelings you have when you feel stressed, such as fight or flight, or why you start to sweat or feel dizzy. He explained the physiological reasons for each thing happening and helped me to realise that this wasn't some madness or uncontrollable part of me, but something which, once understood, I could learn to take control of. He also talked about things like diet, exercise and sleep, and how all these things have a bearing on our ability to cope under stress. He gave advice on coping strategies when feeling anxious or about to start a panic attack. Much of it was so simple and yet for me it helped a great deal.
For example he said that if you were feeling anxious and sensed the onset of a panic attack then start counting the bricks in a wall or the tiles on a floor. For me this all seemed so simple and in fact too simple to be able to help. That was until I found myself sitting in a restaurant one day and felt the onset of an attack so I tried his advice and to my amazement it worked.
At the same time I created a much more disciplined lifestyle. I built my diet around slow release energy foods so that hunger did not bring on an attack. I avoided food and drinks that had stimulants like caffeine and sugar in an attempt to try and be much more level during the day. I started to go to bed at the same time each night to try and get around eight hours sleep as well as taking naps during the day. I started to try and practise times of centering when I would try to switch off from all the stress and stimulus around me for a short period of time. This has always been the hardest for me. I am a Type A personality and always want to be stimulated and doing things. I find stopping incredibly hard but I had to learn. I also had to start protecting rest times like weekends and rest days - remember this was over 25 years ago and we had no email, texts or mobile phones so it was a lot easier. Finally exercise was part of the change in my lifestyle too, helping me to burn off excess stress as well as creating a healthier body.
No Bolt Of Lightning, No Magic Cure
I know some will be reading this article and hoping that I can offer a eureka moment, a pill, a diet or some other easy cure. I can't for two reasons - firstly because it didn't happen that way. My recovery was mainly a realisation of what was making me sick and then a long road (two years) to recovery and preventing it happening again. Secondly, I can't offer a simple cure because my sickness and the reasons behind it were unique to me. You may have the same symptoms but have a different reason behind them such as a chemical imbalance, or you may have a different set of symptoms altogether. As I have already said if you have any kind of issues then you need the help of a qualified medical professional, your GP is a good place to start.
My recovery was a long road of starting to understand my body and my mind and then responding to that understanding. It took the help of my GP, my counsellor, some excellent written resources and also some very good friends who would sit and listen to me in my times of despair. I write this not as a prescription but in an attempt to encourage and inspire some reading this that there is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a day when you wake up and realise that you've got to the other side - You are not alone.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the best advice I can give those reading this who need help, or those who know someone who needs help, is to go and see your doctor and get a medical assessment of your needs. A GP can start to advise you on either a drug based approach, the help of a specialist, or both. If you need to take someone along for support then do so, if someone asks you to go with them then do it.
In closing, I look back at my time of sickness and can hardly remember the nightmare I had to live through. At the time it consumed me and at times I even considered ending it all. Not being able to remember that dark time is for me the clearest sign of my recovery - What was once a nightmare is now nothing more than a fading memory.