I wasn’t going to share this post. Sometimes I write things down just to get thoughts and words out of my head. This was one of those posts, never intended to be seen by anyone. Then I did a Swim England webinar on mental health awareness in swimming last week. It reinforced the need to share experiences of mental health problems in an effort to de-stigmatise and enable people to get the help they so desperately need and accept that “it’s OK not to be OK”.
Why am I sharing this? I’m not weird or different or unique because I struggle with my mental health sometimes. It doesn’t define me but it is a part of me. However, it’s also a part of lots and lots of other people in the UK. Mind, one of the leading mental health charities in the UK estimate that one in four people will experience mental health problems in any given year. It’s not just that, it’s also thought that one in three GP appointments in the UK relate to mental health problems too. That’s a lot of people dealing with mental health problems every day, week, year.
So I’m not alone, but sometimes through our social media tinted windows it can often seem that everyone’s leading a fulfilling, happy, exciting life. I’m not saying that people should be sharing their deepest darkest thoughts every day, frankly, that’s not what usually appeals online but maybe as viewers we need to be more mindful that what gets posted on the internet is the good bits, not the normal everyday. The normal everyday still happens in the background and, quite often, that’s boring, tedious and sometimes a bit shit!
This summer’s been beautiful, exciting, full and busy. It’s also been long and tiring. The Short One and I had our epic week in June, I had to train a bit for that, and we had weekends and holidays away. Also, since last year, I’ve been part of a team who run organised open water swimming sessions at the reservoir in our village.
As Toddbrook Open Water Swimmers (TOWS), we run sessions with full safety cover on a Thursday evening and Saturday morning from May to September. It’s entirely run by volunteers who all have a passion for open water and, like me, want to encourage others to experience this wonderful pastime.
My role is to organise the volunteers we need to run every session. I also arrange, and sometimes deliver, the safety training those volunteers need. I love it. I love giving people the opportunity to swim outside, the grins on their faces, the feeling of community, seeing the genuine love and passion people have for this sport.
It’s so rewarding. But, come rain or shine, week in week out, I coordinate those volunteers and, due to limited numbers of helpers I usually do a safety shift myself. That means every Thursday evening and Saturday morning I’m down there doing my thing. Thursday’s are always a last minute dash out of the door as my Husband gets home to look after the kids. Saturdays mean dragging myself out of bed when I could really do with a lie in.
Alongside that my new career is going great. It’s rewarding and fun but, it’s hard work. I only teach for around nine hours a week, spread across a few short shifts, but it’s intense. I’m in the pool for most of my teaching time. Staying warm, constantly talking, keeping an eye on the kids, moving around in the water is mentally and physically exhausting. I come out after a three hour session drained, hungry and in need of a rest. It’s not unusual for me to need a nap on a Sunday afternoon to recover. Time that I’d much rather be spending with my family.
So two big things I do, OK, not too bad. Factor in getting the kids out for school all week and starting work at 8am on a Sunday, meant I didn’t get a lie in from May until August this year. I’m sure for a lot of people that’s fine and normal but I’ve always needed my sleep. I need downtime and the opportunity to just sit still and not speak to people. It’s part of me.
The combination of these things, along with being a mum and my usual long list of things I want/need to do had left me completely spent by the start of the school summer holidays. I spent the first week of the holidays with some mystery virus that knocked me for six and left me struggling to entertain two kids.
Other than look after the boys, I did as little as possible during the summer holidays. No teaching, no volunteer coordinating. I’d had a good break and I went back in early September ready to tackle everything again.
All was going OK. I’d managed my big swim event of this year, the (slightly failed) Buttermere 10km with no ill effects. Work was back in full swing, the kids were back at school, I was back helping with the open water sessions. All was going well. Then Meltdown Monday happened.
I suffer from something called pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It’s a severe form of pre-menstrual syndrome. On a monthly cycle I turn into an irrational, angry, short tempered, mood swinging beast. I’m horrible. I’m not me. I can’t think, I feel detached and often completely overwhelmed by life. Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes it lasts for three weeks. There are some physical symptoms but it’s mostly depression on a monthly cycle.
I’ve been managing the condition for the last four years with anti-depressants. By and large they work but clearly, for some reason, they aren’t currently working as effectively as they should. When I combine that with a general feeling of being run down, back to teaching, back to volunteering and a bout of start of term lurgy bad things happened.
I’d felt rubbish the previous week, unable to breathe, and had spent a lot of this particular day in bed asleep. I went to pick the kids up from school, saw a friend in the car park and just buckled into tears. A complete and utter meltdown. I was shaking, crying and I couldn’t breathe. The combination of my PMDD, lurgy and just being knackered had finally broken me.
Three amazing, beautiful friends sat me down, grabbed my kids for me and put me back together, not just that day but over the last couple of weeks. They, and of course the Short One, have got me back on course. Checking up on me kindly, not in a panicky way, just gently. Coaxing me back to normality with good company and understanding ears.
I’m not sure what would have happened without them over the last few weeks. I find my biggest problem with depression, and it probably applies to most mental health problems, is that my head is often so overwhelmed that I can’t think clearly enough to work out what I need to do to help myself. That’s what I find so frustrating about it. I’m a helper. I like helping people, fixing things, mending problems. When I can’t apply my rational brain to myself it compounds those feelings of anger, frustration and being overwhelmed.
I need people there to pull me out of it when it happens. To kindly take me to one side and say “You’re not OK right now, you need some help”.
So, how am I doing now? I’m doing good. I’ve had a dose of steroids and some antibiotics from the Dr which has shifted the start of term lurgy. I’ve downloaded a meditation app to try and help focus my often scattered brain and I’m starting some mindfulness classes in the next couple of weeks. I’ve increased my anti-depressants and I’ve finally referred for some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT’s always been an option but with the busyness and tiredness that comes with small children I didn’t feel I had the time or energy to fit it in before. Now the kids are at school I do. Hopefully it will help me develop the tools I need to help me when events like this happen again.
Most importantly I’ve taken stock and admitted that I can’t do everything. The TOWS season has finished which frees a bit of time and I’m trying to look after myself a bit better. Something will have to give and for now I’m looking at my list to work out where I go now. I’ll get there but for now I need to keep swimming and get my mood boosting Zing. After all that’s the big reason I swim outside! I think the photo at the bottom of this post perfectly sums up the zing too.
There are lots and lots of resources online to help and inform on mental health, not just for sufferers but also for those supporting them. The links below are a few I’ve found useful but there are many more out there. Don’t be afraid to look for help, it’s OK to not be OK.