Lived experience blog by Lou Harris #HWBAssociateNinja

Caveat – I agonised over writing this blog. How to pitch it.  How much to include about the really difficult times I have had. Do I add humour into what is an absolutely horrible place I have found myself.  

If I was writing this blog one month, 6 months, 1.5 years ago it would have been totally different, I wouldn’t have been able to include any hope or see any positives from my situation.  But the way I have written this reflects the place I am currently in and I wanted to be myself (something which my illness has I feel prevented for a long time) and if possible  give other people hope that things can and will get better and that you can take positives from a difficult period in your life.  My approach is not to make light of mine or anyone else’s experience of mental illness, but it is a genuine account of how I feel about it currently…the unexpected and turbulent nature of my mental illness may make me feel differently were I to write this again on another day.   

So, after agonising some more (possibly due to my illness) I have decided to go with the first version I wrote of this blog – this one – as  it includes a chink of my personality,  which is slowly creeping back.  

Hopefully this caveat also gives you some insight into how my mind works at the moment – check, double check, triple check, check again, worry, worry some more, apologise in advance  before or incase I upset someone , give a full justification and explanation for what I am about to do incase someone doesn’t like it……which hopefully I have now done! So, after that  tiresome cycle which is part of my everyday life at the minute,  here goes: 

Today is World Mental Health Day, a great day to take positive action and start to look after our mental health and wellbeing. That’s what I did nearly a year ago, when at the age of 43 due to chronic and debilitating anxiety I resigned from my Managing Directors job.  

This wasn’t part of my life plan by the way, a couple of weeks before I resigned, I went on holiday and started to keep a diary and I wrote:

“Well I made it after a week on the medication (Sertraline – anti-depressants that is) shakes, feeling sick, constantly yawning and looking an off grey colour, I am on the plane to Greece. Kefalonia to be exact. I didn’t think I would make it, I did need to take two days off work with the side effects but I left in the hope that after another week I will feel better again and be able to cope with everyday life which if I am being honest hasn’t been easy for at least one and a half years now”. 

Little did I know at the time that this would be the start of which I can honestly say has been a roller coaster of a journey for which I haven’t and may never reach a destination. It’s taken a very long time, various forms of therapy, coaching, medication, and some very very low points however I am starting to learn to live with the unexpected and turbulent THING called anxiety. One year on I have been reflecting on my journey, what has helped and the positives I have taken from it (my mum has always said you have to find the positives in everything) so here we go:

I learnt to be in the moment – when I really wasn’t feeling well, I just wasn’t present. I walked around in a daze and literally lost days, weeks and months of my life. I didn’t want to spend time with anyone, I didn’t notice the world and people around me and hid away in my own little bubble. The first thing I really noticed again were the birds singing, I started to listen and sing along to music again (well only on my own I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone else!). I even started to notice the rain on my windows which reminded me of happy memories when I was young and used to go camping (yes, we were one of the  posh ones with a touring caravan (hence the windows) and yes it did seem to always rain). 

I learnt new skills – when I was working my regular 60 hour week, I just didn’t have time or capacity in my brain to think about trying something new. While it has been a slow process, with time I have felt like doing more and have learnt some useful (well some more than others) skills. For example:

  • Cooking – my repertoire now extends past the obligatory chilli much to the delight of my partner who usually did all the cooking
  • Internet buying and selling – now this is an interesting one, it’s been a great way to declutter and recycle. However, what I quickly learnt was that just like when you did a car boot as a teenager you have to try really hard not to be offended at the frankly rude offers people give you for your most prized and loved possessions.  
  • Dog grooming – unfortunately, there have been some down sides to this, Indy my beloved pooch no longer looks like a Bedlington terrier, I couldn’t quite get the top knot right (do a google search on Bedlington terrier!) and we did have a mishap with a floppy ear in the early days

I learnt to love exercise and be more active – I never thought I would say this after never stepping foot in a gym until the age of 42.  I no longer get a strop on at the thought of the gym and prioritise everything and anything else instead of going! The impact that exercise and in particular cycling has had on my mental health has literally been lifesaving and I think I may be one of the minority who actually gets value for money out of their membership.

I made new friends and strengthened relationships with others and my family. The response I have had from people when I have talked about my mental health has been amazing, from the girl at the gym who I talked too and never knew her name, to colleagues I worked with in the past to the relentless belief and support from my family and friends. My biggest learning – people don’t stop loving you for no longer being a Managing Director they loved you and continue to for being Louise. My job no longer defines who I am, and with that knowledge comes  self-acceptance and more meaningful relationships.

I gave something back – I never had the energy to do anything other than work. However, with more time on my hands I was able to climb Mount Snowdon (think I underestimated the word mountain before I did it!). I also had time to train to do 50 and 75-mile bike rides. And the added bonus? It gave me a purpose and a tremendous sense of wellbeing to give something back to some fantastic charities.  

As I was writing this, I thought AHA (not in the sense of the 80’s pop band)… these are all part of the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Whilst we may not immediately associate them with recovery from mental illness they totally are.

We all need to look after our mental health and wellbeing whether we have a mental health problem or not. So, on World Mental Health day, why not pledge to start to look after your mental health and wellbeing? It may bring you some unexpected surprises.

There are lots of useful tips and practical steps you can take to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing. The links below are just a few examples, including the including the Every Mind Matters website launched yesterday:

One thought on “Lived experience blog by Lou Harris #HWBAssociateNinja

  1. Great blog Lou, brave and correct decision to post. Thank you for making my own personal struggles not seem so alien.

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