Here on Psychreg, we believe that blogging can be an instrumental tool in combatting the stigma of mental health, this is why we offer people who are struggling with their mental health issues to share their stories.
In line with this, I recently interviewed Samantha Edwards (Samantha Davies recently got married and subsequently changed her name to Samantha Edwards), a public speaker and has recently spoken at a North Wales TEDx event. To learn more about Sam, you can follow her on Twitter @TherapyCymru and read her blog.
Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you and those around you before you sought treatment?
During the summer of 2014, I was diagnosed with depression. It was the first time I had ever fallen mentally ill and every day since then has not only been a battle, but a bitter sweet journey. I had got to the stage in my life where everyone around me knew something was wrong with me. Even I knew I was losing my mind but I had no idea how or why; and I certainly was not ready to admit I needed help. It is really hard to describe the feeling of depression, it’s not simply ‘being sad’ nor is it a case of being ‘lazy’. I could not get to sleep at night and was suffering from violent dreams during the rare moments where sleep came.
What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
I had got to the point where alcohol became my only escape. I would drink wine, sometimes a few glasses, sometimes a bottle. As I became drunk, I became angry – angry and tearful. I would do everything in my power to push loved ones away and often became aggressive and impossible to live with. My self-destruct button had been pressed and I was intent on hurting myself and everyone who loved me. My partner eventually forced me to go to the doctor. Soon, my 10-minute booking with the doctor turned into over an hour as I sat there and broke down. I had reached the point of no return and begged and pleaded for help. It was obvious to the doctor what was wrong with me yet there I sat crying and shaking begging her to tell me I hadn’t lost my mind. I had no idea what was wrong with me and I was convinced nothing could save me. She took my hand and gave me a tissue and said to me, ‘I think you have depression and we need to get you help immediately’. I broke down again. How did I miss this? How did I not see this coming? I left the surgery with a white bag of pills and a leaflet about depression and drove home to tell my partner that I was broken. And that day I took my first pill.
What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
The first drug of choice which made my life hellish for a long time was citalopram, followed by sertraline and finally venlafaxine. By day the second day of taking these pills I was experiencing every side effect in the book. My insomnia grew to the point of seeing creepy crawlies out of the corner of my eye on a daily basis. I was suffering from constant nausea and vomiting as well as restless legs and increased suicidal thoughts. I became angry and confused and experienced moments of no emotion at all. Within five weeks my mood had started to lift out of depression and into nothingness: no despair, no anger, no joy – nothing. And on top of this, I had the additional battle of trying to get my loved ones to understand what was happening, the ‘D’ word scared most of them away to the point I stopped telling people. In the space of four months my medication was increased more and more as the depression started to win and with every increase, the side effects got worse to the point where I felt worse off than before. I went through a week of staying in bed and only eating when forced, washing only when needed and alienating loved ones again.
How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
Although there were struggles finding the right combination of therapy and medication, in the end the tunnel did get brighter, I did start to feel normal, I started to ‘feel’. It’s been one hell of a ride and I am now off all medication and coming out the other end much wiser and maybe a little bit stronger too. I know it might come back, that big fat black cloud might show up again and try to take my life away from me, but I like to think I’ll be ready, I’ll see it coming and will know what to do on that day. But for now, I stare at the sunshine and smell the flowers and smile at the small things.
You’ve been active in mental health advocacy and social media. Tell us about your involvement in those activities.
One of the largest barriers to seeking help sooner for me, was the belief that I couldn’t possibly have a mental health issue because I was a professional. This belief stopped me from seeking help sooner and I recognise that belief across the professional industry. Too many people excuse it as simply feeling slightly stressed and leave themselves at risk. Initially, I started blogging and speaking at public events to help educate other professionals of the dangers of not seeking support early on however I soon found myself being stigmatised by other professionals who deemed my openness about my personal journey to be inappropriate.
Your perspective is unique in that you’ve been both a mental health provider and a person affected by mental health issues. How have your own challenges affected your perspective as a carer for others?
Given my professional background, I was actually very lucky when it came to seeking help. My understanding of mental illness and my ability to communicate my feelings to doctors and other health professionals enabled me to receive the care I needed. I would be so bold as to say the doctors probably listened to me more because of my own expertise. This allowed me to have much more control over medication choices and dosage recommendations. There was a feeling of mutual respect between myself and the doctors and because I had an understanding of medicine, I was immediately listened to if I said something wasn’t working for me. Most people do not have that luxury, and I think that has definitely altered the way I provide care today. A lot of my work now is around educating clients so that they are better able to communicate their needs to other professionals.
What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
Find someone to talk to, you are not on your own. It can feel incredibly scary to seek help, but please don’t suffer in silence. Mental illness really can and does affect everyone; you truly aren’t alone on your journey. Communicate your needs to others, take each day as it comes and please don’t ever feel like the world would be better off without you. You can and will get through this, one step at a time.
Dennis Relojo is a blog psychologist and is the Founder of Psychreg, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Psychreg Journal of Psychology. Aside from PJP, he sits on the editorial boards of international journals, and is a Commissioning Editor for the International Society of Critical Health Psychology. A Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society, Dennis holds a master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Hertfordshire and his research interest lies in the broad area of applied psychology. You can connect with him through Twitter @DennisRelojo and his website.