• Alexa Dione Francis

Let's Talk Mental Health (Again)

So Thursday was World Mental Health Day. Maybe it feels like all people do is talk about mental health these days. I guess, to some degree, that is true but the point is that talking about mental health and breaking the stigma is only the first step.

It's no secret that I battle with my own mental health issues, I have the basic bitches of the group but they are bitches none the less. I think I am quite open about my anxiety and depression, writing about it feels like my own self-healing and therapy (it's also considerably cheaper). Genuinely, I came into the world anxious. Fresh out of the womb and thrust into the world. In my blog post 'The Self Confidence Journey', I mentioned that the first baby picture I have tightly clenched fists, dark eyes with a suspicious look in them like I knew there was already a lot to worry about mere hours after being born. I have to laugh. Because literally nothing has changed since.

The depression came later to accompany my anxiety because it was apparently lonely so now the pair of them team up to cause a tidal wave of uncontrollable emotion which is fun. I mean, obviously it is the furthest thing from fun. My earliest memory I have of anxiety is being about seven or eight years old and going to the doctors with my mum. I can't recall the exact reason for the visit but the problem was panic and anxiety, as of course we later found out when I was 15. I was always labeled "a worrier" in an endearing way by most adults around me. This trip to the doctors though, my incredible GP (who retired just before my GCSE year unfortunately, he was a legend) gave me a tiny plastic farmer toy figure to look after and take with me for two weeks. No medicine, just a small, pocket-sized farmer.

I took the farmer, Mr Johnson, with me everywhere either gripped tightly in my hand or tucked into my pencil case at school. I remember feeling better and more in control, like Mr Johnson was looking after me, we were looking after each other. Giving him back was really tough but my doctor needed him back and it was my responsibility and I had done my job. Fast forward to now though.

I am now twenty one years old. I just about survived sixth form; two incredibly different breakdowns for Year 12 and Year 13. In year 12, my breakdown was explosive and I couldn't control everything that was hitting me at once. It felt like there was a hurricane inside of me that was desperate to escape and wreak havoc, then it would be over and the rebuilding would begin. That was the one and only time I hurt myself. Then I got put in touch with Suffolk Wellbeing and put onto a stress control course which was almost like validation that I wasn't on my own. I was in a room full of people who knew exactly how it all felt. Seeing the list of things someone can experience while dealing with anxiety and depression was confirmation that I was definitely not insane.

The Year 13 breakdown was a different ball game though. I didn't even see it coming. This one was triggered by me being sick, I was convinced it was the Chinese food I had eaten the same night but my digestion really is not that fast so it was actually panic as I now know. After that, I felt constantly nauseous and spent hours of the day and night sat next to the toilet ~ just in case ~ and this then led to me not getting out of bed for five days, except to have a wee or if I thought I was going to throw up. I didn't eat right for weeks and lost of lot of weight very quickly as well as having food fear resurface (self explanatory but food fear is when I get highly anxious about eating or I worry there will be things I don't like etc etc).

But even now, post-education me still struggles. In my opinion, it all stays with you. It's a part of you. You may not always be at your lowest or most anxious but it comes through sometimes in more subtle ways. Take this for example. This is my bedroom back in May where I hadn't noticed the mess I was living in. Overflowing bin with old food wrappers, multiple glasses of half drunk drinks concealed by my curtains on the window sill, clean and dirty clothes all over my bed and floor, everything was dusty and desperately needed hoovering, I hadn't changed my bedding in ages. The more cluttered my outside space got, the more cluttered my inside space, my mind got too. After all this practice, I'm now much better at spotting the signs that I'm sinking rather than when I'm all the way drowning in it.

In recent months, I have honestly been doing really well. Which is down to the anti-depressants I'm on. Yep, we're heavily medicated now baby. I had always been very determined to manage my mental health on my own with different techniques I have picked up over the years but at in august this year, my mum sat me down and said I was becoming quite difficult to live with. Not in a horrible way but because my mood swings were so extreme and intense, she said she never knew which me she was going to get when I walked in the door. Would I be explosively angry? Hysterically upset? Bouncing off the walls and laughing at everything? It was hard for those around me to predict how I would react to things. The worst part about this was that I had no idea that's how I'd been!

Going on medication, I thought, would meant that the anxiety and depression had won. Definitely not the case! I had done really well managing on my own for so long that I just needed a little extra help. I appreciate it isn't for everyone, it doesn't agree with a lot of people and some have had bad experiences with it. I take setraline and it has helped stabilise my mood so much. I won't lie, the first few weeks are shit, I felt worse than before but I worked really hard to push through it and it did get better.

I want to highlight that antidepressants don't cure you. They make it manageable and a smaller beast to fight. To give you an example, only days ago did I pick at and bite my nails that were healthy and had been growing so well for months to the point where they are short and sore. I don't know what brought it on! But I will grow them again and try not to allow myself to be consumed by all the negative things I want to say to myself because picking at my nails hasn't made me a failure it's just a little set back.

Right, I'm off to go and nurture my mental health by doing a face mask, cleaning my room, have a hot chocolate and think about all the exciting things I have planned coming up for the rest of this month.

If you struggle with your own mental health like me, please get in touch or drop me a DM. Everyone needs someone to listen to them and I am more than happy to be that person. I'm not an expert on mental health but I know mine very well and have picked up some fab tips, tricks and resources that I'm alway eager to share!

See you all soon with another one, be kind to yourself and others around you.

All my love,