Within my story, there are discussions of suicide.
Here is the story of me and the mental illnesses that I endured. It’s long, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and get comfortable.
I share my story openly and vulnerably because there will be someone, someday who needs to know that they are not alone and that this is not the end.
As a therapist, you’re encouraged not to self-disclose, I ignore that advice and I choose to share a part of me that maybe you, sat there reading this needs to hear.
Being unwell was the whole reason I became a therapist. I knew as soon as I recovered that I too wanted to help people who were going through what I’d been through. But for 5 years after I recovered, I needed to spend time healing and living my life. I needed to find out who I was without a mental illness, I had simply forgotten.
I soon realised, that knowing how it felt to go through mental illness, actually helps you to, a) connect with clients and to understand how they feel and b) I know what it takes to get better and how it feels to be on the other side of mental illness.
So, I’m going to talk about how the mental illness and I, began. I’m then going to take you through the journey as to how I recovered. You will notice I don’t like to say ‘my mental illness’ because it’s not me, nor a part of me. There was nothing more I wanted to do than let it go and to get as far away from it as possible.
I am choosing to be open and honest with you.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a panic attack before, but they are hideous. When I was about 18 or 19, I was walking up the stairs to get home to my apartment, when all of a sudden, I blacked out and fell on the stairs.
I couldn’t breathe, I was sweating, I was dizzy, I felt almost as though my sugar levels had dramatically dropped and fallen out of my toes. When I came around which wasn’t long after, I dragged myself up the stairs and got home. I felt awful but after a while, it passed. I had no idea what had happened.
These episodes happened again and again and again. I went to the doctor and they sent me for an ECG. Fortunately, they found nothing wrong with my heart, I was then referred to a doctor at the hospital who informed me that I was having panic attacks. He was quite forceful with his delivery of such unexpected information. I left his office really quite shocked.
Panic attacks!! I couldn’t believe it, the physical pain and symptoms felt as though I was having a heart attack. Panic attacks were for people who couldn’t cope with life weren’t they?
From that day, the panic attacks went from bad to crippling. Finding out they were in my head and a tablet wasn’t going to solve my problem made them begin to completely control my life.
I was so afraid of having a panic attack that subconsciously I began to bring them on myself. When I realised I was doing that it seemed crazy, the fact I actually couldn’t help what I was thinking. I could not help myself, no matter how hard I tried to stop them, I couldn’t. They were all in my head.
My world began to get smaller and smaller, as I became more fearful of leaving my home. I was avoiding situations I had previously enjoyed, or if I braved it, I would be fighting a panic attack off for the whole time and then couldn’t enjoy whatever it was I was meant to be enjoying. I was in my head all the time catastrophizing everything.
I would be so afraid of fainting in public (this was my main symptom of a panic attack), being sick, losing control, screaming, crying, I would have tunnel vision, tunnel hearing, I couldn’t breathe, it was awful, yet I suffered in silence.
The whole time I went through this I didn’t tell my family or friends how bad it really was. I told some people I had panic attacks but they didn’t know how bad they were, they didn’t know they were getting worse either. They thought I had one every now and then, not several times a day. I kept all of this to myself.
The reason I kept it all to myself was that I was scared of being taken away and going into hospital, I didn’t know what happened to people who had panic attacks because I’d never known anyone that had a mental illness before. I think the main fear was, I was scared of admitting it to myself, saying it out loud meant it was true, it meant that this fear wasn’t just in my head, it was my actual reality. Once I admitted it to myself, it would mean that I would have to admit it to other people too. Keeping it to myself gave me a small sense of sanity that it wasn’t really going on. If I didn’t say it out loud it wasn’t happening, but in truth, it was and I was in desperate need of help.
I was using bottles of herbal anxiety spray like it was going out of fashion, but it didn’t do anything for me. I was so scared of my own mind, the negative thoughts I was having, the physical feelings that constantly existed within me were more powerful than what I could cope with.
I forgot where the fear began because the physical symptoms took over and that was what I completely focussed my attention on.
I know now 16 years later that my journey had only just begun for me, panic attacks weren’t the end and I went on to have extreme anxiety, which led me on to suffering from depression and that is where I hit rock bottom.
I look back now and understand my journey, I knew I had to experience the fear to be able to help others, but I didn’t know that then, I could not see past the intense fear and loss of control I was going through.
My panic attacks symptoms were;
· Feeling like I was going to faint
· Blurred vision
· Feeling sick
· Weak arms and legs
· Tunnel vision
· Tunnel hearing
· Really bad thoughts of something bad happening to me
· The need to run away but feeling frozen
All of these symptoms would come on really fast, no wonder you feel so bad when having a panic attack. I now know that these symptoms are common for someone suffering with panic attacks. There are also more symptoms which can include
· Inability to speak
· Throat closing up
· Chest pains
· The need to go to the toilet all of a sudden
If you have any of these symptoms, I absolutely insist that you get yourself checked out either at your doctors or the hospital. All other possible causes must be ruled out before you think about panic attacks. I had everything else ruled out.
