Gemma, from Cardiff, explains how our Active Monitoring programme helped her learn to manage stress and anxiety.
2019 ended like any other: with a flash of fireworks, a chorus of Auld Lang Syne, and a cheer to welcome in 2020. I was sat in my room watching the fireworks wondering what 2020 held for me and my little family. If only I knew what was coming around the corner would change our lives in many ways.
January was just one of those months that seems to drag on. My husband had been promoted to a new role in work and I was very happy for him. I was really starting to get into my coursework for my Level 3 in Childcare, which I love. My daughter was growing like a weed and growing in confidence, however she is currently non-verbal and so our day to day life is difficult as we may not always know what she wants from us.
I started having what I call ‘moments’, where I felt like I was simply scrambling to keep my head above water.
I would have times where I would burst into tears for no reason or I felt like I couldn't breathe, but just brushed it off and got on with things as well as I could.
March is when things started to get really hard. I don't think it had ever crossed my mind that a global pandemic would be something I would live through. You just don't think it will ever happen. It was strange, one day I was in work and the next minute I wasn't. Welcome to furlough. This, however, was not the case for my husband who was classed as a key worker and had to continue working in retail while people started panic buying, emptying the shelves just as quickly as he and his staff where filling them.
One day he came home from work and looked washed out, so I asked him if he was alright. He said that his heart had been beating really fast since the night before. I urged him to see a doctor, and they said he was having stress induced panic attacks brought on by both the pandemic and lack of sleep due to working night shifts.
Shortly after this, I felt as though my ‘moments’ were getting a lot more frequent, but I continued brushing them off until a friend of mine suggested Mind’s Active Monitoring programme. At first, I put it off as I was sceptical that it would help, but one night as my little girl lay sleeping and my husband was in work, I broke down crying. That’s what pushed me to contact Mind.
My advisor, Mark from Mind Cardiff, put me at ease. It was nice to speak to someone who didn't know me and wouldn’t just tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. We started off looking at the stress and anxiety pathway, and mixed in a little bit about sleeping as I am an awful sleeper. Reading the anxiety pathway, I started to see things that where similar to what was happening to me in those ‘moments’.
The Active Monitoring sessions were helping, but one day I was home making lunch for my little girl, and my heart started to race. I couldn't breathe, I could hear my little girl crying, but I couldn’t focus. I thought I was going to die. After what seemed like an hour (which in reality was around 15 minutes), it stopped as quickly as it had started.
That’s when I decided to speak with my doctor. I don’t think I would have thought to seek help if it hadn’t been for the support I’d received from Mind. My doctor clarified that my ‘moments’ were in fact panic attacks, and I’d been having them for quite some time.
Something that has helped me enormously is grounding techniques. If I feel a panic attack coming, I stop what I’m doing, I breathe, I look at five things around me, and I say them aloud over and over till it passes. I am now also on medication and I am okay with that. It’s helping me.
I also came to realise that I put everyone before myself. I have to make sure that my husband, my daughter, my friends and my family are all okay first: I’m at the bottom of the list. Why do I do that?
I’ve realised it’s okay to take some time for myself.
I’ve started reading for enjoyment again, and have put aside some time just for me. If I am not reading a book or listening to music, I look back at photos of my daughter when she was a baby and I realise just how lucky I am.
If you had said to me last year I was going to have mental health problems, I would have told you “no, not me”. Well, yes me. Yes, I have mental health problems and I am okay with that. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help.
The help I got from Mind’s Active Monitoring programme continues to have an impact on me. Along with support from my family and friends, I am now taking each day at a time to help improve my mental health. It’s not easy and some days are harder than others, but I know I have people out there who love me and will support me on those down days. I thank each and every one of them.
I’d urge people to not suffer in silence like I thought I could. If I can take that big, brave step, you can too. Mind were there when I needed someone to listen to me, and it’s exactly what I needed.
Gemma, 36 from Cardiff, is mum to a lovely little girl. She loves reading and sharing books with her daughter.
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