Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day, so it’s as good a day as ever for this.
Today I feel great. I spent the day with my daughter, went to the park and in general had a good time, aside from some incredibly stinky nappies I had the honor of changing! I haven’t always felt OK though. In fact I have had times where I felt so down, I questioned whether I wanted to live or not.
Four years ago I was diagnosed with an incurable genetic neurological disorder called Neurofibromatosis, that can affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves and skin. In general I had always been quite healthy, but did suffer from migraines that were so bad I would lose vision, balance and as they were so exhausting I would need a full day after they had subsided to recover. I have a very mild case and am mostly unaffected.
At my appointment, I was given very little information about the condition but also given some highly inaccurate information surrounding my future and having children. That combined with my own online research about NF1 ( I highly recommend not to do this! ) terrified me beyond belief. I worried about every possible scenario that NF can cause. Cancer, brain tumors, scoliosis, loss of sight or hearing and much more. It led to one of the worst years of my life where I alienated myself from my friends and family and used drink and sleeping tablets as a coping mechanism. I was too afraid to talk about how I felt, and knew that I would struggle to keep myself together if I was with people so I hid away. This only led to further unhappiness caused by loneliness and paranoia.
Eventually I started to get back to myself a little bit, after moving home and spending time with family but I never dealt with the underlying issues, and it came back to me worse then the first time round. My work and home life suffered immensely as I experienced terrible anxiety attacks and struggled to get through the day. Again I was using the wrong methods to cope, taking over the counter painkillers as soon as I felt slightly anxious.
I knew I had to get help when I needed to take something to even get through the day, and when it be came a daily thought that if I died, my head wouldn’t hurt anymore and I would have some peace. I ran into a colleague on my walk to work and as they approached me to say hello, I broke down in tears and ran away to hide in the nearest toilet but knew I couldn’t go about my day as normal so my fiance called PIPs who are a charity that deliver Suicide Prevention and Bereavement Support Services, Counselling and Therapies across Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland, and arranged for them to see me right away.
I spent 4 months doing one to one therapy and 6 months taking Sertraline and strongly believe that talk therapy is the best although I know that every one responds to treatment differently. My counselor helped me to deal with and accept my situation and to focus on the positives on my life. I am quite healthy and have a very mild case of NF1 . I have a very supportive partner, family and friends.
The first step towards my recovery was asking for help, and there is plenty of help out there, whether it’s help from family, friends or members of the health service.
I will always be grateful to those who helped me get to where I am today.
If you are affected by a poor mental health, or are concerned for the mental health of a loved one you can contact PIPs here
If you have NF and are looking to connect with a wonderfully supportive community for advice come join ‘Faces of Neurofibromatos’ on Facebook here
If you aren’t yet ready to talk about dealing with NF but want some inspiration from two strong positive young women thriving through life visit Katie and Charlotte here