After a panic attack, the thing that is left behind is the reminder of the physical feelings you experience when having a panic attack and it is those physical feelings that people often become afraid of.
Please don’t feel as though you have to suffer, panic attacks can be resolved. I had panic disorder, I was having a panic attack for most of the day. I know how bad they can be and what it’s like to revolve your life around not having panic attacks. How you start avoiding the situations where you last experienced a panic attack.
If you are suffering from a mental illness, you feel off balance, you don’t feel right or you just need someone to talk to, please, please, please, reach out. Suffering alone or in silence is not the answer.
The panic attacks that I’d suffered with, led onto anxiety. This could be anxiety about anything and everything. It could be regarding my health, my safety, my life, other people, what others thought of me and even worries of death. It got to the point that I thought the panic attacks were probably going to kill me they felt so bad.
I could probably have won an award for worrying. I’d worry about everything and I’d look out for problems in every situation, my mind would also create them. I was fearful of everything, even before the thing I was fearful of had happened. Fear controlled my whole world and caused an unreasonable amount of anxiety to occur.
I was convinced something was missed with my health, I’d convinced myself that what was wrong with me was not just ‘in my head.’ After all, how could something that felt so bad be just in my head and causing all of these physical problems. I did feel that pain within my stomach, my head really did hurt, I genuinely felt sick all the time, my heart was going to explode out of my chest, so how was that ‘just’ anxiety? Oh, how I wish I knew the power of the mind back then.
Lucky me, I had chronic panic attacks and also generalised anxiety and health anxiety to add to it, life felt awful.
When you wake up in the morning you expect to feel better after a good night sleep. When I woke up and felt just as bad as when I laid in bed at night thinking about all the things that were going wrong in my life. But to be fair things actually weren’t that bad, it was the physical symptoms that were scaring me and making everything seem so much worse.
When I was younger, my biggest problem was probably my dislike for school, I’d never faced problems like this. I didn’t know about mental health problems, and although I really disliked school, I never felt as low as this. I’m dyslexic but it went undiagnosed for the whole of my school life, it was only until I went to college did they pick it up instantly, test me for it and wonder how on earth I got through school, well I didn’t really.
I left school and spent years studying art and design, I loved it so much. I had completed my course with distinction and had moved onto to study graphic design. For once I was good at something.
However, because the panic attacks and anxiety became so crippling, I was failing my course and I was it failing fast. It got so bad that I couldn’t get into the building where my course was due to me having to constantly fight with panic and anxiety.
It would take me ages to leave the house, it would take me ages to get out of the car and then when I’d get to college and it would take me ages to open the door to my class, I’d stand in the corridor physically unable to open the door, the fear surging through me that I was about to pass out. I’d then leave, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t go in.
There is no surprise that I tell you that I ended up failing the whole course and all of those years of studying went into nothing. But, what I didn’t know then was that I had to go through all of this to become the person I was meant to be.
I can remember when I think back now how alone I felt, no one knew the extent of what was happening. I want to go back to my past self and say, “for goodness sake Charlotte, tell someone, get proper help now and don’t wait.” Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it.
Why was this happening to me? Why me? Had I done something so bad that I deserved to be suffering in such a way?
There was nothing anyone could do, I finally told the doctor, I remember thinking I was going to die in the waiting room, I was then in and out of therapy with people which didn’t do much, we just talked about the same thing over and over again. No one was giving me the solution to my rapidly deteriorating condition. No one was forward thinking, no one was solving this problem and that is what I needed.
No matter how many therapists I saw, how many doctors’ appointments I had, nothing was hitting the nail on the head. After some time, the professionals began to tell me that I was just going to have to learn to live with this and I had to learn how to manage my life with a mental illness.
I came to realise that nothing was going to help me, I was going to be like this forever. This was a numbing conclusion for me.
I wanted to be who I was before all of this started, a carefree life lover who had loads of friends, the most amazing social life, health and happiness. But everything was taken away from me. My mood not only was heightened with dreadful life sucking, always on edge anxiety, I was also creeping into a very low and very dark place.
This place that I was slipping into was scary, it was a different place from where I’d ever been before. It was a deep numbness of nothing. I didn’t like it, I didn’t recognise it and I had never been here before. I didn’t know exactly where I was going but it was dark, very, very dark. I was slipping into this hole and as I was slipping down I knew there was no escape from it.
Cue depression, the darkest and lowest place I have ever been to. The panic attacks and anxiety had continued in such an extreme form and for so long with me feeling alone and afraid that depression was my outcome.
