Anxiety and depression are the most common mental disorders in Britain, with a shocking two thirds of us set to experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes. In the run-up to Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs between the 14-20 May, we asked writer Heidi Scrimgeour to pen a piece 12 months on from the worst day of her life. This time last year, Heidi phoned her husband in tears to tell him that she felt like jumping off the roof. To celebrate feeling so much healthier and happier 12 months later – despite worrying at the time that she would never feel normal again – she shares her journey of coming back stronger than ever after a mental health crisis.
It should have been a day full of celebrations; my first day of renting a desk in a co-working space – a big step for a small business – and the last day of the school year for my three children. Instead, it was the day I just wanted everything to stop.
I’d never suffered with depression or anxiety before, but a combination of stressful life events converged in the days leading up to that moment, until I was suddenly engulfed by the conviction that there was no way out of all the problems. No more hope.
Thanks to a brilliant GP, incredibly supportive family and friends, and two excellent therapists, I’m approaching the first anniversary of the worst day of my life feeling happier and healthier than ever before.
At the time, I worried that I would never feel normal again. But I’m writing this to assure you, if you’re in the grip of something similar, that recovery isn’t out of reach. Hope isn’t lost. You can come back from a mental health crisis, and all the stronger for it.
At the time, I worried so deeply that I might never feel normal again. A few days after everything unravelled, I remember dragging myself to the gym in the hope that an endorphin boost might help. Instead, I felt overcome with despair at the difference between that moment and the last time I’d been to the gym, just days before. How had I taken happiness for granted then, and what if the happy-go-lucky me that used to bounce into the gym without a worry never came back?
It’s a cliche, but I remember telling my mum that it felt like I couldn’t see colour properly anymore – everything looked grey. It was suffocating sensory experience, but I’ve since learned that depression can literally make the world seem devoid of colour – something to do with the way it impacts the retina.
Yet I’m writing this almost a year on, sitting in almost exactly the same spot as I was when I made that distress call to my husband. Out of the window, I can see Irish fields and hills such a vibrant shade of green that they almost look like a painting. The sky is that particular shade of blue that never fails to lift the spirits. The colour has come back.
Actually, it’s not quite the same spot – I now rent a desk one floor up in the same building, in a bright co-working space that some local freelancers and I set up. It’s a space a cherish and the sense of community I’m building with my new co-workers has done wonders for my mental health. Instead of jumping off the roof, you could say I’ve gone up in the world. In fact, I look down on that very roof from my new desk, and I thank my lucky stars every single day that I’m here to see it, and to see how far I’ve come.
Anxiety can pull the rug out from under anyone at any moment – even those of us who think we’re immune to such things. You don’t have to think of yourself as an anxious person to find yourself blindsided by it.
I’m still taking anti-anxiety medication, and slowly making my peace with that being the case for the time being. It has helped enormously. But I’d like to be med-free one day. So there’s still some work to be done.
But I now realise that our mental health is a spectrum and it’s OK to be where I am. Importantly, I know how to avoid going back to where I was. I’ve learned the hard way that self-care is a daily essential, not an occasional indulgence.
Most of all, I am no longer afraid of anxiety. I used to be scared to say I was feeling better incase I jinxed myself and it didn’t last.
Now I know that saying it helps make it true.”
If you’ve been affected by this article or want more information regarding mental health, visit mind.org.uk.