Nicola, 36, is married with two children and lives in Leicester.
I’ve had anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. Yet I didn’t receive a proper diagnosis or the right treatments until about three years ago. Now, aged 36, I’ve had to accept my mental health problems and this has probably been one of the biggest challenges that I have had to face. With my illness – it was a case of me getting a lot worse before I started to get better – therapy and medication helped but all the emotions that I had, for so many years squashed deep down inside of me, had to eventually come out and experiencing that was very difficult.
It was a real challenge not to become overwhelmed by my mental health problems. It is only now that I am recovering, that I can see just how unwell I was. In early 2013, I hit rock bottom: I had just changed medication, which didn’t suit me well, and I started to experience suicidal thoughts worse than I ever have before. Then, my therapist told me she was going away for four weeks. In the depressed and anxious state that I was in, it felt like she had told me that she was leaving for a year. I can’t quite put into words just how dreadful this period in my life was – not just for me, but for my husband and two young children too. I tried to be as ‘normal’ around them as I could, but I was trapped in a living nightmare of complete despair and hopelessness.
In a desperate attempt for help, I spent hours either talking on the phone to the Samaritans or searching online for some sort of support whilst my therapist was away – I just needed something to help me get through the day. My therapist introduced me once to a website called www.livinglifetothefull.com and that’s when I first came across the term ‘mindfulness’. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I was just so relieved to find something that might help, so I began looking for books on mindfulness. That’s when I came across the book Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. The book appealed to me because it came with audio guided meditations to accompany the text.
I started following the book’s eight-week programme of guided meditations and mindfulness activities religiously. As I worked my way through the book, I started to notice changes. I felt a lot calmer and became more aware of things around me. Sometimes it would be when I was out walking: I would find myself really looking at the clouds, the trees or the flowers. At other times, I would be aware of the sound of traffic or birdsong. I also noticed that I was becoming more tuned in to my feelings and was beginning to take a step back, rather than getting caught up in them. Mindfulness tied in with some other work that I had been doing called ‘Distress Tolerance’ which asks that you observe painful emotion, watching it like a wave, instead of letting it control you.
I genuinely believe that mindfulness had a huge part to play in my recovery and still does to this day. It really was a turning point for me, and I often find myself recommending mindfulness to friends and family who are struggling with everyday stresses. More recently, I have been able to bring mindfulness to a wider audience when I helped to organise an event for ‘Time to Talk Day’ at my local library. As part of this event, we ran workshops introducing people to relaxation techniques and mindfulness. I hope to continue spreading the message of mindfulness to people, showing them that there is support out there and that you don’t need to suffer in silence. Mindfulness can be beneficial to anyone, not just those experiencing mental health problems.