I felt like my soul had died, whoever I was before had left and all that was left was a shell of who I used to be. I died before I’d even stopped breathing.
The only way I could get out of this became an obsession, the obsession of taking my own life. But how would I do it? It’s going to really hurt, but truthfully, nothing felt as painful as life felt alive.
I tried to push the thoughts of suicide to the back of my mind. They were scary thoughts but they kept appearing again and again. I never told anyone what I was thinking, I kept it all to myself. I wasn’t planning my death, I was just going to end it. I couldn’t set a date I just knew it would all get so bad that I would do it there and then. Yet in the back of my mind, I was still hoping for a miracle.
I had seen counsellors and doctors and no one could stop this, what would it take for me to get better? I thought they would all be able to help me because isn’t that what they do, they train for years and years, but they couldn’t.
I was out one day feeling ok-ish. The previous day had been horrendous and full of panic attacks. If I’d had constant panic attacks and my anxiety was extremely high, the next day would be a day of extreme exhaustion and depression. This became my cycle, this became my whole life. I was used to it and if I’m honest I felt the depression was more manageable, it felt better to be exhausted and extremely depressed than constantly having anxiety and panic attacks. What had my life become?
On this day of depression and exhaustion, I ended up having the worst possible panic attack ever. It took me by surprise, I was sitting down to lunch at my then boyfriends house and it came on suddenly and extremely out of nowhere. In a place I’d always felt safe.
The panic attack was so bad that I had to just get up and leave the house. Literally, my lunch was about to reach the table and I left making an excuse that I owed someone money and that I had to go and deal with it. I have always to this day felt guilty for walking out like that with a lie, but I was too scared to say I was having a panic attack. This panic attack was my last straw.
I got in my car and I could not hold it together, I remember crying like I’ve never cried before. I was screaming stop, stop it now. I don’t want this, I can’t do this now, I’m too tired, I’m done.
I was tired, I was so tired of this now, I didn’t want it anymore I’d had enough. I took myself home and I sat there knowing that this was the end my life. I was crying on my own uncontrollably, I was screaming so loud, screaming for help, but no one ever heard me. Why could no one hear me, why had my voice never been heard, why had my thoughts never been read, why could no one save me?
I wanted saving, I wanted to be free again, I wanted to be like everyone else who didn’t have to suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I wanted to be free. But my freedom, was now my death.
I don’t think through words I can tell you how much pain I was in, can I truly get the desperation I felt across to you? I was desperate and I wanted to die, I was alone, I’ve never felt so scared in my whole life, I could hardly breath, I could no longer speak. This was it, I was going, it was my time to leave the earth. I fell into a pit of despair my face feeling like it was going to explode from the crying and then nothing. No sounds, no noise, no feelings, just the end.
The next thing I know I was waking up, boiling hot, sweat was dripping from me, my face and eyes swollen like I’d been punched, I could hardly even open my eyes, my tears had dried around them.
Oh my god, am I dead? Had I actually done it? I looked around and felt some relief, I felt strangely normal, the pain was gone. I had a look around my body and there was no sign of death, do you completely heal when you die, no signs of how you died? The room was the same but the weather had changed. I didn’t know what time I had gone home so I had no idea how long I’d been there for.
The dark clouds outside were thick and black, but through a tiny window the sun, glaring through, it was shining just on me, bathing me in its warmth, I then heard a car go past. And then I realised, how was this possible, I was alive.
It took me minutes to realise that I hadn’t killed myself as the sound of traffic became louder and my senses came back to me. Where had I been in the time I’d forgotten? There is a gap in my memory which to the day has never been filled.
I don’t know if I was happy or sad to be alive, what I did know was that I needed help and serious help and this very moment in my journey, was the time I reached out to someone beyond the normal ways of help.
I dragged myself up as the rush of depression once again hit me. I got the yellow pages out (this was 16 years ago) and I found exactly who I was looking for, a recommended hypnotherapist from years ago and I’d fortunately remembered her name.
This was a Sunday so the next day I picked up the phone and I called her, I can’t quite remember the conversation but I felt like I screamed down the phone “help me.” My appointment was booked for a few days later.
It took all of my power to get myself there, the doubts I had were overwhelming, even to get my body into the car was a challenge, but I somehow willed myself to the appointment. I got there and I will never forget this day because it was the first day into my freedom.
I met the lady, we chatted and I told her everything, and not once did she make me feel stupid or judge me, she told this wasn’t unusual, the most alleviating words I’d heard in months. The next session the hypnotherapy began, I was worried about it because I didn’t know how it would be, but it was beautiful, relaxing, freeing and I really connected with it.
