A few months ago, I remember thinking about how far I had come since my lowest point of my mental health: a pretty severe breakdown I had just over 3 years ago. Since then, I had repeated the year my breakdown had interrupted at University and managed to graduate with a 2:1, began a Master’s degree in the sector I love and moved to lovely little house in a new city with my other half. I remember thinking that I felt a million miles away from my lowest point, like I had been fighting a battle and, even with some dips, I was slowly, but surely, winning.
But it just doesn’t work like that. Like the old cliché, it happened slowly, then all at once. Bad days and warning signs started to creep back in, and then suddenly it was as if the ground opened up and swallowed me whole. I could barely remember how to hold a conversation with anyone, I was constantly blinking tears, my self-harm was at one of the worst it’s ever been, I couldn’t grasp who I was or remember any aspect of my personality, I couldn’t work or leave the house and even breathing felt like a struggle. The physical symptoms were unbearable: I was constantly shaking, almost hyperventilating continuously, scratching and picking at my skin and struggled to calm my body down for even a minute. I couldn’t sleep for longer than an hour without being woken up by a nightmare. This lasted for over a week straight. I felt like I had lost myself forever, and the panic that came with that is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I had some brief contact with a crisis line, which I’m sure could be wonderful, but just wasn’t right for my state of mind as I couldn’t put anything into words. From there, I was set up with some urgent assessments and appointments which helped me get to the bottom of it. It turns out I had experienced a week long episode of depersonalization (a type of dissociation), which I had only experienced in very short moments before but didn’t know it had a name (See here).
Honestly, it is one of the scariest things I have ever felt. The episode had been brought on by extreme anxiety, most likely during a panic attack, and had stuck around. I was given a short prescription of diazepam to calm my initial panic, and was finally able to take a breath and feel slightly less overwhelmed and more at home in my body again. I was put on a waiting list for some intensive CBT through IAPT, started on Sertraline (an SSRI) and had to begin looking for a psychotherapist to get some more immediate help.
The hard reality of mental illness is that recovery really isn’t linear. Things can seem to be going so well and a giant setback can come out of nowhere. I had felt so proud of the place I had fought to get to before this breakdown, now I have been signed off work for 4 weeks and I am having to defer my Master’s degree for a year, which has been the toughest thing for me to accept. I wish I was well enough to thrive in an academic sense right now, but the fact is that I’m not. I need some more time to get back to a place that leaves me stable enough to handle the extra pressure, and that’s okay. I can be proud of my achievements up to this point without holding it against myself for needing a bit of extra time before I move forward.
This week will be my 4th week on my new medication, which I seem to have settled into really well, and I have an appointment today to discuss how that is going with a doctor. I also have my first psychotherapy session on Friday, which is scary, but a definite step in the right direction, and though I’m not completely back afloat yet, I’m trying my best, and that is enough.