It’s a long one, and as Mental Health Awareness Week closes I thought it important to share my own struggle and the issues I faced in the past couple of years. I've been umming and ahing about posting this all week but decided to take the plunge. In the military community mental health is still not talked about as openly as it should be for various reasons. I’d love to think that we can get to a place where its widely accepted and understood that it’s perfectly OK to not be OK.
I’ve always been a pretty shy person. For those who know me, they’ll say that they can’t believe it because I seem so confident. The reality is far from it, I’m just good at covering it up. I’m putting it out there, heart in my sleeve, I really struggle in new situations. I find meeting strangers tricky, feel super awkward making small talk with people I don’t know, I worry a lot and over-think most things too.
I’ve learned over the years to use coping strategies to get through those things that make me feel anxious. Deep breathing, talking things through, making sure I’m super prepared or having trusted friends, colleagues or family around me. However, when I had two pretty big life events happen in a period of 12 months my world turned upside down and there came a point that these things didn’t help me any more.
In 2014 my dad passed away suddenly. It was completely unexpected. We all thought he’d turned a corner and was on the up after a pretty terrible year. So, when I took the phone call from the hospital asking me to come in as ‘everything they were doing for my dad wasn’t working’, I thought they were going to ask me to sign permission for another operation. I wasn’t prepared for them to tell me he had passed away. In that moment, my whole world was rocked! He was only 59 and I just wasn’t ready to be the adult or prepared to deal with his death.
My husband and I were living married unaccompanied at the time and I was on my own with the children Monday to Friday. He was working away, focussed on a new job role and only home on weekends. If you asked him now, I’m sure he’d say that he didn’t really notice any change in me, but I don’t think we were together enough for him to notice. Our time together so limited and infrequent that we just focussed on making the most of the time we had together. Sure, there would be times he would see me upset and then he would be a huge comfort, but I know he just thought it was part of me grieving.
Now, looking back to the weeks and months that followed I can see that the grief was all consuming. I would struggle to think or see clearly and can only describe it as having a fog I had no control over descend in my head. It could hit me at any time, usually without rhyme or reason. I learnt to hide those moments too, supressing the feelings, keeping them all in by focussing on the day-to-day, taking care of my children, going to work, walking the dog, the monotony of routine helped to keep my mind focussed.
Then came big event number two. Seven months after my dad’s death I was dealt another blow when I was made redundant from a job I loved and cut out of an organisation that I’d volunteered and helped to create.
I’d invested so much time, energy and love into the organisation, it was devastating. I'd put my life on hold and dedicated so much emotion, only to be cut-out by the people I’d help appoint and welcomed in, not to mention called friends. It made me question my judgement and every belief I’d held true. Feeling completely without control it compounded the feelings I was already facing and made it a double whammy of unhappiness and upset.
I continued to cope in the only way I knew, head down, smiling and getting on with it. Then, it all came to a head one day when I found myself in a meeting at work, a situation I would ordinarily feel completely at ease within. The client asked me a difficult question, a situation I'd been in hundreds of times before and knew how to deal with but on this occasion, I panicked. I had no support in the room as my colleague had popped out and I didn't know what to do. My heart was racing, I couldn't think and I felt like the room was closing in on me. I found myself fumbling my way through giving an answer and it was then I knew I had to get some help.
Help for me initially was counselling. At that first appointment it felt good to talk and know that everything I was feeling was to be expected and OK. However, at session number three it felt it had stopped helping. I found the sessions a bit too text book and routine, with the counsellor suggesting things I’d already tried. If it was a good day, I also didn't feel like I needed the help. I coped on my own for a few weeks, putting off going back to my GP to ask if I could try something else but knowing I had to do something. A chance meeting with a friend who also suffered with anxiety changed things for me. They say everything happens for a reason, right? Well, she had been facing some issues herself and told me the positive benefits she’d experienced since she had some sessions of hypnotherapy. I had no idea if it would or could help but with her positivity about it resonating in the back of my mind I booked to see a local hypnotherapist.
I can remember feeling a little anxious before going to see him and not knowing what to expect but hoping that I would have the same positive benefit as my friend. He immediately put me at ease and explained it would be nothing like the stage shows you see on TV. In the two hour appointment, we talked a lot about the issues I was facing, there was some crying from me and a session of hypnotherapy which was recorded for me to listen to again. The hypnotherapy itself was like being held in a lovely warm hug. A complete state of relaxation where you are completely in control and can open your eyes at any time but don’t want to if that makes sense. After just one session I felt like a weight had been lifted, like the sun inside me had started to shine again. I booked for a second session, agreed to read a book my therapist suggested and committed to listening to my recording once every day. The change was instant and felt like such a big difference that it was easy to do.
Six weeks later I had the second session and again there was talking, no crying this time and a different session of hypnotherapy which helped to focus on some of the other areas which I felt needed attention. I came away with a different recording of the session but also a feeling of euphoria, like I had a glow all around me. That feeling you get when you’ve been laughing and are super happy! Another book to read, and the commitment to listen to my recording every day. With a third and final session of hypnotherapy and I really felt like I had turned a corner. I felt like I was back to me, I was calmer, happier and I had taken back control back of my thoughts and feelings.
Hypnotherapy isn’t for everyone I know and I’m sure that there are many who will rubbish it, but I can’t recommend it enough. It was literally life and mind changing for me. So much so that my therapist taught me how to do self-hypnosis and I still practice this now. Not as often as I should, sorry Lee, but I do try to do it a few times per week.
It has continued to help over the past two years, to build my mental strength and resilience. It has also helped to restore my confidence and given me a huge amount of clarity about what’s important to me. It's also made me realise that self-care is essential. As mums and military wives we're so used to getting on with life and dealing with everything that life throws at us without complaint or fuss that we often forget to take care of ourselves. If you can, make a promise to yourself to have just a small amount of time each week for you and don't forget to ask for help if you need it.