Saturday 15 December 2018

Learning to cope when a mental health difficulty reappears

In this blog, Freya talks about how she managed when symptoms of anxiety reappeared after a long time of feeling well.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with anxiety for me was the fact that it came back. I think what so many people think – including myself – is that once you initially overcome these issues, they’re gone forever. But mental health doesn’t work like that.

When you overcome cancer you are in ‘remission’, you are not cured, you don’t have a lifetime guarantee of health. But, at least temporarily, you are not suffering the immediate effects of this disease. For mental health, I think it’s the same. Knowing that could help prepare you for the possibility that you will suffer from conditions and symptoms again.

When I started getting panic attacks again after months of feeling fine, I rang my mum, distraught that it could be happening again. Hadn’t I already been through this?

Although this time I had coping mechanisms which made my anxiety easier to deal with, it’s hard to feel in control when all that was going through my head was ‘not again, please not again’. Then you panic about the fact that you’re panicking. It’s a vicious circle of panic upon panic when, in actual fact, I knew I had the tools to deal with it. My counselling had been useful and effective, but I just felt this overwhelming shock that such panic could penetrate my life again after so much time feeling good.

It took me some time to accept the fact that my anxiety had taken a hold of my life again, but when I did, it was so much easier to deal with. I guess what’s important to remember is that there is no everlasting cure for mental health. That’s not to say that you’ll spend the rest of your life dealing with mental health difficulties. I just think it’s important to always be aware that there’s a possibility that it could come back. And if/when it does: remember to look outwards not inwards. Positivity over negativity. There’s nothing wrong with suffering; you are a stronger person for it.

Remember that the people around you are more understanding than you think, something I forget every time I feel awful. My housemates know I struggle with anxiety and they also know how to deal with it. Often people don’t naturally know how to help, so talk to the people you trust and tell them what you find useful. For example, I don’t need someone to ask me if I’m okay, I need them to list random things with me such as dog breeds. Let people in. Let them help you. 

Positive is definitely the last thing you are feeling when mental health issues recur. However, it’s probably the most useful emotion to have. I don’t really need to even feel that positive, I just need to tell myself I am. I’ll smile to myself or listen to a song I relate to a good memory and bring myself back to that positive mind frame that I know is never far away.

The challenge isn’t getting your life ‘back on track’ because it’s not off the track, it’s just taken a slight detour. So, take a minute or a day or however long you need and try to remember how far you have come since you first started feeling low. If you used to go for a run once a week or save time to watch TV with your house mates, then do that again. Take as much time as you need to get back into the routine you built for yourself.

Mental health, just like anything medical, takes time. It doesn’t help to beat yourself up about it and it doesn’t help to forget everything you’ve worked towards. Don’t pressure yourself to be okay all the time, and don’t lose hope. Onwards and upwards.

I am a journalism student at the University of Leeds, in my second year. Writing about mental health and reducing any remaining stigma is important for me because I have seen my friends struggle with mental health as well as struggling with it myself. Writing has always been a useful outlet for me and I want to help as many people as I can going through university. 

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