I was given a copy of the hypnosis to listen at home and some techniques to practice. I can tell you this, I did everything I was given and I did it all the time. I would listen to the hypnosis as soon as I had a free moment. I put 100% into my recovery and I’m so glad I did. I actually really enjoyed doing it too, getting better was not a chore to me, it was the most amazing feeling ever.
The feeling of waking up not feeling like dying was spectacular, waking up feeling refreshed and balanced brought me so much joy.
I had several sessions and then one day it just clicked, the therapy just clicked and I felt the most amazing relief.
It was almost as though the mental illness had been lifted from around me. The darkest cloud had been lifted, what was this glorious feeling that I felt? It was wellness, and boy did it feel amazing. I loved this lady, her name is Carole Wan and she became my hero, she saved my life.
I left this particular appointment and got into the car feeling really good for the first time in so long. I started driving home and the song that came on was about to be the most wonderful song to my ears. I hadn’t heard the lyrics of a song in such a long time, all I had been hearing were the thoughts in my head.
India Ari, Strength, Courage and Wisdom. My recovery song, everything India Ari said in this song meant something to me, it was almost as though she’d written it just for me, for that very moment.
Then something happened that I hadn’t experienced in a long time, the tears fell from my eyes, like a river was pouring from me, these were the most amazing tears I’d ever shed, they were tears of relief, tears of sheer joy, that at that moment in time I knew I was going to be fine. I didn’t have to kill myself.
After that I felt well and balanced and as though healing was taking place. My soul had that comforting feeling of slipping into a warm bath where your whole body just releases, relaxes and I let everything I didn’t want go, and I let everything in that I did want.
I was finally free from the grip of mental illness, something I never thought would happen, but did.
I owe my life to hypnotherapy, I said to Carol, I was going to be a hypnotherapist, and 5 years later, that’s exactly what I did, I went back and trained with Carol and became a Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist to specifically specialise in long term co-morbid mental illness.
To this day I am still a hypnotherapist, with a great and personal insight into mental illness, I can sit with my clients and say I know how it feels, but I also know how it feels to get better and how to do it. I never wanted what happened to me to happen, but I know now, it’s because I needed to help other people. I look back now and I’m grateful that I went through what I did. A strange kind of gratitude I guess, but one that I will always have.
It was all about life after mental illness then and that was different. When I was unwell I always said I just want to be like I used to be, but the truth of the matter is that I never went back to who I was. I became a new version of me. A very different version of me.
I became someone who’s eyes were open, I had a new understanding of what it felt like to be alive. To see things, to feel things and to hear things.
I heard songs I’d been listening to for years and realised they had lyrics and meanings. I would stand and listen to the birds singing, I saw the moon and stars in a way I’d never seen them before. They shone and I was alive to see them. For me the contrast between dark and light finally had meaning.
The sun felt warm, the snow felt cold, and I could feel the rain on my skin.
I was alive and I, for sadly probably the first time in my whole life appreciated things like I never had done before.
I saw the beauty in each person and smiling and laughing felt like the most amazing feeling ever. I started to make friends again and I got a job in a hotel as a Saturday girl. I was finally building up my life again one gentle and very appreciative step at a time.
The little job in the hotel really helped me get back on my feet, I gained confidence and I started a new life. Within a couple of months, I started working in the hotel full time, I was then promoted to the duty manager, assistant manager and finally operations manager.
In 2010 in a beautiful ceremony at Chatsworth house, I won Derbyshire and the Peak districts young manager of the year award. I was so proud of myself, I was so proud that I had gone from knocking on death door to proving myself in life, to no one else other than me.
There wasn’t much else I could do within the hotel and I began to lack the enthusiasm. I took voluntary redundancy, because it was my time to put my own experience to good use. I had spent 5 years recovering. I had spent 5 years ensuring I was healthy and well balanced and so I put myself through training to become a clinical and medical hypnotherapist.
Several years have now passed and I’m a specialist in the recovery from mental illness. I’ve trained and trained and have never stopped learning. You can’t stop learning as a therapist, because you can't ever know everything.
I have spent years saving lives, guiding people to find their own self-worth and guiding them out of mental illness.
Sometimes we need reminding how special and how wanted we are. It’s easy to forget in a world where we are encouraged to be like someone else. In a world where we aren’t encouraged to make mistakes and know that it’s ok, a world where you’re never made to feel enough.
But let me tell you this, you are enough, you are good enough for anything, and you don’t need to suffer. You are beautiful and wanted and if you’re suffering, you can get better.
If you are feeling in anyway like I did or similar or different, don’t suffer, please reach out and get help.
I feel well now, I have ups and down like every human being, within those times I give myself everything I need. I’m a mum, a partner, a friend, a daughter, a therapist. I am well and that is beautiful and freeing.
The course I have created is for you, it’s for you if you need a boost into freedom.
Remember your worth and no matter how low you get it is not your time to go, get as much help as you can.